As international formation experts, digital nomads have been on our radar for years. As career tracks such as computer programming and digital art made it easier to work remotely, the prospect of working from a far-flung beach or idyllic countryside became a viable option. The digital nomad lifestyle was embraced by thousands of people, allowing them to travel, explore and enjoy life while maintaining a business or career.
The coronavirus pandemic temporarily put a stop to this, and devastated international travel. Yet as the restrictions begin to ease and people return to the skies, there are signs that the landscape has shifted even further. The digital nomad lifestyle may now be more possible than ever before – with knock-on effects for locations and economies around the world.
What are Digital Nomads?
While the concept of the ‘digital nomad’ has existed since the turn of the millennium, the idea started to gain pace in the mid 2010s. Tired of the traditional 9 to 5 office jobs, commutes and grey urban landscapes, professionals both young and old began to take their work with them. People who could work effectively on their laptops could use them anywhere with a decent wife connection, allowing them to make money in one country while exploring another.
Digital nomads were typically solo entrepreneurs, artists or other creatives who worked on a freelance or contract basis. This meant that they had a large degree of flexibility in how they completed their work, and that they did not need to be in a fixed location to do it. Programmers or musicians could work on a laptop, while artists only needed to take a drawing tablet with them. Clients meanwhile could be contacted via email or Skype, the default voice app of the age.
Digital nomads benefited enormously from the rise of budget international travel, and the opening up of visa schemes and facilities to accommodate them. The 2010s not only saw the rise of reliable wife connections, but also more capable laptops, tablets and smartphones. With the digital nomad community starting out small, destinations such as Thailand and Indonesia were cheap and accessible, while Bali made a particular point of attracting digital nomads by investing in high speed fibre broadband.
The Rise of Remote Working
The coronavirus pandemic has been a difficult period in many respects, including for businesses, many of whom have struggled to adapt. For those that have survived, however, a number of lessons have been learned. One of the biggest challenges for many businesses was the series of lockdowns, and the need to close workplaces entirely. Businesses suddenly had to figure out how to pivot to remote working, and enable employees to do their jobs from home.
Remote working was already growing in popularity before the pandemic, as forward-thinking businesses started to reassess the traditional work-life balance. Remote working for a day or two per week was a way to give employees greater flexibility, and benefit from the conveniences of working from home. Fewer people travelling to the office also saved money in terms of operating costs, saved employees time and money for commutes, and did a little bit more to help the planet – all things that appeal to modern workers.
After nearly two years of intermittent lockdowns, a majority of the global population is now familiar with or has experienced remote working. While a lot of it hasn’t been done under the conditions it was intended for – i.e. as an optional benefit – the systems for remote working are now in place in most businesses. Software such as Zoom and Teams is now part of the common business lexicon, and businesses are less scared about remote working being less productive.
New Nomads & Zoom Towns
This increased understanding, acceptance and implementation of remote working all bodes extremely well for digital nomads. While international travel is still an issue at the time of writing, this is likely to ease as countries move closer to full vaccination, and booster shots are distributed. The acceptance of remote working as a permanent fixture in businesses could enable more people to become digital nomads than ever before, moving outside of the traditional artistic or business careers to more traditional office work.
The rise of remote working has been a global phenomenon, and many countries and localities have taken notice. What this has coalesced into is what’s becoming known as a ‘Zoom town’: a town or city that bills itself as an ideal location for remote workers. Unlike the original digital nomads, however, the expansion of superfast wired and wireless internet means that it’s possible to work from many more destinations, and find a location and lifestyle that’s truly right for you.
The idea of the Zoom town has emerged in America, and numerous authorities have begun to take advantage. An initiative called Tulsa Remote is providing remote workers who move to Tulsa, Oklahoma with free desk space and networking opportunities, as well as $10,000 cash as either a lump sum or monthly stipend. 218 Relocate is a similar scheme in Minnesota, while Vermont offers $10,000 over two years as part of its Remote Worker Grant scheme.
America isn’t the only place that’s incentivizing people to come and work there, though. Numerous cities and countries around the world are offering incentives to live and work there. Spanish towns such as Ponga and Rubiá are offering lump sums and additional income to new residents, having lost many locals to larger cities. Similar schemes exist in Italian towns including Candela and Calabria, while Italy, Greece and Croatia all offer practically free housing, so long as you commit to renovating it over time.
While the digital nomad lifestyle had been growing steadily as technology and attitudes advanced, the pandemic has completely changed the landscape. With remote working now being an accepted part of many businesses – both major and minor – the digital nomad lifestyle now seems within reach for more people than ever before. It’s early days, but the next couple of years could see an explosion in digital nomads, with economic benefits for countries around the world.
Katya Puyraud is the co-owner of Euro Start Entreprises, specialising in company formation in Europe. They have helped budding entrepreneurs and expanding SMEs, as well as helping people to start a business in France.