Digital nomads are professionals who can work from anywhere — all they need is a decent Wi-Fi connection and a smartphone or laptop. They work in foreign countries, coffee shops or shared spaces. The nomad term may make these workers sound rare, but there are 4.8 million U.S. workers who describe themselves as digital nomads, according to the “State of Independence in America” report.
Don’t let the term “nomad” fool you, though. These professionals often work just as hard, drive innovation and impact companies’ bottom lines, just like others do working in a single location.
The remote or on-the-move approach of digital nomads is well-suited to writers or creative people, but there is diversity in the professions, genders and age groups who become digital nomads. The same study also found that nearly one-third are female, 54% are over the age of 38 and one in six earn more than $75,000 annually. Creative professions dominate, but IT and marketing professionals are also part of this trend.
The digital nomad trend blends in with the changing nature of work. With the rise of advanced automation and artificial intelligence (or augmented intelligence, as some see it best applied), we humans need to maximize our creativity and sources of inspiration. At the same time, businesses need to maximize the innovation potential of available human capital.
We know the digital nomad trend is no blip. In fact, a 2018 study revealed that 35% of American workers freelanced in some form in 2018, and that number is expected to increase.
So, how do individuals and/or companies adapt to this trend? Thinking through a few of the challenges and benefits should make for happier, more fulfilled workers who can drive success for themselves, their companies and clients.
Getting Buy-In From Management Can Be Difficult: Some senior managers may insist on a more traditional office environment. Fortunately, I find that more leaders are realizing the importance of flexibility in order to hire and retain employees. Remote or digital nomad arrangements fit in with other trends that more companies are adopting, like sabbaticals for veteran employees or leveraging co-working spaces rather than building or leasing office space.
Mimicking The Face-To-Face Collaboration Of Office Settings: The right collaborative technologies can bring global teams together. Tools such as Slack, Google Hangout or Zoom make online meetings easy and inexpensive. The key is to find a platform that works for most everyone and meets IT guidelines. It also helps if the software doesn’t have a heavy footprint on mobile devices.
Overcoming Time Zone Issues: Managers could claim that off-site workers may have issues meeting time zone challenges. In reality, if you work in a global company, you are used to dealing with various time zones and still getting the work done. We now have online meeting platforms that can synchronize participants’ schedules, and even in global companies that keep workers in an office setting, the time zone hurdle has always been there.
Support Infrastructure: The digital nomad way of doing things may fit perfectly for creative professionals who can work solo after getting direction from managers. But what about people in marketing, finance or engineering? In fact, companies are designing product innovation platforms for today’s digital teams. A platform that meets your company’s needs can enable innovators to securely access design files from anywhere, work on any device, design in real-time and collaborate on-demand.
Appeal To A Changing Workforce: If you want to hire or work with millennials or Gen Z employees or customers, the digital nomad approach or wider support for remote workers is a great option. A 2015 survey of 2,600 respondents conducted by FlexJobs found that 81% of employees seek flexible work to achieve more work-life balance. This work style can attract the employees your company is after.
Foster A Creative Work Environment: I find that the freedom remote workers enjoy tends to make them more creative. Outside the walls of an office, it’s easier to think broadly, meet other professionals and design innovative products. I can attest to this trend myself. At various times during my career, I’ve worked remotely or have taken working trips with the family. As an entrepreneur, I now have more flexibility around my work environment. This allows me to be more creative, productive and efficient, without missing any deadlines, and while being available to my team and clients.
See The World And Expand Cultural Understanding: Working remotely allows people to immerse themselves in different cultures, cities and regions, and better understand business demands and customer needs. It’s possible to adapt what you experience to new solutions or services. Just like a positive office environment can benefit the level of work in a traditional setting, the “vibe” of a new country or new set of entrepreneurs you meet or share space with can improve a digital nomad’s quality of work and ideas.
Sure, not every company will be open to hiring digital nomads or providing flexible options to its employees or consultants. Some roles and headquarter functions will likely stay in traditional settings. But if you’re a business that wants to attract younger generations, encourage innovation and mix your brightest minds with those of other innovators in different regions, industries and professions, then supporting digital nomads may be the perfect strategy.
The future of work is going to force fresh thinking from businesses — it could well be the digital nomads that come up with the best ideas.
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