Are we all digital nomads in the future of work?
It’s been quite a while since I’ve started interviewing distributed companies, freelancers, digital nomads and general public on the subject of remote work for Surf Office.
Often I get to hear that remote work is the only future, that the office is dead and digital nomads will become standard. Do I think this is the case?
To be honest, no. Not entirely.
Whether we like it or not, it is in human nature to be risk averse. Whether it’s a good or a bad thing is for a different post. Nonetheless, going remote and be on one’s own still presents a huge risk and a leap into the unknown, no matter how easy it seems to us rooted in the industry.
On the other hand, there are still companies who think the traditional office-style 9 to 5 is the best way to work. Even if they are okay with flexible working time, they strongly prefer having employees under one roof, reasoning that it helps to overcome communication barriers and promote company culture.
I can’t fully agree with this view, having witnessed communication issues in traditional companies myself, but I appreciate why they hold their stance so tightly.
What I’ve noticed is that there’s often an imbalance between productivity and culture with the traditional organisations favouring company culture over getting things done as quickly as possible. Is one approach better than the other? That depends on your angle and values, there’s no one size fits all.
What we will see more in the future is, in my opinion, a clearer division between the two types of organisations — companies whose foremost interest is efficiency and highest possible productivity and those who put more importance into culture, unity and fellowship, even though this might be at the expense of workers’ efficiency.
There are already pioneers who blur the boundaries and try to stay cost efficient by being distributed while building strong company culture, like Buffer or Basecamp.
But it’s not something that can happen overnight with your traditional corporate business and definitely not something that works for every company.
The great thing that comes with the remote trend is that the more white-collar companies and startups will join the flow, the more pressure it will create on traditional organisations to loosen their policies in (in)flexible work. This will eventually help everyone — organisations will be able to hire great people who wouldn’t be otherwise able to work for them due to their personal commitments or lifestyle choices, and, of course, workers themselves who will have more freedom and will be happier about their job (which has been proven to help productivity).
Take UK, where I’m based, for example. A great deal is made of parents who want to adjust their employment contracts to flexible schedules. According to the law, since 30 June 2014 all employees have a legal right to request flexible working.
The problem is, even though employers must deal with the request, the decision is ultimately at their discretion. An employee can appeal if they feel the decision wasn’t justified but the employer can still refuse to change it. This is a huge obstacle for new parents who might not be able to arrange childcare 5 days a week, or just wish to spend a little more time with their children (which is, if you ask me, just as valid).
Looking at other countries, in Denmark, work-life balance is deeply engrained in their working culture. Working from home is on the rise, employees get generous 5 weeks of paid holiday and, interestingly, single male parents enjoy the highest degree of flexibility.
And you may have heard about Swedish with their shift towards a six-hour working day.
In the grand scheme of things these are still baby steps but it shows us that society is eager for better work-life balance.
Of course, most remote workers and digital nomads aren’t new parents or people looking after their family members. Quite the contrary — with the increase of projects like Remote Year or Nomad Boat one gets the idea that this lifestyle is exclusively for young and carefree.
But this demand from the younger generation and the pressure on companies to offer more attractive working environment can ultimately help everyone in the workplace.
So no, I don’t believe we’ll all end up as an army of location independent digital nomads. But I do believe that the more mainstream remote work becomes, the better working conditions and more freedom at work the office-bound workforce will see. And that’s certainly something to be positive about.
Sim Vanco on Twitter.