Coronavirus and The Rise of the Digital Nomad


Picture the scene. Instead of the daily commute, what if your walk to work took you past some of the world’s most beautiful coastline? Imagine, for a second, that you could dial into your morning meetings whilst overlooking sun-soaked mountaintops or the postcard-perfect landmarks of your dream destination?


You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the stuff of dreams, but for many so-called ‘digital nomads’, it’s an everyday reality of working and living on the move. Working remotely has been growing in popularity for some time, but owing to pandemic, coupled with workplaces all over the world emptying their doors and going digital, it seems those wanting to escape the city, and indeed the make-shift office in the back room, finally have the chance to do so.


Until the pandemic, the term ‘remote worker’ conjured up images of Instagram influencers, MacBook in hand, living the high life somewhere sunny and photogenic. But when coronavirus forced half of the UK to work from home, scores of people realised that working from different locations was a real possibility. With more jobs being pushed out of the office and into the virtual world, the appeal has only grown.


Last month, Boris Johnson advised us once again to work from home where possible. With the latest round of Covid restrictions set to last until next March, many will be weighing up a more nomadic lifestyle by way of avoiding a repeat of the last few months.


Remote working is nothing new. In 2018, a study by IWG found that 70% of workers globally worked remotely at least once a week, with that number growing year-on-year.


But now more than ever, companies are looking into the potential of long-term remote work, questioning the need to return to traditional office spaces at all. In going remote, many businesses switched to online models almost overnight. For many, this switch brought about not just the chance to work from home, but the realisation that their job can be done just as effectively from literally anywhere.


But let’s not get carried away too quickly. It would be wrong to assume that life as a ‘digital nomad’ is all plain sailing. In theory, combining work with a change in scenery is simple enough but the reality might be another story. For a start, such a lifestyle often comes with a price tag. Furthermore, constantly staying on top of your business whilst travelling requires superhuman discipline, and that’s before the language barriers and different time zones add to the complications.


One of the most obvious benefits however is a much more desirable work-life balance. Being the master of your own schedule, not to mention choosing where you work and live, offers an immediate remedy to the mundane office routine we’re used to. Besides, whilst there isn’t much of a support network for the solitary overseas professional, it’s easy to imagine how this is compensated for by all the new people travel introduces you to.


Many who fit the digital nomad bill are young entrepreneurs with plenty of disposable income. They run companies, sometimes several at once, whilst living in another place altogether. Connecting with people from all over the world on a daily basis, they are often at the forefront of innovation in their field. At least that’s the reputation. All it really means is that they’re ‘location independent’; working without the constraints of a physical office or even a time zone.


But that’s changing quickly. And whilst the life of luxury is on offer for those with the budget, plenty of options exist for those looking for something a shade less extravagant. Now that so many of us aren’t expected back in the office for the foreseeable, there are ironically fewer obstacles to life on the go than ever before, and remote working is booming as a result. In just the last year, the number of Americans who identify as digital nomads has increased from 7.3 million to 10.9 million.


So, what does all that sun, sea and sand mean for productivity? Surely the allure of a quick dip in the pool or an early afternoon Pina-colada is one distraction too many? Apparently not. According to research from Stanford University, digital nomads are actually 13% more productive than their office counterparts. In addition, they take less time off and fewer sick days.


Importantly, not all digital nomads head for the horizon. Remote working has also allowed people to choose the safest working environment for them, which for many has meant heading closer to home. For scores of city workers in particular, the chance to reunite with family in other parts of the country remains the true freedom. Packing laptops and a weekend bag and heading home to Liverpool, Edinburgh or Cardiff has allowed professionals the chance to not only work and earn, but to be there, at least from a respectable distance, for those who matter. For these people, the chance to work on the move has allowed them to escape the isolation and distress of lockdown.


Pandemic has cast a bright light on employers’ duty of care to their employees, with this duty extending beyond the physical workplace and into the realm of employees’ personal lives. With heightened levels of stress and anxiety, new working models are being designed with wellbeing in mind. Amidst the backdrop of a mental health crisis, many have found struggles exacerbated by existing working practice. For others, flexible working structures have been the remedy.


With a new generation of employees demanding more dynamic ways of working, employers and governments must look to digital-first strategies to enable greater balance in working culture.


ABL Recruitment team

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