A Digital Nomad Lifestyle - How SMB Owners Can Embrace Location Independence

March 27, 2024

The digital nomad lifestyle has become increasingly popular, especially since the COVID-19 outbreak. Embracing this trend offers small business owners the opportunity to achieve a better work-life balance while exploring new destinations. At the same time, embracing this movement can act as a business strategy as well. Facilitating similar flexibility within your workforce can unlock additional value for your operations.

This blog delves into this strategy. Whether it's finding reliable Wi-Fi hotspots or establishing a flexible work routine, you’ll discover insights that will let you embrace the freedom and flexibility of the digital nomad lifestyle.

Meanwhile, you'll also learn how to help your team seize location independence by leveraging technology and remote work tools. This will create upsides you can deliver to your team by allowing them to become digital nomads as well.

What are digital nomads?

When you think of remote work, a somewhat bleak image probably appears: a haggard person slumped over a laptop, toiling away in a home office or at their kitchen table, stuck somewhere in the anonymous suburbs. Sure, remote work has saved us from going into the office. But we're still just stuck at home.

However, a new concept has begun to take hold. The digital nomad. This formulation takes the idea of remote work to the next level: beyond the kitchen or home office to let us anywhere in the vast and exciting world.

Why not take advantage of your remote freedom to explore different parts of the globe? A digital nomad chooses exactly this lifestyle: moving to interesting and exciting areas for a period of time, working remotely and enjoying their chosen location during their off-hours.

Why have more people become digital nomads?

More and more people have turned to the digital nomad lifestyle. Especially after the pandemic, which normalized remote work at many firms, the number of people who have taken the opportunity to explore different parts of the world has grown significantly.

One survey showed that the number of people who identify as digital nomads surged more than 130% from 2019 to 2022. A total of 17 million Americans have turned to this lifestyle, representing about 11% of all U.S. workers. This compares to just over 7 million before the pandemic hit.

A number of factors have contributed to this change. Here are some of the broader trends that have facilitated the lifestyle of a digital nomad:

  • Changing business culture: Even before the pandemic, remote working was becoming more common. Now, many companies have embraced it as a way to develop a geographically diverse workforce.

  • Better technology: Communication technology continues to improve. Tools like Slack and Zoom have made it easier to collaborate from anywhere.

  • Expansion of digital networks: Parts of the world that once seemed well off the beaten track now boast robust digital networks. For example, you can get amazing internet connections in places as diverse as Iceland, Singapore, and Bermuda.

  • Easier to find accommodations: Technology has given a boost to more than internet speeds. Services like Airbnb have simplified the process of finding places to stay in exotic locales.

  • More travel options: Airfares and other travel expenses have become more affordable in recent decades. For instance, the average airfare from Chicago's O'Hare airport sat at just under $364 in 2023. In inflation-adjusted terms, those flights would have cost almost $825 in 1993.

What are the benefits of becoming a digital nomad?

We noted the amazing growth that the digital nomad lifestyle has seen since 2019. There's a caveat to that: the expansion has shown some slowing in recent years.

According to the same statistics quoted before, 2023 only saw 2% growth since the previous year in the total number of digital nomads. Meanwhile, for those with traditional jobs, the number of people taking advantage of the lifestyle actually declined. This subset saw a 4% dip in its number of digital nomads from 2022 to 2023.

One key reason for this change relates to a resurgence of traditional business culture. Many companies have instituted a back-to-office movement, with management calling for employees to eliminate or minimize their remote operations.

One study found that 90% of companies are targeting a return to office by 2024. Meanwhile, only 2% of those surveyed stated that they have no plans to force in-person attendance. Even a hybrid schedule (one split between remote and in-office work) makes a true nomadic lifestyle impossible.

So if you plan to become a digital nomad (and allow the same freedom for your team), you'll be in a minority among businesses. Is it worth it? Or, even more importantly, can you gain an advantage by embracing this lifestyle?

To answer this, we must look at the benefits of being a digital nomad. This starts with a look at the upside on a personal basis for you as an owner/business leader. However, it goes beyond this narrow constraint. It also includes a view of the advantages for your workers and your small business as a whole.

With that in mind, here are few key benefits to consider:

  • Better work-life balance: You and your employees can get more satisfaction from your off-hours with the freedom gained from a digital nomad lifestyle.

