OWorldwide, 20 to 35 million digital nomads have adopted a way of working that allows them to travel. Packing a suitcase and a computer and flying off to a vacation destination is sometimes called work. Many who try it enjoy its effects on their well-being, and this seemingly contradictory concept can be adapted to fit various individual setups and profiles. But the experience and its benefits can differ significantly between employees and freelancers.
Much has been said about work in recent months. A contraction of the words “work” and “vacation”, this neologism defines the act of teleworking in a flexible context, from a place traditionally associated with leisure. Indeed, work was born in a country where vacations are rare, the United States, where workers have an average of 10 days of paid vacation per year.
The development of digital technology has made it possible for freelancers, tech employees and other workers to extend their vacation time by taking their computer and getting to work away from the daily grind. In the evening, at lunchtime or between meetings, they can enjoy their surroundings, relax and unwind.
According to a 2020 survey of 20,000 travelers in 28 countries around the world by the Booking.com platform, 37% of respondents have considered booking a vacation spot where they could stay and work. “Remote working has irreversibly entered the mainstream during the pandemic with the ripple effect that people will seek to take longer trips in the future that combine work and pleasure more effectively than ever before,” Booking.com said at the time.
From the meeting to the beach
The concept is familiar to Benoît Raphaël, founder and CEO of the French startup Flint. With a one-way ticket to South Asia in his pocket, this entrepreneur packed a bag, grabbed his computer and left. From Bali to Bangkok, the 50-year-old continues his entrepreneurial adventure without changing his way of working too much.
“My partner and I were already working full-time remotely,” he says over the phone from Bangkok, where he has been staying for a month. And, as for jet lag, “we were working with a lot of freelancers from Montreal, for example, so that way of working hasn’t changed too much,” he says. He plans his appointments according to French time zones. “At the beginning, I still had appointments at 6 p.m. [1 pm in France]”, says Benoît Raphaël. But that made him miss the sunset, which is a bit of a ritual in Bali, he says. Since then, he has planned a maximum of four appointments in the afternoon and makes weekends. -ends to remote islands. It’s all about finding a new rhythm to get into, he explains.
This way of working has gained momentum with the Covid-19 pandemic. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of digital nomads increased by 49% in the United States, according to a report by MBO Partners. Since then, the concept of work has found wider appeal as a way of life now enjoyed by between 20 and 35 million people worldwide. And this number could increase in the coming years.
Read also: Back to the office: will women continue to pay the price for flexibility?
“I spend less time working, but I’m more efficient”
But while the idea of working in a place usually dedicated to vacation downtime sounds like a dream come true, the concept also raises questions. As the boundary between private life and professional life has almost disappeared in many homes with the generalization of working from home, the notion of well-being at work has become a subject of concern. In the majority of work cases, feedback is positive on criteria such as mental health, productivity or creativity.
Benoit Raphaël says that this departure allowed him to take a step back from his work practices, and in particular to rethink the notion of productivity. “I spend less time working, but I’m more efficient, avoiding interruptions and unnecessary meetings,” he says.
Since arriving in Bali, the entrepreneur’s stress level has dropped considerably. Additionally, since his business is not yet profitable, the financial strain of his lifestyle has also lessened since he moved to the island. “Life is less expensive, and I cost less to my company,” he says before affirming that this departure has been beneficial for his mental health.
A contradiction in terms?
Freelancers are perhaps more likely to find benefits with this kind of lifestyle, even when working in a far corner of the globe, in a different time zone. “It’s true that when you’re an employee, you can find yourself in a meeting at 1 a.m., and in this case, you don’t take advantage of it that much,” notes Benoît Raphaël.
And not everyone supports this approach to work. Albert Moukheiber, doctor in neuroscience and psychologist, struggles to find the logic behind the concept of workation: “Either we work or we are on vacation, but we cannot do both.” This concept, according to the expert, is ultimately akin to a facade, making remote work more pleasant and attractive in a world of work currently in crisis. “Ethically, it doesn’t work. Does it also work the other way around, with vacawork? Can I invite my friends over to the office for a beer?” he asks pointedly.
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