While the concept of digital nomad may be somewhat new, the nomadic lifestyle isn’t.
Mankind has long been a species attracted to the nomadic existence. In our earliest years, we roamed from one environment to the next freely, following nothing but the stars in our efforts to hunt and gather.
Before modern civilisation began, it was common for people to rarely be tied down to a single location. However, now we’re living in a very different kind of society, where the nomad life has been replaced with the everyday rat race, holding many of us steady in the same place. To continue living and earning successfully, humanity has often had to stay put – tethered to a specific desk or location.
That doesn’t have to be the case anymore.
The rise of new technology like cloud communications, collaboration apps and productivity tools means that the internet can now be our proverbial office, letting us be location independent. We’re free to move around again, and many of us are taking advantage of that fact, with 34% of remote employees spending 4-5 days outside of the office. Covid-19 has pushed the concept of remote work to the fore, leading employees and companies alike to reconsider the need to be tied to an office.
The question is, what does digital nomadism mean to the future of work?
What is Remote Work, and What is a Digital Nomad?
There are so many different types of digital nomads in the current landscape that it’s hard to find a one-size-fits-all definition. What we do know, however, is that these employees aren’t the ones that you see sitting behind a desk every day – instead, they’re location independent, working somewhere away from the office. Industries from all over are beginning to embrace remote work, and the digital nomad is a part of that revolution.
Digital nomads can work for themselves, or complete tasks for another company from a distance. Unlike standard remote workers who usually work from home, co-working spaces, or a nearby coffee shop, nomads are defined by their passion for exploration.
These people tend to change their destination frequently, while still making money from a connection on their laptop or phones. From Bali to Bangkok, Colombia to Chiang Mai, these nomads are global travellers.
Digital nomads are risk-takers, often relying on their own hustle and the gig economy. After all, in this lifestyle, you’re never 100% sure where you’re going to end up, or whether you’re going to run out of money before you can pay your rent. However, this kind of employee thrives in exciting and fast-paced situations. They get to live among diverse cultures in places all over the world, devote themselves to learning new skills, and experience life in new and thrilling ways.
What Does a Digital Nomad Do? Digital Nomad Jobs
So, how exactly does a digital nomad pay for their enigmatic lifestyle?
Well, as mentioned above, these experts rely on remote working and tasks that can be done from a distance. Fortunately, remote jobs are becoming increasingly popular, with 43% of American employees spending time working remotely in 2018.
Some digital nomads can continue working for a specific company while they travel. They might deal with things like data input or accounting from a distance, for instance. These tasks rarely require more than the right internet connection, some communication tools, and specialist software.
Others look to sources of passive income, such as managing Airbnb properties. Writers who publish eBooks on amazon can write wherever they are, relying on income from previous eBooks to fund their next move.
Many digital nomads focus on building a career around something that they’re good at. These people are freelancers, taking advantage of the gig economy to work for a wide variety of clients and companies online. As semi-entrepreneurial spirits, they have the extra work of seeking out clients and holding down repeat customers to consider as they earn their daily income. Some might use sites like Fiverr and Upwork, taking a cut to their payments for the ease of finding new jobs.
The key to finding the right digital nomad jobs is to look for something that suits a highly active and remote lifestyle. You won’t be able to be a branch manager or a manufacturing floor supervisor when you’re halfway around the world. However, you can do things like:
- Customer service through cloud communication
- Design and website building
- Social media management
- Writing and editing
- Accounting and financial management
- IT and administration
- Project management
- Recruitment and HR (with video conferencing)
- Software development
- Teaching and tutoring
- Virtual assistant
In the age of the cloud and automation, the number of remote jobs available for digital nomads is growing. Virtually any job that you can do online can be done from a distance. All you need to do is find a working strategy that’s suitable for you. Some of the best digital nomad jobs even allow you to choose your own clients, work according to your own schedule, and set your own pay.
Why is Digital Nomadism so Popular?
So, what makes the digital nomad lifestyle so compelling?
In simple terms, it’s all about freedom.
To “go to work” you don’t need a long commute as a digital nomad. All you need to do is turn your computer on and log into your unified communications platform, or whatever other tools you need. Your desk is your Wi-Fi and your office is the entire world.
