I’m writing this from the crazy, cosmopolitan, liberal, vibrant German capital, Berlin, where I’ve just attended my first Digital Nomad Conference. So what is digital nomadism and remote working?
What is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is someone who is location independent – they can work and earn money from anywhere in the world. I’ve been location independent for a long time however I’d only put it to the test in the last year or so.
I run a web and graphic design business that provides digital services to clients. It’s a location independent business – I have clients I’ve never met face-to-face. I also sell video courses on online learning platforms such as Udemy. Selling digital products is time as well as location independent – I don’t even have to be awake to make sales.
Digital nomads are location independent digital workers who travel a lot but congregate in various hubs around the world – for example: Chiang Mai, Thailand; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin, Germany. The hubs tend to be well connected cities with reliable internet and cheap living costs.
What is remote working?
Remote working is where an employee works away from their company’s offices – at home for example. However, remote working has come to include fully remote virtual companies or distributed companies.
The best example of a completely remote company is Automattic – a 450+ employee company that maintains WordPress amongst other things and has recently been valued at $1.16 billion. Automattic is a completely distributed company. Although they maintain an office in San Francisco that functions like a co-working space, most of their employees work somewhere else. Some are nomads.
There are many other completely distributed companies – such as Buffer, the social media scheduling and managing app. Buffer were one of the sponsors of the event and Rodolphe Dutel from Buffer spoke about their fascinating company culture.
What does this all mean for us?
We all know that remote working, “working from home” and telecommuting are all on the increase as freelance work replaces “proper jobs” that are decreasing both in number and security.
The digital nomads are at the forefront of this trend. While digital nomadism may never become mainstream, we can peer into the future by exploring the tools, working habits and challenges of the nomads.
It’s not all beaches and Mai Tais
Talking of challenges, I was pleased that there was no “selling the dream” at DNX Berlin. (Although I have been guilty of over-hyping entrepreneurship and I have posted images of myself with my laptop by tropical beaches).
And, one of my favorite bloggers, Mark Manson, was there to make sure we didn’t get carried away. He talked of his experiences with motorbike accidents, diarrhea and the less glamorous side of travelling.
Travelling with your laptop certainly gives you lower lows as well as higher highs. But what can we learn from this?
Productivity and flow state
My conversations with entrepreneurs these days tend to be more about productivity than anything else. Noel Tock from Human Made talked about his rituals to enter a “flow state” (Macbook constantly on, listening to the same playlist all the time, always having offline work to do, etc.)
There’s a reason why entrepreneurs and digital nomads are so obsessed with productivity: zero focus equals zero dollars in the business bank account.
Here is a quote from a master thesis Community, Identity and Knowledge among Digital Nomad Entrepreneurs by Andrew Lentz and Duyen Nguyen of Lund University, Sweden.
Given a lack of outside structure in the form of a job, or even location, digital nomad entrepreneurs expressed the ability to stay focused as a key component to survival.
Knowing that, in the future, there will be more digital nomads, remote workers and distributed companies, focus is the new king.
Apps for brave new nomads
Pieter Levels, the entrepreneur who famously set out to set up 12 startups in 12 months, showed us a future of 1 billion freelancers, faster internet, cheaper air travel, fewer marriages, smart cities, and an infinitely more flexible, globetrotting workforce.
Many new products and applications are springing up to cater for digital nomads, like Pieter’s NomadList for example, a website that compares cities (their internet speeds, cost of living, climate, etc.) to gauge their suitability for remote working. I used to think that digital nomads were so small in number there wouldn’t be the demand to sustain these products. But it looks like I’m wrong as there are now competitors to NomadList.
As nomads are just the tip of the remote working iceberg, what works for them will work for millions or billions in the future. There are opportunities here.
Business talk and networking
And, of course, I got a chance to meet people and talk business – that’s the whole point of conferences, isn’t it?
There were some great ideas from many of the speakers. Natalie Sisson got me excited about webinars (next week, I’ll do one, I promise!) Shayna Oliveira of Expresso English dropped some membership site value bombs. Sabrina Iovino of JustOneWayTicket.com showed us it is possible to make money from a travel blog and made me want to go back to the Philippines and Derek Sivers (above) told us, amongst other things, to get creative and quirky with customer service.
Of course, I learned a lot more besides from the speakers and attendees – and it was fantastic meeting up with a few people I’d met in Chiang Mai and Ho Chi Minh City. Cliché alert: small world!
Berlin Du Bist So Wunderbar
After the conference, I got a chance to sample the life of a digital nomad in Berlin, my first Euro-destination (London doesn’t count).
It was great to visit the city which held such a fascination for me with its rich recent history. To me the allure includes Cabaret, the Wall and Bowie’s Berlin trilogy – what’s not to love about Berlin? I absolutely adored the place and I can’t wait to go back.