Digital Nomads: The Remote Millennial Workforce

by Caity Dalby, Content Manager, Figaro Digital

It’s no secret that the world of work has become increasingly digital. As a company situated as an observer within the digital marketing industry, it is even more apparent that the ways in which digital has changed the world of work have not only impacted what we do, but how we do it. This is the case for most brands, agencies, and tech providers in our industry and beyond.

This digital shift has been in the making since the birth of the internet and we are now hurtling full steam ahead towards a 21st Century Technological/Industrial Revolution. As mechanised looms and large-scale coal mining transformed the face of industry, business, and work then, devices that are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand are doing so now.

NASA revealed in 2013 that the average smartphone, let’s take an iPhone 5 for example (yes, I do still have one and am in the proverbial dark ages of telecommunications), has more computing power and ‘about 240,000 times the memory of a Voyager spacecraft’. So just imagine what the likes of the iPhone XS or Huwawei P30 pro could do, let alone the latest MacBook Pro or ChromeBook.

What this all means for work, employment, and the humble office is becoming more apparent with every technological advancement, however small. Each of these advancements – from Google Docs and Slack to virtual meetings and online HR portals – has contributed to building a working environment in which a laptop or phone and connection to WiFi is often all that is necessary to complete a days work.

It is no surprise that this has also had a knock on effect on how we create businesses. Millennials and their younger – and even more digitally savvy – Gen Z counterparts are ideating and building products and businesses around this idea of “digital nomadity” and location independence. But what does it all really mean? And what even are Digital Nomads?

What Even Are Digital Nomads?

The term Digital Nomad has become somewhat of an umbrella term, encompassing many aspects of temporary or remote digital employment and the make-up of the modern workforce.

The category includes those who have thought ahead and trained in a digital or transportable skill – such as coding, web design, writing, animation, consulting, etc. – who can do this work freelance from anywhere in the world, or can pick up temporary contracts while on their travels. This is how freelance writer Stephanie Lee lives her digitally nomadic life, but as she states in her blog on the subject, it’s not all a walk in the park. It’s tiring living nomadically and it can be emotionally draining continuously moving away from new personal and professional connections to chase the wanderlust dream. Furthermore, it can be difficult to keep up with the voyeuristic expectations that are often placed on your career, life, and choices as a side affect of digital nomadity.

But it’s not all negative. Another form of digital nomadism can be seen in the recent trend (spurred on by technologies that make working remotely increasingly easy) of working sabbaticals. But that’s an oxymoron I hear you say. It is, but the ability for employees and their families to move temporarily to another country or just simply travel whilst working remotely, can only be described as that. It’s either that or a busman’s holiday and working sabbatical sounds much more glamorous.

Regardless of what we call it, the ability for employees to travel and experience different parts of the world or simply move to care for a loved one, whilst still being able to work remotely is a step towards the seemingly unattainable utopia of a ‘good work-life balance’. Think of it as the digital sister of flexible hours, working from home, and unlimited holiday allowance.

And finally, there are the location independents within the Digital Nomad group. These are the most digital and truly nomadic of all. Those identifying as Location Independent are part of an entirely new style of worker whose lives are facilitated by the growing trend in fully digital, entrepreneurial businesses that can be run from anywhere in the world. However, while they are facilitated by these digital businesses, they also feed the creation of them.

The digital transformation of the workplace, employment, and businesses has fostered a chicken and egg situation – what came first, the tech savvy Millennial with the drive to be Location Independent or the digital flexibility a modern, technologically advanced workplace provides?

Redundant Or Relevant?

But what has this trend got to do with anything? And more specifically, what has it got to do with the digital marketing industry? Do we even care, is the concept of a Digital Nomad redundant or relevant?

With any trend you have to maintain a healthy amount of scepticism about it’s relevance and sticking power, especially in a world and industry that is evolving at such a rapid pace. Having said that, it seems highly unlikely that Millennials, Gen Z’s, and the younger generations that will follow them into the digital workplace will gravitate back towards the reliable 9-5 office routine or traditional business models. And it will be sooner than you think that businesses, that can accommodate it, will consist of a truly global workforce.

As the Digital Nomad trend continues to grow, it is worth businesses in digital heavy sectors, or within the digital marketing industry itself, to keep a watchful eye on it. If the trend carries on as is, a certain level of flexibility and access to remote working will become an expected norm in the recruitment and retention of digital talent from the younger generations. You don’t want to loose innovative newcomers to competitors simply because of an antiquated bums-on-seats mentality.

Even if it isn’t possible to provide a workplace with digitally nomadic opportunities, flexibility is key. Meet your employees in the middle and ensure that there is adequate support in place for the freelance Digital Nomads that grace your off/online office. There is a huge online community surrounding the digitally nomadic lifestyle and word will spread that you’re an employer to aim for.

Additionally, and possibly more importantly, the new digital businesses that are built and run by Digital Nomads will become your competition. Whilst it can be incredibly difficult to run a business remotely, there is something to be said for the knowledge that can be gained whilst experiencing different cultures and markets. Don’t silo yourself and ensure that you keep your outlook global, otherwise these globetrotting Digital Nomads will sweep the metaphorical rug out from under you.