- Remote work is here to stay, and some people are taking the concept to the extreme.
- Some workers have taken their new found ability to work from anywhere as an opportunity to try the digital nomad lifestyle.
- #VanLife is proving popular too, as remote workers take their work on the road.
Remote work is here to stay, but the question remains: where will remote work be done? For some, including digital nomads already accustomed to #VanLife, working from anywhere is quite literally on the road.
In May of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic kept physical workspaces closed, Shopify CEO, Tobi Lutke, declared that, “Office centricity is over.”
Shopify became one of many companies to make remote work policies a permanent fixture of their workforce strategies. Companies like Salesforce have expanded the meaning of “Work From Home” to “Work From Anywhere” to better define how they are tackling both in-office and remote work flexibility for their employees.
Some workers have taken their new found ability to work from anywhere as an opportunity to give the digital nomad lifestyle a try.
A report by MBO Partners found that there was a nearly 50% increase in the population of digital nomads in the US between 2019 and 2020. The report specifies that, “digital nomads are defined as people who choose to embrace a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle that allows them to travel and work remotely, anywhere in the Internet-connected world. Unlike regular remote workers, who tend to stay in one geographic area, digital nomads travel and explore while working.”
For workers like Eric Munsing, who has been working full time from his van since leaving Manhattan in July 2020, the digital nomad lifestyle enabled him to pursue more freedom during the pandemic. “I really like the sense of freedom, exploration, and openness that working from the road gives me. Even though I’ve been working long hours, I’ve still gotten to see more places than many people hope to visit in their lifetime,” he says.
The world is taking notice of the increase in digital nomads
Countries like Norway and Mexico were recently rated as top destinations for digital nomads based on criteria including access to remote worker friendly visa programs and how welcoming the country is to digital nomads. Some destinations, including several carribean island nations like Antigua and Barbuda, have even launched specific visa initiatives to attract digital nomads.
The travel industry is also trying to capitalize on the digital nomad trend. There is pent-up travel demand from those that have foregone travel since the start of the pandemic, but may have to return to a physical office later this year. Interest in hotel searches in the US were up 65% in May 2021 compared to January, and travelers are booking longer stays.
“We have been surprised by the amount of guests working remotely,” Monica Hyatt, the director of residences at Playa Largo, told Fortune. Many hotels are offering remote worker friendly packages, even going so far as to calling them a “WFH Work From Hotel” package, like South Beach Miami based Kimpton Surfcomber.
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Say hello to the age of the mobile office?
It’s not just travel and hospitality that are taking note of the rise of digital nomads. Large companies are looking to capitalize on the future of work. Companies like Nissan are placing their bets that if people like the flexibility of working from home, they’ll love having that flexibility on the road, too.
Digital nomads that have long embraced the “van life”, like Munsing, understand the complexities of ensuring a work environment while on the road. As he describes for his van setup, “I’ve spent a lot of effort (and a moderate amount of money) making sure that I have reliable internet wherever I go; for my job I need to be fully connected during the workday to address real-time software issues. In addition to LTE/WiFi hotspots, I have a number of external antennas to amplify weak signals, WiFi repeater antennas to pick up the signal from available public WiFi networks, and even a little router for broadcasting a reliable WiFi network inside my van!”
At the 2021 Virtual Tokyo Auto Salon, Nissan revealed its latest concept, the NV350 Caravan Office Pod.
This concept vehicle, designed off of Nissan’s existing NV350 Van, takes the office and work from anywhere to wherever a remote worker can drive to, including off-road, thanks to the van’s all-terrain tires.
Leveraging both the increase in camper van demand with the desire for flexible work, the Office Pod features an office workstation, complete with a high end Herman Miller Cosm Chair, that extends out of the van to create a workspace with fresh air and a view of wherever you are parked. The floor of the workstation is even a transparent polycarbonate for additional views of the natural surroundings.
The workstation can also remain inside the van for more privacy and comes with a built-in desk, keyboard, mouse, and monitor in addition to the chair. To encourage taking breaks, the van comes with a rooftop deck complete with lounge chair and umbrella as well as a coffee maker that runs off of the van’s inverter to fuel your day.
While not the first, and definitely not the only option for mobile working, the Office Pod shows that even the auto industry has taken notice of the remote work trend. So it will be interesting to see if even better options are released in the future, and who will take advantage of them.
For Munsing, his van life adventure will be wrapping up at the end of June 2021 as people return to their offices and he completes a long relocation to where his company is headquartered in Austin, Texas. However, as he also points out, once his digital nomad trip is finished, “if I really like a place I can always come back when I’m not distracted by work!”