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Digital Nomads: Harbingers of the Future of Work

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At the Rise conference this weekend in Hong Kong, Google for Work president Amit Singh noted the coming end of the desktop computer, and thereby the end of the traditional work desk, as more and more people and technology become mobile. According to coverage in TNV, Singh said workers are “increasingly getting more done on mobile devices. In the future, you’ll be spending even more time on them, away from your desk.”

Further, with its acquisition of machine learning firm Deepmind, Singh indicated Google is working on AI assistants that will further facilitate the liberation of workers from desks. To quote Singh’s talk at the Rise conference:

“We’ve been thinking a lot about the the increasing importance of mobility at work. We’re currently taking traditional data and tools and unlocking them from your desk. But creating an intelligent assistant that goes where you do and helps you out by surfacing data when you need it, in context, cognitive in real-time — I believe that’s the future.”

That the future of digital communications and productivity is mobile is no newsflash; it’s a trend that’s been building for some time. There will be more and more opportunities for remote and place-independent work, and more tools like AI assistants available to remote workers.

What’s interesting now is the emergence of the cultural corollary: the rise of the “digital nomad” as a distinctive lifestyle choice and self-identification for (at present) mostly young, educated, tech-savvy people. To the point, also occurring this weekend was DNX 2015, the Global Digital Nomad Conference in Berlin. According to its web site, DNX sees remote work as a kind of moral revolution, and the organizers go so far as encouraging people to quit conventional jobs and join the nomadic horde:

“DNX is changing lives and inspiring people to start to work and live location independent. Our vision is that more and more people live their lives free and self-determined. We strongly believe that meeting other cultures makes us personally richer and the world a better place. Everybody can find his or her passion, live their dreams and work self-determined. DNX is part of the freedom revolution, in that people take ownership of their jobs, time and life. People quit their conventional jobs to reclaim the freedom to design their own lives.”

Here also is a video clip of the founders of DNX talking about DNX:

In addition to technology tools and at least one conference, there are other services (some in development) that support digital nomads. Sharing economy stalwarts such as uber and airbnb come immdiately to mind as nomad-friendly, but there are many more. One interesting example is Nomad House, “a housing solution that offers flexible living arrangements while bringing together great people; to stimulate ideas, incubate projects, and create the best possible home; in the best locations in the world.” With Nomad House, apparently, you subscribe to digital nomad community housing credits that you can consume in locations around the world.

All of this labor freedom seems presently restricted to a limited set of high-tech skills and trades, of course, but as this lifestyle movement grows in possibility, and the tools to support it improve, I predict that we will all become more place-independent and thus potentially nomadic. Ironically, I think corporations will have already embraced it. Governments, on the other hand, may need to adapt to millions or even billions of fully employed wanderers crossing and recrossing international borders, working for various companies in various countries, banking, shopping, and investing outside of traditional rooted-national-citizen patterns.

Author: Eric Kingsbury

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