Digital Nomadism

By Frederik Haentjens

Understanding Digital Nomadism

If someone asks you the question that if you can work anywhere in the world, would you explore the opportunity? What would be your answer? Would you continue with your 9 to 5 office job? Alternatively, will you seek an adventure of a lifetime and take the risk, to plunge into the world of digital economy and lead the lifestyle you cherish? Would you find freedom, autonomy, and independence or would you remain confined to an office environment?

Within the serene, calm and peaceful environment, there is sandy shoreline that meets the vast and mighty blue-green ocean. As individuals walk on the black sandy beach, the waves calmly wash over. As surfers’ surf and tame the wild waves, onlookers enjoy the beautiful sunset. It is a sight to behold because this natural paradise is a symbol of creativity, beauty, and serenity that could never be justified through visual representations, but only with the eyes of the beholder to recognize its beauty. It is within this natural environment that one can unleash their inner self and can truly understand the meaning of freedom. This paradise is part of Canggu, Bali; the natural Indonesian island and popular tourist destination.

A striking landscape, like Canggu Beach, is a work environment for Mark Anderson. Renting a room at Hotel Tugu Bali, a famous boutique hotel located on the coastal area of Canggu Beach, this has been his home for more than six months. Previously, he had been traveling to different destinations in Bali. However, when he reached Canggu Beach, he knew that this was the place he wanted to live while working remotely. Over the past two years, he has been working from a remote location for an HR company. With this alternate lifestyle, he has been able to draw a line between life experiences and marital possessions. There is no doubt that Mark is a modern-day nomad or in simple words, he is a digital nomad. For many individuals like Mark, digital nomadism is the way to go. This is because it offers travel and freedom, allowing individuals to break from the shackles of their 9 to 5 jobs.

What is a Digital Nomad?

As we enter the twenty-first century, we have and will continue to witness, the growth in information communication technologies that have revolutionized human society in many aspects. As suggested by the World Economic Forum Report, technological and ICT developments have been responsible for changing traditional employment trends and business models. One such pattern that has emerged is that of digital nomadism. The concept of digital nomadism is fascinating and enthralling since it has identified as a working lifestyle which emphasizes on balancing professional and personal life and fuelled by a sense of adventure and a passion for traveling.

As I had traveled to Canggu, Bali, I had the opportunity to interact with Mark. A random encounter at a local restaurant, I knew there was something different about him. While being engrossed in his laptop, I greeted him. I am an amiable and approachable person by nature. While a stranger would hesitate several times to interact with a stranger, I showed no hesitation. Mark had been very friendly. A little chit-chat led to our dinner and dialogue on digital nomadism. My conversation with Mark has been productive. I came to understand that digital nomadism is an accepted norm that has gained significant popularity with the inception of information technology.

In Mark’s own words:

“Digital nomads are people, who work online while traveling from one place to another. They have successfully acquired mastery in balancing their professional and personal life. In mainstream academia, it is a lifestyle that supports personal freedom, independence, and autonomy, something that a normal 9 to 5 job cannot offer. By adopting this lifestyle, individuals wander like nomads, while working remotely”.

Digital nomads pursue their wanderlust while working remotely to generate income. Driven by their passion for adventure and desire to travel, digital nomads can work from a café in Cape Town, South Africa or a resort in Bansko, Bulgaria. They can even move to the sandy beaches of Bali or experience the Roman architecture in Rome, Italy.

Digital Nomads can be part-time or full-time workers. On average, 1 in 6 digital nomads earns $75,000 annually. In terms of professional choices, digital nomads vary significantly. The most common fields related to digital nomadism include graphic designing, writing and editing services, web development, programming, app development, and digital marketing services.

A Concise History

Although digital nomadism has gained significant popularity in recent times, the term was coined during the late 1990s, when authors Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners published the Digital Nomads. While discussing the Internet and its potential, they highlighted its significance and its future impact on human society. They predicted that it would serve as an essential method of communication and connection for individuals and businesses alike. They further predicted that it would bring new employment trends and would change the existing business models in favor of new ones. With their discussions, the authors created a picture-perfect image for those who wished to abandon their conventional employment in favor of remote work, while wandering from one place to another.

Makimoto & Manners had laid down the foundations for digital nomadism, but it was not until a decade later, when author Tim Ferris, redefined the term to a whole new level. In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferris discussed the power of ICT and its impact in changing the conventional workplace and business models. He asserted that it has been instrumental in allowing individuals to escape traditional jobs in favor of remote jobs that offered work and life balance, adventure, better income and fewer working hours. To illustrate further, he defined the term, the New Rich. This term was used to describe independent contractors, freelancers, remote workers and business owners that harnessed the power of the Internet to generate their income while traveling to different locations.

The Digital Nomadism Trend

The Freelancers Union (2016) survey, presented that out of the 53 million working individuals in the United States, 34% of them are freelancers. These also included 40% being independent contractors, 27% being moonlighters, 18% being diversified workers and 10% and 5% being temporary workers and freelance business owners respectively.

In a recent report published by the MBO Partners State of Independence, it was revealed that 48% of Americans were working as digital nomads. Within the same report, 28% of the respondents told that they would transition from their conventional jobs to digital nomadism within 2 to 3 years. The same report also revealed that 46% of the digital nomads are millennials, 29% are Generation X and 25% are Baby Boomers. As reported by FlexJobs Surveys, 85% of the digital nomads have been identified as millennials, who have taken up digital nomadism as their professional career.

Gallup Inc. has reported that 43% of Americans have been involved in remote jobs at some point in their career. They also reported that remote jobs had increased to 31% in 2017, which was previously 24% in 2012. This increment suggests that the trend of online or remote jobs is increasing.

With smart devices, 3G, 4G and 5G networks, Big Data, Machine Learning, Cognitive Technology and Touch Commerce, the virtual environment are no longer restrained by the boundaries of time and space. Accessibility to the virtual environment is just one click away, which has made endless possibilities for us to communicate, interact and work. Consequently, these developments have allowed digital nomads to work remotely. In general, they have contributed and accelerated the growth of online and remote jobs in recent years. With the availability of online market places, co-working spaces, and digital nomad platforms, digital nomadism has experienced significant growth. These services tend to make life easier for individuals by providing and supporting them in their professional career and fulfilling their desire to travel, allowing them to become productive and competent.

Who wants to be A Digital Nomad? 

To be a perfect blend of adventure and escapade but is it really for everyone? The answer depends and varies from one individual to another. A nomadic lifestyle would mean constantly traveling, moving from one place to another while staying focused on an online career path that fits an individual’s vision of life. Digital nomadism requires focus, concentration, and self-discipline. Traveling constantly would be fascinating because of exploring new territories. However, it could be frustrating with pending work. As a result, the challenge is to balance between online and offline life.  Like all jobs, digital nomads need to exercise hard-work, persistence, and commitment to their work. This is the basis of a successful online career.


About the Author:

Frederik is the founder of theHRnomad.com, a digital platform that is one of its kind. HR Nomad connects remote workers and clients alike for on mutual objective: to harness the power of information communication and technology and to balance between professional and personal life. He is also the author of the book HRnomad (published April 2019). Further, he is the managing partner of the Organization Design consulting firm boxolog.com and international keynote speaker about organization agility, design thinking, and Digital nomadic working.