Becoming a “digital nomad”: the next step for teleworking?


A view from a beach hammock, poolside chair or coffee table, along with a laptop. It’s the popular image of what it’s like to be a “digital nomad” – the millennial tech-savvy freelancer and globetrotter. For many ordinary office workers in 2021, working remotely in scenic locations is no longer a distant dream.

“I would rent a villa in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and live there for a month,” said Gui Chuanjun, who discovered the digital nomad lifestyle through foreign bloggers a few years ago. Now working from home about half the time, the 32-year-old tech from Suzhou, eastern China, talks about working remotely in Thailand’s hotspot town, where his white-collar income would go a long way. , like a real plan.

In April, Gui created the first online community for digital nomads in China. As the number of website users grew by the hundreds over the past two months, Gui met many like-minded young people – tech industry workers working from home, but eager to venture out. far.

Interest in joining the tribe of free roaming professionals is increasing. Aside from a welcome change of scenery, a flexible schedule appeals to many netizens who clock in long hours in the office, Gui told CGTN.

His vision for this lifestyle change is clearly stated in the website’s slogan: “Work remotely, travel the world”.

Chiang Mai, Thailand is a popular destination for digital nomads. / VCG

Chiang Mai, Thailand is a popular destination for digital nomads. / VCG

The independent way of life of the place is having a great moment. As offices around the world go online during COVID-19, working from home – an otherwise radical idea for many in a pre-pandemic time – has become the new normal.

With Big Tech in the lead, a growing list of large companies are doing long-term remote work. A recent survey by US technology company Simform found that a majority of companies are considering allowing employees to work from home indefinitely (82%) or permanently (77%).

At the same time, the number of people identifying themselves as ‘digital nomads’ in the United States rose to 10.9 million in 2020, a 50% jump from 7.6 million in 2019, according to a new report from the American consulting firm MBO Partners.

Wider support for remote working inspires new ways of working, traveling and living. Workation, which combines remote work with longer vacation rentals, is one of the fastest growing travel trends aimed at attracting remote workers to help boost the local economy. .

After a bleak year, the travel industry and tourism dependent countries are keen to embrace digital nomads, which have long been a fiscal headache for governments. From Europe to the Caribbean, at least a dozen countries have launched remote work visas during the pandemic, in anticipation of globetrotting teleworker arrivals once international travel resumes.

The island country of Barbados welcomes digital nomads with a new remote work visa. / CFP

The island country of Barbados welcomes digital nomads with a new remote work visa. / CFP

The term “digital nomad” often conjures up young graduates and tech-savvy people in rich countries who are able to make the most of “geo-arbitrage,” a jargon that describes the benefits Westerners enjoy in less developed countries.

Amplified by the 2010 New York Times bestseller “The 4-hour Work Week: Escape The 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich” by Timothy Ferris, the digital nomad movement has taken off among white collar workers. millennia of the West. over the past decade.

Now that the momentum has spread around the world, insiders believe the composition of the group is unlikely to change much after the pandemic.

“Right now, being a digital nomad is a very Western phenomenon of people who can travel the world; becoming is the symbol of a ‘privileged way of life’,” said Olga Hannonen, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Finland studying digital nomads. “It is easier for some people to become digital nomads, and more difficult for others, nationally or internationally, before or after COVID-19.”

Gui, the technician, also believes the community in China will remain small. “The only people who have the opportunity to travel are the self-employed. The rest of us can only work remotely if the company allows it,” he said.

Jacob Tan takes a photo from his computer against the backdrop of mountains in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, August 27, 2020. / Courtesy of Jacob Tan

Jacob Tan takes a photo from his computer against the backdrop of mountains in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, August 27, 2020. / Courtesy of Jacob Tan

Jacob Tan, an entrepreneur from the city of Hangzhou, in eastern China, leads the life of a digital nomad. Since starting his own sustainability consulting company in 2015, the 31-year-old has traveled to hundreds of cities and towns across China for his work.

Before hearing the concept of “digital nomads” for the first time on a trip to Bali, Indonesia, Tan said he is the “anywhere worker”. Since 2019 he has been working at a different location almost every week.

But for the frequent traveler, his nomadic lifestyle is more about work than travel. “My job happens to require a lot of travel in rural areas, and I love to run and be close to nature,” said Tan, describing himself as a “rural digital nomad”.

“There is no blueprint for how to be a digital nomad,” Tan told CGTN. “For some it’s work, for others a more relaxed life. Lucky for me, I love my job.”

Tan said that while he supports this type of remote work for his team, it actually suits few people. “Telecommuting enables the most disciplined people to produce the best work regardless of their location,” Tan said. But before many people can manage their time and space, they often fail to manage themselves, he said.

Jacob Tan works with his team in a village. / Courtesy of Jacob Tan

Jacob Tan works with his team in a village. / Courtesy of Jacob Tan

At the very least, budding nomads like Gui have started to explore new possibilities for starting their day: tedious commutes to the office, or sea breeze and the smell of nature?

And they say knowing what you want is the first step to getting it.

(Cover photo by CFP)


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