The State Of Remote 2015

To get things properly started, I thought it might be an idea to take a look at the different groups of people coined as “digital nomads” (remote workers) in 2015. There are quite a bit of definitions, statistics and numbers to talk about so lets get started.

I did something similar on my previous blog, Nomad Couch back in 2010. However, things have changed quite a bit since so I think it’s a good idea to bring the definitions up to date.

Lets start with…

Who is a digital nomad, really?

When I meet and talk with other digital nomads, whether meeting them on some exotic destination overseas or in my local coffee shop, two typical groups of people usually emerge.

A large majority of them seem to be running a solo act, most often than not, as freelancers.

They trade their time for money, selling services such as design work, writing, software development, web development and so forth. Sometimes they work as a duo with their living partner.

Then there’s the other large group of people who run their own show as entrepreneurs. They don't directly sell their time in exchange for money. Instead, they build products that generate income, even when they're not actively working in and on their business. Some call it passive income (yeah, you've probably heard of that one). Pat Flynn is the poster boy for this kind of business & lifestyle (although, he doesn't call himself a digital nomad — I asked him once).

Some of them (especially bloggers) bootstrap their businesses to get things started. They first build an audience through blogging and then build products that solve common pain points the audience have. Sometimes, these businesses get started with $100 or less.

This group of people most often bootstrap their businesses, meaning, they don't go after funding, pitch to investors or any of that “startup world stuff”.

Then there’s the other half of the latter group, who take the more traditional startup road. They build a prototype (a piece of software being a popular choice), pitch their idea to a group of investors, acquire funding (if the stars align just right) and do their best to grow from there.

Although the terms freelancer and entrepreneur are sometimes used interchangeably, they are in fact, two very different animals to begin with.

I like how Seth Godin has compared the two. In an interview for The Rise To The Top he said:

“Freelancers get paid for their work. You work more, you get paid more. But you don't get paid when you sleep (because you're not working, obviously). An entrepreneur, uses other people’s money to build a business bigger than themselves, so that they get paid when they sleep.”

Simple, huh? Now you know. ☺

But then there’s the group of digital nomads that nobody seems to be talking about although they make up a very large chunk of digital nomad people in 2015.

Who? I’m talking about the nine-to-fivers.

Yes, you read it right. You know, the people who used to work in the cubicles and loathe what they do for a living (well, that’s how they are often portrayed when the conversation of which is better, “9 to 5 or entrepreneurship” raises its ugly head).

As it turns out, in 2015, the walls of the cubicles don't exist anymore. Instead, these people now have access to their company systems via cloud based services (they don't even need to setup a VPN connection in between their work laptops and their company network to be able to get the work done).

Instead, many companies utilize cloud services such as Office 365 to enable their employees to do their work on the go. Weekly meetings? Try Skype. Or maybe a Google Hangout. Or maybe no meetings at all?

If you're a regular 9–5 office worker and your company policy allow it, there are very little argument in favor of “the need to get” your people physically in a fixed office location anymore. Sure, it’s great thing for socializing, but is it really necessary for getting the work done anymore, probably not.

So now the nine-to-fivers are joining the ranks of other types of digital nomads. A question like “is everyone a digital nomad in 2015” comes to mind.

Not quite.

There are and always will be the type of work & occupations, that just can’t be exercised in the “purest digital nomad way”.

  • Those doing manual labor (construction workers, timberjacks, truck drivers, cleaners, heavy machinery operators)
  • Brick-and-mortar sales clerks, shopping mall guards
  • Police officers, firemen, other authorities

And so forth. There will always be demand for people working in these more traditional lines of work. And that’s a good thing. We certainly need them, don’t we? Without them, we'd be in a utter chaos in a matter of days. My highest respect goes to these fine folk.

Ok, lets get back to the digital nomad stuff shall we?

