Digital Nomads: Good for business and good for the soul

As we mark three years since the first lockdown, a friend recently jetted off for two months in Tobago to become a digital nomad. He’s airnb’d his London flat, short leased a beach front palm-fronged villa and set up his laptop under a sunshade with an uninterrupted view of the sea.

Sounds magical doesn’t it?

And whilst Covid has A LOT to answer for, so too has it led to some positives. Pre-lockdown there is no way this friend ever could have worked from home (his CEO broke out in a sweat if anyone had the audacity to ask if they could leave early to let the gas man in), let alone work from another country, never mind an entirely different continent and time zone.

Businesses, particularly SMEs, like ours, have become far more relaxed about where, when and how people work. And this is a good thing. Recently, I went through the Government’s Help to Grow programme and one of the modules discussed how we can attract staff when we can’t compete with the salaries offered by the big boys and digital nomading is one such differentiator. Large corporates are unsurprisingly a bit more, well corporate, and are increasingly introducing new rules about the amount of time that must be spent at the office – after all they’ve all got rent to pay and clients to impress with the latest interior design.

But show me someone that doesn’t want the opportunity to change their life for chunks at a time. According to TUI ‘Workcations’ are this year’s latest trend. Workcations combine the travel and leisure you’d expect from a traditional holiday with remote working. They can last anything from a couple of days through to a few months.  Whilst being a Digital Nomad was once the domain of the young or unattached, now whole families are jetting off to pastures new as soon as school’s out for summer. The lure of a good kid’s club has never been so appealing!

As an experienced digital nomad myself, I was unsurprised to discover that a staggering 63 per cent of people would change jobs if their remote working privileges were rescinded and 90 per cent of remote workers intend to continue working away from an office for the rest of their careers. The importance that is placed on remote working has also been shown by the droves of people fleeing Portugal. Last week, the country announced the end of its Golden Visa Programme, which was one of the most popular programmes for digital nomads due to the fact it allows free travel within the European Schengen Zone. Instead, the Portuguese digital nomad community is eyeing up countries including Dubai, Lithuania, Turkey, Singapore, Germany and Hong Kong.

I feel incredibly passionately about encouraging my totally remote workforce (which stretches across two continents) to travel and work because it is both good for them and good for the business – a win win.

It is proven that working from somewhere that isn’t your usual place of work has a number of benefits, including;

  1. Reduced stress levels: Working remotely while traveling can help to reduce stress levels. A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found working holidays reduced stress levels by 60 per cent and improved job satisfaction. Additionally, a survey conducted by Buffer found that 53 per cent of remote workers reported lower stress levels than they did in a traditional office setting.
  2. Improved work-life balance: Digital nomads have the flexibility to create a work-life balance that suits their needs. This can help to reduce burnout and again increases job satisfaction. According to a survey conducted by MBO Partners, 71% of digital nomads reported improved mental health after becoming a digital nomad, and 79% reported feeling more creative and productive.
  3. Increased physical activity: Travelling whilst working encourages physical activity, which has been linked to improved health. A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that regular exercise can have a positive impact on physical and mental health, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Digital nomads often have more opportunities for physical activity, such as hiking, swimming, and exploring new cities on foot.
  4. Exposure to new experiences and cultures: Exposure to new experiences and cultures can lead to personal growth and improved health. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who had lived abroad had increased levels of creativity, open-mindedness, and adaptability. Digital nomads have the opportunity to immerse themselves in new cultures, meet new people, and experience new things, which can contribute to personal growth

In my mind a happier, healthier workforce can only ever be a good thing. However, as with most things in life, there is a balance to be struck, as an organisation of free-spirited nomads does not a conducive company-make. There must be parameters within which remote workers operate for example, setting clear expectations around the frequency and method of communication as well as the availability of nomads during business hours.

Many businesses have also come a cropper by allowing remote working for the wrong reasons – namely cost cutting. To run a truly remote business the savings made on a tangible office must be reinvested into good technology (to ensure that everyone has the ability to work effectively, productively, collaboratively and efficiently), cyber security ( to mitigate any remote device disasters) and most importantly into building and maintaining a strong company culture – after all culture is not an initiative, but an enabler of all initiatives – which very much includes the ability to work remotely.