The term “digital nomad” isn’t new. It was coined in a book of the same name published in 1997 and popularized by The 4-Hour Workweek in 2007. However, digital nomadism has remained a rather niche lifestyle, typical of a certain stratum of millennials and adopted by a few others.
The pandemic may have changed that. Prior to COVID-19, full-time remote work accounted for only 7% of workforce arrangements. That number hovered around 50% during the pandemic. Discovering that we could work from anywhere led to a similar rise in digital nomadism, up by 49% from 2019.
Moreover, the freelance sector only saw a modest 12% growth in this area due to the pandemic. Traditional job holders have largely gravitated toward digital nomadism, up by 96% from 3.2 million to 6.3 million. Only a third of those view digital nomadism as a short-term arrangement. Many see themselves continuing this lifestyle for at least the next two years.
But can you continue to make it work in a world that’s trying to return to normal?
Secure Company Support
The first prerequisite for digital nomadism is remote work itself. At the minimum, your company has to continue allowing you to work full time without ever having to come into the office. For many companies hastening to resume normal operations, that could be a non-starter.
Another prerequisite is providing you with the infrastructure to support the lifestyle. It covers the need to access sensitive files on the company network from an outside connection, for example, or the continued use of online collaboration tools and workspaces.
Cultural acceptance matters, too. Colleagues can’t be having face-to-face meetings on matters concerning your job without keeping you in the loop. Even as event rentals encourage the resumption of physical gatherings, support also includes live streaming that office party or team building so you can share in the experience.
The bottom line is, everyone has to be on board with your continued digital nomadism. Otherwise, you risk becoming an afterthought. Companies could easily end up reverting to the pre-pandemic state where few people get to telecommute, and even fewer get to be location-independent.
Choose Destinations with Care
One of the big perks of digital nomadism is geoarbitrage. This means establishing your base somewhere outside the United States, in a country with a lower cost of living. It enables you to make every dollar go further. Consequently, you can spend less time working to earn a living and actually enjoy living in your chosen destination.
However, the post-COVID world remains a tangle of patchwork travel policies and rolling updates regarding health and safety. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere with poor vaccination rollout or a high risk of sporadic outbreaks resulting in lockdown measures.
Equally, countries that strongly depend on tourism to boost their economies will be suffering in the wake of the pandemic. During such periods of downturn, rising crime rates may be an issue. This is of particular concern to women, as reflected by the significant gender gap in digital nomadism (a 59:41 male-to-female ratio).
Taking advantage of geoarbitrage is fine, but for digital nomadism to be a sustainable lifestyle that’s open to all, you need security. It’s likely that in the years after the pandemic, not all countries will provide that. Be careful — do your homework when you choose your destination, and consider roaming within the country as an option for the time being.
Slow It Down
On the other hand, the pandemic’s impact on tourism can have the opposite effect by incentivizing competition among host destinations. This works to the advantage of potential digital nomads.
For instance, in October 2020, Dubai launched a virtual working initiative to attract foreign professionals and entrepreneurs. The program began to include free vaccinations in January 2021.
Caribbean nations, including Barbados, Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and Montserrat, have been competing on the “ease of travel and entry” front. They offer expedited visas for applicants who are remote workers, with lengths of one to two years.
Similar incentives are being offered in European countries, such as Croatia, Greece, and Estonia. Meanwhile, Indonesia is planning to lure foreign workers with an even longer five-year digital nomad visa. With co-working spaces offering strong support to international remote workers, the dream of working in an office by the beach remains within your grasp.
The takeaway here is to slow it down. In years past, digital nomads would frequently cross borders due to short-term visas. Variety can be fun, but frequently packing up your stuff and making new travel plans can be a grind. You may work from any location, but there are advantages to a slower pace and being settled for some time.