My personal definition for the term “digital nomad”

For me personally, the essence of being a digital nomad has always been the possibility to work from anywhere. All I need is a laptop and a working internet connection. What it doesn’t mean (for me), is that I would have to live a year in each of the seven continents to be able to coin myself as one (although living on all the different continents would sound like a fun experience, huh?).

For me, the ability of being able to work from 9–12 in my home office, then transit the local coffee store, have my lunch and continue working for the rest of the day there is being a digital nomad.

This is what the wireless generation is all about. Laptop + Internet = work gets done (and + hopefully also = money gets made). As simple as that.

Onward we go. Back to freelancing.

As freelancers are such a huge part of the whole wireless generation, lets go back there for a moment.

Do you know what the 5 types of Freelancers are?

Based on a survey, made by the Freelance Union & Elance-oDesk in the US, these are the 5 types of freelancers (53 million people in total):

  1. Independent contractors. (40% of the independent workforce / 21.1 million professionals) — These “traditional” freelancers don't have an employer and instead do freelance, temporary, or supplemental work on a project to-project basis.
  2. Moonlighters. (27% / 14.3 million) — Professionals with a primary, traditional job who also moonlight doing freelance work. For example, a corporate employed web developer who also does projects for nonprofits in the evening.
  3. Diversified workers. (18% / 9.3 million) — People with multiple sources of income from a mix of traditional employers and freelance work. For example, someone who works the front desk at a dentist’s office 20 hours a week and fills out the rest of his income driving for Uber and doing freelance writing.
  4. Temporary workers. (10% / 5.5 million) — Individuals with a single employer, client, job, or contract project where their employment status is temporary. For example, a business strategy consultant working for one startup client on a contract basis for a months-long project.
  5. Freelance business owners. (5% / 2.8 million) — Business owners with between one and five employees who consider themselves both a freelancer and a business owner. For example, a social marketing guru who hires a team of other social marketers to build a small agency, but still identifies as a freelancer.

So yes, basically all “office workers” can be classified as digital nomads today, whether full-time or part-time. It’s the way work gets done in 2015.

Here’s a few more freelancing numbers for your viewing pleasure:

  • One in three U.S. workers is now a freelancer (WSJ)
  • There are over 4 million freelancers in UK today
  • There is an increase of over 150% in businesses hiring freelancers in UK alone (DSC). That’s more than double compared to 2013!
  • Female contractors & freelancers are out earning men (The CaFe). Based on People Per Hour, “women are paid an average hourly rate of £22.43, while men are being paid an average rate of £21.57 per hour”.

But what do these freelancers actually get paid to do for?

In UK, the top three, based on total numbers of tasks companies are hiring freelancers for are:

  1. Design tasks, 36%
  2. Web development task, 23%
  3. Writing tasks, 14%

In terms of increased demand in services (2013 versus 2014) provided by freelancers to businesses are:

  1. Software development tasks, 197% increase in demand
  2. Social media tasks, 196% increase in demand
  3. Assistance for translation tasks, 168% increase in demand

According to Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder and CEO of PeoplePerHour and SuperTasker, “The global economy in general is moving to a contract or freelance workforce. It’s now a $1 billion worldwide market, and projected to be $5 billion in the next five years”.

That’s huge, right? What about entrepreneurship?

Ah yeah, the economy of entrepreneurship.

According to The Global Entrepreneurship monitor, 12.7% (over 40 million) of the U.S. population are entrepreneurs. 11% of these entrepreneurs have many (25%+) international customers.

How many of these entrepreneurs could be classified as digital nomads? I have no idea to be honest, but if we take account the SaaS industry alone, that’s a $10B industry in North America, $3.5B in Europe and 1B in Asia. And yet, it’s (the SaaS part) is only 6% of the overall software market.

That’s a lot of people working on software. Or managing people who work on software. Or managing the managers who manage the people working on software. You get the point. All of them could do their work from anywhere, it’s only a matter of company policy if they enable and equip their people (including the big bosses!) to do so.

Now how about.. some more numbers? Up next, where remote work and internet as a whole is in 2015.

