Extreme Form of Remote Work: Digital Nomads

By Caleece Nash and Dr. Mohammad Jarrahi, University of North Carolina

Recently, the media and pop culture has popularized the digital nomad lifestyle. The fantasy that someone can make a full-time income while working on the beach in Bali has encouraged many workers to change their careers and embark on a digital nomad, location independent lifestyle. By some estimates, 4.8 million independent, remote workers label themselves as digital nomads. However, there have been many lively online debates when it comes to defining who is and is not encompassed in this community. In a recent article, by drawing on popular digital nomads’ forums and several interviews, we have determined four basic characteristics, which may define a digital nomad: digital work, gig work, nomadic work, and adventure/global travel.

Digital Work

Digital work is created using digital platforms to produce a digital product. Digital workers must have access to internet connectivity and power in order to create and provide their services. Since a vast majority of digital nomad’s workplace is just their portable digital devices, they are able to travel light and do not require a home base.

Gig Work

As discussed in our previous blog posting, many digital nomads choose not to work for a company since they have to constantly switch time zones and want more flexibility in their schedule. By taking gigs that are essentially digital work, they can work from anywhere in the world as long as they have access to the necessary resources. With technologies like PayPal and Transferwise, digital nomads do not need a home address to get paid for their gig work.

Nomadic Work

Not only are digital nomads traveling country to country but they are also constantly changing their workplaces. In a sense, many digital nomads are like traditional nomads since they travel for seasonal hobbies or depending on the weather pattern. It is important to note that while nomadic workers generally travel for work (i.e. a salesman), digital nomads travel while working.

Adventure/Global Travelers

Digital nomads tend to frequent tropical, international destination spots. While their lives on social media may appear as a vacation, many have use tools and technologies to help them remain productive. However, they are not considered tourists since they are not taking time off of work to visit that spot.
Digital nomads at the confluence of four concepts
Digital nomads are giving us an insight into the future of work, which will be increasingly digital and location-independent. The gaps in technologies and the changes in social norms leaves significant potential for innovators to shape this community. While the future of the digital nomad trend itself cannot be predicted, you can expect this community to be trailblazing new digitally mediated work practices.