Between 2019 and 2022, the number of digital nomads in the American workforce surged 131%, to 16.9 million people, per the 2022 MBO Partners Digital Nomad Study. These workers live a technology enabled, location-agnostic lifestyle wherein they live and work remotely for weeks, months and even years at a time.
An important designation is also that these workers are by and large traditional employees. In 2022, 11.1 million American nomads are FTEs, and 5.8 million are independent. Most are highly skilled and work in in-demand fields like IT, creative services, sales, finance and more. More than 80% are highly satisfied with their work, earnings and lifestyle.
What does this mean for today’s enterprise? It means that not only are digital nomads here to stay, organizations must carefully articulate how to engage, scale and optimize work with these individuals. It is important to do so not just to attract the best talent but to ensure compliance with company policies as well as local laws and tax regulations, all of which can be triggered when an individual moves and works somewhere other than their home base for an extended period.
This issue is particularly pressing for traditional employee nomads, which experienced massive growth of 76% between 2019 and 2022. Why? Thanks to the pandemic, workers left the office behind, many for good, and decamped from expensive cities to vacation homes, lower-cost secondary markets and — when borders reopened after Covid-19 — even overseas to countries with new and attractive digital nomad visa schemes.
In today’s world, digital nomadism is often thought of as just another type of remote work — a perk workers not just desire but one they expect. Many may not even think of their work as officially “nomading,” even if tax and government regulations say otherwise. Adapting is critical to attracting high-impact talent.
Regardless of worker type, it’s imperative to pursue the “ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure” mentality when engaging nomads to ensure success. Here are three easy ways to prepare.
Get a clear agreement and set corporate ground rules. It’s not enough to have a general idea of where and when your workers are traveling. Document and agree upon the exact locations and durations for work. Set clear agreements about insurances, tax obligations and cybersecurity policies to ensure compliance with any local laws and regulations as well as company policies. A simple and mutually signed corporate digital nomad policy is a great way to document expectations.
Measure output over time and prioritize communication. Asynchronous communication is the new normal in a remote work environment and is even more necessary when workers leverage multiple time zones to complete projects. But it’s easy to feel like people aren’t “working together” if a culture is used to meeting regularly. Setting milestones based on deliverables and outputs, rather than time spent, ensure that projects are still advancing. Be sure to get upfront agreements about times where meetings need all critical parties involved live.
Strong and effective communication has always been key to team success but is even more critical in a remote environment. Anticipate how and when teams will come together and set guidelines for how and on what systems as well as how to maintain 24/7 connectivity when needed. In today’s day and age, no nomad should go without technology for more than a few hours, and documented agreements around response time may be necessary for high-priority work.
Build and maintain trust. Trust is a critical measure of any working relationship. Ensure that proper reference checks and background investigations take place before work starts. Teams that trust each other thrive, and it’s critical that workers of all types understand their role in achieving corporate success, regardless of location or status.
As the world continues to become more technologically enabled and global, it is likely that the number of digital nomads and the popularity of nomad policies will only become more mainstream. In fact, 72 million Americans say they plan on becoming digital nomads in the next two to three years. Data proves that only a fraction will take the leap, but even a fraction of 72 million is an impressive number indeed. Prepare now to ensure future success.