Rise of the Digital Nomad
It should be no surprise to anyone at this point that work can be done from anywhere. There have been scores of annoying articles about it. Like this one, this one, or this one. The one you’re reading right now though, isn’t one of those (hopefully). This article is about the people who take the idea “work from anywhere” to the extreme. The current vernacular for these folks is “digital nomads.” These are people whose jobs require no specific location, and so choose to live anywhere they want. Anywhere, in this case, meaning literally all across the globe. Digital nomads often live in 4,5,6,7,+ locations a year. They get a short-term lease, they set up an office or go to the local coffee shop to work, and they live a semi-normal life wherever they are. This lifestyle may seem hilarious or even slightly demented to some, but there are currently millions of these nomads and it’s estimated there could be 1 billion location independent workers by 2035. Technology has smashed countless societal norms. The next might be the idea of living in one place.
THE DREAM OF LIVING ANYWHERE
The idea that this life could soon become the norm baffles some, but it certainly excites others. Many of you could be planning a life like this right now. If digital nomadism seems interesting to you, but overall is too scary, that’s understandable. A life like this is difficult and complex. It’s for this reason that multiple business models have emerged with the purpose of making the digital nomad lifestyle easier. One such business is called Roam and they provide live-work housing for remote workers. They are apartment buildings that have built-in co-working spaces for tenants. All tenants have their own bedroom and bathroom, this isn’t like camp, but they do share a kitchen and other living spaces. They also host regular events and activities. Roam offers locations in Miami, San Francisco, London, Tokyo, and Bali. Another such business is called Remote Year. They organize trips for working freelancers around the world, moving them from one city to another every month, for up to a year. Freelancers travel with groups of other freelancers of all types. Remote Year books and arranges all their guests’ travel, housing, and activities for them.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
A situation like Remote Year might be a bit extreme for some, but many digital nomads move around that frequently anyway. In fact, many report having to move more often than they like so they don’t violate their VISA policy. Most countries consider these workers tourists and allow them to stay for 3 months on average. Although, there are a variety of ways to extend that period depending on the country. If you have a US passport you can stay in the UK up to sixth months. To get into China at all, many citizens, no matter where they’re from, need a visa. Argentina requires US citizens to pay a fee every time they enter their country and Estonia has recently launched a new year long visa program specifically for Digital Nomads.
When considering a nomadic life the first things we think of are all the places we’ve dreamed of visiting, but nomads often consider ease before desire. What countries best facilitate remote work? Where do the cheapest plane tickets go? How many other freelancers are there in a city? How long can we stay? Before you embark on this adventure, understand that where you live depends on many more factors beyond “where do I want to go?”
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Where you plant your laptop isn’t the only thing to consider when living a nomadic life. Remote workers still need to be available to clients for meetings or other communication at specific times. This can be tricky when there’s a 13-hour time difference between you and a client. It’s important to always keep track of the time differences between each of your clients and yourself. If you’re scheduling a call make sure you agree to a reasonable start time (this may not always be possible but do your best) and be sure you’ll be in a quiet location. Just because a client may not need to see you doesn’t mean you should be talking to them while going through security at the airport at two in the morning.
You should be upfront and honest with clients about your living situation. Make sure they know, and are comfortable with, the fact that you’re currently in Cambodia and will be in New Zealand next week. Assure them that your travels in no way affects your productivity or the quality of your work (in fact it improves it). At the same time, you do want to set some boundaries. Establish the rules of communication at the beginning of your relationship. What times of day are best for you to chat (based on time difference) and which communication methods best suit which issues (you may want to avoid having phone calls as much as possible due to the price of international plans).
If you plan to find clients as you travel from place to place it’s important to know the employment laws of each of those countries. If a client lives in a non-English speaking country do some research to figure out the English fluency rate of most people. Figure out their preferred methods of payment, the exchange rates between their currency and US dollars, their tax policies, and more.
Most of us freelancers probably won’t engage in the nomad lifestyle, but it isn’t so crazy to dip your toe in, at least not anymore. The future of work is wherever you want it to be. If this excites you, maybe try out this life for a few months or a year. You’re probably already thinking about where you’d go.