Is the Large Digital Nomadic Workforce Really Coming?

And even among the well-paid white workers in the knowledge economy who make up the majority of teleworkers, the only people who could really become digital nomads – who may live in a remote location and then come to the office once or twice a quarter – are senior executives, says Susan Lund, a partner at McKinsey & Company, based in Washington, DC, who studies work, economic development and remote work.

Companies will be more willing to welcome powerful and well-paid senior officers, she said. It may depend on the situation, however – Litchfield and Woldoff say they interviewed more junior workers for their book who were surprised to receive offers of retention from their bosses when they said they would quit if they could not work remotely long term.

Yet digital nomadism aside, Lund says that based on McKinsey’s research, “60 to 70% of the workforce has no opportunity” to work remotely at all. Most people “cut their hair, take care of patients, they work in a manufacturing facility where you work with machines or in a laboratory where specialized equipment is used.”

“Certainly, there is an issue of fairness,” Lund says. “It’s mostly white-collar workers who have a university education and can do it.”

The most realistic result

Experts say some industries will certainly have more digital nomads on staff after the pandemic. But they add that a huge shift towards digital nomadism at all levels is unlikely to happen.

A more likely outcome is that more workers could find themselves in situations where their organizations implement a hybrid work schedule that requires them to come to the office at least sometimes, and workers could relocate based on this requirement. If people want to relocate, Lund thinks it will be just a little further from the office, but still within commuting distance. “I think there is that [trend of people] extending to small towns and rural areas – but still not, ‘I want to go to Croatia’ or ‘I want to live in Aspen’, ”she says.

Even as the number of people who can live indefinitely in a Lisbon Airbnb for months increases after the pandemic, the privilege of doing so remains only with a small group.

Overall, says Kelly, “I would say 100% remote working is a possibility for some employees, and maybe doable in some industries, but it won’t become the new normal. “

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