Many large companies have announced in recent weeks that they have no plans to return to the office for the foreseeable future; a survey by the BBC revealed that fifty of the UK’s biggest employers can not see a way of accommodating large numbers of staff while social and physical distancing regulations are still in place. The Royal Bank of Scotland made the call for staff to stay home until 2021 back in July, and it is becoming apparent that employees in many organisations may never return to offices.
It is important that we see the wider picture here; the changing world of work has been on the horizon since the technological revolution. The acceleration of the shift to digital over the previous decade has seen an inevitable growth in desires for a new working culture that prioritises better work-life balance, enabled by technology. However, the pandemic has been an important catalyst in making this inevitable change a reality. The urgency with which organisations were forced to adapt their working models, and the need for employers to support this process in order for their businesses to survive has aligned desires from both sides to make a remote working culture function as effectively as possible.
The world has been moving away from traditional desk-oriented structures for a number of years, and Stanford University research from before the pandemic even revealed that remote working programmes can significantly boost workplace productivity. The study showed that, among the group that worked remotely, employee attrition decreased by 50 percent among the telecommuters, they took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off. Even with such positive evidence that remote working benefits organisations, the pre-Covid world was bogged down by myths about remote working and productivity.
Now, we have undergone a global remote-working experiment and can expect to see more and more companies adopting the model full-time. For many individuals, they will take this one step further; in addition to the growth of remote workers, the number of ‘digital nomads’ in the working world was on a steep incline before the pandemic (there are almost 5 million digital nomads in the world). For these individuals, remote working has taken on a new meaning entirely, allowing them to not only work from home, but to work from anywhere.
So, who are digital nomads?
There are an abundance of common misconceptions when it comes to who digital nomads are and what exactly they do. Digital nomads are simply workers who are location independent; in other words, they work borderlessly, without the constraints of being tied to a physical office or even time zone. The idea that the digital nomad lifestyle allows you to be very relaxed, worry-free and enjoy lots of free time is misleading in many ways.
On a daily basis, digital nomads might be running companies in multiple countries whilst residing in another, they might be connecting with people from all over the world, and they are often at the forefront of innovation in their field – many found fast-scaling start-ups that utilise next-generation technology to provide products and services that bringing value to the economy. These digital nomads tend to be working in innovative spaces, which is apt considering that the concept of digital nomadism requires forward thinking.
Digital nomads are in fact some of the hardest working people in the economic ecosystem. It is not easy to stay constantly on top of your business whilst travelling and although this lifestyle may sound appealing, it actually involves a lot of multitasking, accommodating different local infrastructures and missing out on social interaction.
What does all this mean for the future of work?
If governments are to prepare for the future of work (whilst also recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic) they must look to digital-first strategies that support borderless working and bring in new revenue streams. We have already witnessed a keen appetite for digital-residency programmes, with the Estonian e-Residency programme attracting over 72,000 people from 174 countries to become virtual citizens, while the Estonian government’s new Digital Nomad Visa is allowing remote workers as well location independent entrepreneurs to actually reside in the country. Other countries have followed suit, with Barbados choosing to freeze income tax via its ‘Welcome Stamp’ scheme, Bermuda introducing the ‘Work From Bermuda’ certificate and Georgia’s imminent visa scheme for remote workers allowing self-employed non-nationals to work from the country.
Government’s and organisations that fail to recognise that the world of work is changing forever will simply be left behind. By exploring digital solutions, we can become a better connected, more resilient global working community that is better prepared for whatever crisis may arise.