Tonight, I’m going to share the virtual stage with Shashikiran Rao of Draper Startup House to talk about the future of remote work and digital nomad movement. While preparing my notes for the session, I thought it’s best to write a blog post on the topic.
Much of what I have achieved in the last few years is attributable to the digital nomad movement. As a small-town boy from a strictly middle-class family, travel was a luxury reserved for pilgrimage in my formative years. All of that changed when I got a remote job in 2014, giving me locational independence and decent money at the same time. Since then, I have become a moderator of the world’s largest group of digital nomads, started Remote explorers to make India popular among global digital nomads, advised Goa government on attracting digital nomads to the state, advised a coworking/coliving startup on business development, and built NomadGao to host digital nomads and remote teams.
The world is experiencing something unusual in the form of the COVID19 epidemic. The travel and tourism sector is the worst affected with thousands of flights and hotel bookings canceled. I have been thinking about what all of this means for the digital nomad movement. To arrive at any conclusion about the future of digital nomadism, we need to think about how the key stakeholders/drivers will reach in the post-pandemic world. There are essentially 5 key drivers that have given rise to the movement:-
- The gig economy
- Travel and tourism industry
- People and communities
Technology: The backbone of the digital nomad movement
Technology made location independence a reality. Internet, cloud computing, the emergence of smartphones, increasing computing power, and ever-shrinking devices all contributed to making the digital nomad movement happen.
The technological landscape in the post-pandemic world looks exciting. 5G will further improve connectivity in the next few years. The coronavirus epidemic has accelerated move towards cloud computing. As remote work becomes mainstream, productivity and collaboration tools will improve the experience while working remotely. VR will add a tinge of reality, bridging the gap between working remotely and working from the office.
Purely from the tech perspective, the digital nomad movement has a long runway ahead.
The Gig Economy will continue to fuel digital nomadism
If technology is the backbone of the digital nomad movement, the emergence of the gig economy acted as legs of it so far. The gig economy, internet, and the emergence of smartphones combined forces to created location independent professions like virtual assistants, online English teachers, social media managers, etc.
Even here, the prospects of the post-coronavirus world are exciting. As businesses try to recover from the worst crisis since the great depression, they will be reluctant to hire full-time, permanent team members. As a result, most will turn to freelancers to meet their business needs. While this will increase the supply-side competition, it will also ensure that the freelancers who are adaptable and agile will have an edge over those joining the gig economy for the first time. As competition suppresses rates, more freelancers will turn eastwards, looking for the cost-of-living arbitrage.
The gig economy will continue to fuel the digital nomad movement.
The travel and tourism industry is changing
Digital nomads generally fly a lot. Thus, the emergence of low-cost carriers in the past decade and the overall drop in flying costs also helped the movement to grow. The emergence of Airbnb and mushrooming of hostels took care of the affordable, longer-term stay requirements of digital nomads.
The post-coronavirus travel and tourism industry won’t be the same. Regulators are already talking about implementing social distancing measures when airlines will start flying again. This would significantly reduce the capacity of the planes (at least in the short to medium term), increasing the cost per available seat. Airlines, who are already struggling financially, won’t have an option but to increase the fares substantially. Moreover, as some airlines will go bankrupt and stop operating, supply will reduce, pushing the fares up further. Lastly, airlines may have to shelve plans to purchase newer, more efficient planes. As airlines continue to fly older planes that consume more fuel, the costs will rise as the oil comes back up from the current lows.
With all this in mind, we will see two trends happening. First, the frequency of flong-haul lying for digital nomads may reduce. That means they will spend a longer time at each destination. Second, we will see more domestic flying happening in countries like India. As more Indians join the gig economy and remote work becomes mainstream, we are expecting more domestic digital nomads to come to NomadGao. Our international community already spends 49 days on an average here. That may further increase.
As for the trend in accommodation, Airbnb may see a surge as more people choose to stay long term. Coliving is here to stay but the churn would be lower. Those operators who manage to build a closely-knit community and keep people engaged will come out as winners.
Governments need Visa power!
How forthcoming countries are towards digital nomads and long-term stayers will determine their attractiveness as destinations. One of our community members, Sam, has taken a lot of effort into compiling a list of best visas available for digital nomads. While the list may see some changes in the post-pandemic world as governments turn more nationalistic, one thing is clear. Only those who offer long term visas without shocks will attract digital nomads. Even further, those who manage .to launch visas catered to digital nomads can reap benefits.
I’m happy to see that India’s visa regime has changed for good. Now, India offers a 5-year e-visa for most nationalities with 180 days’ stay granted on each visit. My efforts are on to make Governments understand the need of the hour. It’s nice to see some other folks out there courting other governments.
Companies- Remote work is mainstream!
The lockdown around the world forced companies to go remote. Some of them managed well, some are struggling, some are waiting to go back to the office. My interactions with clients wanting to go remote have given me a lot of confidence about the future.
Along with the gig economy, companies opening up to the idea of employees working remotely is a strong driver for the digital nomad movement. While it will take a while to convert remote-friendly companies into digital nomad-friendly ones, it will happen for sure.
People and communities
Ultimately, it all depends on people’s willingness to travel. There is no clear answer here. However, digital nomads are generally more open and sensitive to the situation. Hopefully, digital nomads will start traveling soon after the virus is under control. For now, all of us should really be staying at home as much as we can.
From being stuck in the middle of nowhere to having faced racist slurs, A lot of people have gone through a difficult time while traveling in the last couple of months. Thus, when things get back to normal, closely-knit communities where people can feel at home will be in vogue. I feel that people will organize into smaller communities to experience true human connection.
Summing it up!
The digital nomad movement is here to stay. In fact, it might just be going mainstream. It will be a little different this time around with travel trends changing. It ultimately depends on how the stakeholders (governments, companies) support the ecosystem.