As a result, digital nomads have the unique opportunity to explore the furthest reaches of the planet, without having to worry about living in absolute poverty. As a digital nomad, you can:
1. Work where you want, when you want
Digital nomad jobs put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to things like your work schedule. You can choose to where whenever and wherever you feel the most productive. For some people, that will be at home at a desk or in a local café. For others, it’ll be a brand new foreign country.
Like remote workers, digital nomads may also have the opportunity to adjust their working schedule to suit them. If you want to do something for yourself first thing on a Monday morning, then you don’t have to start work until after that task is done – unless you have a specific deadline to reach. You can even take long breaks in the middle of the day so you can recharge.
Just make sure that you’re setting boundaries for your work/life balance, or you could end up shackled to your computer 24/7. Part time work has much more potential when you’re somewhere with a low cost of living.
2. Be inspired by new environments
If you’re remote working as a freelancer or small online business owner, then you get to choose exactly what kind of lifestyle you want to live. Some people jump around from place to place for years. Other digital nomads eventually settle down in a specific location and become remote workers.
They say that travel feeds your soul, but it can also make you a more productive and creative professional too. A lot of people today find it difficult to innovate and think outside of the box when they’re constantly stuck in the same location. Location independence lets you disrupt your day-to-day patterns with thrilling new environments gives you a chance to build and evolve as a person.
You may find that the digital nomad lifestyle helps you to become the kind of professional that you’ve always wanted to be.
3. Eliminate the stress of traditional work
The best digital nomad jobs come with plenty of opportunities for freedom and flexibility. You can decide whether you want to work from the comfort of your own bed one day, or whether you want to head to a local co-working space. This eliminates a lot of the stress that’s associated with things like the standard office chaos and the daily commute.
For instance, did you know that longer commute times are often associated with higher blood pressure and BMI, as well as significant issues with stress and sleep? You can even start to get rid of some financial stresses with digital nomadism too.
While a lot of people worry about the concept of making money on the go, you’ll find that living in places like Southeast Asia and beyond can be a lot cheaper than living in Europe and the US. You may even be able to adapt to living a more minimalistic lifestyle, so you don’t need to make as much money to get by.
Is It Easy to Be a Digital Nomad?
For remote workers with a passion for travel, digital nomad jobs could conceivably have a lot to offer. When life is going well, the freedom to move around the world and explore new destinations can be a wonderful thing. However, learning how to become a digital nomad successfully isn’t always simple.
There are challenges to living as a digital nomad that affects all remote workers, as well as specific issues that travelling employees need to overcome.
1. Digital nomadism is socially isolating
To some extent, the digital nomad lifestyle can seem to be a socially freeing concept. After all, you get to travel the world meeting new people and interacting with different cultures. Spending time in Indonesia or Estonia may seem exciting, but if you don’t speak the local language you’ll struggle to make new connections. You’ll rarely get the opportunity to put down roots and form real connections with anyone. This can make the relationships that you do build feel a little hollow.
At the same time, you’ll have a hard time connecting to either your clients as a freelancer or the other people in your office if you’re working for an employer. Remote working is a very isolating experience. If you don’t have regular meetings over video with your team members, and a means to stay connected each day such as a collaboration app, then you could lose track of your company culture.
2. Life is unpredictable
For many digital nomads, the fact that their lifestyle is unpredictable is what attracted them to their digital nomad jobs in the first place. These kinds of workers rarely want to be tied down to a specific kind of routine. They feel that working according to a common schedule puts them in a rut. However, an unpredictable lifestyle can be problematic too.
For instance, when you’re travelling the world, if you suddenly lose your internet connection, you might be stuck unable to get work done for your employer. If you’re not working, then you’re not getting paid. At the same time, there’s always a risk that your laptop or phone could end up broken or stolen, forcing you to find money for new tools as quickly as possible.
3. It’s so easy to get distracted
As a digital nomad, you’re also at risk of getting distracted almost constantly. While remote working from your desk at home is unlikely to overwhelm you with shiny things to do and see, digital nomadism offers something different. As a digital nomad, you’ll be exploring the world and seeing new things all the time. It can be tempting to ignore your work so that you can experience more.
That’s one of the reasons why digital nomads need to ensure they have a purpose, a goal and plenty of focus when they work. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, and you don’t have a schedule to guide you, then you could end up getting nothing done.
Despite these obvious challenges, the remote working and digital nomad movement is growing. Already, the remote workforce has grown by 140% in the last 15 years. What’s more, when digital nomads find the right routine for their needs – they thrive.
A Stanford University study found that remote workers and digital nomads took fewer sick days than their counterparts, and were 13% more productive overall.
How to Become a Digital Nomad
So, if you’re not worried about the challenges, but you are excited about the opportunities that a nomad’s digital life can offer – how do you get started?
Learning how to be a digital nomad isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. A lot of today’s remote workers figure it out as they go, learning from the other nomads that they meet as they travel the world. However, there are a few tips you can follow to boost your chances of success.
1. Get rid of unnecessary expenses
Paying for things that you don’t need is never an ideal situation, but it can be particularly problematic if you’re a digital nomad. You can’t afford to travel heavy in this lifestyle, which means that you need to get rid of those extra expenses that could be bogging you down. Banish all the debt you can get rid of, cancel your subscriptions, and forget about gym memberships. All you need is your computer and your cloud software.
2. Manage your income
As a digital nomad, you need to make sure that you have a safety net. You never know when you’ll end up with a broken laptop that you’ll need to replace, or an issue with your internet connection. When that happens, you’ve got to have something to turn to – and it shouldn’t be a credit card. Before you go travelling the world, make sure that you have an emergency savings account with a few months’ worth of income to tide you over. Remember, you might be able to live more frugally as a digital nomad, but you’ll still need cash.
3. Get the right tech
Digital nomads just can’t live without technology. To thrive in any of the best digital nomad jobs, you’re going to need the right technology. For most employees, that starts with a laptop and a reliable internet connection. The chances are that you’ll also need a number of cloud-based tools too, including:
- Communication tools for video and audio conferencing
- Collaboration apps
- File sharing and cloud storage tools
- Specialist software for your specific career (accounting tools and marketing project management software for instance)
- Cybersecurity services
4. Protect yourself
Travelling around the world can give you some of the best experiences of your life – but it’s not always as simple as it seems. You’re still going to be living in the real world, where emergencies happen, injuries occur, and sickness is everywhere. You’re going to need immunisations to enter certain parts of the world and various other health and safety solutions too. Make sure that you have a good travel health insurance policy to cover you.
5. Have a plan everywhere you go
As a digital nomad, you don’t necessarily need to decide exactly where you’re going to be working from one month to the next. Don’t just show up in Thailand hoping you’ll figure it out. Spend time making sure that you have the right currency for your destination, researching the best spots for Wi-Fi, and knowing your way around the time zone. Do your homework on each place that you’re going to visit so you know you’re adequately prepared.
The Key Tools to Use as a Digital Nomad
As we mentioned above, digital nomads prefer to travel light – but they’re nothing without their tools. If you’re leaving the basic remote working life behind in favour of something more exotic, then you’re going to need to make sure that you’re prepped for success. Some of the tools you’ll need include:
- A laptop: A laptop is the bible of the digital nomad religion. It needs to go with you wherever you are, and it must be something that you can rely on. Make sure your laptop has plenty of processing power to handle your workload, and a long battery life is essential. Extra storage and backup solutions like external hard drives can be helpful too.
- A smartphone: When you’re not on your laptop, you’ll probably be using your smartphone, checking for email updates or sharing files over your team collaboration tools. Find a phone that’s suitable for the software that you’re going to be using, and make sure that your phone is unlocked, so you can travel freely.
- Headphones and a microphone: Whether you’re communicating with your family, or connecting with your team back home, you’re going to need a good set of headphones. Noise cancelling headphones that can block out the sound of the environment around you are a must-have in a digital nomad lifestyle. It’s also worth choosing a microphone that eliminates unnecessary background noise.
- Unified communications (UC) tools: You’re going to need a reliable environment for communication that you can access through the cloud. Your tools may include everything you need for video conferencing, client calls and even instant messaging. This is how you stay connected to the rest of the world when you’re on the move.
- Productivity planners: Remember how we mentioned that it’s hard to stay focused in the digital nomad world? A productivity planner can help you stay on track. You can set weekly goals and track your projects with a service like Trello. This kind of service is also useful for showing your team members your progress.
- Team collaboration tools: If you’re working with other employees from around the world, then you need a way to connect with them. Team collaboration tools like the RingCentral App make it easier to share files over the cloud, work together on projects, and connect through direct team chat.
- VPN services: When you’re travelling around the world and working online, you’re going to need to use a lot of different networks – not all of them will be secure. Using a VPN to access the internet will help to keep your data secure and offer an extra layer of protection for your employers too.
- A translation tool: Translation tools like iTranslate can come in handy if you’re going to be travelling to destinations where you don’t speak the language. The app helps you to read and speak in a number of different languages, so you can increase your vocabulary and learn as you go.
- Calendar services: For those meetings you have with your team, make sure that you have a calendar service installed which can send reminders to your email and phone. It might be useful to use a tool like Every Time Zone to align yourself with other people around the world too.
What Are the Benefits of Hiring Remote Workers for Businesses?
So far, we’ve focused on all the pros and cons of remote working for the actual digital nomad. However, there are also benefits for companies that are willing to hire remote employees too.
Businesses of all sizes are beginning to embrace the remote work trend, with 16% of global companies now defined as “fully remote”. While there are certainly some challenges associated with hiring and managing remote employees, the reality is that your remote team could be one of the best assets your business has. Benefits include:
1. Higher productivity levels
Remote teams get more done in less time. They can start new projects faster, focus on what needs doing, and improve your bottom line rapidly. They don’t need to commute to work to get a task done, and they can choose the times of day that’s most suitable to their method of work too.
According to a report from Coso Cloud, 23% of remote workers also say that they’re willing to put extra hours outside of their allotted time into getting the job done well.
2. You draw from a larger talent pool
If your business is focused on just hiring local talent, then your options for finding certain skillsets are limited. You might be able to convince a handful of people to relocate to come to your office, but for the most part, your talent pool will be extremely small. However, if you’re willing to work with remote workers and digital nomads, then the world is your oyster.
You get the option to pull the skills that you need from anywhere in the world. What’s more, you could find that you’re more appealing to the current candidate market. 68% of millennials say that they would be more likely to work for a company that offers remote working as an option.
3. You reduce costs
These days, you don’t need to worry about renting expensive office space and buying business computers to be in business. If you’re working with digital nomads and remote workers, they create their own offices, so you don’t have to. You can minimise your real estate demands and overheads this way, keeping your expenses as low as possible.
Studies show that the average real-estate savings for full-time teleworkers equate to around $10,000 every year. On top of that, having remote workers also improves your retention rates by up to 10%, so you don’t have to spend as much on recruitment and churn.
4. Remote workers are healthier and happier
Finally, numerous studies show that various aspects of in-house work are affecting the mental and physical health of employees. For instance, in the UK, workers spend an average of around 58 minutes commuting to work, ending up with higher blood pressure and negative moods as a result.
Remote workers and digital nomads have less stress to deal with overall, which means that they’re a lot less likely to call in sick when they feel like they need a break from the office.
Four Digital Nomad Challenges to Overcome
Now that more and more companies are going 100% remote, it could be the perfect opportunity for you to consider the benefits of the digital nomad lifestyle. While the pandemic may have put plans on hold for a while, that just gives you more time to build your savings.
However, before you can get started, you’re going to need to figure out a strategy for how you’re going to overcome some of the most common challenges of working remotely. For example:
Challenge 1: Trouble managing your time
Digital nomads, as we mentioned above, are surrounded by distractions from all angles. If you want to stay productive (and profitable) then you’re going to need a way to manage your schedule or your time. Tools like TimeCamp can allow you to log the time you spend on specific tasks, while Trello helps you to organise your days and weeks in order of the most important projects.
While you’re managing your time, remember to always keep time zones in mind. When connecting with your team members or clients, you’ll need to find a time that works for both of you, so one doesn’t need to get up for a video conference in the middle of the night.
Challenge 2: Problems switching off
With no commute or physical office to leave mind each day, it can be extremely difficult to keep your personal and work life separate. You can check your emails constantly from your smartphone, connect with coworkers on social media, and more. But remember – even full time office workers get to leave their office at the end of the day.
While constantly working might seem like a good way to fund your digital nomad lifestyle, we all need a break from time to time. Make sure that you set your presence on team collaboration apps so that people know when they can and can’t reach you from the office. It’s also a good idea to turn notifications off from your work life after a specific time each night.
Challenge 3: Isolation from your team
When you’re not in the office, you’re going to miss things. There aren’t going to be any watercooler chats or impromptu lunches for you. Sometimes it can feel as though you’re missing out on genuine connections with your team members. However, if you can upgrade your communication strategy, then you can take steps to overcome this issue.
Go beyond keeping in touch through social media – schedule regular video conferencing sessions with the people that you work with so you can connect on a deeper level through face-to-face communication. Stay connected through the day using instant chat services like the RingCentral App that make it feel like you’re chatting to friends. Schedule appointments regularly with mentors in your team so you can catch up with whatever’s going on in the office.
Take advantage of the internet to reach out to the broader digital nomad community. Meeting with other independent workers in your current location can expand your social circle – and provide you with more opportunities in future.
Challenge 4: Technology trips you up as a digital nomad
Office technology is usually reliable. Unfortunately, your remote internet connection and laptop won’t always be as dependable as it needs to be. Although you can’t protect yourself against things like sudden drops in internet speed and broken laptops all of the time, you can prepare for success.
For instance, consider doing your research in advance when you’re going to a new location so you can find remote working facilities and co-working spaces near you. You can also track down computer repair stores if necessary, too. Speak to your IT team about the things you can do to fix common problems with your laptop or cloud software and make sure you’re up-to-date on how to use your tools.
Is Remote Working the Future of Work?
While digital nomadism requires a very specific attitude and a lack of physical attachments to be successful, remote work is a lot easier to embrace. You don’t have to move around all over the world to be a remote worker, you can simply leave the stress of the office behind in favour of the comfort of your own home office.
The various benefits associated with remote working, including everything from happier and more productive employees, to reduced expenses for businesses, means that many people are beginning to tout remote working as the future of work.
Currently, we’re learning that remote workers are generally more productive and efficient than their in-office counterparts. When people have the freedom to work from wherever they want, with the tools that are suitable to them, they go above and beyond to get things done.
Research from Gallup even finds that people who spend time working outside of the office are generally more engaged by their jobs than their counterparts that are stuck at a specific office each day. Your employees are eager to have more freedom, and they’re happy to prove that they can be assets if you give them the flexibility that you need.
Aside from the benefits in productivity and happiness that both employers and employees get from remote work, the rise of new technology is making this method of working more appealing too. We now have more reliable cloud technology than ever before, allowing team members to log into useful software over the internet and share files with colleagues in real time.
As we move forward into a world where remote workers can access things like AI digital assistants to help them get things done without support from a human coworker, digital nomadism is likely to become even more popular. Virtual assistants will be able to assist remote workers in doing everything from scheduling appointments according to specific time zones, to keeping track of their work and daily projects.
AI isn’t the only disruptive technology changing the way that we think about remote work either. In recent years, we’ve also begun to explore the potential of new mobile connections with 5G. New connections from 5G will eliminate the latency usually associated with sharing files and information over the cloud. Team members will be able to share content with their colleagues instantly, and things like HD video conferencing will become more of a reality.
The rise of 5G connectivity could even pave the way for innovations in things like augmented and virtual reality, where employees will be able to virtually “step into” their offices from anywhere.
The Age of Digital Nomads Is Here
The cloud and new technology have transformed the way that we live and work.
The days of looking at remote working as a distant dream is over. The landscape is changing, and experts predict that remote work will equal, if not overcome fixed office working by 2025.
As more businesses continue to recognise the benefits of extending their talent and recruiting reach with remote work, while accessing more productive employees, the digital nomad movement will continue. In the years to come, we’ll continue to see a wider range of digital nomads and remote workers in the world, empowered by tools for productivity, unified communication, and collaboration from RingCentral.
Originally published Dec 13, 2019, updated Jan 16, 2023