Work or Wander?
By now, most of us have read the statistics on the millennial generation. These younger workers, estimated to be the majority of the U.S. workforce, place a premium on flexibility and freedom in the workplace. One way that companies can attract and support millennials is to consider more fluid work arrangements. By empowering “digital nomads” with a work-from-anywhere experience, organizations and employees can both benefit.
The new worker
Forbes notes that 60% of millennials stay three years or less in any single job. One reason for this turnover is that many younger workers are seeking a “work-life balance” that includes fewer working hours, flexible schedules, travel opportunities, and job variety.
When companies can’t accommodate these needs, millennials are apt to jump ship. With a reported average cost of $15,000 to $25,000 to replace each lost employee, organizations need to make the workplace more attractive to this hard-to-retain generation.
The key to milliennial-friendly work arrangements may lie in today’s mobile technologies — mobile devices, high-speed networking, wireless Internet, and communication and collaboration apps (e.g., Skype, Google Docs) — which make it easy to work from almost any location.
Supported by such technology, so-called digital nomads are working as freelancers or contract workers. They are capable of remotely developing software, writing white papers and marketing materials, editing courseware, and managing virtual work teams all over the world.
Piero Toffanin, who calls himself a “professional outdoor coder,” is a prime example of this new type of remote worker. Greg Jorgensen is another nomad who offers tips for coders looking to transition to life and work on the road.
The perks (and challenges) of being a nomad
Workers who have embraced life on the technical (and literal) highway note several advantages that match the millennial mindset:
- Flexibility — Information Week reports that a recent study from PwC, University of Southern California, and London Business School found that 15% of men and 21% of women would “give up some of their pay and slow the pace of promotion in exchange for fewer working hours.” As a freelance or contract worker, performance is based on a job completed and well done — not a set number of hours sitting behind a desk.
- Freedom — Working remotely allows employees to travel at will, something that would not be possible while tethered to a specific office and working schedule.
- Simplified lifestyle — The true nomads, like Toffanin, travel light by necessity. This leads to a simplified life and can also lead to a lower cost of living, as workers live out of campers or can choose smaller, cheaper towns worldwide.
- Variety — Whether it comes in the form of work (when freelancing for multiple companies simultaneously) or in the environment (via travel), this lifestyle offers more variety — something many millennials crave.
Of course, the nomadic lifestyle has its challenges, too:
- Dependency on Internet and Wi-Fi connections — Traveling the world means dodging in and out of steady and reliable communications. Co-working spaces are popular with digital nomads because they provide high-speed Internet and a work base, but workers must definitely plan ahead to book one. Ally Basak Russell, a full-time employee at freelance digital-work marketplace oDesk, notes that digital nomads must remember that wireless is not a global given. She suggests traveling with a USB Ethernet adapter.
- Time zone differences — Russell also suggests using the World Clock Google Calendar widget as a way to keep schedules straight.
- Costs of certain services — Banking (i.e., foreign exchange and ATM transaction fees), cell phone service, and other necessities can get pricey for the ill-prepared. Again, advance planning and saving is a must.
- Nervous employers — Nomads might find that employers are reluctant to assign work to active travelers, for fear that they won’t be available when needed. Toffanin notes that personal connections can help establish trust and set employers’ minds at ease. Through a pre-meeting, phone call, web conference, or video resume, you can explain “in person” how your arrangement is feasible and cost-effective for both you and the hiring company.
- Security — A higher risk of theft is an obvious side effect of the nomadic life. That’s why Toffanin suggests encrypting your hard drive and backing up your data regularly.
The digital nomad life isn’t for everyone, but for those who have both a keen desire to travel and broaden their experiences while developing their portable skills such as coding, this lifestyle can be highly rewarding.