1. There are three billion internet users (July 1st 2014 estimate)

That is around 40% of world’s total population. The biggest chunk of users (nearly 50%) are based in Asia. Then America (north and south) coming second, Europe following in as third.

The top five countries are:

  1. China, 642 million users
  2. United States, 280 million users
  3. India, 243 million users
  4. Japan, 109 million users
  5. Brazil, 108 million users

Of course not every Internet user works online, but an increasing number of them do. That’s a lot of potential future digital nomads if you ask me.

2. In ONE second..

  • 2,362,559 emails are send
  • 1,634 skype calls are made
  • 25,204 GB of Internet traffic is generated
  • 47,059 Google searches are made
  • 94,166 Youtube videos are uploaded

I wonder how many of those YouTube uploads turn out to support their uploader financially later on when their channel grow in popularity?

There is a whole generation of YouTube superstars already out there and some of them are literally making a fortune by wearing slippers and pyjamas at home and shooting videos. Well, that’s one way to “digital nomad” huh?

3. What about blogging?

If there are a lot of people making a living through videos on YouTube, there are even more people earning their daily bread through blogging.

Did you know that each and every day, 2.6 million new blog posts gets published? While not every blogger earns money from their writing efforts, just like with videos — many of them do. Some supplement their main income source from blogging profits, some have managed to build a whole digital empire around their blogs. They sell books, courses, do speaking gigs, arrange paid live events and so forth.

By the way, speaking of blogs and websites, did you know that there are over one billion websites out there? Further more, did you know that over 20% of them are built on top of WordPress? That’s a lot of potential customers if you’re into WordPress development.

When it comes to being part of the wireless generation, there sure are a lot of ways to build a career as a successful digital nomad. You know what they say; the world is your oyster. Enjoy! ;)

If you're still reading, I want to congratulate you.

In a world of eight second attention spans and the overflow of information, reading this far is quite an remarkable accomplishment on it’s own. Thanks for sticking around!

Now, before I wrap this up, here are three future “wireless generation” trends you might want to keep an eye for:

1. Location Independence has hit the 9–5 workplace

As I worked as a Microsoft cloud work specialist, I saw first hand how regular 9–5 workers got enabled to do their work from anywhere with the implementation of cloud based services & platforms. It’s not just freelancers and entrepreneurs anymore who get to enjoy the fruits of “digital nomadism”, it’s all the regular nine-to-five people too. In 2015, nearly everyone can be a digital nomad if their company enables them.

2. Shift From Full-Time Work To Contracting or Freelancing

According to CIO’s interview with Seven Step RPO’s Berkowitch: “A strong IT professional can do very well contracting — making a higher hourly rate than they would make as a full-time employee — and they can move from project to project every few months and take time off in between. It’s a very attractive model for some employees.”

Indeed, I agree. We're going to see more and more people who don't fit “the regular employee” mold. Here comes the 9–5 entrepreneur freelancers. A change is coming, if you're an employer — you better be ready. It’s (yet another) revolution of the workplace happening right now.

3. More cloud, more responsibility, more blur in between work and play

Now there’s good news and then there’s some potentially bad news.

The good news is, doing your work from anywhere is just getting easier by the day. The worldwide connectivity is better than ever, the software & services we use on a daily basis can be accessed from anywhere and we have some pretty darn great devices and gadgets that help us do our work more efficiently in 2015.

The bad news is, as more people (the 9–5 folk included) are enabled to do their work from anywhere, the lines between work and play start to blur. Suddenly, you might not be able to just “leave your work at the workplace”, it follows you everywhere. That is, if you let it.

To battle the latter, I highly recommend you keep your personal working habits in control. When you're done working for the day, don’t check your business email until the next day. Close the cover of your laptop. Turn off the app notifications on your phone. Turn on the silent mode. Go exercise, go to the movies, have a night out with friends. Just. Stop. Working.

Digital nomad or not — we all need to “lose the remote” sometimes.


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