Given the looming global recession and mass redundancies, it’s logical that the number of digital nomads will skyrocket – Erica Wolfe-Murray offers her expert advice
There is no doubt that the current pandemic is pushing many countries into a recession, which will take a long time to abate. Larger swathes of industries are making full-time staff redundant. Some will find new jobs, while many others will swell the number of freelancers and self-employed workers, which is around 6 million. Other countries will be seeing similar patterns. And of those fresh-minted freelancers, many will choose to set-off adventuring around the world as digital nomads. So how will their world look?
With the desire to combine work and travel, the digital nomad economy is largely – but not exclusively – populated by young, single, commitment-free digital freelancers. The decline in anchoring factors such homeownership and marriage, aligned to the pre-lockdown ease of travel, improved internet across the world, rise of short term working space, has given rise to a free-flowing, follow-your-travel-bug worker for whom work is the means to living differently.
Recent research undertaken by Carphone Warehouse considered three main factors when assessing which cities rocked it for digital nomad appeal – working there, living there, having fun there. The UK (London) ranked at 14th out of 30, well behind the US, Spain, France, and Thailand. Although scoring high on a lively social life, variety of potential work, ridiculously high rents and poor internet connectivity lowered the capital’s overall score.
Growth Of Remote Workers And Digital Nomads
Behaviour change patterns we’ve seen during the coronavirus pandemic will contribute to the growth of both remote workers (ie working from home) as well as digital nomads as increasing numbers of companies realise the benefits this can unlock. Improved productivity, lower needs/costs of office space are just two, but the freedom to change employment practice to hire from a global pool becomes much more attractive.
It will be interesting to see whether London can up its game to gain an increased share of this fast-growing opportunity. Without beaches and that laid-back living vibe, what can it do to appeal more widely to new digital nomads?
Improve the internet
Without a doubt, the UK needs to up its internet across the board. This is an ambition of the government, but whether the pandemic has derailed this remains to be seen.
Add inventive entry systems
With Estonia offering a digital nomad visa, it is not just the UK’s vibrant start-up and tech economy but a wider range of internet-enabled industries that need to ensure they push for a similarly welcoming environment to short and longer-term digital nomads.
Provide greater accommodation options
Over the next few months and years, London will see a hollowing out of office space as companies downsize their space requirements. Large expensive commercial rent will be regarded as an albatross. This should free up sizeable capacity for reinvention as co-living spaces – flexible long- and short-term accommodation with workspace – attracting an international, digitally savvy community. With The Collective and Gravity Co-living already operational, ensuring easy change of use and funding to develop this needs to be encouraged.
London has a large number of flexible workspaces. From large providers such as WeWork and The Office Group to smaller providers and membership clubs, it is a sector that has seen huge growth appealing to both flexible corporate needs and the individual space needs of a freelance digital workforce. Re-assessing how these properties will operate safely in a coronavirus-infected city will be paramount in attracting digital nomads, who may decide to base themselves in countries and cities with a lower infection and mortality rate. Despite the popularity of the UK’s healthcare system.
Supporting the digital nomad workforce
With rising unemployment, the numbers of freelancers and start-ups will skyrocket, some of whom will feel the urge to try out a nomadic existence, both within the UK and overseas. These talented digital individuals will have skills and leadership qualities vital to helping UK companies grow over the next years. As businesses of all sizes have been forced into building remote workforces and using unfamiliar digital systems during the lockdown, these revised working practices will only benefit digital nomads.
After all, it is irrelevant whether a team member is in Bali or Bromley. Recruitment companies and HR departments now need to be inventive around developing methodologies for finding, attracting and helping digital nomads work effectively with changing corporate practice. They, in turn, have much to learn from experienced nomads who can provide management guidance and mentoring for newbie long-term WFH-ers and nomads.
The local and global opportunity
Over the past few months, the ‘local+global’ business model has really started to develop. Smaller companies with the potential for a local IRL delivery model have built this side of their business to keep income flowing while tapping into the global economy through imaginative e-commerce development.
Finding the best person for your digital/e-commerce support is what matters, where they are based is now irrelevant. London has always had an appeal for nomads, but this is being dented by Brexit, COVID-19 etc, so it needs to enhance its appeal and re-engage on the world stage to show how open it is for re-shaping and attracting a workforce of all types and methods.
In my view, digital nomads offer the UK a real opportunity. Supporting them when they are here, helping those leaving the UK to travel whilst working and encouraging companies to engage them inventively to contribute to evolving working practice are keys to London and the UK retaining and improving its relationship with this flexible workforce.