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Remote culture war and the digital nomadism movement

Will the remote culture war affect digital nomadism? And if yes, to what extent?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become the new normal for millions of people worldwide. According to a 2021 World Economic Forum survey, two-thirds of employees desired the flexibility to work virtually. In response to the flexible work culture, many countries started introducing digital nomad visa. As of last count, 49 nations and territories now have such travel/immigration routes. There are also some with monetary rewards to applicants who relocate to rural regions in order to revitalise local economies. But as this movement grows so is the opposition against remote working. This begs the question: will the remote culture war affect digital nomadism? And if yes, to what extent?

Widespread anti-WFH propaganda has been reported in the media, particularly in the fourth quarter of 2022. Recently, many tech companies have required their employees to spend more days working in the office. This includes companies that had previously adopted a remote work policy but are now expecting their staff to be present on-site for at least a portion of the week. This is being met with resistance by some workers who have enjoyed the flexibility offered by the remote working. Interestingly, employers appear to be winning the battle, as the number of completely remote positions advertised on job boards such as LinkedIn and Indeed has decreased significantly.

During the early phases of the COVID-19 epidemic, there was an extensive transition to working from home. Opportunities for remote working boost satisfaction at work, some reports showed. According to Buffer’s 2023 State of Remote Work study, 91% of poll participants preferred working remotely, with freedom being the top benefit. Furthermore, in 2022, 25,000 employees from different sectors were asked by McKinsey about their remote job experience. The third reason individuals look for new employment, behind improved pay per hour and professional possibilities, is a desire for flexible employment settings.

A Flexjobs study found that workers could save as much as $12,000 annually by doing online work. Transportation costs like gasoline and maintenance can be reduced, as can the costs of purchasing business attire and dining at upscale places.

The rise of online work and the digital nomad culture has prompted serious reconsideration of the conventional office job and its potential benefits to individual happiness and freedom. 93% of those who work from home said they were happier in their jobs, and 90% said they were more productive in the Safetywing Research. In addition, 61% said they felt less stressed, and 44% said their emotional health had improved.

The lifestyle of digital nomads has been on the rise for years. Then, after the outbreak, this new working method became much more popular. According to a recent report by Qualtrics, 80% of employees seeking a new position rated the ability to reside anywhere as extremely essential.

Another example is Spotify, which promotes the notion that “work is not a place, but something you do.” Their work-from-anywhere model enables employees to choose where and how they’ll work within specified geographic parameters. If a position is situated in Sweden, for instance, the employee may be permitted to work remotely in Europe.

In response to the increase in remote work, countries such as Estonia, Barbados, and Portugal have implemented digital nomad visas, permitting foreign remote employees to reside and work legally for extended periods in these countries.

Concerns regarding productivity, collaboration, and the overall business operations were among the objections to working remotely. According to the findings of a survey of business executives that was carried out in 2020 by the World Economic Forum (WEF), 78% of respondents believed that distant culture would impact productivity. This notion perhaps explains why some employers are therefore against working remotely.

This has led to a dramatic drop in available remote work positions. This newest change in the employer-employee power relationship can be seen in the falling number of telecommuting job postings. After months of frantically searching for new talent, businesses are demonstrating that they can be more selective in their hiring.

The rapid rate of hiring and salary increase experienced throughout most of 2022 has cooled off. Although many formerly unemployed tech and non-tech employees are now working again, the time it takes to locate a new position is longer than it was in the spring. Since the beginning of 2023, remote working listings on jobsites have decreased by as much as 12%, according to a number of reports.

More than two-thirds of employers thought their workers engaged in high-value work for up to three hours per day in a remote setting, which is more than twice what workers thought they did. More than half agreed that making investments in artificial intelligence (AI) and other automation would increase productivity in a hybrid workforce. However, the fact that a comparable percentage office collaboration was essential to the success of their organisations in the future indicated a lack of readiness for new working practices.

Employers may be shifting toward hybrid roles in order to reap the benefits of remote work. The Harvard Business Review found that compared to workers in either completely distant or in-office positions, those in the hybrid workplaces reported greater levels of employment happiness and productivity.

The new hybrid working model is excellent news for the majority of employees who reside relatively close to their workplace but prefer to work remotely at least occasionally.

However, it may imply that opportunities for completely remote digital nomads are going to continuously decrease. Currently, many businesses require regular facetime from employees. And as these companies attempt to use employees’ physical presence to revitalise company cultures and foster creativity in the aftermath of the pandemic, will digital nomad employees become less desirable?

Sharing her perspectives on the issue, an immigration expert, Victoria Idia, stated that with over 50 countries issuing the digital nomad route and more in the process of doing so, the remote culture war for now will not limit or stop the movement.

“The fact that there are many countries offering this type of visa gives more choice for those of a working age who do not want to be tied down to traditional working cultures or roles. There is no doubt that there are more diverse ways of obtaining income which means individuals do not have to be in an office at all, such as those whose income is derived from social media platforms.”

Adapting to the hybrid model may present challenges for digital nomads, particularly regarding travel and visa restrictions. Some countries, such as Estonia and Barbados, have already introduced digital nomad visas that allow remote workers to stay for extended periods. As the hybrid work model becomes more prevalent, it is possible that countries may revise their visa programs to accommodate this new work arrangement, perhaps offering visas that allow for a mix of remote and in-office work.

Idia who is a casework performance manager for Immigration Advice Service, a UK based firm that specialises in immigration law, said given the advantages digital nomad offer, “it is more likely that global immigration policies will be adapted to this new way of work especially as countries see the financial benefits and boost it brings to their economies.

Olusegun Akinfenwa writes for Immigration Advice Service, a leading team of legal professionals that specialise in immigration law and represents businesses and individuals across the UK and globally.