The Neo Digital Nomad

The Neo Digital Nomad

As enterprises re-design processes, how they connect and support their workforces, and begin to understand what post-pandemic business means to them, how does the shift to become digital nomads shape how enterprises are evolving?

According to the latest workplace study from Topia, 56% of respondents say the flexibility to work in whatever location they want defines an “exceptional employee experience.” This tied with having the right technology to work efficiently are now the twin drivers which re-shaping business processes and workforce management.

Steve Black, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Topia commented: “To provide an exceptional employee experience, organisations need technology that welcomes employees to explore, request and pursue remote work opportunities. The back-end compliance needs to be automated and accommodating of employees who change locations frequently.”

The tools that the neo digital nomad have also had to change. Speaking to Silicon UK, Mark Devereaux, CTO of Scalable Software, explained how application integration is essential for all post-pandemic businesses to fully support their workers and reap the benefits remote working can offer.

Mark Devereaux, CTO of Scalable Software.
Mark Devereaux, CTO of Scalable Software.

“In our research of 2,000 hybrid workers, we found they spend seven hours a week struggling with a lack of access to technology and with technology that doesn’t work. That causes frustration and it seriously dents productivity. Businesses need a layer of management that provides visibility for IT teams into the experience of the distributed workforce, enabling them to identify and eliminate friction and create engaging digital workspaces.”

A precise balance must be struck to support employees who want to embrace nomadic working practices, those who will move back to their offices, and how these groups communicate and support each other.

Working at a distance

What COVID-19 and the lockdowns experienced by millions has shifted the mindset of workers. The Lessons from Lockdowns report concludes: “The digital skills development leap that has been achieved over the past two years positions organisations well to continue to innovate services and to enhance virtual communications among teams. Continued investment in digital infrastructure enables hybrid working. At the most practical level, when people work in two places, they will need easy access to IT resources from both locations.

Therefore, choosing the right toolset is of paramount importance for all businesses post-pandemic if they are to support their remote and hybrid workforces fully. Lieven Bertier, Segment Marketing Director for the Workplace at Barco, explains:

“Tools to facilitate this new type of flexible working already exist, and we see this in the form of hybrid meeting technology, which is what Barco deal in. Meetings are a key part of any collaborative effort, and by creating a situation where those both in and out of the office can work together on equal parity, we’ll see the creation of an environment that will allow modern digital nomads to thrive in the post-pandemic working world.”

Bertier continued: “However, the results of the research that Barco have conducted we’ve found this is easier said than done. While hybrid work is the preferred choice for 80% of employees, 71% struggle with hybrid meetings. One in three workers struggles to feel heard in hybrid meetings, leading many to re-consider their role. Because of this, we are still yet to see the digital nomad fully realise their potential, even if the will to approach the workplace in a different way is there.”

This brave new world of working which will see mass digital nomadic workers becoming the norm across all industries and sectors is rapidly coming into focus. Connecting these workers uses established digital tools and new innovations, including advanced collaboration platforms.

The digital nomad

Enterprises have always used a level of hybrid workers for the past few decades. The advantages of contractors and other short-term workers, often with specific skills and knowledge, are today a central component of what work means and how businesses build new products and services around these flexible working practices.

“The flexible approach to working will also be adopted into the hiring process,” says Peggy de Lange is, the Vice President of International Expansion at Fiverr

Peggy de Lange is, the Vice President of International Expansion at Fiverr.
Peggy de Lange is, the Vice President of International Expansion at Fiverr.

“With many businesses still operating cautiously because of the financial restraints imposed by COVID, it’s likely that the trend of hiring digital nomads to meet increased demand will continue, rather than taking the risk of adding full-time staff. As this process progresses, I expect businesses will fully grasp the advantages of employing freelancers to fill in any skills gaps that may exist in their immediate teams, allowing for a more flexible and on-demand workforce.”

For many companies, the rules of engagement regarding how digital nomads and remote mass workers, plus their office-based staff, can effectively work together have not yet been fully realised.

“The way we work has changed rapidly and businesses need new tools to reflect that. With a distributed workforce powered by technology, businesses – especially IT and HR teams – need to be able to proactively support the nomadic workplace, spot wellbeing issues, and optimise workforce-system interactions,” Scalable Software’s Mark Deveraux concluded.

“This will allow them to identify and eliminate technology barriers, and also understand how nomadic working is changing individual and team dynamics. Workplace analytics platforms allow businesses to quantify end-user experiences and give deep insight into the employee experience. From understanding how performance and usage of devices and applications is impacting on employee efficiency, to spotting isolated individuals who are struggling to communicate and collaborate with colleagues in a hybrid world.”

