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Digital Nomads: Workers Out of the Office

The rapid advances in communication technology have brought forth a new form of employment. It is not imperative to sit in an office for the entire day anymore. In fact, living in a single area is no longer needed to maintain a steady occupation. There are people who wish to work while traveling all around the world, enjoying different cultures and locations in their everyday lives. They call themselves “digital nomads,” and are receiving worldwide attention. Global scale conventions are being held regularly, and the world’s first digital nomad documentary film was recently presented by director Do You-Jin. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) introduces digital nomads and how their style of work may change people’s vocational lives.

Emergence of Digital Nomads

Modern Day Nomads

The term “nomad” normally refers to people who do not have permanent residence and move from place to place in search of good pasture. While many nomads today still match this definition, the term has expanded into a more general one. It is now used to describe modern day nomads who wander off searching for work in fields other than agricultural ones. Modern day nomads do not settle down, but often wander to different cities and countries seeking for a life that is fit for them. Why are they growing in number? Modern day nomads have increased greatly due to two key factors. One main cause of this proliferation is explained by the difficulty of attaining employment. According to Statistics Korea, the unemployment rate of young job seekers became the highest it has ever been in February of 2016. Ten months later, the Ministry of Employment and Labor revealed that the number of expatriates who left Korea in search of work increased by 66% in 2016, making it also the highest of all time. More are expected to leave Korea to lead nomadic lifestyles in the years to come, as studies suggest that 790,000 people will exceed the labor market’s demand in 10 years.

On the other hand, there are people who are starting to live as modern day nomads voluntarily. Globalization and digitization tore down the boundaries of nations and now many people feel comfortable about leaving their home countries to live and work. The developments of Internet services that help telecommuting have played an important part as well. It is reasonable to suggest that modern day nomads will continue to grow as progress in technology continue.

Digital Nomads

Digital nomads emerged from the flow of change that made electronic devices a part of our daily lives. It is possible to be connected with anyone from anywhere in the world thanks to the functions of laptops and smartphones today. Digital nomads are people who make use of this merit and take their working environment out of the office. The freedom of choosing one’s place of work is truly appealing. It is possible to work in a coffee shop, a park, or even a recreational vehicle as long as Internet connection is available. Digital nomads enjoy this lifestyle and believe that freedom is important in enhancing creativity in their work. Since being a digital nomad means working remotely, occupations that are convenient to do so such as designers and programmers, make up the majority.

youtu.be/Scan Code for a Short Video on Digital Nomads.

Life of Digital Nomads

Earning Money While Traveling: Is it truly possible?

A common misconception of digital nomads is that it is a risky, unstable style of life. Although this claim is valid to a certain degree, it is not completely true. People who earn money can generally be categorized by one of the following three: a company’s employee, a freelancer who works for many companies, or an entrepreneur. Digital nomads have the same three choices of work, and if one chooses to be an employee, it is easy to lead a steady life. Do You-Jin, the director of the world’s first digital nomad documentary One Way Ticket, mentions, “Many people confuse digital nomads for freelancers, but this is not always true. The only difference is the freedom of working environment, and many companies around the world are allowing this.”

There is a reason why companies would let their employees work out of the office. First of all, fewer workers at the office means a reduction in operation costs. Productivity is not a problem either, as research has proved. A Chinese company, Ctrip, conducted an experiment with their 16,000 employees. Ctrip let 1,000 employees work remotely for a year, and by comparing results with other employees, learned that their productivity was higher by 22%. Companies are eager to support digital nomads as less expense, higher productivity, and personnel satisfaction are possible results of doing so. In fact, 48% of companies in the United States and China encourage it and the world average of 29% is increasing every year, according to a communication technology company, Polycom. One thing to keep in mind is that digital nomads are not people who effortlessly earn money, but are workers just like any other.

Examples of Digital Nomads

automattic.com/Automattic’s employees are free to choose their working space.

Automattic is the company that developed Wordpress, which is known to have laid the foundations for 24% of websites on the Internet. Even though it is a big company with over 500 employees, only 20 people come to work at the head office in San Francisco. All the others are spread throughout 47 different countries, leading lives as digital nomads. Aside from 3 to 4 weeks of meetings, they are free to work in any environment they desire for the rest of the year. Automattic even selects their employees through online tasks and a messenger based interview. This form of recruitment is to observe whether the person of interest is fit for Automattic’s style of work.

