A New Work Paradigm: Digital Nomads and Location Independence
Can you remember when the Monday to Friday grind was the absolute norm as a working standard? To deviate from it was a rare and sometimes delicious thing. In one of my previous career incarnations I spent nearly six months trying to convince my boss of the merits of a 4/10 work schedule. At first he wasn’t interested, but with enough persuasion and discussion I eventually convinced him to take a chance on the unknown. It was a sweet, sweet victory…and, unfortunately, shortly lived. Two months later he left and my new boss would not even entertain the thought.
Flash forward to today and the merits of an alternate work schedule are clear. While there are plenty of 8-5 gigs still in full swing, the number of modified work schedules and environments are rapidly becoming the norm. Most of my work at this point is completely remote. The companies I work with don’t mind that I split my time between our offices and my home studio. They don’t even know. The work is the driving factor.
“Is it getting done?”
“Then work from where you want to work.”
While an alternate schedule is more commonplace and working remotely doesn’t make anyone blink anymore, the one thing that has not really changed is where we are based while we do that work. We may choose to punch keys at the local coffee shop or some other point of opportunity, but at the end of the day we head home like almost everyone else.
Nomadic by nature
There is an emerging type of professional, however, that has taken the idea of remote working to its superlative conclusion. Individuals who have decided to break from the new norm and re-define the concept of what the workplace is–the digital nomad. Armed with a host of technological solutions, they have taken full advantage–purposely selling or storing all their stuff, hitting the road, and traveling the world while working. It’s an intentionally displaced workforce, but one that avoids many of the stereotypes that might come to mind of displaced individuals who don’t have a home. These digital nomads work from coffee shops and other points of opportunity just like us. They just prefer to do it while traveling the world.
These digital nomads work from coffee shops and other points of opportunity just like us. They just prefer to do it while traveling the world.
The term “digital nomad” is a journalistic one. A moniker brought on by some writer’s compelling desire to label and quantify everything, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. It’s not a favorite amongst the individuals living this lifestyle, but one that has, for better or worse, stuck. A better term (although wider in scope) might be “location independent” according to Jason Lengstorf, a developer and writer who has been travel-based working for the last year and location independent for a decade.
Getting location independent
The key feature to being a digital nomad is true location independence, meaning you can be anywhere and do your work. So, technically working from home, or a coffee shop, could be considered location independent. Yet, digital nomads take that one step further by moving from city to city around the world and conducting business from anywhere they can find a decent internet connection.
The decision to sell all your earthly belongings and hit the road is a big one. Where will you stay? Where will you go? How expensive is it? These questions only begin to scratch the surface when considering a move like this. Yet, as with most things, a few clicks and searches deliver an overwhelming amount of resources that can help.
To combat the technological issues, sites like No Desk provide a variety of digital (and other) resources designed to help map tech decisions that will make the day-to-day that much easier. Host services like Airbnb provide safe solutions for housing in any city you’re thinking about traveling to. Uber and Lyft can help meet transportation needs. And if you’re looking for the real scoop on this lifestyle there are a host of blogs, such as Jason Lengstorf’s website (or his new book, Untethered) or Spartan Traveler. These resources let you explore the issues that people living the nomadic lifestyle while working have encountered.
Once you’re on the road it will take some scheduling to get your time zones figured out for meetings, and hammering out that work schedule might take time. Yet, if you’re on a beach in Belize or working from a nice flat in Amsterdam things might not seem so overwhelming because you are working on your own terms.
A nomadic lifestyle is not for everyone for sure. It can be hard to walk away from all your stuff (physical and emotional), but for those looking to travel the world while making a living, it can be rewarding on a variety of levels. But larger than the immediate benefits to mind and body, is the fact that this speaks to the rapidly evolving nature of technology and the global breakdown of perceived ideologies of what work is and what it should be. This simply was not possible 10 years ago, yet with advances in technology such as the cloud, web-based apps, internet booked housing, etc. we are standing in a much more diversified workspace. When relaxing perceptions of how and when the modern day worker does their thing, the benefits of striking out on your own, or working remotely, or striking out on your own AND working remotely can be great.
However you decide to spend your 40-60 or so hours a week it’s nice to know that there are options. Living a location independent lifestyle is a great way to work. In our next article we’ll talk in-depth to Jason Lengstorf about how he came to embrace this process and what he’s learned in the last year of nomadic living.