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Selina Hofmann

During her Bachelor’s degree in tourism at the University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland, Selina Hofmann studied the long-term integration of digital nomads in companies. After researching and establishing the existing literature, six qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with international companies, ranging from SMEs to large corporations and from on-site to remote. This diversity of opinions and insights aided in developing an action plan that companies can use in order to hire digital nomads as long-term employees.

 Digital nomadism in a nutshell

Globalization and technological progress facilitate many aspects of life such as travelling and innovation. As a result, they also contributed to the creation and evolution of the lifestyle known as digital nomadism. Digital nomads are location-independent individuals who unite digital work and travel (Haking, 2018). More precisely, “the term “digital nomad” refers to a rapidly emerging class of highly mobile professionals, whose work is location independent. Thus, they work while traveling on (semi)permanent basis and vice versa, forming a new mobile lifestyle” (Hannonen, 2020). There are three elements that constitute digital nomadism:
- digital work, which is the use of technologies for professional means;
- location independence, defined as the ability to work from anywhere without spatial restrictions;
- wanderlust, known as the desire to explore the world (Stickel, 2020).
Sometimes considered as an extension of remote work, the purposeful engagement in travel turns the location independent work into a lifestyle (Thompson, 2018; Hannonen, 2020).

A new way of working

This phenomenon is continuously growing, all the more with the COVID-19 pandemic that accelerated the standardization and shift to remote work, amplified the flexible work trend and normalized digital nomadism (de Almeida, Correia, Schneider, & de Souza, 2021; MBO Partners, 2020; Hermann & Paris, 2020)). In fact, firms quickly went through digital transformation and embraced a remote work model which still remains embedded in their work practices today (Savić, 2020). Remote work became the norm and both employers and employees noticed undeniable advantages, out of which the biggest one is flexibility. Ultimately, a shift in people’s mindset took place and they now demand remote work to be permanently part of their work life. This represents a golden opportunity for companies to innovate, differentiate themselves within the market and remain an attractive employer. 

A win-win situation

Although the main reason to become a digital nomad is freedom, it can be restricted with the absence of a long-term employer and a stable income (Haking, 2018; Thompson, 2018). Their implementation in a company could be beneficial to relieve these pain points, but also for businesses in terms of productivity, innovation, and cost savings among other things. Moreover, digital nomads possess an unparalleled skill set which also constitutes a great advantage for employers. Finally, changing to a remote work model would also satisfy employees’ desires, especially those of the new generation entering the workforce (Frick & Marx, 2021; Stickel, 2020).

Conclusively, this work model would represent a win-win situation for employers and employees. Employees would have more freedom and flexibility to travel and live a fulfilling life while earning a stable income, and employers would benefit from all the above-mentioned advantages that remote work and digital nomadism bring. These advantages may also lead to the full achievement of company values as well as the accomplishment of business goals.

The way to the top

By combining thorough research and online interviews, an action plan was developed. It contains five steps for an effective implementation of digital nomads in a business that the latter needs to go through to attain excellence in a remote work model, in the associated business practices and overall, within in the company. 

• Step 1
The first and fundamental step for a company to shift to a remote work model is the adoption of various digital tools, the digitization of work processes and an overall tech-friendliness. These elements are crucial to making remote work function since 100% of the work is done online with the use of technology. For maximum efficiency, different IT-tools should be used each with a specific goals, in order to gain in efficiency. Essentially, digitizing work practices and using new technologies to companies’ advantage is what allows them to work remotely and efficiently.

• Step 2
In order to be a digital nomad-friendly company, there should also be digital nomad-friendly business practices. These include the management of remote work, time zone differences, distinct work hours due to travel, and so on. One of the best practices for remote work and to deal with its related issues is asynchrony, which means that every employee has their own work hours and not everyone is on an 8am-5pm basis. Other digital nomad-friendly business practices include effective written communication, good management, clear expectations, and company benefits that conform with remote work. For example, ensuring a good workspace for their employees by paying for their office setup or offering a membership to a co-working space. Another controversial practice that should be normalized and implemented is the focus on productivity rather than work hours. As long as the expected outcomes are delivered, employees should not be penalized if they complete their task in three hours rather than in eight. Combined with giving employees meaningful work that they like to do, productivity is increased as well as task efficiency. Finally, being in accordance with the law by registering the company in the employees’ host countries for example is also an important component of this step.

• Step 3
The conceptualization of an effective hiring process is the third element of the pyramid. Each company should design their own personalized recruitment process which breaks away from traditional approaches and is aligned with their values in order to increase the chances of finding the most compatible profiles. To identify those profiles, the hiring process should help to show how the candidates like to work, how they function and what they think is necessary. This process should be able to detect the authenticity in people. Possibilities include but are not limited to personality tests, work preference tests, Pymetrics test or simply a casual conversation.

• Step 4
To compensate for the lack of physical communication, an effective strategy for informal communication and social exchanges should be established. One successful approach is the practice of yearly gatherings where the whole team meets and exchanges. Those gatherings usually take place in an international location and serve to build team cohesion, get to know colleagues, and identify more strongly with the company. They can last for a few days during which several team-building activities take place as well as constructive discussions about the company’s practices, what people enjoy and what could be improved. Even though such gatherings come with some costs, it is a highly effective practice that can bring social exchanges among the team. Moreover, the company can customize the conceptualization as well as the occurrence of those gatherings itself, in order to respond to its needs and those of the employees. Other ideas to deal with the lack of social contact could include watching a movie simultaneously with colleagues, practicing sports together remotely, playing an online game together, doing a contest or something else related to their industry.

• Step 5
Last but definitely not least, what completes the whole process is for the company to have the right mindset. A mindset of understanding, openness and most importantly based on flexibility and trust is the key to a highly effective implementation of the digital nomad lifestyle in a company. Supporting employees to reach their full potential (Stickel, 2020), being open to new ways of doing things, and developing a broad knowledge of technology are only some components of that mindset that should be deeply rooted in the company culture. Nonetheless, such a mindset is individual to each company and person and can be adapted according to their values and business model.

Ready for the challenge?

Although each firm should decide themselves whether or not they are ready and have the willingness to include remote workers in their company, the use of technology in today’s world should not be disregarded. Businesses now have to take advantage of technology simply to remain an active player. They needed to shift to a remote work model to assure their survival due to the pandemic. Accordingly, by welcoming trends such as digital nomadism, companies would not only differentiate themselves from other businesses or respond to the workforce’s desires, but also equip themselves with an undeniable advantage to overcome future challenges and be one of the pioneers of the future of work.