If one thing is clear about working remotely, it’s this: Many people prefer it and don’t want their bosses to take it away from them.
When the pandemic forced office workers into lockdown and prevented them from spending time in person with their colleagues, they almost immediately realized that they preferred remote work to their traditional office routines and standards.
As teleworkers of all ages contemplate their future – and as some offices and schools begin to reopen – many Americans have the tough questions about whether they want to go back to their old lives, and what they are prepared to sacrifice or endure in the years to come.
Even before the pandemic, there were people who wondered if office life matched their aspirations.
We have spent years studying “digital nomads– workers who had left behind their homes, towns and most of their possessions to embark on what they call a “location independent” life. Our research taught us several important lessons about the conditions that keep workers away from offices and large metropolitan areas, pulling them into new ways of life.
Legions of people now have the opportunity to reinvent their relationship to their work in much the same way.
Big city bait and switch
Most digital nomads enthusiastically started working in career jobs for prestigious employers. When moving to cities like New York and London, they wanted to spend their free time meeting new people, visiting museums, and trying new restaurants.
But then came the burnout.
While these cities are certainly home to institutions capable of inspiring creativity and cultivating new relationships, digital nomads have rarely had time to take advantage of them. Instead of, the high cost of living, time constraints and work demands have contributed to an oppressive culture of materialism and the workaholic.
Pauline, 28, who worked in advertising helping large corporate clients develop their brand identity through music, compared city life for professionals in her peer group to a ‘hamster wheel’. (The names used in this article are pseudonyms, as required by the research protocol.)
âThe thing about New York is it’s kind of like the battle of the busiest,â she said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, are you so busy? No, I’m so busy.
Most of the digital nomads we studied were drawn to what urban planners Richard Florida Called “Creative Class” Jobs – positions in design, technology, marketing and entertainment. They thought this job would prove rewarding enough to make up for what they sacrificed in terms of time spent on social and creative activities.
Yet these digital nomads told us their jobs were a lot less interesting and creative than they thought. Worse yet, their employers continued to demand that they be âhard onâ for the job – and accept the controlling aspects of office life without providing the development, mentorship, or meaningful work that they expected. to have been promised. As they looked to the future, they saw more of the same.
Ellie, 33, a former business journalist who is now a freelance writer and entrepreneur, told us: and get this job? It doesn’t seem like a good way to spend the next twenty years.
In their late 20s and early 30s, digital nomads were actively looking for ways to quit their professional jobs in leading global cities.
Looking for a new start
Although they left some of the most glamorous cities in the world, the digital nomads we studied were not homesteaders working in nature; they needed access to the amenities of contemporary life in order to be productive. Looking abroad, they quickly learned that places like Bali in Indonesia and Chiang Mai in Thailand had the infrastructure to support them at a fraction of the cost of their previous living.
With more and more companies now offering employees the choice to work remote, there’s no reason to think that digital nomads need to travel to Southeast Asia – or even leave the United States – to transform their working lives.
During the pandemic, some people already have migrated away from the country’s most expensive real estate markets at small towns and villages to be closer to nature or to the family. Many of these places still have vibrant local cultures. As commuting to work disappears from everyday life, such commuting could leave remote workers with more disposable income and more free time.[Youâre smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversationâs authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]
The digital nomads we studied often used the savings in time and money to try new things, like exploring side activities. A recent study even found, somewhat paradoxically, that the feeling of empowerment resulting from taking up a side activity actually improved performance in the workers’ main jobs.
The future of work, while not entirely distant, will undoubtedly provide more remote options for many more workers.
Even if some business leaders are still reluctant accept the desire of their employees to leave the office, local governments are embracing the trend, with several United States cities and States – in the same way countries around the world – making plans to attract remote workers.
This migration, whether national or international, has the potential to enrich communities and cultivate more fulfilling working lives.