Digital nomadism is the future of work

Technological advances have seen an increasing trend towards borderless digital nomadism, especially in the workplace.
By: | August 7, 2018 • 5 min read

It is expected that more than 1 billion people will be digital nomads in 20 years.

Digital nomads are individuals who choose mobility over desk-bound arrangements to work. Not limited to working out of a physical office, they often travel across the globe, ‘hot-desking’ at shared spaces and tapping on resources based on their destination.

Recent TransferWise research has found that Singaporeans are keen on working remotely to travel the world, with seven in 10 surveyed (69%) looking to pack their bags and live a nomad lifestyle for work, especially younger Singaporeans: 74% of 15 to 34 year-olds indicate this.

The nature of today’s business makes global mobility a must for employees and business owners alike, turning digital nomadism from a choice into a necessity.

Going ‘borderless’

More Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, are seeking experiences across the globe for personal and professional growth. With technologies available to make remote working possible, lives and ideas are more global than ever before, which is creating a ‘borderless’ way of working and living.

TransferWise research found that 85% of Singaporeans would like to live abroad for some time, with more than half of Singaporean respondents wanting to live abroad for up to five years.

Being borderless means having the ability to operate seamlessly in multiple countries, and being able to handle multiple assets across the world. Payments have to also operate seamlessly across borders. We envision a future where movement of money is instant and free, enabling everyone to live a more global life.


The future of work

According to the World Economic Forum, flexible work is one of the biggest drivers of transformation of business models, and is crucial for businesses to stay ahead of the curve. The increasingly global nature of business means the need to attract a wider talent pool, create more creative environments, and encourage greater employee efficiency – factors that can be found outside of tight office spaces and cubicles.

Younger employees tend to be less keen to be tied to a fixed schedule and prioritises work-life balance instead. A PwC study on millennial employees revealed that work-life balance is one of the most significant drivers of employee retention, and flexible work options is often a deciding factor in taking a new job or staying in a current position.

As a cosmopolitan hub, the Singapore Government sees internationalisation as a key strategy for local businesses to expand and local talents to develop, with the launch of Enterprise Singapore (ESG) earlier this year aiming to provide support to local businesses looking to transform and internationalise.


The role of technology

Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since the early 2000s, turning employees into a mobile workforce. Fast download speeds and the prevalence of mobile devices including tablets and smartphones allow employees to work virtually anywhere and at any time.

Collaborations are easier than ever before, with cloud connectivity, cloud storage and software-as-a-service (SaaS) easily used in everyday workflows. Employees can work with one another without the need for employees to be physically present in the same room. For example, TransferWise uses Google apps for collaborating on documents, Slack for global communications, and Zoom for speaking with our colleagues halfway across the world with video calls.

The contributing technologies are not limited to hardware and software solutions; third-party solutions such as financial services, freight services and accommodation leasing services play a big part as well. Start-ups such as Airbnb can simplify the complex, tedious process of moving and settling in, making cross-border mobility easier than before.

While we are already experiencing increasing digital nomadism, we expect this trend to accelerate with improving technologies, even turning this trend into the norm for the workforce in the future.

For example, cloud technology as demonstrated in the Google apps, enables easy collaboration on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations – regardless of location. Tech companies like WeWork are creating a network of co-working spaces in cities around the world, where it is easy for any member to plug in to a new destination. Video-conferencing has improved a lot in the past few years and it is possible that the next wave of virtual reality tech might finally make face-to-face meetings redundant. Virtual reality also has the potential to offer better training and development opportunities for remote workers.


How organisations can address digital nomadism

Whether we like it or not, businesses are going global and are expected to operate anywhere, anytime. Talent is increasingly global as well and available resources are spread across every corner of the globe.

Our research shows that while Singaporeans would like to live outside of Singapore, they would not like to stay away from home for long. With many prospective employees seeking experiences across the globe, companies can capitalise on these interests to attract or retain greater talents by providing global opportunities.

This can include offering overseas postings, secondments, or short-term projects to employees, and have them contribute their global experiences back to the company. Businesses also need to consider strategies to retain talent when sending them abroad, by creating policies and ways of working that take into account the experiences and preferences of these digital nomads, ultimately ensuring minimal loss of valuable manpower to other firms.