Workplace Flexibility: Beyond Hybrid and WFH

Benjamin Babb
digital nomad

Work is about to get even more flexible

Most of the research and attention has been given to hybrid and remote models of working, and they are certainly the work models that most companies will be dealing with in the coming months and years. 
But there are two other trends that are worth briefly mentioning because 1) they take the idea of workplace flexibility and push it to the extreme and 2) they provide a long-range view of just how dramatically employee/employer relationships can change. These are locationindependent workers and digital nomads.

Location independent workers & the human cloud

The concept of “location independent” workers isn’t new, but its rapid expansion will have deep repercussions for employers and workers. In short, the availability of wireless technology and widespread internet access enable companies to outsource work to any corner of the globe. According to one estimate, there will be 1 billion location independent workers by the year 2025

The gig economy has also played a key role in the growth of location independent employment. Jobs that were once considered white collar can now be retooled into a system of less complex tasks and distributed to a team of workers, each of whom completes their task independently. This redistribution of work among physically separated workers is referred to as the “human cloud,” and it’s currently worth an estimated $50B a year (The Economist).

The growth of location independent work is driven by more than lean management strategy and outsourcing. It’s also being cultivated by nations and communities that see it as a vital opportunity for people to participate in the global economy.  Kenya is an example of one country that is helping prepare its citizens for these opportunities by developing training programs for location independent employment in the IT sector.

Digital nomads

Remote and location independent workers represent two expanding categories of workers. A third group takes the concept of remote work and combines it with wanderlust. These are the digital nomads. 

Researchers at MBO Partners define “digital nomads” 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.”

Once considered a novelty experience reserved for freelancers, bloggers, and contract workers, the appeal of the digital nomad adventure continues to expand as more workers realize that if they can work from home, they can work from anywhere.

7.3MDigital nomads in 2019
10.9MDigital nomads in 2020
MBO Partners: COVID-19 and the Rise of the Digital Nomad

From 2019 to 2020, the number of workers who identified as “digital nomads” grew 49%. While the total number of digital nomads might be relatively small, its growth should be seen as another sign that even new work models will continue to evolve. 

While reliance on location independent workers, digital nomads, and the human cloud may not be on the immediate horizon for every business, these work models demonstrate the degree of complexity of workflows and processes that are already a reality for many employers. They also provide a bellwether of some of the ways globalization may impact human resource management in the future.

Written by
Benjamin Babb
Enya devotee, ghost story aficionado, and skillet collector. Senior Writer at Pipefy.

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