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Digital nomad. Workcations. Location independent. Distributed workforce. Two years of pandemic living has added a whole new chapter to our lexicon of professional lingo. Here’s what it all means and how you can make your work life work better for you.
In the past, nomad was not a word regularly used by the average Joe (or Jabu or Johan), unless in reference to the Maasai of East Africa or the Bedouin of the Middle Eastern deserts. But 2020 turned that on its head.
Digital nomads are individuals who choose to spend portions of their time (long and/or short) working from all sorts of locations, locally or internationally, thus fulfilling their desire for travel and adventure without jeopardising their professional obligations.
Fuelled by the Great Resignation (which saw almost 20 million Americans quit their jobs since April 2021, according to McKinsey and Co.), digital nomads typically work in the creator and knowledge economies, the latter of which is based on the use of intellectual capital in jobs across marketing and communication, design, IT and consulting.
Research suggests that in the US, the number of digital nomads in traditional employment doubled between 2019 and 2020, to reach 6.3 million, as lockdowns and stay-at-home orders helped us realise that work can, in most cases, be done from anywhere in the world that has fairly decent Wi-Fi. 2021 saw a 40%+ increase in this group, to reach over 10 million. US digital nomads who are not in traditional employment, i.e. working as freelancers and independent contractors, number 5.5 million, bringing the total demographic of self-described US nomads to 15.5 million.
It’s currently not possible to pinpoint the number of digital nomads in South Africa; however, some local studies give a glimpse of what shifts may be taking place. Earlier this year, Google revealed that between January 2021 and January 2022, South Africans were among the top five searchers globally of the phrase “how to leave your job”.
Last year, reward management platform Remchannel reported that staff turnover had increased by 16% across all sectors in SA. While various reasons are behind this, Remchannel notes that between April and October 2021, 60% of employees left their jobs with a resignation, rather than for other reasons such as retirement or downsizing. According to Remchannel MD René Richter, “employees are saying, ‘I don’t want more of the same. I need balance and I want to work the way I want to work to avoid this burnout phenomenon’”.
What are the benefits?
For digital nomads, the benefits of a seemingly unhinged lifestyle which is not dependant on being in any one place (i.e. location independent) are many, but chief among them is the ability to travel to different destinations – many of them bucket-list types – and to be immersed in cultures different to one’s own.
Another benefit is the flexibility of nomadic living. Whether it’s a permanent decision or a choice to extend a holiday and continue working from the destination (i.e. a working vacation, or workcation), digital nomadism is being seen as a panacea from previously inescapable corporate pressure.
For South Africans willing to choose countries whose currencies are weaker than ours, the financial benefits of being part of a distributed workforce can be particularly appealing, making the case for this inspired trend even stronger.
Digital nomads also enjoy the sense of community that comes with meeting new people, be it in hostels, at co-living and co-working spaces, doing adventure activities or on spontaneous nights out. There is also a growing sense of wanting to connect with locals and the communities that host nomads, with some travellers volunteering and making a concerted effort to participate meaningfully, and sustainably, in local life.
Some nomads also appreciate the minimalism that comes with a traveller lifestyle, and the detachment from home and office politics. Plus, you get to chase the sun and avoid the realities of gloomy Mother City cold fronts or dry, chilly Highveld winters.
DIY and #LYBL
If you are getting itchy feet and are wondering where to head to to start a life of location independence, consider Remote’s The Best Destinations for Remote Work which suggests 100 of the most digital nomad-friendly cities based on internet infrastructure, attractiveness, safety, quality of life, openness, cost of living and incentives for remote workers. Their top five consists of:
- Toronto (Canada)
- Madrid (Spain)
- Auckland (New Zealand)
- Madeira (Portugal)
- Helsinki (Finland).
Once you’ve made up your mind on which destination tickles your fancy, focus on research, research and more research! You’ll need to look up:
- Visa details
A number of countries have introduced digital nomad visas, such as the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Germany, Iceland, Mauritius, Portugal and Seychelles, among others. Italy recently announced that it will introduce a digital nomad visa, and South Africa is looking into it, too (in case you have international friends wanting a taste of Mzansi).
- Tax expectations
The digital nomad tax field can be a tricky one to navigate, as it is affected by your country/ countries of choice, how many days you spend out of the country, where your income is derived from etc. Best is to get sound professional advice from a suitably qualified expert.
If you already have a medical insurance plan, give your provider a call to discuss what coverage you have internationally. It may still be a good idea though to look into travel insurance that will cover medical expenses.
- Time zones
If you are continuing with your South African or current job, it’s advisable to find a country in the same time zone or with only a small difference. This will go a long way in helping you maintain productivity, accountability and relations with your team.
- Costs of living
Digital nomading can become a costly alternative considering that you are more likely to spend on touristy outings and once-in-a-lifetime experiences (as one should!). One way to cut expenses is to use an app such as Shyft, which gives you the best forex rates at your fingertips 24/7, so you can take advantage of good exchange rates from anywhere in the world. By loading your forex onto a multicurrency virtual card, you can shop online and pay for travel and accommodation (and much more), cutting the conversion fees associated with other traditional payment methods, all while maintaining access to your ZAR funds. Plus, you can receive payments in forex, and load your currency of choice onto a physical Shyft card to swipe.
- Other details to read up on include climate, crime levels, internet speeds, medical services, transportation and vaccination requirements.
Now or never
If there is anything that Covid-19 has taught us, it is that life is unpredictable. The pandemic highlighted so sharply our mortality and how susceptible we are to the unknown, which explains why some are calling the Great Resignation ‘the Great Realisation’. So, as the Gen Zs say, #LYBL and digital nomad yourself into the travel realities of your wildest dreams.
Shyft allows you to load up to four currencies onto a physical card to swipe while travelling, with lower fees than traditional payment methods abroad. With Shyft you can buy forex at the best rates, shop online internationally with a virtual card, make and receive cross-border payments, and invest in over 300 shares and ETFs. Visit getshyft.co.za to download the global money app today.
This post was sponsored by Shyft, the global money app, powered by Standard Bank. With Shyft you can buy forex instantly anytime, anywhere, and at the best rates, and invest in top US stocks and ETFs. Shyft was named Best Financial Solution at the 2021 MTN Business App of the Year Awards. Visit Shyft to download it now, no matter where you bank. Shyft operates under the license of The Standard Bank of South Africa Limited, an authorised Financial Services Provider (FSP number 11287).
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