  • Possibilities for lower costs: Your company could see lower costs from continuing to embrace remote operations. You'll spend less on office space and will be able to take advantage of a geographically diverse workforce.

  • Lower geopolitical/location risk: Having all your employees in one place makes you vulnerable to geopolitical shifts and natural disasters. Having people operating in different locations minimizes this hazard.

  • Flexible schedules: People who can log in from anywhere can also log in at any time. This gives you more options when determining schedules — a fact that can further enhance work-life balance, while giving your operations additional flexibility as well.

  • Potential for time zone diversity: Want a 24-hour operation? That gets more convenient when you have team members in various time zones.

  • Recruiting/retention advantages: By providing flexibility and a remote working environment, you make yourself a desirable landing spot for top talent enamored with the digital nomad lifestyle.

How to make your small business digital-nomad friendly

Clearly, there are wide-ranging benefits that come from facilitating a digital nomad lifestyle. However, it's also important to acknowledge that there are challenges involved as well. Here are some of the downsides you can experience:

  • There are communication challenges that come when dealing with multiple time zones.

  • It's sometimes difficult to log off when you're working a remote schedule.

  • The lifestyle can leave you (and your team members) feeling isolated from coworkers.

  • There are regulatory/tax implications to consider.

  • Constantly changing your location can create logistical issues and can get expensive.

The reasons above can cut into productivity if you're not careful. That's why many companies have turned back to in-office work to achieve maximum efficiency. To become a digital nomad (and to encourage it in your team), you'll need to develop a structure that minimizes these downsides.

To become a digital nomad (and to encourage it in your team), you'll need to develop a structure that minimizes [communication challenges, employee isolation, and other logistical issues].

As such, here are some steps you can take to optimize your business for this lifestyle:

Develop clear remote procedures

Create a set of guidelines and best practices for operating in a remote location. Put these in writing and make them transparent for everyone. In addition, update your procedures as you gain experience and as conditions change.

Invest in the appropriate technology

Becoming a digital nomad requires a strong tech backbone. Invest in the right tools to make it possible to operate effectively from anywhere. At the same time, put the right staff in place to monitor and maintain your systems.

Understand the local situation when someone moves

Plan every move carefully. If someone changes locations, scout the new home base for that worker. From mundane logistical concerns (like the location of Wi-Fi hotspots) to broad teamwork procedures, it's important to integrate the new site into your overall operations.

Think about digital security

Relying more on online communication means much of your collaboration takes place in the cloud. This heightens the concern about digital security, especially as people travel to locations throughout the world. Do your due diligence and ensure that your security protocols fit the situation.

Provide location updates

Let people know where you are and how this will impact your work schedule. Make doing so part of the process for anyone changing their base of operations. That way, all team members will stay current on everyone's location, work hours, and related restrictions.

Create a communication structure

One of the key concerns about remote work in general relates to collaboration. When you can't gather your team in a single location, a worry arises about your ability to share and develop ideas. Given this dynamic, it's critical to implement an aggressive communication policy that enables team activities. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Have regular check-ins

  • Include video meetings

  • Put important points in writing

  • Encourage feedback

  • Develop guidelines for communication

Facilitate flexible work schedules

A digital nomad wants to maximize more than work. The appeal of exploring the world comes from the places that exist away from the laptop. Still, tasks need to be done in a timely manner and collaboration needs to be facilitated. Flexible schedules make both goals possible.

Be aware of cultural differences

People living in different cultures will need to be respectful of those local traditions. After all, witnessing and participating in these events is part of the point of being a digital nomad. Be aware of things like holidays and varied work schedules.

The digital nomad lifestyle and your small business

Becoming a digital nomad offers significant lifestyle advantages. You can see the world and greatly enhance your work-life balance. Meanwhile, by offering the same opportunity to your team members, you deliver benefits that enhance recruiting and increase worker satisfaction.

Becoming a digital nomad offers significant lifestyle advantages. You can see the world and greatly enhance your work-life balance. Meanwhile, by offering the same opportunity to your team members, you deliver benefits that enhance recruiting and increase worker satisfaction.

However, there are also downsides that need to be minimized. From managing virtual teams to optimizing productivity on the go, this blog offers a starting point, with practical tips and strategies for small business owners. This will help you to thrive in the digital nomad lifestyle, even while still growing your business.