Scroll through Instagram and you’re bound to see a digital nomad or two. Like the camel-riding nomads of old, digital nomads don’t have a set location. They travel around the world and use technology to enable them to work. It is as much a lifestyle choice as a career move.
Plus, it’s on the rise. There’s projected to be 1 billion digital nomads by 2035 and one in three future employees are expected to be remote or working as a nomad.
With a third of the workforce potentially working overseas, organisations need to quickly catch up with the lifestyle. That involves understanding the reasoning behind digital nomadism, its benefits and potential challenges.
Why digital nomadism is possible
Digital nomadism has been made possible through various factors. First, improvements in technology (and Internet speed) makes it possible to do some jobs from almost anywhere in the world. Those jobs include copywriting, website development, coding, consulting and translation.
Cheap flights mean that people can travel to anywhere that has decent internet coverage.
Finally, the aforementioned Instagram posts and publicity of digital nomadism is helping to fuel its growth. Digital nomadism has many high-profile supporters. Tim Ferriss, among others, recommends the lifestyle in his book ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ as a way of reducing living costs.
Digital nomad roles
Digital nomads don’t have to be limited to technology, writing or marketing roles (although those are most common). There are also digital doctors, therapists, educators and CEOs. Basically, if you can work through an internet connection then you can be a digital nomad.
They also don’t have to be freelancers. Some digital nomads work full time for a company under a permanent contract. Plus, there’s digital nomads (and remote workers) who join forces to offer agency-style services to larger organisations. The Hoxby Collective is an example of this.
The benefits of hiring nomads
Becoming a digital nomad obviously holds some perks for the individual involved. But what are the benefits for an organisation?
To keep up with culture
Culturally, the way that younger generations view work is changing. People are more focussed on their work/life balance and don’t value the traditional 9-5 as much as older generations.
Around 30% of digital nomads are in their 30s, and 29% are Millennials.
Employers that are open to digital nomadism can benefit by appealing to a generation of workers who are stereotypically difficult to engage with.
Reduce fixed costs
If a nomad is freelance, then organisations can benefit from having someone available to fulfil work when needed but who doesn’t require an annual salary. Freelancers can be scaled up or down when required.
In addition, they don’t require dedicated desk space, which further reduces overheads.
Digital nomads also bring a wealth of international knowledge with them. They are immersed in different cultures regularly and can offer some insights on a global strategy or marketing campaign. They might even spot emerging trends.
Because nomads often switch locations, they also develop soft skills like adaptability to change which can prove valuable to a business.
Giving people more control over how they work can positively impact your bottom line. When employees are offered the choice to work remotely, they report feeling more engaged with work and that “business is a whole lot better.”
Then there’s the benefits of tapping into a pool of global talent. This is especially relevant for organisations struggling to fill skills gaps (like coding or data science specialists).
Half of employers state that they have trouble finding the right local talent. Why not cast the net wider?
Challenges to overcome
All of these benefits do come with some potential hurdles. Digital nomadism only works for jobs that can be done remotely. If there is a degree of human interaction needed (for example, face-to-face meetings) then it might not possible for that person to be a nomad.
There can also be worries over someone’s availability as a digital nomad. If travelling in different timezones, there may be a limited number of hours when working patterns overlap.
In some regions, internet connectivity is low, which would prove problematic too. That said, many experienced digital nomads are aware of this and will have a backup internet connection or will only travel to well-connected regions.
Communication is key when working with nomads. By outlining expectations and working patterns from the start, you avoid a lot of potential issues when delivering work later-on. If the digital nomad is part of a wider team, regular communication is needed to improve teamwork. Investment in certain communication and project management tools such as Slack, Asana and Trello is required.
This will require training right across your organisation, especially if there is a mix of on-site employees and digital nomads working together. People need to understand how to use different technology to communicate effectively, and everyone needs to buy in to these tools.
In fact, you need to consider what on-site employees might think about digital nomads. Unless you open up the opportunity to become a nomad across your organisation, you may find some resentment building in your teams.
If a digital nomad is a permanent employee, there are further considerations. You’ll have to navigate the complicated matter of taxes and payments across several borders. Many digital nomads use services like Stripe and PayPal to be paid. If your organisation has a strict IT policy, then you might have to send them a laptop or other equipment.
Conversely, there’s also the small matter of ensuring security, especially if the nomad regularly works from public locations on public wifi.
If you are considering hiring a digital nomad, or offering it as a option for employees, the best thing is to take baby steps and start small.
With an established nomad, offer a project as a test to see how well your team and current processes work. If rolling-out across all your employees, do a trial period where they start by working a few days a week remotely and build from there.
You can also test services like Hackers Paradise where employees can become nomads for a short time each year.
Get ready for the future
The digital nomad movement is here to stay. It’s likely that some of your team are going to be nomads in the near future. So it’s worth investing in the right technology and building processes for remote work now.
Work is becoming more global and so is the workforce. To obtain the best talent, you have to open your horizons to new ways of working. That includes digital nomads. Companies which fail to do so may be left high and dry in their hunt for talent.
Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash