There is a “digital nomad” movement gaining momentum. While many of us have experienced the world through our screens the last year, digital nomads have been conducting business wherever they want—anywhere in the world. Digital nomads are placing no limits on the location of their workplace, seeking out places with reliable Internet connections and flexible work visas as a means to experience new places and cultures, all while getting paid as if they were coming into the office for a traditional job. Today’s technology has enabled this wherever, whenever approach to work, which has taken hold of a generation.
IT is at the forefront of this movement, created in part by the pandemic, and technology is enabling this nomadic work environment. It may not surprise you that a large number of digital nomads work in IT. The combination of self-sufficiency and independence is enticing and empowering, and for some, it’s a necessity. One of my colleagues, Heidi Martin, travels the United States in an RV with her husband, who works as a traveling nurse, a job that became critical for so many hospitals as ICUs were overwhelmed with COVID patients. Location hasn’t limited Heidi’s career at Ivanti. It’s rare for her to be in one location for long, and she is just one example in a growing group of employees who are ready to embrace the everywhere workplace and explore while they work.
The Digital Nomad
Digital nomads might sound a lot like your regular remote worker who is based in one or two locations, but what sets digital nomads apart is that they travel across continents, instead of across town, while holding down their 9-to-5 jobs. This is different from working on vacation (something I don’t recommend you do). This is a lifestyle, and it is appealing to more and more technologically savvy workers. Many of these workers are in high-demand industries that are constantly battling a shortage of skill and talent. Enabling workers to do their best work no matter their location is becoming a business requirement for companies looking to attract and retain technology workers.
Recently, my company surveyed workers around the world and found (unsurprisingly) that only 12% of respondents wanted to return to the office—ever. That’s a sobering statistic. It should surprise no one that Apple received pushback from its employees when the company announced a return to the office—an “old normal” that few are willing to embrace again. Since then, Apple has postponed returning to the office until at least October.
Navigating the pandemic has caused businesses to compete, create, and collaborate in more ways, and in more places, than ever before. In my own experience, letting employees work from anywhere also benefits employers, as they have an increased talent pool. I live in New Orleans, a community that is not viewed as a booming tech hub. Because Hurricane Katrina took out my office building, I became a remote worker myself. I’ve even had employers that I’ve never met in person, and I personally have not found location to limit my career progression. The digital nomad movement is just the next evolution of what I’ve enjoyed for so long, and I’m happy to see it being available to more people.
No longer limited to local talent, employers have access to a global talent pool. At the same time, there are new and expanded opportunities for the workforce, with greater choices in where and how they offer their skills. Today, hiring practices can focus more on the person, not the person’s location. That’s a big change from even a year ago, when location was a significant factor in who was on your team.
The Bottom Line
The everywhere workplace is here to stay. For business leaders, the shift to remote work has justified cost reductions in real estate and enabled broader searches for talent outside of their region. According to research from Emergent Research and MBO Partners, the number of Americans describing themselves as digital nomads saw an increase of 49% from 2019 to 2020—from 7.3 million to 10.9 million. And the largest increase came from traditional job holders as opposed to freelancers, who were rarely required to show up at a physical office every day anyway.
A significant perk of having digital nomads on staff is that they report a higher rate of job satisfaction than other workers. That’s good news for retention of talent in what is currently an employee’s market.
Digital nomads have been around for a number of years, but many companies still don’t have a formal policy about whom they allow to travel while they work or an infrastructure that can support keeping their employees and sensitive data secure. Companies need structure and policies to support these types of workers to remain competitive. This requires investment in technologies to secure your intellectual property when you can’t predict where it is being accessed, but honestly, that’s no different from the remote work model that we’ve all managed to adopt in the past 12–18 months.
Embracing digital nomads could be the ticket to filling all of the open positions in your company. If you don’t have a policy that supports digital nomads while protecting your company, you should create one now; it has become a competitive imperative.
Crystal Miceli, is the Global Vice President – Head of Solutions & Technical Marketing at Ivanti.