One in two of us will be working in a freelance capacity by 2020, according to PeoplePerHour. Other market research predicts there will be one billion digital nomads by 2035. What’s behind this employment revolution and was does it mean for the future of work?
When you hear the phrase 'digital nomads' you’re probably quick to think of free-spirited twenty or thirty-somethings unshackling themselves from the nine-to-five grind and escaping the concrete jungle to spend their days clicking their trackpad from a hammock in a bamboo and wood office dotted with beanbags. Yes, many choose a lifestyle away from office cubicles, but for others, who find themselves the collateral damage of the changing face of the workplace, the reality isn’t always as sunny.
Some companies are choosing to move to a remote working strategy as part of cost-cutting and restructuring, and it sort of makes sense. The logic is, when technology allows anyone to work from anywhere, there’s no real reason to heat, light and power an office. But of course this can create problems.
Employees used to the routine of working in an office and being part of a team may find having to base themselves from home or a nearby cafe is unnerving. They may be unsure of what the tasks for the day will be and lack the motivation to start work in the morning, not knowing when they’ll next hear a work-related voice that isn’t their own.
Communicating clearly and effectively is key, says Marko Kažić, founder and CEO of Serbian start-up Zamphyr, an online digital-first school for programming that he hopes will transform education and enable students to learn remotely. You hear horror tales of employers letting their staff go weeks without hearing from them and this is counterproductive. If anything you need to over-communicate, he adds.
Over-communication is a subject that is hotly debated by entrepreneurs and start-ups. Some will say that it’s ghastly and a cardinal sin; others will add that it’s what happens when too many disruptive personalities come together to be heard and eventually clash; and a few will say that it leads to the message being lost and results in reduced efficiency.
For Kažić, none of the above is the case. It’s simply an effective way to manage a team of people from afar. Just because one person understood what was being said the first time doesn’t mean the rest did.
"We tell each other everything we can. Exhaustive communications leads to fewer mistakes."
Kažić adds that tools such as Slack, Trello and OneNote have made it much easier to manage both communication and workflow. In particular, having a dedicated tool or app for any specific task has reduced frustrations and means the digital nomads Zamphyr relies on - primarily working on the development side of things, but also the marketing - are all on the same page.
Kažić believes that as technology continues to evolve and impacts on our lifestyles and how we move and interact, the workplace as we traditionally know it could become obsolete, along with human resources and recruitment departments. Companies will have to adapt to manage a team that works across several timezones, with all members rarely being online at once and some having only sporadic internet connection. But, he adds, the diversity having a team that works remotely brings can be hugely beneficial.
"I come from a digital nomad lifestyle myself. I’ve worked in various places, from Hong Kong, Thailand and China to Russia and also around Europe. I’ve met people from diverse backgrounds with varied experiences and knowledge," he says. "To build a start-up is something I define as: know a lot, learn a lot. It’s never just about the work. So while adding digital nomads to your company definitely expands your talent pool, it also expands your experience pool, which means you’re always learning new things."
While no job is for life and some roles are close to being automated as more industries are innovated, those who are able to work remotely, even if it’s a career change they hadn’t envisaged, are at an advantage. And though being a digital nomad may not mean having the liberty to roam freely along a beach or take hikes in the mountains, from Kažić’s experience, those who work away from office are generally more satisfied with their situation in the long-term and this in turn can create a happier team.
"Our culture is more engaging and diverse than it would have been if we were all in the same place. We also wouldn’t have built and launched our platform if we had not expanded our experience pool vastly. This was only possible by going remote-first."
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