The rise of the ‘digital nomad’

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Instead of being in the office, imagine instead that you are looking at beautiful landscapes in the Swiss Alps or the Carpathians. Instead of early starts and long commutes, you have the freedom to work on your own schedule, from anywhere in the world. This may sound like fantasy, but a growing number of professionals have made the move to a more nomadic lifestyle, all with the help of technology.

It would be wrong to suggest that life as a ‘digital nomad’ (location independent professionals) is all beach-dwelling and short working hours, but the way of life is marginally more flexible and allows individuals the freedom to achieve a strikingly desirable work-life balance. Digital nomads are in fact some of the hardest working people in the economic ecosystem. It is not easy to stay constantly on top of your business whilst travelling, and although this lifestyle may sound appealing, it actually involves a lot of multitasking, accommodating different local infrastructures and missing out on social interaction. 

The global pandemic has shined a spotlight on location independent and remote working that has facilitated not only flexibility, but the chance for individuals to choose the safest working environment for them during this unprecedented time.

About the author

Ott Vatter is Managing Director at e-Residency

So, what exactly do digital nomads do?

Digital nomads are simply workers who are location independent. This means that they work borderlessly, without the constraints of being tied to a physical office or even to a time zone. There are almost 5 million digital nomads in the world with many millions more set to become digital nomads in the next few years.

On a daily basis, many digital nomads run companies across several countries, whilst living in another. These individuals might be connecting with people from all over the world on a daily basis, and they are often at the forefront of innovation in their field. Lots of location independent entrepreneurs establish start-ups that utilise next-generation technology to provide products and services that bring value to the economy where the company is based, making them a desirable populace for most nations. Also, they tend to be working in innovative spaces and are part of a forward-thinking multinational network of professionals.

According to research from Stanford University, digital nomads are actually a whopping 13% more productive than their office counterparts. In addition, they take less time off as well as taking fewer sick days (digital nomads are also taking home a fairly large wage packet, with digital nomads in the US earning an average of $50-$100,000 a year in the United States).

The speed at which it is now growing, and the role technology has played in the evolution of freelance work, demands organizations to think about remote working in new ways. In 2018, a study by serviced office provider IWG found that 70% of people globally worked remotely at least once a week, and according to  this number is due to grow significantly year-on-year.

Who benefits the most from flexible working?

The new generation of employees were demanding a more flexible way of working that was already redefining the way we understood remote working and work-life balance for years before the pandemic. The constraints of 9-5 office culture was being challenged by entrepreneurs and contractors with nomadic lifestyles, as well as by everyday workers. Now the outbreak of Covid-19 has acted as a catalyst for a growth in these attitudes.

Digital nomadism during the pandemic was largely a realization come to by many after their organizations needed to move to online models almost overnight; this required significant adaptability and business initiative from organizations. With the technology we already have, moving from the office to working from home was relatively simple for many. It was hardly a leap then, for individuals to conceive of working not just from home, but from anywhere with internet access. The benefits in this respect can be reaped by anyone who is able to work from a laptop.

What’s more, is that employers’ duty of care to employees was highlighted by the pandemic and by facilitating remote working, organizations were able to guarantee the safety of their staff while at work. This duty of care extended beyond the physical workplace and into the realm of employees’ personal lives, with the entire population suffering from heightened levels of stress and anxiety about the safety of their loved ones and their jobs. New working models have ensured that health is never compromised.

This goes for both physical and mental health; when looking at what type of person might benefit from digital nomadism, we cannot ignore the current global mental health crisis. There are individuals who experience actual health benefits from working more flexibly, including those who suffer with anxiety and depression that find flexible working structures easier to manage.

Both businesses and governments must look to digital-first strategies that can facilitate a further shift in working culture and the balance struck between working life and home life. We are witnessing a rise in demand for borderless working which, if handled correctly by governments, can help to cut workplace costs and instead generate millions for national economies. The future for location independent work and entrepreneurship is bright, and the world is beginning to wake-up to the benefits of more flexible working.

Ott Vatter

Ott Vatter is the Managing Director at E-Residency.

He is an entrepreneur and a current government innovation catalyst as MD at the first governmental start-up.