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Thanks to Covid-19, there’s been a sharp rise in people living a long way from corporate HQs. Here, we explain why allowing employees to base themselves where they’re happiest can boost productivity
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed much in the past 18 months and, while a ‘return to normal’ may soon be on the cards thanks to vaccination programmes, one shift that’s likely to be permanent is the adjustment in how many of us work.
Companies that previously restricted working from home or resisted employees’ requests for asynchronous hours were forced to allow both during extended periods of lockdown – and the results were striking. Staff enjoyed improved work-life balance, firms saw solid productivity and, thanks to dramatic reductions in commuting, companies cut their carbon footprints.
Now, keen to lock in these benefits, many businesses are choosing to embrace a hybrid way of working: one that allows employees to spend some time at the office, some at home and some at a third location such as a local flexible workspace.
Global enterprises such as Cisco, Google and HSBC have all committed to the hub-and-spoke model, which enables people to work near home much of the time (at ‘spoke’ locations such as flexspaces), occasionally going to the corporate HQ (‘hub’) for collaboration.
The rise of the digital nomad
But what about people who want to base themselves nowhere near home or the office? Digital nomads – remote workers who travel from location to location, exploring as they go – have been newly empowered by the post-pandemic shift in corporate attitudes. A handful of destinations such as Mauritius, Anguilla and Barbados have even started offering “digital nomad visas” to entice people to “work from paradise”.
With business leaders increasingly focused on productivity rather than presenteeism, it seems more people than ever before are leaving their regular desks behind. According to research by MBO Partners in the USA, the number of workers describing themselves as digital nomads rose 49% year-on-year during the pandemic, hitting 10.9 million. Of these, 62% were Gen Z or Millennials – underlining the strong preference of young professionals for remote work.
However, the report also highlighted that 28% of digital nomads are now aged 45+. What’s more, there’s been a huge uplift of 96% in the number of ‘traditional job holders’ working as digital nomads. No longer the preserve of young freelance or casual workers, ‘nomadism’ is now an option for people in full-time, permanent employment, provided their managers agree.
“Instead of staying in one place, [people] are taking to the road,” MBO’s study explains. “The number of traditional workers working as digital nomads grew from 3.2 million to 6.3 million in 2020. The number of digital nomads who are independent workers (freelancers, independent contractors, etc.) also increased, but by a relatively modest 12%.”
It’s a sign of the times that Microsoft, which has been primarily based in Seattle for the past four decades, has announced its intention to adopt a hybrid working model. Managers have been told to start hiring the right candidates for roles, focusing more on their fitness for jobs than where they are based – and current employees have been allowed to relocate, even internationally, provided they can still fulfil their responsibilities.
Benefits for business
This ability to access a broader pool of talent than ever before is just one of the reasons why hiring digital nomads can be good for firms.
On average, digital nomads are well-educated, highly skilled and technically savvy. They’re heavily reliant on the internet, so it’s unsurprising that many work in digitally oriented occupations such as computer programming, software design, web design and creative fields such as marketing.
But, of course, for them to excel, they need more than a crowded cafe in Bali to get high-quality work done, which is why Regus’s worldwide flex locations are ideal. They offer consistently high-spec work environments and super-fast wifi in the places where digital nomads need them most.
According to MBO, digital nomads are also more likely to be early adopters of technology (74%) than non-digital nomads (34%). The thrill of travelling sees many inspired to stay at the top of their game, with regular, well-paid work the key to continuing their adventures. Professional development is therefore high on digital nomads’ priority lists.
Writing for Forbes, President of Centric Consulting Larry English says: “I’ve run a mostly remote company for 20 years and am already an advocate for permanent remote work. After my family drove from Ohio to California to spend five weeks as digital nomads, I now believe this is the next benefit companies need to figure out.”
English continues: “For me, the time away offered a badly needed escape from the ‘groundhog’ day feel of 2020 and the endless responsibilities of home life.” Crucially, he argues, “My work benefitted, too. The change in scenery gave me a surge in creativity and productivity, and I returned refreshed and remotivated. My employees and contractors who have conducted similar experiments have reported the same benefits.”
For businesses, the pros of embracing digital nomads far outweigh the cons, English insists. “Employees get to take care of their mental health and escape from the humdrum everyday for a while. Businesses get a boost from refreshed and recharged employees full of fresh inspiration and ideas.”
Here (or there) to stay
“Covid-19 has accelerated and amplified existing trends towards remote and flexible work,” concludes MBO’s report. “We believe strong growth will continue in the coming years, allowing millions of people to achieve their dream of doing not just the work they love, but doing [it] when and where they want.”
According to the Harvard Business Review, when it comes to digital nomadism, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. While some firms may still be nervous about it, they argue, all companies need to define and adopt a ‘digital nomad policy’.
“The forces that enable and encourage digital nomadism are here to stay,” they say. “Digital nomads work in professions where talent shortages are common and attracting employees is a constant challenge. Successfully appealing to, managing and retaining these employees will be a key component of any talent strategy.”
MBO found the vast majority of digital nomads report being either highly satisfied (81%) or satisfied (9%) with their work and lifestyle, while 76% are satisfied with their incomes. Ultimately, it seems this happiness sits at the heart of nomads’ benefits for business.
As firms have discovered during the pandemic, people are more productive when they’re working in ways that support work-life balance and day-to-day contentment.
While for many of us the ideal base might be a flexible workspace around the corner, close to home or our children’s school, for others – and now for more people than ever – it’s somewhere else entirely.
Hybrid working can lead to greater productivity and a better work-life balance – whether you live in New York or are spending three months in the Caribbean.
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