What does #Brexit mean for the Digital Nomad Community?

The EU’s open borders mean a lot more to our community than you think. They reflect the openness of our new identity. A borderless generation, on a borderless continent and a borderless internet full of opportunity.

Can they limit a generation that knows no borders?

Digital nomadism, location independence, remote working and flylancing have all fundamentally changed the way that we think about work. Whilst Brexit raises some major concerns for British nomads, this news also cast the dreams for many other European location-independent workers into doubt overnight. Threatening both our prospects and our identity.

We may not be able to solve these deep divisions ourselves, but now, more than ever, we need unite across the continent and help each other by offering friendship and community to our fellow remote workers. Together we can harness our collective knowledge and creative problem solving skills to build our own globally connected community in these uncertain times. We can overcome and innovate together.

Location independence: How did we get this far?

Walk around a European city today and you’ll find young location-independent entrepreneurs, freelancers & digital nomads everywhere. We’re in pubs, we’re in cafes — anywhere there’s wifi.

Why are there so many of us? Because, when we graduated during the biggest global recession since the 1930s, there simply weren’t enough jobs to go around.

But instead of simply accepting the hand dealt to us, an entire generation of newly initiated graduates started to think outside of the box and create their own opportunities online. The crisis forced us to get creative.

Many of us took huge risks; either founding our own businesses or becoming freelancers. Two out of my three University flatmates went on to found their own businesses immediately after graduating. The other became a freelancer. They haven’t looked back.

With hindsight, it sounds straightforward, but it was far from easy. Before the recession, both freelancing and starting-up in tech were unchartered territories. None of us really knew what we were doing. Now startups born during the economic downturn such as Airbnb and Uber are household names and billion dollar companies.

We were forced to develop our careers without the framework we have today, and in extremely hostile economic conditions. We had no choice but use our ingenuity to create our own opportunities. Harnessing the power of the internet seemed like the best way to go about it. In doing so, we unwittingly pioneered of the so called ‘future of work’: location independent professionalism, making it what it is today.

Coworking on the terrace at Betahaus Barcelona. Credit: Eduardo Forte

Fast forward 8 years and innovation hubs, accelerators and coworking spaces are commonplace. Online entrepreneurs and freelancers are able to run their businesses anywhere they can connect to the internet. Progress, innovation and entrepreneurialism have become synonymous with the term ‘millennial’, wifi has practically replaced oxygen, and even major companies are comfortable with hiring freelancers and remote working teams, hurray!

We’re coming out the other side of the downturn having ‘taken back control’ (- oh, the irony -) of our lives and our career paths in a way that feels both rewarding and healthy. Our newly engineered lifestyle means we can avoid paying soaring rents to private landlords or endure the low living standards that many major cities offer us. All this, without having to sacrifice our careers. We can simply take our laptops, our work and our online clients onto greener pastures.

Amazingly, where we choose to live is becoming irrelevant to our careers, and the EU’s open borders has played a huge role in making this dream of ‘digital nomadism’ a reality.

Limiting a generation that knows no borders

Amongst the political turmoil and surreal situation that last week’s Brexit has left us in, it’s easy to forget all the EU has done for us. There are well-documented issues with its political structure, and while we don’t ignore these, Europe’s open borders have been quietly offering professional and personal refuge for the young during an economic slump. It’s no coincidence that 75% of 18–24 year olds voting in the UK’s EU Referendum wanted to remain within the union.

The truth is, open borders in the EU signify a lot more to our generation than simply access to a free market. They reflect the openness of our new identity. A borderless generation, on a borderless continent and a borderless internet full of endless opportunity.

Vast and busy capital cities with outrageously high living costs such as London and Paris have been busy out-pricing us, but across the continent, cheaper alternative cities with higher living standards and abundant wifi, such as Barcelona, Berlin and Bucharest have become internationally recognised hubs for innovation, attracting talent from across the EU, and welcoming us. The EU has made that possible.

