Traditional thinking insists that an employee be at his or her office desk, visible and showing value by physical presence. The 9-to-5 office culture perpetuated this as a norm for many years, though it has eased gradually due to technology-enabled remote and digital work. Now, Millennials are turning this traditional notion on its head, proving that not all work requires employees to sit at the same desk, day after day.
A recent trend I find interesting is that of ‘digital nomads.’ This concept extends beyond, say, a remote work policy during the holidays and describes employees who travel the world while working virtually. But as telecommuting continues to evolve, is reliable Wi-Fi the only thing needed to succeed in today’s business world?
With the ability to connect from nearly anywhere in the world, these workers can stay tuned in with coworkers or managers as needed while maintaining their flexibility.
Feeding their wanderlust
Traditionally, digital nomads are employees who choose a place (or multiple places) they’d like to work. Laptop in tow, they set up in coffee shops, co-working spaces or libraries. Several structured programs exist, such as Remote Year, which brings together up to 80 people to work and travel in 12 cities over the course of a year. Many cities have developed communities of digital nomads, leaning on each other for support, camaraderie and tips to sustain the nomadic lifestyle. Fast Company reports a list of tools and apps that feature crowdsourced data pointing to the best “laptop-friendly spaces” and even personal residences offering up workspace.
Many digital nomads work as freelancers or entrepreneurs, and some work as programmers or bloggers. Some may work on a set schedule or only when it suits their traveling lifestyle. With the ability to connect from nearly anywhere in the world, these workers can stay tuned in with coworkers or managers as needed while maintaining their flexibility.
At EY, nearly 85% of our workforce today still follow traditional professional services models — working 40+ hours a week as full-time employees and serving clients in the marketplace. Most still go to a brick-and-mortar office building at least part of each week as a “home base.”
But the other 15% are virtual, working from remote locations or other office settings most of the time. In fact, we expect the number of “traditional” workers to begin declining rather significantly over just the next two years as we expand the other portions of our workforce — some of which are digital (robotic automation), some offshore and some gig-based.
Recently, in response to the latter’s growing popularity, EY launched GigNow, a site that connects workers anywhere (non-EY employees) to gig-based contract work that excites them and matches their schedule. Some of the gigs currently posted are two- or six-month assignments, and have locations ranging from London and Dublin to flexible location in Australia.
A shifting workforce means a shifted mindset
As the workplace evolves, so do the values and goals of workers themselves. New Republic Magazine reports that “climbing the ladder” is not as typical a path — today, workers are more independent and entrepreneurial. How independent? According to a recent November study by FlexJobs, 62 percent of working professionals have left or considered leaving a job because it didn’t have work flexibility.
In short, the intersection of shifting goals and technological capabilities opens a new world for workers today, including that of digital nomads. As work and travel combine more and more into an overall lifestyle, employers should explore this trend and consider shifting from traditional pathways to more experience-based, gig-now opportunities as a new way to attract and engage employees.