It’s the dream of desk-bound daydreamers everywhere. Waking up when your body clock gently rouses you. Getting through your task list by a pool somewhere remote, cocktail in hand, with wifi and file sharing and your trusty laptop all you need to run your digital empire. Able to traverse the globe on a whim, in charge of your own time with no restrictions on earning… The enviable lifestyle of the modern day digital nomad. But is it really all it’s cracked up to be? We separate fact from fiction.
What is a digital nomad?
Being a digital nomad means you can live and work anywhere, setting your own hours; all the while experiencing everything the world has to offer. An endless summer of sorts, it’s more of a concept or lifestyle than a label: it’s a conscious decision to leverage technology to financially sustain a free and independent lifestyle. The package deal includes no home and no office; just adventure and freedom by the bucket load.
The beauty of digital nomadism is that anywhere with an internet connection can become your office. These days a rented or co-working space, cafe, apartment, a train or even a sun lounger in WiFi range at the beach can make for a pleasant alternative. For some people, a virtual office is infinitely more appealing than a traditional one, especially when work and travel can be easily combined.
Overheads are also low – which means more money to travel! – and with the commute no longer on the table, you can get more done. It’s a lifestyle that can be incredibly addictive and fulfilling, but like with all good things, there are downsides too.
Digital nomads often rely on wireless internet connections, which aren’t as reliable as a wired connections. Poor connectivity can make for a frustrating and unproductive workplace, no matter how pleasant the view. And if you’re backpacking around remote or less developed parts of the world, you may have trouble getting a consistent power source to add to your obstacles.
This can be a real issue if you’re on a deadline or trying to join a conference call with intermittent access. Hello? Hello??
As a freelancer, the relationships you form with your clients and suppliers are a vital part of your business and income success. It can sometimes be difficult to build trust when you’re thousands of miles away, are juggling different time zones or are constantly meeting your clients in cafes. You may be living in a technological revolution, but your clients may prefer the comfort of a regular office with chairs and a receptionist.
Distance can bring its own barriers. Differences in time zones can limit correspondence times to small windows, leaving most contact happening over instant message or email, which can make it harder to interpret tone and easier to misconstrue meaning. Not being able to stay in regular physical contact with some suppliers or contractors can also lead to delays and lags in work.
On top of that, if you’re always in an exotic location, your clients may mistakenly believe you aren’t actually working and are spending the time they believe you owe them indulging in a bit too much R and R! Their perception of you may be unduly influenced over time
Trust is the foundation of any successful business relationship, and that can be hard to forge without regular face-to-face meetings, which won’t always be possible when you’re on the other side of the world. Skype is great, but sometimes your relationships with your clients will benefit more from rapport- building in the real world.
Remote working and digital nomadism can offer incredible work/life balance, but it can also be lonely and isolating. Without the opportunity for regular interaction and the feeling that comes from being part of a team, it’s is easy to feel a little removed from the people around you. Interacting with café workers can make for friendly banter, but is no real substitute for face-to-face engagement with a peer or colleague.
Sometimes a face-to-face meeting can accomplish more in thirty minutes than a strong of emails, calls and messages can in a day.
So while the life of the digital nomad is easy to envy, don’t be fooled by the shimmering water and rustling of trees in the background. Digital nomads have their own set of challenges, and there’s more to the picture than perfection.