“Digital nomads” niche or new normality?

Beyond work from home: why I believe ‘digital nomads’ are the future of remote life.

Key points:
  • As Covid second wave strikes, most companies extended their remote work policies till summer 2021, and many of them started reducing office floor occupancy, anticipating a non return point from their employees, supporting their transition towards a remote working lifestyle.
  • Progressive business structures were already promoting remote work and accelerated their migration toward a full stack digital nomad operating model. Yeesshh is one of them and one of his founders, JC Petit shares his learnings.
  • Coronavirus was a big booster forcing skeptical corporate management to agree with remote work and massively extend this work practice, which became mainstream in mid-2020.  It was a bit hectic at the beginning for most, but all overpassed it pretty easily. And you know what, it does not only work, it is here to stay. It even opens a new dimension of remote work, the so-called digital nomading. So get ready for it…

Being a Digital nomad in Costa Brava in CataloniaYeesshh virtual office end 2020  from where this was posted

Our (bad) experience:
from “remote work” to “forced remote work”

I do not consider myself a visionary or illuminated guy*, but a sensible businessperson who handles the best he can for his company, like a lot of entrepreneurs do.
With my partner and the first employees, we started to implement at Yeesshh the so-called remote work policy like five years ago. It was partly because we have embedded in our DNA being disruptive, experimental and forward looking, and also, being more pragmatic, because acquiring talent across the world is highly more efficient than being restricted by a geographic limited pool of talent!
Yeesshh’s recruiting strategy from the very first day has always been to offer our collaborators the possibility to live wherever they want in the planet, granting them strong autonomy in their work, and compensation mainly related to their individual results.
Almost all our team is less than 30 years old, and this is very attractive to them.

Starting 2018 we had more remote workers (working from any time zone) than local ones that we could physically meet every day. As a consequence, we implemented unlimited working remotely policies for all (at the same time, we also implemented unlimited holidays for all), with the objective to become a fully virtual office in 2022.

Just like everybody else, Covid struck us early 2020.

But unlike most, our daily operations continued as always: our people continued working remotely as they always did 😊, and Covid was simply, for us, business as usual.
Ironically enough, this imposed experiment, for us heavily trained in remote work, was felt as a loss of freedom to come to the office or to meet professionally, as we always did. 

And the learning is there: we did not like it. Not being able to meet is BAD for our business.
So, as soon as the lock down ended, we agreed to implement new rules of engagement to speed up our pace and adapt to a new full digital office with no delay. I’ll come back to the new rules of engagement we implemented at the end of this post. But before that, let me share how I see the labor power re-shuffling, especially with the youngest generations.

 

Post-event session on Joshua tree desert - Nevada

Joshua tree desert – Nevada
late 2019 Yeesshh gathering spot

 

The dichotomy of work-personal life has disappeared

For the older ones (I mean if you are over 35 years old – yes, with the pace of change, at that age, you are a senior worker! -), you will remember 15 years ago the democratization of Blackberries (Blackberry peak was in 2010!), and work invading personal life. Family time was regularly interrupted with “could you please stop reading your emails and enjoy being with me/us?”, eventually finding a shelter, hidden in the bathroom, to stay connected. 

For the younger ones, scrolling the phone at any time, regardless of the person in front of you, is simply a new reality that can hardly be challenged. Just go out in the street or restaurant, and observe the time each one spends on the phone Vs exchanging live with the group she or he is part of. Do you get it?

At work, network administrators tried to lock social networking, but smartphones took over, and professional life started to be invaded by personal life. Office life saw attempts of  “Facebooking is prohibited during working hours” measures establishment, or management calling for meetings trying to protect “working hours” from personal matters… needless to say, that was useless!

Progressive organizations were the first ones to realize by 2015 that 100% time connection with our phone devices was a game changer and that personal and professional life dichotomy could be approached differently, implementing remote work policies. 

Early 2020, Coronavirus brought down the last resistances, forcing most conservative companies to accept working from home, implementing dedicated policies. A couple of months later, after calls with kids screaming in the background, it became obvious to all that personal life exists when working remotely, and that establishing strict barriers between work and personal life is simply utopic.

And now, we have reached a non-return point: coming back to old-fashioned organization will be complicated. Organizations learned remote work can be more effective than office work (a friend of mine, tax control officer, said to me their twelve months objectives were reached in 4 months confinement because people were so much effective!). 

And, more importantly, individuals found a new life balance while remote working, and this made them reluctant to go back to old fashion commuting hours.

Government influence is diminishing

From the point of view of the old-world economy, the remote work concept is disturbing: 

  • How can the economy adapt when it has been based for years on work force control (remember the French authorities prohibiting companies to send emails off working schedules)?
  • How can a company deal with remote employees who adapt their working schedule as it fits them?

Aside, when old economies are obsessed with capturing taxes on easiest targets (sedentary employees are the easiest taxpayers to control), how will tax authorities adapt when realizing the employees are no longer under the same and controlled jurisdiction?

