Now that digital nomads are predicted to make up a third of the world’s workforce by 2035, it’s time for staffing and HR professionals to understand this trend. Almost 17 million workers in the US would use this label to describe themselves, according to reporting from Forbes. What exactly does the lifestyle offer them, and where is the digital nomad trend heading next?
What Is a Digital Nomad?
Many of us are having conversations about the state of the workforce, and terms get thrown around without proper understanding. Words and phrases like “freelancer,” “remote worker,” “digital nomad,” and “work from home” are often used interchangeably, but there are some crucial differences between these lifestyles.
While a remote or hybrid worker will work outside of a traditional office setup, they are still associated with a work base. Their job will usually be tied (at least nominally) to a particular location, and their home office will also be registered as their working address. Digital nomads are different in that they decidedly travel while working remotely without fixed work addresses. They set up at beaches, in new cities, in coffee shops and more. They might not live as digital nomads forever, but at least right now, the label and lifestyle afford them the flexibility and independence they crave.
What Do You Need to Know Before Hiring Digital Nomads?
Before incorporating digital nomads into your workforce strategy, you need to understand the challenges that might await. Consider the following roadblocks and how to overcome them:
Navigate this new territory by borrowing from other policies. Understandably, most companies don’t have policies that apply to digital nomads. They might have remote work guidelines, but even those are new and shifting and don’t quite cover the transitory nature of digital nomads and increased risks of having employees working in many places. However, borrowing from your remote work policy (if you have one) is a great start. It will help you understand what internal systems nomad workers should have access to, what expectations should be in place and how you’ll communicate with them.
Know that regulatory issues will change. Consider the legal and tax implications of a digital nomad living in Texas, for example, but traveling and working for nine months throughout France. Each nomad will bring new challenges in terms of taxation and compliance. You will need to be ready to research different countries and their employment laws. More countries are introducing digital nomad visa programs, but you’ll still want to consider working with a third-party partner for support navigating confusing processes such as these.
Don’t forget cybersecurity. IP and security processes become more complex when dealing with digital nomads because these workers might not always be in locations with secure internet networks. Having digital awareness and creating fail-safe boundaries will be essential because nomads might be accessing sensitive company and client information from a variety of different networks in foreign countries. You must address cybersecurity early and often and develop policies to cover digital nomads’ technology use.
Where Is the Digital Nomad Trend Leading?
The digital nomad trend isn’t going anywhere; to be sure, we are facing an increase in nomadic work worldwide. According to the Forbes report mentioned above, the number of global digital nomads increased by 131% between 2019 and 2022 alone.
This rise is being scaffolded by shifts in policy and culture, too. In 2020, only one country (Barbados) offered a digital nomad visa; by 2022, that number had grown to more than 50, per Forbes. This is the beginning of a much longer story, and companies wishing to seize the opportunities of a global, digital future should be seriously considering how to incorporate digital nomad policies into their businesses.