Digital nomads are the slice of the workforce where many of its members were unscathed by the pandemic. The global pandemic led to forced closures, restricted travel and social distancing for many. But digital nomads found a way to flourish. These workers are also referred to as: digital migrants, location independent workers. Even though digital migrants helped to keep global economies functioning, many experienced negative perceptions from traditional workforce and employers. This article is written to help digital nomads avoid the risk of hedonism and for giving tips to traditional workers for increasing happiness regardless of work location.
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Estimates of Numbers of Digital Nomads
Just how many workers are location independent? The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates in 2021 there were about 15.5 million digital nomads in the US alone (up from approximately 6 million in 2019 to 10 million writes MBO Partners). While the numbers vary slightly, this data represents a growth rate of about 119% from years 2019 to 2021.
Generally, MBO Partners finds two reasons things about general nomads:
- 80% are satisfied with their earnings slightly higher than non-location independent workers
- 85% are highly satisfied with their work and lifestyle
Digital Nomads Experience Higher Levels of Satisfaction
What brought about high levels of satisfaction? Research has shown that as employees unlocked the shackles binding them to corporate cubicles and tossed those corporate campus key fobs aside, they gained immense personal freedom. And, we’ll add satisfaction. These acts of asserting independence led to an eye-opening Eureka Effect where the veil was lifted. Our vision expanded giving us a sense of the professional alternatives and career opportunities available while also opening the gateways to fun and adventure. Finally, after years of living the traditional corporate life, we were able to have fun, travel, and spend time with family. No longer must we choose between work and family. We could have it all! All while working to earn a respectful salary in a profession that we truly loved. (Müller 2016; Reichenberger 2018; Sutherland and Jarrahi 2017). But let’s face it, increased mobility with or without the pandemic would not have been possible without digital infrastructure and technological advancements.
How Digital Nomadism Differs from the Typical Business Traveler
Unlike the typical business traveler, location independent workers travel while working. This literally means that instead of travelling between locations for work (8 hour plane trip from NYC headquarters to satellite operations in Paris or Rio de Janeiro), digital nomads aren’t chained in a sense. They have the flexibility to travel around the world to spaces and locations in the countries they choose to travel (Nash et al. 2018). As they embark on a traveling trip, they aren’t tied down or restricted. Their travel itinerary is largely driven by the goal of living a “good life” rather than solely for the purpose of completing a work task related to employment (Müller 2016).
When location independent nomads were maintaining their financial stability and professional identities as the world fell apart seems to be a point of contention for non digital nomads. We may be presently drawing the ire of the regular worker.
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Why? Because location independent workers were working during the pandemic, earning a decent wage while effortlessly traveling around the globe to enjoy life. Stopping my routine? Nope. Locking themselves in their home? Nunca, nada vez. In spite of country, region and nation-state travel restrictions, these digital nomads found clever loopholes to evade them. How do we know?
Digital Nomads Experience Negative Blowback from Traditional Workers
Researchers who observed almost 1,000 social media posts and 37 interviews, published their discoveries in an article appearing in the World Leisure Journal. They contended that some digital warriors working flexibly from anywhere in the world felt guilty about their continued freedom in contrast to location specific workers. Digital nomads with location independent assignments felt guilty because their mobility was viewed as a desired feature in contrast to their home-based colleagues. Further, staff working from anywhere were susceptible to feelings of remorse as they continued to earn a paycheck while a majority of their location-specific peers were adversely impacted financially on account of workplace closures. During the years 2019 to 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Pew Research Center estimates in the US alone, household income may have decreased by about 3%. We would argue more. But, we digress. Getting back to the purpose of our blog.
To counteract negative blowback from family, friends and society in general, researchers discovered that nomads who worked and traveled extensively during the pandemic cut back on scrolling and posting on social media online to avoid envy and “moral sanctions” from those confined by country and location. One would say, they (we) didn’t want to add to the misery of those employees in the workforce who were essentially restricted to house arrest.
