With the increase of digital nomads and the expansion of the lifestyle’s popularity, there’s been an overwhelming push for corporate companies and local startups to build virtual offices and hire more remote workers.
The move counters the daily costs of running a well-oiled professional base, while accommodating to a generation of millennials savvy enough to work from their creative and professional spaces of comfort. However, the myths linked to the lifestyle have set a dark cloud over seasoned and newly established DNs.
What’s overshadowing the benefits of nomadism? Well, a few things.
Underneath the lifestyle’s freedoms of international tourism, there are underlying problems buried beneath the telling of digital nomads and their success stories.
Some issues are fairly common in other work spaces, said Chrystal Gaither, who began her career as an outreach manager and remote educator before making the leap to digital nomadism. She points to problems like a lack of community, imbalances between a person’s work and home life and the absence of interpersonal relationships among coworkers.
The biggest issues in her experience, Gaither says, have been the withdrawals of micromanagement that come with remote work. Unlike other positions she’s had, as an at-home professional and DN, Gaither often felt she was being monitored hour-by-hour. In fact, her co-workers and remote manager actually had direct access to her daily calendar.
“There’s so much accountability,” said Gaither. “When you work remote, your whole team knows what you’re doing by the hour. They don’t spin it as being micromanaged, they spin it like ‘Oh, it’s transparency.’ I know some people would not be OK with that.”
Remote work, unlike more traditional jobs, contain a certain level of uncertainty and suspicion, especially concerning digital nomads. Typically, skeptics pose questions aimed at the authenticity of location independent work. Even with Gaither working full-time, with her hours often ranging between 50 and 60 a week during her nomadic travels, her family members and close associates often questioned her work ethic.
“There were moments I had to check people because they would make assumptions,” she said. “I work really hard from home and I have a lot of deadlines that I need to meet. I feel like they think my job isn’t real because I don’t walk into an office. I think a lot of people make assumptions.”
For Jordan Carroll, who works as a digital nomad coach and program consultant for Remote Year, an organization that facilitates travel accommodations for people interested in remote-based opportunities, he has a different view.
Since becoming a DN and helping others embark on their nomadic journey, Carroll says the most common misconception he’s heard is that nomadism will provide happiness. Instead, he says, people are often left feeling empty from their experiences.
“From the outside people say, ‘Well that person gets to travel. If I got to travel I’d be happy.’ That’s so far from the truth,” said Carroll. “Happiness is what’s inside of us. Travel can be a gateway to that, but it is not a means to an end. Don’t believe the Instagram hype.”
Along with these misconceptions, nomads have also been accused of being more interested in the attention they receive on social media than actually immersing themselves in the places they visit. Rather than indulge in the customs of foreign lands, many camp out of dingy cafes and coffee shops during the day, rarely interacting with locals or adopting their cultural practices.
Experts claim most digital nomads teeter between the line of “vacationers.” They don’t deem the term entirely negative, but they feel DNs should make more efforts to learn and observe the cities they relocate to. It’s good to explore a location’s more atmospheric and popular tourist spots, but many miss the point of nomadism. Beyond these experiences, for many, the purpose is to learn and adjust their perspective through their travels.
In light of these criticisms, Carroll feels there’s no definitive way to be a DN. All of their paths are different, and what they take away from their experiences is up to them. People shouldn’t feel forced to give into certain cultural traditions or customs, he says. As long as DNs are making efforts to give back to the community, then there’s no need to feed into other’s judgement.
“I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to be a nomad,” he says. “People need to figure out what makes them tick. I wouldn’t say that everyone should immerse themselves in every culture.
“I think if someone’s going to be somewhere for a while, they should give back to the community and immerse themselves in some way,” Carroll adds. “I’m not going to force myself to do that because someone thinks I’m not immersed enough. Observe the culture as it happens.”
In many cases, there have also been Ponzi schemes and scams within the inner workings of the location independent community. According to digitalnomadsoul.com, aspiring DNs are sucked into falsified entrepreneurial opportunities, job directories and multi-level marketing plans. These fraudulent acts have tainted much of the reputation of nomadism.
“I think people are messing it up,” said Gaither. “People want to be involved in it, so they keep looking for jobs that are remote. And that’s where these cons come in. It actually happens often.”
Though Carroll acknowledges the existence of the scams saturating DN circles, he feels it’s up to people to do research and decipher between fake and legitimate remote and digital nomad opportunities.
“I think that’s going to be prevalent in any industry,” he said. “I think people just need to be smarter. People need to look into backgrounds, try to find any referrals, and talk to other people who have worked with them. There’s a lot of information out there.”
In spite of the overabundance of benefits associated with digital nomadism, these criticisms will continue to be linked to the lifestyle. Even with professionals like Carroll, who work to confront these issues head on, it’s difficult to eliminate the negative aspects within the spaces of nomadism.
The only way to counter them, Carroll says, is for DNs to continue giving back to the communities they inhabit and emphasize the legitimacy of remote work, which will make being a nomad that much more formidable.
“I think the most important thing is to legitimize remote work. The more that becomes mainstream, the more digital nomadism will be legitimized,” Carrol said. “And we need to be ambassadors of our countries by giving back to the community, so people don’t think we are taking advantage. That is definitely something we should focus on.”
— Jetset Times