At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition to at-home work was swift. Never before had so many workers been forced to work from a new location, with new software to learn, in such a short period of time. But after a few months of at-home work, a weird thing happened: Workers began to adore remote work compared to the traditional office. Although it took getting used to, now, 77% of workers prefer working remotely versus working in an office . But now, with the pandemic under (some) control, workers are still figuring out ways to continue working from anywhere. This desire has led to an increase of “digital nomads” across the country, and the world.
Digital nomads are location-independent workers who travel often, while still getting work done due to consistent Internet availability. While digital nomads are nothing new, the popularity of the practice exploded during the pandemic. In fact, in 2020, the number of digital nomads in the United States reached 10.9 million, up 50% from 2019 . With more businesses offering indefinite remote work, the practice will likely spread further as well. Because of its ever-growing popularity, it’s fair to ask: Is this the future of work?
Why do Digital Nomads Love Their Jobs?
First and foremost, digital nomads (and at-home workers in general) like their work method because it allows a better work-life balance . This includes taking more breaks, feeling less pressure and no more commutes. All of these perks are quite beneficial for remote workers, including digital nomads. It allows workers to continue earning an income, while also saying goodbye to some of the more stressful facets of traditional office jobs. For many of these digital nomads, remote work is a no-brainer. After all, if offices allow for remote work, why not enjoy these perks? The problem, however, is that not all offices want remote work to become permanent.
Numerous prominent business leaders have voiced their opposition to permanent remote work. Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings stated that he sees “no positives” regarding remote work, and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said that remote work was “an aberration we’re going to correct as soon as possible .” So while remote work offers a multitude of benefits to digital nomads, it isn’t guaranteed their lifestyle will last forever. While some business leaders, such as Mark Zuckerberg , have sung the praises of remote work, the practice is far from universally admired.
However, it won’t be easy to rope digital nomads back into the office. After all, remote workers have the leverage right now. In 2020, efficiency actually increased, even though workers had to navigate the newfound difficulties of remote work . With this information in mind, workers know that they are valuable, efficient employees. More importantly, business leaders know they are valuable and efficient as well. So while anti-remote work CEOs may want a return to the traditional office, making it a requirement risks losing employees to businesses more open to remote work.
The Digital Nomad Economy
Even some businesses have begun to market themselves to digital nomads. For example, Airbnb has shifted its focus from short-term vacation rentals to longer-term “workcations.” In fact, the number of long-term Airbnb stays nearly doubled in 2020 compared to 2019 . And with more businesses becoming open to permanent remote work, this sector of the economy will continue to grow, adding even more benefits to remote work.
Put simply, remote work offers significantly more freedom for workers compared to office work. And for digital nomads, it’s about more than just freedom of location. Working remotely allows employees to get their tasks done on their time. With no supervisors looking over your shoulder or gossipy coworkers to worry about, employees can focus more on their work. With this increase of personal freedom for workers, it’s no wonder why efficiency jumped in 2020.
The Drawbacks of Remote Work
However, with this freedom comes responsibility as well. Without a boss or coworkers to surround you during work hours, temptations can arise. After all, what’s stopping workers from taking a two-hour break in the middle of the day? Additionally, remote work can actually cause worse work-life balance as well, as the lines between home-life and work-life can be blurred. Finally, security could be compromised by remote work as well. In fact, that’s partially why Apple CEO Tim Cook has been so enthusiastic about a return to offices .
Remote work offers a myriad of benefits for workers, with just a few drawbacks. Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate those drawbacks, particularly regarding security. Even better, most of these techniques are simple for remote workers, no matter where they are. First, ensuring that your software is up-to-date is the best (and easiest) way to protect yourself and your business. Bad actors typically attack through older versions of software, so keeping it up-to-date will minimize the risk of you becoming a target. Next, avoiding public wi-fi networks is another key tip. Public networks are prone to malware and can infect your computer, harming you and your business.
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 Ballard, Jamie. “Most Remote Employees Don’t Want to Return to the Workplace after the Pandemic.” YouGov. January 19, 2021. https://today.yougov.com/topics/economy/articles-reports/2021/01/19/remote-employees-work-from-home-poll.
 Lufkin, Bryan. “Is the Great Digital-nomad Workforce Actually Coming?” BBC Worklife. June 15, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210615-is-the-great-digital-nomad-workforce-actually-coming.
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 Kelly, Jack. “How CEOs And Workers Feel About Working Remotely Or Returning To The Office.” Forbes. March 19, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2021/03/19/how-ceos-and-workers-feel-about-working-remotely-or-returning-to-the-office/.
 Curran, Enda. “Work From Home to Lift Productivity by 5% in Post-Pandemic U.S.” Bloomberg.com. April 22, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-04-22/yes-working-from-home-makes-you-more-productive-study-finds.
 Ryan, Kevin J. “Why Apple Employees Are Objecting to the Company’s Remote Work Rules.” Inc.com. July 20, 2021. https://www.inc.com/kevin-j-ryan/apple-employees-letter-return-to-office.html.