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  • Julia Fernando

Digital Nomadism: Highs and Lows of Flexible Working




Digital Nomadism: Highs and Lows of Flexible Working


The digital age has paved the way for a new lifestyle: digital nomadism. This lifestyle allows digital workers to leverage modern technology to travel while working remotely from anywhere in the world (that has good internet access!) A lifestyle of freedom and flexibility, balancing work with leisure, while exploring new locations and cultures. Craving this agency, more people than ever, 162 million in Europe and the US, are expected to be self-employed by 2030 (Bughin et al., 2018). In 2018, 55 million Americans were working as freelancers, and about 2.5 million of them consider themselves digital nomads (Kiholm Smith, 2018).


One thing is for sure: Digital nomadism is here to stay. In this blog, we explore how digital nomads can sustain their lifestyle, balancing work and life and maximising on the benefits of flexibility, in support of their vocational wellness.


What is meant by vocational wellness?

Vocational wellness focuses on the pursuit of a fulfilling career, purpose or calling. It involves finding joy and meaning in work, achieving professional goals, building a career and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Research shows individuals who have the opportunity to engage in work that they perceive as meaningful, experience higher levels of job satisfaction and overall well-being (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001).


Prioritising your vocational wellness means taking the time to consider whether your unique gifts, talents and skills are finding their way out into the world. It also requires looking at how you manage your work and life balance, ensuring there is enough space for personal interests, professional development and purposeful connection. This investment brings about numerous benefits for individuals, including improved physical and mental health outcomes, a greater sense of fulfilment and purpose in one's career or vocation. It also fosters a more committed, productive and engaged workforce, bringing greater value to the systems they are a part of.


Digital nomads: The promise of flexible working

The rise of digital nomads has occurred alongside a global shift towards flexible working. A traditional nine-to-five office routine is no longer the only way to work in the 21st century. With the advancement of technology, millions of employees across industries can now connect and work remotely from anywhere in the world.


Flexible working is "a mode of working that gives the employee a degree of choice over when, where, and how they work" (Allen et al., 2018). Pre-covid, remote work was already on the rise, with a 159% increase in remote working over the past decade (Gordon, 2019) with 8 million Americans working from home (Flexjobs, 2018). However, the pandemic has accelerated the shift toward remote work. In May 2020, 42% of the US workforce was working from home (Kossek et al., 2020). This trend is expected to continue, with over 80% of employees saying they want to continue remote work even after the pandemic (Edwards, 2021).


Digital nomadism exploits flexible working and remote working to their greatest potential. Digital nomads are frequently changing their ‘home base’, creating opportunities for rich and diverse experiences. It can make monotonous, low-skilled work a means to an end. Working to live, not living to work. As such, digital nomads possess absolute control over their work-life balance, by choosing when and where they work (Allen et al., 2018) which is found to contribute to higher job satisfaction and quality of life (Gordon, 2019). For many, working in this way helps productivity levels, due in part to increased focus and fewer distractions (Bloom et al., 2015).


Challenges to vocational wellness…

All this flexibility brings benefits for digital nomads but it also comes with some challenges. One challenge is the lack of structure, which can make it difficult for digital nomads and remote workers to maintain a daily routine and healthy work-life balance (Allen et al., 2018). Working remotely saves you money and time by not commuting to the office. But for some digital nomads and remote workers, building and maintaining a productive working rhythm from home can be challenging, without enforcement of direct line management or daily accountabilities (Gordon, 2019).


In general, remote workers tend to face less supervision and mentorship than office-based workers, which can increase autonomy but can also limit career growth and development (Bloom et al., 2015). The trap of digital nomadism is when work simply becomes a means for the travel and leisure it enables. The job pays well, the role is flexible but the work is dull. For some, this can lead to bliss, at least in the initial stages. Over time, however, not investing in your professional development can lead to a loss of motivation at work and reduced job satisfaction overall.