Even though many companies around the world are allowing employees to work remotely, most companies in Korea do not tolerate this lifestyle yet. Park Mi-Young and Jun Jae-Young, a wedded couple who had complaints about this reality, decided to become digital nomads. They were a couple that worked for SK, a major Korean company that most people dream of being employed in. Their job was stable in a sense, but very stressful and taxing due to massive work hours. Lack of family time was the primary reason of resignation, so they left Korea with smartphone applications prepared for profit. Like this couple, many people in Korea are also starting to become digital nomads in the hope of finding a more balanced lifestyle and happiness.

Difficulties and Problems Faced by Digital Nomads

Working while traveling is an attractive feature for most, but it is even more stressful than office hours for some people. In particular, those who choose to become entrepreneurs have to deal with the anxiety of unstable profit away from home. Park Mi-Young and Jun JaeYoung left their dreams of this lifestyle after 100 days of their journey, discovering that it was a lot harder than they imagined. Another problem for digital nomads is one related to prostitution. Prostitution is considered typical among digital nomads in some regions. People think of it as easy money, and many fall to the temptation since they are away from home. Controversies considering visas are surfacing as well. Digital nomads usually use travel visas, but some are causing problems by practicing visa-runs. A visa-run is the consecutive use of travel visas to extend one’s stay in a country. This repetition is not what travel visas were originally issued for, so countries are enforcing conditions regarding this matter.

Heading to the Future

Helping Each Other

flickr: @stevenzwerink/Digital nomads share their working space.

It is not easy to start a new life in a country that is not one’s home and many difficulties will follow. In order to lessen the hardships of this lifestyle, digital nomads help each other out. For instance, digital nomads have some days when they need an office, but find it inefficient to own one. So, they group together to manage a coworking office. They divide the rental fees among themselves and work at the office when they need to.

nomadlist.com/Nomad List’s Filtering System

There are many online websites that are beneficial for digital nomads as well. Nomad List is an example of a website that provides information about working areas. It has a filtering system where users can choose options such as weather, Internet connection, education levels, health insurance, and living costs to their liking, and the website will list cities that match the conditions. There are also websites that list information about companies looking for digital nomads, which are very helpful.

A major offline meeting also has been held under the name of the Digital Nomad Conference (DNX) since 2015. It takes place in different countries all around the world with the most recent one being in Buenos Aires on March 1, 2017. People leading successful lives as digital nomads are invited as guest speakers to share their knowledge, and participants often become business partners after meeting one another. Since the life of a digital nomad is unfamiliar to most people, they try their best to help each other and prosper together.

Digital Nomads of the Future

The emergence of digital nomads was due to the development of communication technology. Like so, it is logical to expect that more changes will come as new technologies are commercialized. The most foreseeable change would be one related to Fifth Generation, or 5G. Smartphones today work on Long Term Evolution (LTE) but this will change in the following few years. Intel presented the first 5G modem in January 2017, and Korea Telecom (KT) has scheduled a test run of 5G in Seoul and Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics. 5G is known to be 280 times faster than LTE, which will make the world an even better environment for digital nomads who depend on Internet connection.

5G will also bring the full-scale start of Internet of Things (IoT), the technology of making everyday objects into electronic devices and connecting them. For example, if an employee wanted to find something from a storage house and no one was at work, someone would have to go and help him. If IoT technology was put to use, however, the storage house door could be opened from 100 kilometers away, and objects inside the storage would automatically be able to guide the employee to find what he came for. The idea of IoT has existed for quite a long time, but there have been difficulties applying them to real life because the communication speed was not quick enough. In a couple years though, 5G’s speed will let IoTs come into real life and benefit the lives of many digital nomads.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are also technologies of recent interest. In a future where these technologies are common, people will be able to interact with one another from anywhere on the globe. Conferences today require many people to be in the same place at the same time, but this will not be true in the future. Workers from anywhere in the world will be able to participate in a meeting or go to their offices by simply putting on VR goggles. Cyberspace is something that has no limit, so anything that can be imagined as a possible future.

kknews.cc/Augmented Reality
medium.com/ Virtual Reality

The increase of tasks that do not require offices will mean the eventual decrease of offices and more digital nomads. As people spread out to places they wish to live in, Korea’s Seoul-concentrated population can be moderated and subways will no longer be crowded. The concept of digital nomads is something people are unaccustomed to, but it is still a recent trend and will become a common way of life in the future.

최영찬  cyc1117@naver.com

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