The pandora box is opened, and the system will need to adapt. It will take time. Meanwhile, it empowers further the essence of digital nomading: individual responsibility.

 

Off-site and team building in Lanzarote - Canary Islands
Lanzarote-Canarias
spotted by Yeesshh for early 2020 nomads gathering

 

Digital nomading is expanding relentlessly

The evolution from remote working to digital nomading is natural and makes a lot of sense. Once you abolish the need to be close to your work, the next question will be on where to live. And then, depending on your social bounds, how to organize your life.  Digital nomading is here to stay, regardless of jurisdictions, for a simple reason: the thrive for individual freedom is stronger than any framework imposed on citizenship. It has directed our evolution, and in a world of fast travel, cheap moving. easy cross border and genuine interest for new life, nothing can stop an ambitious digital nomad to live the life he wants.

Coming back to old-fashioned organization will be complicated

A book like “Work From Abroad” explaining how to remote work from anywhere in the planet is only one of the multiple life experiences sharing available out there. Companies like Outsite, have been offering for months a blend of WeWork, Airbnb and Hostels, with unified co-living and co working spaces available around the world for digital nomads to gather. It started fitting a niche for early adopters like designers, freelancers, and tech-workers.  Since Covid, and the subsequent democratization of remote working, these companies are responding to new requests from more “regular” individuals.

Moreover, some countries such as Barbados, Estonia or Georgia, are encouraging foreigners to come to their local economies, granting them specific working visas or even the so-called e-citizenship. 

We are still in pandemic, with many borders closed, but still, digital nomading is extremely attractive to young workers who want to live in cheaper, smaller cities, closer to nature, taking advantage of receiving a first world salary and living in a developing economy!

 

Our learning for operating successfully with digital nomading

1- First learning: remote work requires discipline

No, it does not sound nice or fancy, but it is what it is. 

Availability:  

  • Establishing a time band on which all are online and working: employees need to start with an understanding of their working hours, time zones, and job, and must be available when others are also available.
    At Yeesshh, we noticed frustration coming from depending on somebody else and not being able to progress because one of the colleagues is on another schedule (time zone or late party on the previous day, who cares). Therefore, we decided to establish a strict company’ schedule that everybody, wherever she or he is located, must adapt to. It may mean for those travelling to a different time zone to adapt to special schedules to stay connected “live” at least 60% of the time, Hence, working super early morning or late night.
  • Be transparent: We also found the need to always know, at any time, who is on, who is off, and how available is each. Simple shared agendas allow that, and, again, discipline: each employee informs where she or he is, and eventually nominates a replacement when not online.

 

Off-site breakfast with a view
Each Yeesshh collaborator aligns to common schedule to keep live communication

 

2- Second: changes in routines are important while remote working

Those who experimented forced working from home during Covid found the daily routine (go to computer and work all day, teleconferencing, and never talking to people face to face or see people) undermining. Those who could break those routines (change of lock down location or grouping with others to work) lived a lot better experience.

 

3- Third: remote work requires special attention to maintaining and enhancing communication and physical interaction between employees 

At Yeesshh, we noticed a creativity shortage associated with the lack of communication and physical interaction generated by digital nomading.

The idea of remote working is great. However, we found the need to create opportunities for human interaction. Aside, digital nomads sometimes feel loneliness and miss informal conversations between colleagues.  Since the end of lock down, we established at Yeesshh a new system to ease the physical meetings between all. For those sharing the same location (we are several located in Barcelona), we fixed an “office day”. Our office, which is a co working with a workstation for each, is organized to host everybody on Thursday, and that day we all join together. Aside, every 3 months, we fix a “go together” location where the company invites anyone to come (the company takes care of accommodation and office space, and every collaborator is invited to come over that week to share with others). Then, each can organize his life and travels as it fits. 

Sunflower off-site in Costa Brava - Catalonia
Yeesshh gathers team every 3 months around the globe

 

4- Remote work implies individual responsibility

Most people not related to our business but curious about our organization ask: “how do you control your people do the job”? 

The answer is: “we do not”.
We focus on results, and recruitment. We are lucky to operate in digital marketing, and tracking personal contribution is (relatively) simple. Each one looks at the revenue she or he is generating and immediately knows how her/his job is evolving. 

 

Work breaks with views to the MediterraneanEverybody is not made to work alone and outside the office

 

Highlight: everybody is not made to work alone and outside the office, and some people simply cannot adapt. We overpass that difficulty in making sure, at recruitment level, to only attract people who will be comfortable with this special setup. As a collective belief, if one does not need much time to be successful and prefers to go surf and spend time with friends, we have nothing to say. On the flip side, the laborious un-successful one not bringing solutions and systematically self victimizing is not really integrated and normally elects another route fast. 

Of course, business is not that black and white, and we all agree the need to stay calm and wait when ELEMENTS are against us and make the correct moves when the conditions improve.

 

 

*Jean-Christophe Petit (“JC”) is co-founder of Yeesshh, a disruptive digital marketing company, operating for 5 years now with a full remote working and digital nomad policy.

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