Some 4.8 million Americans consider themselves to be digital nomads, and another 17 million aspire to this identity. Touted as a way to earn a full time salary while seeing the world, digital nomadism has evolved into a lifestyle emboldened by the normalization of remote employment.
As can be expected, the booming tech industry helped pioneer this innovative approach to work and travel. Because their jobs deal explicitly in digital technology, programmers and developers were some of the first to take advantage of the wireless nature of their work, jet-setting to distant lands where they could spend their days cranking out code from beachside cafes and their evenings exploring.
Of course, not every team is comprised of an army of coding pros, free to roam about the globe while using their laptop as their office. But it may just be a matter of time before digital nomadism, or at least a lite-version of the lifestyle, is a realistic option for knowledge workers in just about any professional field.
From remote jobs to remote team and remote business models
No industry has been unchanged by the advent of internet technology. For the general workforce, a growing proportion of their daily tasks are mediated by if not entirely dependent on digital platforms. This evolution has contributed to a shift towards remote work over the last two decades. Nearly half of U.S. based employees already work remotely at least some of the time, and the number of full-time employees who work from home in the U.S. has increased 140 percent since 2005.
But it’s not just the nature of work that is shifting towards location-independence. Mobile accessibility is also a major selling-point for services themselves. In diverse industries, there exists a lucrative market for business models centered on using digital platforms to remotely deliver services that were once rendered mostly in person.
In the era of “there’s an app for that,” a growing number of consumers are thrilled to cut the cord on geographic limitations when seeking professional services and advice. From counseling on legal matters to mental health, from recruiting to tutoring, the capability to side-step face-to-face interactions is coming to be seen by many as a unique value proposition. Not only does it allow consumers to access the services they need without having to organize a physical visit, but it also grants them access to a wider pool of professionals with different specializations.
Influencer marketing is another phenomenon fueling remote business models. Entrepreneurs in most any industry, from cosmetics to nutrition to fitness, can forgo working from any permanent location so long as they are cranking out successful content from wherever they happen to be that week. With exciting destinations as the backdrop of their content, digital nomadism can even be considered a boon to a business’s brand messaging, in that it paints a company as worldly, modern, and well-traveled — in short, as aspirational.
Is digital nomadism the future of work?
These trends point to digital nomadism becoming both an increasingly feasible and desirable employment model for a wider variety of businesses. But this isn’t to say that all knowledge-based employees should be trading in their desks for a one-way ticket to Chiang-Mai, or that digital nomadism is posed to become more commonplace than commuting or working from home.
Digitalization may be progressing rapidly, but as it stands, not every job can be attended to 100% remotely. And in a market where so much service takes place via online platforms, a not insignificant portion of consumers value and may even be willing to pay a premium for face-to-face interactions in many cases.
And for many employees, the thought of combining full-time travel with full-time work isn’t appealing even if it were possible. Millennials, for example, still overwhelmingly aspire to home ownership and many still prioritize having a family. Furthermore, there are concerns about the ethics and sustainability of the digital nomad lifestyle for the mostly post-colonial nations to which crowds of mostly first-world digital nomads tend to flock.
That digital nomadism is becoming increasingly accessible for a growing number of employees in a growing number of industries may be best understood as an exception that proves the rule: the relationship between location and work is changing, and this development is forging new paths within the mainstream (work from home, remote teams, remote business) as well as on the periphery (digital nomadism).
11 jobs you could hire a digital nomad for today
But for those companies on the cutting-edge periphery of the remote working revolution, having part of your workforce consist of digital nomads could be both financially sensible and strategic for your brand. And with increasing numbers of digital nomads working in increasingly diverse fields, there are any number of potential job descriptions for digital nomads that could emerge in the coming years.
Author Bio: Alexandra North is an American content marketer and translator living in Germany.