Digital Nomad: Iconoclast or Prototype?

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Digital nomads are individuals who capitalize on their skills and the flexibility provided by telecommunications technology to earn a livelihood, primarily as self-employed workers, without being anchored to one specific location. While all of us experience how the pervasiveness of wireless internet and smartphones blurs distinctions between the places we work, live and play, digital nomads proactively seek a lifestyle where they are never actually at home or at work. Digital nomads generally love to travel and are creatively inspired by new environments, but typically struggle with an array of concerns including maintaining long-distance relationships with friends and family and identifying comfortable work spaces with high download speed.

As pioneers of sorts, digital nomads may be clear indicators of where our globalizing society is headed. Within 15 years, over 50% of American workers will be freelance, independent contractors or consultants, with a minority remaing full-time employees. Millennials, in particular, do not typically strive to affiliate with one company for any extended period. Mobility, often without the obligations of ownership (home or car), is clearly prized by this demographic. Increasingly companies seek to engage and retain talented workers with more flexible workplace policies and are moving away from stolid corporate campuses and longer-term office space commitments in favor of more flexible and shorter-term office configurations oriented toward collaborating and diverse teams, often organized across geographies.

The real estate sector is also developing an array of environments oriented to the mobile worker, from Soho House-type clubs in a range of cities which meld hotel, play, work and meeting areas to far flung co-working spaces that are now growing as fast in Third World countries as they are in the West. Perhaps repurposing of vacant retail spaces as work spaces for the growing number of freelance digital workers may be next.

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