There is a new generation of workers powered by collaborative technology options that do not want to be tied to any one place. With the increased freedom to work from almost anywhere, they want to experience the world. These "digital nomads" do not want to be bound by geography or even by a 9-5 business day. 

In today's current talent environment, companies are more willing to consider and more flexible about how and where work gets done. A recent study sponsored by AND CO and Remote Year entitled "Anywhere Workers - Remote Work & Digital Nomad Study" gathered data on these new nomads. They found that, "Combining work and travel is certainly a lifestyle trend that’s increasing in popularity, with new remote workers also more likely to be generally working from a foreign country. Interestingly, women were slightly more likely to have gone remote so they could ‘live the nomad lifestyle’ (11% vs 8% male)."

Other interesting findings:

  • Remote working is gaining popularity and it’s here to stay. 73% of remote workers are new to the game, having gone remote in the last four years.
  • The need to visit, or even have a physical office is declining and the reliance on tools to keep in touch increases. (think Slack and Workplace)
  • There’s a remote worker pay gap, maybe not surprising.
  • A third of remote workers say their top productivity blocker is having trouble shutting down at the end of a workday.
  • 30% of respondents said a lack of community challenges their remote happiness most.
  • Working while roaming isn’t always easy; perhaps that’s why the large majority (83%) of workers still generally work from their home country.
  • 24% of respondents describe themselves as digital nomads; 17% of those travel to five, or more countries a year.

Kent O'Neil, Global Legal Analyst at Newland Chase, explains that this idea of moving into various countries and performing work could actually create legal issues. He shares that he sees more blogs and vlogs from digital nomads exploring the realities and challenges of the nomad life. What he is surprised by is that while most address challenges with maintaining productivity in non-work-conducive environments, self-discipline, maintaining a steady income and the emotional challenges of living as a transient, "rarely do I see anyone asking the fundamental question – Is it legal? Little to nothing about visas, taxes, professional licenses, etc."  

So, are they working illegally?

Probably, yes! Immigration laws in most countries include penalties for “illegal working” – that is, foreign nationals working in the country without proper work visas or permits. According to his recent article, these “location-independent workers" might live and work in anywhere from two to twelve countries in a year. Given that in almost no countries are you permitted to work while visa-free or on a tourist visa, it is becoming more common now for border authorities in many countries to ask you to boot-up your laptop and let them examine it. The issue is more about whether the activities will be seen as constituting work. 

For more insights into the lives of digital nomads, check out this video: Working online and traveling the world - digital nomads (DW Documentary). One estimate shared in the video was that by 2035, there could be a billion digital nomads roaming the globe. However, we can be sure that border authorities are aware of this growing phenomenon and will be on the alert.

The reality is that immigration laws in most countries are trying to address the digital nomad issue. Estonia is even looking at offering a Digital Nomad Visa. It will be interesting to see how countries handle this moving forward as the increasing scale and globalization continues. Newland Chase has a Part 2 on this topic - a good read as you consider the future of mobility and how work gets done!