Of all the imagined futures created by writers and visionaries around the world, it seems unlikely that anyone could have predicted that technological leaps forward would lead to a societal leap back into our old nomadic ways. Whether anyone saw it coming, the proliferation of the gig economy and work from home options has led to an equal proliferation of so-called “digital nomads.” These people live where they please and move around as much as they please, working remotely in a number of fields. There are more of them now than ever before, and their numbers are likely to keep growing.
Working From Anywhere
A lot of people learned how to work from home in 2020. One side effect of this was that a lot of people relocated from the expensive city center to the cheaper suburbs and exurbs. It’s not a big leap from that to working from anywhere. After all, as long as you have a stable internet connection and a relatively flexible setup, working remotely doesn’t have to mean working from home. You could work from hotels or vacation rentals or even while on all inclusive cruises.
Being a digital nomad isn’t a new concept. As soon as working online and working remotely became feasible, many people jumped on the bandwagon. There are lots of motivations. Retirees who don’t want to give up their extra income or the ability to travel freely were relatively early adopters of the lifestyle. Snowbirds, people who have a summer home and a winter home that they travel between depending on the season, are also natural nomads.
As the options became more varied and the gig economy came into its own, being a digital nomad became accessible to people further down the economic ladder. With the right setup, you can travel to a place where the cost of living is relatively low and still have a job at a company based in the pricier economic centers.
Being a nomad is not always a picnic, however. There are definite downsides and complications. If you do settle in a foreign country, you must make sure you have the right work visas and other legal permissions. On a personal level, working remotely can be extremely isolating. If you don’t work in the same place as your fellow co-workers, you lose some of that natural social structure. The life of a digital nomad can be lonely and prone to burnout. Without supervisors or a structured workday, it can be hard to get things done, and even harder to stop once you get rolling. That is a recipe for overwork and a poor work/life balance.
The Future of Work
There has been a great deal of speculation about what will come next in the workplace. Will businesses go back to the traditional model of a central office with resources and cubicles and meeting rooms, or will they lean more heavily on a remote/work from the home model? There’s a potential for reducing the costs related to renting and transportation, but what about the stress this puts on workers and the potential loss of corporate control, morale, and productivity within the company? There are pros and cons all around. It’s hard to say what comes next, but it seems that the population of digital nomads will likely increase over the next few years, now that the work-from-home infrastructure has been built and road-tested by necessity.
If there is one thing that we’ve learned from the rise of the digital nomad, it’s that there is simply no way to predict exactly what the future of work will look like. If you do make an accurate prediction, it’s probably by accident. No one knows exactly what the next trend in working will be, but despite the downsides, the advantages of being a digital nomad will probably always create a small but persistent group of people who work from wherever.