As citizens across the globe where influenced, directed, and by legal authority mandated by their governments to “remain in place,” remote workers who continued to work from anywhere felt a deep sense of guilt as they were “were forced to navigate feelings of guilt over their continued travel, while also deflecting accusations of irresponsibility and selfishness.”
Two Risks to Avoid When Working Location- Independent
Even though we typically report greater levels of job satisfaction and life contentment than the traditional worker might; there are a few dangers to avoid.
One, researchers cited in the World Leisure Journal article, theorized that digital nomads could risk the negative perceptions from others as being irresponsible.” We don’t want that. Do we? Especially if we want to impress potential employers, current work references and headhunting recruiters.
Here’s a few more articles for you:
- Avoiding becoming the target of crime as a digital nomad
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Second, digital migrants must take great care to ensure that we don’t embark on the hedonistic train or hedonic treadmill in search of ever more increasing thrills and adventures as time passes. Why?
The Iranian Journal of Public Health, published in the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, shared interesting information. Neuroscientists revealed “that some part of brain (e.g. amygdala, hippocampus and limbic system) and neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphin) play a role in control of happiness,” (pg. 1468). Dr. Archibald Hart, clinical psychologist, wrote in, “Thrilled to Death,” there are risks associated with overindulgence in pleasure-seeking activities. Hart describes a situation whereby one’s brain may “continually seek out short-term boosts to give them temporary moments of pleasure” (p. 42). The process is addictive, he writes, “if we don’t keep it under control” (ibid).
To us, of the two challenges, this may pose the greatest hazard to our overall mental health, wellness and financial livelihood. We know digital warriors are the antithesis of irresponsibility. It takes so much effort, due diligence and an exacting nature to plan, coordinate and implement a work and travel schedule simultaneously. Doing so, too, while meeting and exceeding work obligations!
Hedonism the Gravest Threat to Wellness of Digital Nomads
But getting back to Dr. Hart. He posits, that when we overindulge in pleasure we slowly dysregulate our natural systems thereby lowering the power of each successive stimulus (landscape, culture, and people in exotic places such as Maldives, Fiji, Bali, Brazil, Petra, Maui, Munich) to enthrall, fascinate and reinvigorate us. What happens then? We risk losing our innate sense to enjoy our lives in our natural state of being. That’s when we constantly feel the need to be overstimulated due to our overdependence upon high stimulation. If we put it this way, then, the digital nomad may risk becoming no more happier or satisfied with life as the worker working in an inflexible environment, working in an on-site corporate campus. Or members of virtual teams, or the remote worker, working from home.
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The envy and jealousy we receive from the traditional worker may be misplaced, then. All is not lost. Traditional workers do have a shot at being as happy (sense of well-being) or as satisfied as the digital nomad or the remote working employee. We point to an article appearing in Time magazine about “The Science of Happiness.” In this article the journalist described details from research explaining happiness. It was stated that it “isn’t just a vague, ineffable feeling [but] a physical state of the brain.” Ummm. So obtaining a sense of fulfillment, contentment with one’s self isn’t found in a state of activity, a physical location, or a particular job one holds. Proponents of positive psychology theorize that happiness, is a choice. Each day, regardless of circumstances and work location, we can choose to be happy and hold a positive demeanor and attitude about life. Support of this concept can be found from William James who was quoted as saying, “the greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.”
12 Tips for Becoming Happier Regardless of Work Location
Here are the following suggestions for adding more happiness into your life regardless of your work location:
Wake up, rise from your bed, and as you groom yourself, plant a smile on your face
Sing or hum a happy song or lyric
Thank the universe for your many blessings
Make it a goal to do something good (anonymously) for someone every day
Give words of encouragement to your significant others (family, friends, co-workers, boss, client)
Say positive mantras or affirmations throughout the day
Give up trying to meet the ideal of perfection, instead be perfect in being yourself
Refrain from saying anything negative (if you can’t say anything positive, don’t say anything)
Practice verbal restraint
Strive to be your own best friend (sometimes you have to be your own support network)
Eat right, exercise and get enough sleep so that your own body (physical composure) works for you and not against you