Cities no longer hold the monopoly over us. We can even choose to reject urban life altogether and live in rural areas without having to sacrifice our careers, or our sense of community. Fully-fledged innovation hubs and coworking spaces popping up in the forests of Germany, and on the beaches of Mediterranean islands. Where there’s wifi, there’s a career to be had.

Coconat Retreat — Coworking & coliving for Digital nomads in the German countryside. Credit: Nadja Buelow

For those armed with a laptop and ambition, digital nomadism and the advent of remote working have become the alternative lifestyle. Sadly Brexit threatens to eradicate not only this way of working for British nomads, but with it, their identity.

As Nicholas Barrett eloquently commented in the Financial Times last week:

“The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, […] Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents…”

So will Brexit make Digital Nomadism more difficult?

The answer is yes, most probably.

From a practical perspective, if Brexit closes the UK’s borders, we (British nomads) are probably looking at visas to travel, limits to how long we can stay in the EU zone and more paperwork in order for us to offer our services to EU based-clients. We may even be taxed for the pleasure.

On the other side of the English Channel, things look equally as complicated for non-British professionals hoping to collaborate with the UK. They will almost certainly not retain the right to live and work in the UK and digital nomads will no longer be welcome.

In the British Home Secretary, Theresa May’s own words;

“Nobody necessarily stays anywhere forever.”

This will be a huge loss of talent and creativity, not to mention a colossal cultural loss to a nation that has previously prided itself on great cultural diversity.

Creativity in times of crisis

Fortunately, as a group, location-independent professionals, digital nomads, flylancers, remote workers, whatever you want to call us — we’re inherently resourceful and full of energy. It was only eight years ago that we overcame a recession with ingenuity and resourcefulness, and look how far we’ve come. Let’s simply use the crisis as a springboard for creativity and as an inspiration for change. If ever we doubt ourselves, just remember that we did it before, so we know we can do it again.

As Barack Obama once wisely said:

“Progress isn’t guaranteed. It’s not inevitable. It’s something that has to be fought for.”

So let’s not go down without a fight.

Whether or not the UK is in or out of the EU, our sense of unity will remain. I believe passionately that if we unite across the continent in a show of solidarity to both our UK colleagues and all those experiencing instability in the EU, to create Europe’s first borderless community for location-independent professionals, we will be able to overcome this together.

We’ll start by uniting across the continent in meetups and online communities. We’ll create our own space to exchange, inspire and empower each other everywhere in Europe, In Barcelona, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Athens… everywhere. We’ll organise it ourselves and keep it free of commercial interests. Together we will be able to harness our collective creativity and expertise to create our own globally connected community.

If we unite, the world remains our oyster. The trick is sticking together.

Flylancer Jeran Richardson leading a discussion in Barcelona: “Let’s create something between a cult & a support group for ourselves” Credit: Harry Proudlove

Our first borderless community: Flylancer

On 27th July, the Flylancer community will be launching in London for the first time in the UK.

We’re calling on all those that feel passionately about our way of life and believe as strongly as we do that unity and creativity is the best way to overcome this division, please join us.

Our community will host a totally free and self-organised event offering free beers and hugs to all location-independent flylancers & digital nomads (we know you need them).

We will stand by each other in discussing how we can best overcome this shock together in workshops and discussions by building our own member led community. By live streaming the event to Barcelona, our founding community, we’ll work together with other flylancers from across the continent to fight for our shared values.

The Internet knows no borders, and neither do we.

Founding community members of Flylancer Barcelona. Credit: Harry Proudlove

Special thanks to fellow Barcelona & London flylancers for kindly and patiently co-authoring & editing this piece: Mr. Crinks, Katie Jones, Jeran Richardson, Abbie Long, Rach Cruickshank, Danielle Karlsson and Laura Hopkins —

“Are we calling it Flylancer, because we’re fly?” — yes we most definitely are. Thank you guys.