Two years ago, we brought on a senior engineer to lead our software development efforts. He was highly skilled, an ex-Microsoft programmer. He could’ve written his own cheque.
When we found him, he was working as a digital nomad in Bali.
The digital nomad (defined as those who work from outside their office, often freelance and for multiple companies at a time) lifestyle has grown to the point where it is aspirational: wandering the globe while doing Internet-enabled work.
Technology has been a key enabler in the growth of digital nomads. With a smartphone and laptop, improving Internet connectivity means anyone can bridge practically any gap apart from time zone differences.
A network of support services and collaborative tools also makes it increasingly easy – co-living communities such as Hmlet in Singapore; marketplaces for freelance services such as Fiverr; online information sites such as Nomad List; as well as Zoom for remote conferencing and Slack for team and workplace communication.
In fact, the rise of digital nomads could be viewed as the precursor of a general shift to mobile and distributed work. For example, a report by Betterment suggests that one in three workers are freelancers. Software company Intuit predicts the gig economy will make up 43 per cent of the workforce.
In Gallup’s State of the Workplace Report, a third of workers would switch jobs if given the opportunity to work a more flexible, remote schedule. The research shows growth in the number of companies in the US going fully remote.
The rise of digital nomads is something corporate travel managers should pay attention to. I have two suggestions for corporate travel managers who wish to better serve this growing segment of talents.
First, understand that digital nomads are looking for new experiences, adventure and culture. So, product-market fit is key to satisfying this market segment: reliable Internet connection, fun adventures, a safe environment and a connection to the local culture.
To appreciate what the remote workforce needs, corporate travel managers should try the digital nomad lifestyle for themselves. They should take their phone and laptop, and find a place to get some work done. While there, pay attention to what they like and don’t like about it. For instance, does it have enough power outlets? Are the chairs comfortable? Is it a secure environment where one could leave his belongings to grab a coffee?
The trend towards mobile and distributed work shows no sign of slowing down, and the idea of “travelling while working” is set to have a profound impact on industries ranging from travel and tourism to commercial real estate as companies downsize.
David Wong is the co-founder and CEO of BOOQED, a digital platform for tenants and landlords to find or monetise short-term unused business spaces.