Digital nomads – employees or contractors who work remotely while traveling – were a small growing trend before the pandemic. However, with a large number of workers logging in remotely during Covid, their ranks have increased dramatically. According to an MBO Partners investigation, 2020 saw a 49% increase in digital nomads compared to 2019.
Like many remote working trends, digital nomadism poses interesting questions for businesses. Does it make sense to allow employees to work from the road? How does this benefit the business? What will be its impact on company policies?
I have been running a mostly remote business for 20 years and already am a permanent remote work advocate. After my family recently drove from Ohio to California to spend five weeks as digital nomads, I now think this is the next benefit businesses need to understand both to keep their employees happy and refreshed and to attract and retain the best talent.
Each day I would log in early to sync with East Coast Time and was usually free to explore at 2pm. To my team, it looked no different to my connection from Ohio. But for me, the past has offered a much-needed escape from the feel of a ‘groundhog’ day of 2020 and the endless responsibilities of home living. My work has also benefited: the change of scenery gave me a boost creativity and productivity, and I came back refreshed and re-motivated. My employees and contractors who have conducted similar experiences have reported the same benefits.
How to welcome digital nomadic workers
There are many signs that remote working and digital nomadism are here to stay. Technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter are paving the way for the rest of American businesses by making remote working a permanent option. Other companies such as Microsoft go even further, allowing employees to relocate – even internationally if the arrangement matches their role and responsibilities. Countries are also jumping on board, with attractive destinations like Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados and Aruba, offering digital nomads extended visas.
Companies that want to attract the best talent and maintain high retention will be forced to offer similar working arrangements. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Employees need to take care of their sanity and escape the daily grind for a while. Companies are energized by refreshed and recharged employees, full of inspiration and fresh ideas.
To support digital nomads, including full-time employees and nomadic contractors, companies need to make the same changes needed to support a permanent remote workforce:
1. Foster a culture of connection. According to Buffer Remote Work Status 2020 rapport, collaboration, communication and loneliness are the biggest challenges remote workers face. To tackle these challenges, virtually train workers in building lasting relationships. Skills such as vulnerability, self-employment, and learning virtual conflict resolution are essential to successful remote working. Incorporate connection possibilities into virtual meetings by setting aside some time early for a virtual discussion of water coolers. Make sure to include nomadic entrepreneurs as well.
2. Create flexible policies. Policies that give remote employees the maximum flexibility to do their jobs give them the freedom to enjoy their remoteness, even in different time zones. Of course, different roles have different availability requirements. But employees should be able to take a lunch break, whether it’s a walk around their neighborhood or exploring an exotic location. Don’t think of allowing employees this kind of flexibility as an indulgence. Research shows that take breaks throughout the day improves performance and creativity, decreases stress and makes employees more satisfied at work.
3. Invest in quality collaboration software. Without collaboration software, remote working is not viable. Just like employees working from home, digital nomads need the right technology and tools to be effective and successful. Features like chat, video, screen sharing and digital whiteboards bring workers together, even if they are physically distant. It is also important to configure the collaboration software to seamlessly integrate contractors who are digital nomads. Allowing them to access as much information as possible will make them more efficient and feel like a trusted member of the team.
4. Make it easier for nomads to work with your business. When you open up your business to digital nomads, you will be able to access a much larger pool of talent. To attract and retain these people, develop processes and procedures to suit their lifestyle – examples include fast and fully digital onboarding, frictionless payment, and transparency about upcoming roles.
These changes to company policies and procedures are minimal compared to the benefit of allowing employees to work remotely, even in remote locations. Not only will employees see the opportunity to become digital nomads as a huge advantage, but they will also feel confident, engaged and eager to stay.