The Rise of the Digital Nomad: An unstoppable new work trend?
Close your eyes a moment and imagine a work area. Perhaps you saw a room divided into cubicles, an open plan space, maybe a co-working office. Or perhaps – if you plan on joining the growing global ranks of digital nomads – you saw a tropical paradise and a laptop.
Digital nomads are professionals who choose to work in location-independent roles and explore the world at the same time, rather than permanently basing themselves in one location. And there are a lot of aspiring travellers – 85% of millennials want to telecommute (or work remotely) 100% of the time, according to a survey by FlexJobs.
Many who choose this path work as virtual assistants, digital marketers, online writers or teachers and graphic designers – but really any job that can be done online and doesn’t require a physical presence is a contender.
One of the most appealing aspects of the digital nomad lifestyle – other than getting to see the world and sipping beachside margaritas – is the chance to work in places with a low cost of living. This allows people to price their services competitively and still earn a good living.
More and more people are deciding to become digital nomads and some predict that by 2020 more than half of all workers will have the freedom to work remotely.
But what’s behind this new trend and will it continue?
Just five or six years ago this would have been unthinkable. Things were pretty cut and dried; a graduate would enter the workplace, be shown to their desk and they would be tethered to it thereafter.
While a few digital-first companies offered flexi-time and the chance to work from home, there wasn’t much hope of tapping out your reports next to a swimming pool or from an exotic island paradise.
Collaborative online working was possible of course – Github for example, could be considered a pioneer of this approach – but a “work from anywhere” attitude hadn’t caught on. Wi-Fi connections were slow, video calls unreliable and platforms weren’t all that secure.
Today, we have cloud-based organisation platforms like Trello and Asana, communications tools like Slack, more reliable video conferencing software, and good WiFi. These are all things that make remote working much easier for employees.
Moreover, the future looks bright; 5G appears to be just around the corner and with virtual reality applications like Facebook Spaces entering the market, we may even see our 3D versions of our bosses out on the beach in Phuket with us.
What challenges do digital nomads face?
For digital nomads things seem to be going smoothly. The jet-set sun-seeking lifestyle is available to everyone, right?
Well, unfortunately, there are still flies in the ointment. The technology may be catching up with our aspirations, but most HR departments and managerial practices have not.
The 9 to 5 work week is still a staple and convincing a manager that you are doing your work when you are 5000 kilometres away is near enough impossible in most cases. Therefore, for the most part, digital nomads start out as freelancers working in positions that companies are more comfortable to outsource.
But even they have obstacles to overcome:
Time zones: sales calls, catch ups and general meetings mostly have to be conducted during the normal 9-5 work day, regardless of where the independently-located worker is. When that’s San Francisco to Melbourne the nomad will have to be creative with their sleep schedule.
Proof of work: digital nomad jobs tend to be results-oriented, rather than measured on time-spent in an office. While most managers are fine with this, it can be difficult for digital nomads to establish themselves as reliable and trustworthy resources for a company. Providing portfolios of work, references and testimonials often help in the sales stage.
Finding clients: Digital nomads, being remote, are not forced to dip into a geographically-limited client pool. However, they do need to have strategies to source clients – whether that be on platforms like Upwork, where they will have to compete with thousands of other skilled workers, or through Facebook jobs boards like Social Media Jobs.
Using technology and tools: Every company is different and expects its staff to work using specific systems, whether they are remote or office-based. Once this hurdle is jumped, digital nomads have to find platforms that work for their own workflows. Review websites like Nomadplayground.com help by sharing the opinions of different tools by other similar freelancers.
Where to work: While working from the beach sounds appealing, sun flare on a laptop screen is blinding and sand gets everywhere. Most digital nomads opt to work in co-working spaces or air-conditioned cafés with good wifi.
Where to live: Now this is tricky for travelling workers. While hotels are convenient, budgets don’t often stretch to 365 days of hotel accommodation. And hostels don’t always provide the comfort, security or amenities needed for a professional. There is a new trend – co-living – which is meeting digital nomads in the middle.
Coworkation co-living spaces
Coworkation is a company that aims to solve the last two problems on the list: work and living space. The company organises one to two week trips for location-independent workers, aiming to connect people, facilitate creativity and “promote adventure and fun.”
Founder Stuart Jones told ESEI a little about his motivations for starting the company and what it does for digital nomads.
“The idea for Coworkation occurred to me about 5 years ago, shortly after I experienced working from a coworking space for the first time. My intuition told me that the future of coworking, it’s natural evolution, would be to combine coworking with travel,” he says.
Stuart had previously been running his businesses for 15 years and travelling to over 70 countries in the process. During this time he saw an increasing number of people with the freedom to work from anywhere.
“I wanted to offer a work/travel experience to these people,” he says.
Stuart says that Barcelona is a very attractive city for digital nomads. “It has become an international hotspot with an increasing number of people picking up their laptops and travelling to the city, staying for anywhere between a couple of weeks and a few months, before moving on to another destination.”
“I think people, myself included, are attracted by its international environment, thriving events scene, an entrepreneurial spirit, fantastic climate amidst other reasons!”
After Barcelona, Stuart says that many travellers head to Lisbon and the Canary Islands as the next ports of call.
You can see more details of how Coworkation began what it stands for in the Our Story section of the website.
Catch Coworkation in Barcelona!
Coworkation will be offering a coliving experience throughout the summer and from the 14th to the 19th August it will be hosting the Freedom X festival, which brings together the location independent movement.
Held in the Pyrenees, just two hours from Barcelona, it promises to be an adventure-filled experience, with kayaking, rock climbing yoga, sports and more! And over 1000 people will come along to see 50 inspiring speakers and 100 talks and educational workshops.