Let’s face it a lot of us do not enjoy the work environment and view it as a necessary evil to pay the bills and put food on the table. If we didn’t have to adhere to that uncomfortable dress code, honk our way through traffic or scramble through the hordes on public transport, to get to our office workstation where the boss is waiting to pile on more stressful tasks – we probably wouldn’t do it.
And in today’s world millions of people have already made the decision to stop. They’re known as the digital nomads or location independent workers, an ever increasing sub-culture of workers who have managed to utilize technology and the internet to make working remotely an efficient option.
Our new infographic explores the current nomad landscape and where it could be headed in the future.
Teleworking has of course been around for years, but the digital nomads have taken the concept and turned it in to a philosophy. Their lives are about embracing freedom and adventure, turning the rules of 9 to 5 on their head.
Far from recreating the office environment in their lonely spare room – as the name suggests – digital nomads are travelling the world and meeting new people. They’re using apps to check in with the boss while backpacking in Australia. They’re laying back in a sun lounger in Asia while working on their tablet. They’re creating fun and enriching shared spaces with like minded people, instead of taking another boring walk to the water cooler to chat with Dave. It’s exciting and more and more people are beginning to take the plunge.
Data reveals that back in 1990 barely anyone classed themselves as a freelancer or telecommuter. Sure there were independent contractors, but computers and the internet were almost exclusively an office based phenomenon, and those that did have cell phones could literally only make phone calls.
When AOL made home internet connections more viable, when email took off, and laptops and computers became faster and more versatile, the first remote office workers emerged. 15% of the working US population fit this mold by the early 2000s, and in 2015 this number is around 30%. This directly correlates with faster internet speeds, the use of software and apps, and the rise of mobile technology. Some experts like Pieter Levels predict 14% of the entire world population will adopt some kind of digital nomad lifestyle by 2035!
It’s easy to see the appeal. While some people love their jobs, the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world or spend more time with friends and family, is not something you’re likely to pass up. Surveys suggest the nomadic lifestyle improves health, relationships and overall happiness. When somebody is happy they are more productive and creative.
This is a key factor in companies and employers embracing the concept. The team behind the Firefox web browser is 60% remote. All 400 plus employees of Automattic, who develop the WordPress blog platform are digital nomads.
It also allows employers to choose from a much wider talent pool when the candidates do not have to live within commuting distance of the office.
“This has been amazing for the company in that we can attract and retain the best talent without them having to be in New York or San Francisco or one of the traditional tech centers,” echoes Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg.
There’s also a financial incentive. If you don’t have an office then you obviously don’t have to pay for office space, electricity and daily amenities, and perhaps even computer equipment (though many larger firms do provide this for their remote workers). These savings can then be passed on in various ways.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t hurdles to overcome with a digital nomad lifestyle. Some people simply work better in a more authoritative environment. The freedom to be your own boss can slip too far the wrong way an effect productivity. Furthermore some people just aren’t inclined to travel and take on the adventurous side of the lifestyle. Working remotely without the natural impetus to get out and live can negatively impact people emotionally. Socializing is an in-built part of the office.
From an employer’s standpoint going partially or fully distributed is a huge step and cannot be taken lightly. This itself is enough to put people off. Office culture can also take a hit. Emails, messaging and Skype still do not fully replicate the bonding of face to face interaction and the speed at which information and ideas can be conveyed.
Just as technology gave birth to the digital nomads, some of the hurdles facing them are being overcome with further advances. Apps like Timedoctor and Slack can help boost productivity and time management. Specialized chat systems like Sqwiggle and Horn aid communication, and Caravanerai and Nomadlist help nomads sort out co-living and travel destinations.
Co-working spaces are also helping to solve the problem of productivity for those that cannot always focus by themselves. These specially designed environments are vibrant, fun and comfortable, and allows disparate nomads to come together and share ideas.
Technology making our lives easier is not just a cliché. The digital nomads are living examples of how we’ve come far enough that even work is being rethought.