Digital nomads: the work from home revolution goes abroadMorgan Povey
April 22, 2022
The Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on almost every aspect of modern life. Aside from the tragic loss of human life, lockdown measures all over the world transformed the way we live and work. While for many, that transformation has proved disruptive, and even traumatic, for others it has acted as a liberating force in a world of work that increasingly operates online.
The term ‘digital nomad’ is one of those difficult concepts: hard to pin down in exact terms, but you certainly know it when you see it. It generally invokes images of sun-bathed millennials in exotic locales, dividing their time between working on their MacBook and sipping cocktails on the beach. Broadly defined, however, a digital nomad is someone who works remotely online, and does not have a fixed home base.
The freedom is incredible. But you also have to be careful you don’t lose yourself along the way.
It's not hard to see the appeal of such a career choice: for the digital nomad, the world is very much their oyster, so long as there’s an internet connection. Victoria Heinz, for example, is a travel blogger and writer. She first heard about digital nomads during her university semester abroad. After a final year of university conducted entirely online, she decided to take her work to Costa Rica, and has since moved to Colombia. It was that freedom to travel that drew Victoria to the life of a digital nomad.
“Well, the location independence is amazing, I just do whatever I want,” Victoria explains. “Also, when you’re actually travelling, obviously finding a balance between work and having fun is a bit difficult, but I can just say ‘I might not work this week’ and just don’t do anything and that’s possible. The freedom is incredible. But you also have to be careful you don’t lose yourself along the way.”
And while digital nomadism pre-dates the pandemic, interest in what many see as a bohemian lifestyle has only grown. Estimates suggest that the pandemic saw a 50% rise in digital nomads in the US in 2020. Companies providing shared office spaces now dot towns and cities across the world, and the online hotel rental app Airbnb is now increasingly catering to digital nomads through longer-term rentals. And just last week, South Africa became the latest in a long list of countries offering a ‘digital nomad visa’, designed to remove legal and logical barriers for digital nomads.
The pandemic has also given many nomads a psychological boost, too. The work from home revolution has led many to the same conclusion: if you can work exclusively from home, you can work anywhere. Victoria argues that even if the infrastructure for a digital nomad lifestyle has been in place for some time, this cultural shift has contributed to digital nomadism’s rise.
“We’ve definitely ran into a lot of people who used to work in an office and now they can travel and work at the same time. And for me, it kind of gave me the last kick I needed to actually do this, because, yeah, why not?”
Dalton Barton runs a tourism start-up based in Hawaii. He first considered travelling when planning to teach English abroad, and now lives in Costa Rica.
“I decided that I needed to do something completely different, and that was going to be a total career change, at least just for a year.” The pandemic made him realise that he could stay in Costa Rica while developing his business. You can hear the full interview here:
While the life of a digital nomad can seem idyllic, it isn’t without its downsides. Greg Lea is a freelance sports journalist, living in Vietnam. He says that while it may suit some people, he does not see himself sustaining his current lifestyle forever.
“I won't do it long term as I plan to settle down with my partner in the UK in two to three years. Travelling full-time can be exhausting and you don't have the chance to forge deep relationships with people or places - fun for a while, but not something I'd want to do indefinitely.”
That’s a sentiment expressed by all three digital nomads. It seems despite the warm sand and clear skies, the grass can still be greener on the other side of the fence. But even though digital nomadism represents the polar opposite of the traditional office setting, it may just be another step in the evolution of post-pandemic work. A synthesis of the two may yet emerge: something Victoria feels we’re already seeing the beginnings of.