Digital nomads were once a rare breed and, at one point in the past, a group of worker envy. Today, digital nomads now number in their millions. Able to wield today’s digital tools to their advantage, the business leaders who can best support these new working environments will shape their industries or market sectors.

Silicon UK Head-to-Head

Sarah Neblett-Lindo, Global HR Director at Croud.

Sarah Neblett-Lindo is Global HR Director of Croud, having joined the business in 2020. Before joining Croud, Sarah worked within HR for several large corporations, including G4S and Marsh & McLennan. Since joining Croud, Sarah has made significant contributions to the business, including spotlighting how the business promotes gender and racial equality.

Last year, Sarah pioneered the launch of Croud’s Diversity & Inclusion charter, which included the formation of a D&I steering committee. Sarah has also bolstered several internal wellbeing initiatives for Croud, including implementing medical care cover and an employee assistance programme – which provides on-demand anonymous, medically trained mental health support.”

The Digital Nomad has a long history. Is the Digital Nomad we know today any different than their predecessors?

“Besides there being more of them, a few things differentiate today’s digital nomads from their predecessors. First, we are seeing many younger people leave the “traditional” workforce – or not even entering it, to begin with – alongside more mature workers having a complete change in careers, realising that after all that time at home with their families, they want a job and a career that provides them greater freedom to balance work and life.

“There have always been people who have chosen the nomadic lifestyle. Whereas before we might have just simply called them freelancers, or gig workers, that term isn’t necessarily inclusive of what a digital nomad is – as some digital nomads are in fact full-time workers and not just contractors. I do also believe that the rise of the gig economy, thanks in large part to the likes of Uber, did influence how other industries outside of the services sector treat workers who want to work on their own terms. The pandemic created a perfect storm of events that catapulted a trend that was already on the rise into the limelight.”

Has the ‘great resignation’ seen a significant shift to the Digital Nomad lifestyle?

“Whether people have fully embraced the digital nomadic lifestyle, by going remote or moving countries, or have simply negotiated a new working-from-home arrangement with their current job, the ‘Great Resignation’ has certainly influenced digital nomads. I think people realise they have much more choice now and can ask things of their employers – or new, prospective employers – that they previously thought were off the table.

“Things such as working from home full time, or part time, or choosing your hours so you can do childcare drop off or pick-up, or to have longer weekends for travel, or to have more than one job! The power is definitely now in the hands of employees, and they will pick an employer who can accommodate their needs, not the other way around.”

How are businesses now managing a workforce that wants to be remote and nomadic?

“Many businesses might feel that they don’t have a choice but to offer “concessions” like fully remote work to new employees because they don’t want to miss out on talent. But I think in the long run, this is only going to serve the business, as those people will likely be more satisfied at work, more engaged because they’re working when they want to, more productive, and more loyal. Most businesses who went remote during the early pandemic would have had to onboard new tools and systems to accommodate that new way of working. Many invested in such devices because they knew it would be the future. Hopefully, the logistics of managing a remote workforce should be more straightforward than pre-pandemic.

“Now, the question is how do you keep them engaged and maintain a company culture? For those employees who aren’t in the office – or even the country – there must be other ways the businesses can deliver on human interaction. At Croud for example, we moved events, such as our weekly “Crouded house”, where teams share their updates from the week, into a hybrid model, so those working from home can also join.”

Do we need new tools to allow modern Digital Nomads to exist and thrive in a post-pandemic working environment?

“There is already a wealth of tools available – and even more being developed as we speak. The Metaverse has piqued the interest of many businesses worldwide, looking for new ways to interact with their remote staff, but in a way that feels like it’s in-person. Will the Metaverse be the answer? I’m not too sure. I think there are a lot of teething issues still to work out before we’re all working full-time in the Metaverse, that’s for sure.

“I think it’s also important to recognise where staff might be feeling overwhelmed with the amount of tools they have to use in order to do their jobs, especially when remote. The focus for now needs to be on streamlining tools, and ensuring those tools enhance someone’s experience at work, making their job easier rather than harder.”

Will we see ‘nomadic discrimination’ as not all workers – even if they want to – won’t be able to work remotely?

“Pre-pandemic, there was an unspoken prejudice and suspicion around people who worked from home, whether it was because they were ill or had a builder coming round. That suspicion is completely gone now because we all know we can work from home effectively – we’ve done it for two years! So I would hate to see any form of discrimination or negative feelings towards remote workers or vice versa.

“I think we all can respect each other’s own working styles, as we will all work differently and have different ways that we find to be the most productive. However, I do see a distance being created between remote and non-remote workers if the human connection isn’t there. We are humans, after all, and we need to connect on a social and emotional level, not just through our work output.”