Beyond WFH: digital nomads bring new businesses and concerns
Businesses are looking to profit from the wave of professionals — primarily freelancers — who are leaving their homes behind to work from remote locations.
There is an emerging ecosystem of services and controversy beginning to develop around Digital Nomads, or people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and live their lives in a nomadic way.
As a new work option for professionals with wanderlust has emerged amid the prevalence of digital technology, workers are embracing the opportunity to wander the world and plug in from anywhere — as long as it has reliable Wi-Fi service.
In response to the rise of the so-called digital nomad, businesses are looking to profit from the wave of professionals — primarily freelancers — who are leaving their homes behind for the chance to work from remote locations in Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere.
Among those seeking to monetize the roving group are relocation services that advertise their ability to help the peripatetic find temporary stops along the way, where they can work and live for a time — all for a fee.
Such services include RemoteYear.com, which advertises a suite of offerings including travel, housing, transportation, and 24/7 access to the Web in its monthly package.
Its message markets directly to those wanting to maintain their career even as they globetrot: “Keep your job and work remotely while living in different cities around the world.”
While newer businesses look to benefit from the trend, older media businesses, including legacy and other established news publications, are also profiting, albeit to a lesser extent, by generating content related to the trend.
Stories pegged to the rise of digital nomadism have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur, among others.
While finding ways to monetize those with the leeway to pack up their laptops and work while roaming continents interests some, others are wary of investing in a niche group comprised largely by those who are recently out of school and specialized in only a few fields.
According to Investopedia, “Digital nomads tend to be younger, tech-forward, and ambitious, working mainly in IT, creative, or the knowledge economy.” A research firm has put the number of independent workers—digital nomads--at roughly 5 million worldwide with one in six of them earning at least $75,000 per year.
This will likely influence big businesses still considering how best to take a bite from the trend, including potentially incentivizing highly educated professionals to accept offers of full-time employment by allowing them to choose their work location. Some of the more common jobs that fit the digital nomad lifestyle include web development, digital marketing, content writing, graphic design, online teaching, consulting, and creative work. Sites that advertise them include Flex Jobs, We Work Remotely, Virtual Vocations, plus some of the popular job sites like Indeed and LinkedIn.
Yet some are worried about the downsides to the digital nomad profile.
Critics like Paris Marx, writing for Medium, have already raised concerns about what can read as the self-serving nature of those with the privilege to roam abroad, a choice that drains their expertise from their home communities and invests little in the locales they temporarily patronize.
“Location independence is only possible because of communication infrastructures built with public funds,” Marx is quoted as saying on Nodeskave not paid into through income tax.
It remains to be seen how the digital nomad trend will shape hiring practices over the next few years, especially by major companies. They will need to consider whether digital nomads have the potential to become reliable full-time staffers or, over the long-term, they fit the stereotype of the whim-driven individual, unable to transition.