Are digital nomads on the rise or will this phenomenon fizzle out?
As soon as the pandemic hit, businesses and employees worldwide had no choice but to adapt to a remote working lifestyle. They had to do it quickly and they had to do it well. There was no alternative. Now, 2 years later, it seems we’ve all gotten quite comfortable with this new way of life – and work. So as the pandemic slows down and the remote workforce grows, should businesses really expect employees to return to the office? Or should they expect that their workers will want to take the extra step (or flight) outside the border? If you’re a business with a remote workforce, you’re probably wondering what the future holds for your organization and your employees.
Up, up, and away!
Let’s get one thing straight – digital nomads aren’t a new thing. It’s true that the global pandemic has accelerated the trend of employees giving the nomadic lifestyle a shot. But experts predict that certain industries can continue to expect an increase of digital nomad staff in a post-pandemic world.
Digital nomads are drawn to the appeal of working online while they travel and play. In the United States alone, almost 11 million people identified as digital nomads in 2020. This is an incredible 50% increase from 2019, where about 7.3 million Americans lived a nomadic lifestyle. By 2023, some experts predict one billion digital nomads will be zipping around the world – and this number was forecasted before COVID-19 took the world by storm!
Remote work has never been easier.
What has made this lifestyle more popular today? It’s more than the pandemic. We live in an increasingly connected world, where technology advances daily and apps or gadgets that serve our every need are never more than a click or arm’s length away.
Digital nomads take advantage of the interconnectedness of technology and everything in between (planes, trains, online services) that makes the world accessible. Although the nomad culture is known to be mostly inclusive, open, and friendly, many are still excluded from experiencing this kind of lifestyle.
There are only a handful of jobs and disciplines that can truly succeed with a completely digital workforce. Some industries and jobs that can flourish in this environment include:
- Graphic design
- Digital marketing
- Software development
- Information technology
- Online teaching
Research done by McKinsey shows that up to 70% of the workforce still have zero opportunity to adopt remote work in any way. Millions of jobs exist that require hands and feet on the ground – hairdressers, lab workers, shipping and receiving, labour involving specialized equipment etc.
The world opens its doors to nomads.
Countries around the world are making it easier than ever for visitors to come work, play and pay taxes for extended periods of time. Some notable countries that have introduced remote work visas or other incentives include Mexico, Dubai, Germany, Bermuda, Estonia, Portugal, Spain, Barbados, and many others. There’s also a Schengen Visa for European travelers, which allows travel to 26 European countries for up to 90 days within a 180-day time-period.
Looking ahead to post-pandemic plans.
According to Joblist’s 2022 Job Market Report, there are some notable insights into the future of remote work.
- 24 million Americans aspire to become digital nomads in the next 2-3 years.
- 45 million Americans might want to become nomads in the next 2-3 years.
- 61% of job seekers are interested in remote work opportunities.
- 45% of employees would rather quit their jobs than go back into the office.
- 53% of digital nomads plan to continue as nomads for at least 2 years.
It seems over the next few years, interest in the digital nomad lifestyle will only continue to grow.
Should Your Business Have a Digital Nomad Policy?
Despite the large and growing number of these employees, few organizations have formal policies and programs for them. To an extent, digital nomads are off the grid, literally and figuratively. In most cases, they work out arrangements with their immediate bosses, go nomadic under informal “don’t ask, don’t’ tell” agreements, or travel without their organization’s knowledge.
The Real Nomadic Lifestyle
Is the 1 billion digital nomad prediction blown out of proportion? It’s true that workers nowadays may have a stronger desire to roam – but does that mean to another country or around the block? Data is starting to show that overall, the interest in a digitally nomadic life is on the rise. Most want to have the ability to work remotely in some fashion, be it a month-long cottage getaway just north of your home city, or a tropical paradise that requires a plane ticket. Either way, businesses will have to be aware of this new-found desire and adjust accordingly.
A more likely reality for digital nomads and businesses are those that accommodate a hybrid work schedule with part time at home, part time at the office. The hybrid work style will bring forth new (and more likely!) trends to the forefront. People may buy more homes outside the city and settle for a longer commute if it only means doing it once or twice a week.
An overall shift towards a larger percentage of the population becoming digital nomads is not likely. It will happen, but it will be pinpointed to a certain handful of industries and will only remain available to a small group of people. Businesses should not expect digital nomads to become the new normal across the board. The world is still experiencing shifts in the post-pandemic world, but either way, businesses need to be willing to meet the needs and desires of their employee’s ‘new normal’ wherever they choose to seek it.
Whether its full-on digital nomadism or a hybrid, people have been given the chance to work where they live, not live where they work. The question is – will your workforce choose to take it and run, or take it, and stay?