Finally, loneliness and isolation can be a challenge for digital nomads and remote workers (Moscardo et al., 2019). While they may enjoy freedom and autonomy, they also experience isolation and loneliness, as they often have limited access to professional networks and social support systems. Being continuously on the move can make contacts superficial and connections short-lived. There is a need to work harder to build and maintain stronger relationships with clients, coworkers, and other digital nomads, in order to avoid feeling disconnected.


Flexible Working: Maintaining Wellness and Productivity

Here are four wellness tips to support digital nomads and remote workers to :


Boosting Productivity Through Routine - Creating a routine can be especially helpful in boosting productivity. Establishing a consistent morning and bedtime routine can help create structure and set a productive tone for the day (Edwards, 2021). Additionally, setting aside specific times for work, rest, and leisure can help boost productivity and create a better work-life balance (Moscardo et al., 2019).


Accepting Your Limits and Defining Boundaries - Defining work limits for yourself is critical to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Setting boundaries around work hours and workload can help ensure that you don't overwork and get burned out (Allen et al., 2018). Additionally, creating a separate workspace that can be dedicated to work and holding that space as sacred can help support a good work-life balance (Kossek et al., 2020).


Communicate your Needs to Others - Good communication is essential when working remotely. Keeping in touch with your employer, clients, and colleagues can help avoid misunderstandings and promote better work relationships (Gordon, 2019). Additionally, asking for support from those around you when you need it can help alleviate stress and prevent burnout (Moscardo et al., 2019).


Keep on Developing - we are not a finished product. There is always more we can learn through education, training or reflective practice. There are plenty of free courses available online that will offer you certificates upon completion. Internships or work experience placements are available to anyone with a desire to gain practical experience - no matter your age or years of industry experience. Where possible journal on what you are learning. One reflective statement a day can, over time, reveal tremendous insights about your current role and the future role you want to take up.


Join a Co-Working Space! - Finally, co-working spaces can provide well-needed structure, socialization and support as it gives digital nomads and remote workers a space to work alongside others, outside of the home environment. LeafCo has recently partnered with Spacent who provide remote / hybrids teams and workers a platform to find co-working spaces that offer all the benefits of a fixed location, supported by a broad network of flexible, easy-to-use offices and other shared resources.



References

Allen, T. D., Golden, T. D., & Shockley, K. M. (2018). How effective is telecommuting? Assessing the status of our scientific findings. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(3), 31-74.

Bloom, N., Liang, J., Roberts, J., & Ying, Z. J. (2015). Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130(1), 165-218.

Bughin, J., Dahlström, P., Hazan, E., Lund, S., & Said, R. (2018). Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy. McKinsey Global Institute.

Edwards, T. (2021). 6 Productivity tips for remote workers in 2021. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/taraedwards/2021/03/01/6-productivity-tips-for-remote-workers-in-2021/?sh=4dd31a065b52

Flexjobs. (2018). 10 years of flexible jobs: What we’ve learned. Retrieved from https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/10-years-of-flexible-jobs-what-weve-learned/

Gordon, G. (2019). The rise of the digital nomad. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/work/2019/jun/25/rise-of-the-digital-nomad

Kiholm Smith, C. (2018). The Gig Economy and Nomadic Work Styles: An Analysis of Digital Nomadism. MBO Partners, Inc. and Emergent Research.

Kossek, E. E., Lautsch, B. A., & Eaton, S. C. (2020). Telecommuting, work-family balance, and the gendered nature of home-based work. Gender, Work & Organization, 27(1), 15-35.

Lindgren, M., & Schultze, U. (2014). Digital nomads: a typology of technology use while travelling. New Technology, Work and Employment, 29(3), 222-240.

Moscardo, G., Konovalov, E., & Murphy, L. (2019). Location-independent work and well-being: An exploration of digital nomads. Journal of Business Research, 98, 365-380

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201. doi: 10.5465/amr.2001.4378011




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