Digital nomads – pros and cons and the advantage for companies
Digital nomads – Working online and traveling the world. Sounds great? Our colleague Sebastian gives some pros and cons of digital nomadism, discusses the advantages for companies and shares his knowledge and first-hand experiences.
Photo credit: @Merakist
What are digital nomads?
Though the term “digital nomad” has been around for a while, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic it has been more hotly discussed than ever before. This is not only because of how the virus transformed the way we work but also because the lifestyle has become much more accessible to countless workers around the world.
Digital nomads are professionals without a permanent base who have the freedom to move to a new destination whenever they want, as long as their job can be done online. And while digital nomadism has usually been associated with backpackers, an increasing number of professionals are embracing the lifestyle for a number of reasons ranging from wanderlust to saving money working from more affordable locations.
Digital nomadism was often seen as a lifestyle reserved for bloggers, programmers or translators, but ever since the coronavirus confined entire teams to their homes, and offices became in some cases even superfluous, many workers from other areas have been taking the chance offered by remote work to leave their current bases. Jobs in marketing, content and communications, teaching and media are perfectly suited for remote work, but I know a few people who work in bookkeeping or HR who are fully nomadic.
Digital nomadism on the rise
The rise in remote work possibilities is also creating an infrastructure of its own, with short-term office shares that make it possible to hop from one destination to the next with ease. Even youth hostels, formerly the domain of poor backpackers, have transformed into co-working hubs that cater to part- or full-time digital nomads. Companies are even starting to offer corporate apartments fully equipped for employees to move in and start working immediately.
And while the term “digital nomad” is usually associated with jet-setters, it also applies to remote workers who are based elsewhere, even within the same country. A 2020 study published by MBO partners estimated the number of digital nomads in the US at 10.9 million – this represents a staggering year-on-year increase of 49 per cent.
My experience with remote work
Remote work was a possibility for us at EnglishBusiness even before the pandemic, and being the travel enthusiast that I am, I took advantage of the opportunity to work remotely from different cities within Germany or abroad, even temporarily relocating to Kyiv, Ukraine.
My co-workers have also taken the opportunity to use remote work for longer visits to their home countries. However, since most of us are expats and need to maintain a base in Germany for visa reasons, none of us has embraced full-time digital nomadism; this is different for many of our freelance translators.
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic threw the professional world upside down, and like everything else in our digitalised world, work is also moving into the online realm. This is a reality that companies will have to come to terms with in order to keep up with the times, especially since there is no shortage of incentives to get digital nomads to set up base in towns that desperately want foreigners to inject much-needed cash into their economies. This is particularly true in areas that rely on tourism and were hit hardest by Covid-19.
We’ve all heard of houses being sold for 1 euro in southern Italy, but there are many other locations around the world, usually referred to as “Zoom Towns”, that offer people money to move there for a few years. A friend of mine recently relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma, lured by an incentive program: 10,000 dollars in exchange for a year in the city.
Photo credit: Bram Naus
The downsides of being a digital nomad
However, digital nomadism is not without its complications. Sure, the term evokes images of people working on the beach while sipping on a pina colada, but the reality is that being a digital nomad involves questions of taxation, visa issues, health insurance and even loneliness. After all, it’s not a permanent holiday but a full-time job that involves routine, having no contacts in the respective country and maybe not even being able to understand the particular language. Moving around every couple of months is not for everyone either.
Also, being able to go nomadic is a privilege reserved mostly for people from industrialised Western countries. As unfair as it is, you also need to have the right passport to live a nomadic lifestyle.
The advantage for companies
While many companies are refusing to let go of their old established ways and want workers to return to the office, others are seeing the benefits of digital nomadism and remote work. The most obvious one is not having to pay for an office for an entire workforce and being able to scale down to cut costs. After all, every employee in the office represents an expense in terms of rent and utilities. But another major benefit is being able to cast the net much wider in the search for talent, since companies can now look beyond their physical location for new employees, and employees unwilling to relocate can still join companies.
The cross-cultural factor
Not always but in most cases, digital nomadism involves working across cultures, which is something that was part of our day-to-day work at EnglishBusiness even before the pandemic. Companies can now hire freelancers or employees from different countries more easily, which will involve communication challenges even if they have a common language, for cultural differences are also reflected in words and expressions. Whether that is due to the location or the customer base, working from a different country has the added benefit of bringing people out of their comfort zones and allowing them to experience new cultures and ways of thinking. Now, this might just be me being a huge proponent of living in different countries, but the biggest benefit I see in increased remote work is that people who may not have had long-term living experiences abroad can now dive into new cultures and experience a degree of routine in different environments.
Is digital nomadism the future?
Digital nomadism has surely become much more common nowadays, though it is unlikely that it will be fully embraced by the majority of employees. However, studies have shown that a growing number of professionals do not want to return to the old normal either. Therefore, companies are implementing hybrid working models. And the fact that offices will remain emptier than before the pandemic is one of the many deep changes brought about by the coronavirus in combination with the development of new technologies.
I for one enjoy having the possibility of working remotely, and while I am not planning on leaving Hamburg permanently, I can see myself working from somewhere warmer and sunnier in winter.
At EnglishBusiness, we have been working remotely and across cultures since before the pandemic. We offer seminars on intercultural communication and create bridges between the English and German speaking worlds for your business. Whether your goal is to expand to Germany (or vice versa) or simply to learn the language, you can always count on our expertise.