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Remote Workers vs. Digital Nomads – What Is the Difference?

remote worker vs digital nomad

Working remotely has become an accelerated trend in recent years, and the shake-up of the traditional workforce has brought with it changes in the way workers see and define themselves. “Remote worker” and “digital nomad” are two relatively new concepts, but what are the differences between them?

digital nomad

Remote Workers vs. Digital Nomads — The Basics

The main distinction between remote workers and digital nomads is in the location. To put it simply, remote workers are generally individuals who work for a specific company and are allowed to complete their job from anywhere.

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They might be part of a bigger distributed team, such as InVision or Buffer, for example, or they may be remote workers for companies who also have traditional employees. Remote workers can also be self-employed and work from anywhere, possibly while also traveling.

On the other hand, digital nomads have a rather different lifestyle, in the sense that they move from city to city and country to country on a weekly or monthly basis. They also work remotely, but many of them are freelancers and do not have a permanent residence.

work from home

All Digital Nomads Are Remote Workers but Not the Other Way Around

The rise of the digital nomad has been made possible by companies outsourcing more and more tasks to freelancers and companies willing to have employees who work while also traveling the world. But not all remote workers are digital nomads, as they have a permanent or at least semi-permanent residence somewhere. They can work from anywhere in the world, but they are generally staying put in one city, perhaps traveling and working from time to time.

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Digital nomads, however, are all remote workers, as they earn their living (either for a company, freelancers, or for themselves) while traveling the world indefinitely. They don’t have a permanent residence and even though there are many types of digital nomads, they are all defined by their passion for exploration. Digital nomads get to live among some of the most diverse cultures in the world and for many of them, working remotely is the way they fund their adventures.

digital nomad

It’s All in the Location

As you can see, the location of a remote worker determined whether they are also a digital nomad. Remote workers don’t travel constantly and they may work entirely from home or divide their time between working from home and going into a centralized office from time to time.

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By definition, digital nomads never set foot in an office and their lifestyle is mostly defined by the fact that they are location independent more than by their remote worker status. To be a digital nomad, you need to relinquish many of your possession and live out of a suitcase, so to say. It’s a lifestyle where minimalism is a principal requirement and meeting people in-person for something work-related is basically unheard of.

remote worker

So How to Determine Whether You’re a Remote Worker or Digital Nomad?

Digital nomads are indeed the highest-profile of remote workers, and many remote workers who also spend some of their time working and travelers identify with this lifestyle.

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Nevertheless, if you have a job that requires you to be in a specific location most of the time and you have to work during the business hours of a specific time, you’re not a digital nomad.

To be a digital nomad, you need to be able to work from anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi connection, be it an airport or coworking space and you need to be able to do so on your own time, irrespective of time zones.

Moreover, most digital nomads don’t have a permanent address and they have a mailbox to forward their mail no matter where they are in the world.

cafe laptop

Overlapping Areas of Two Similar Lifestyles

It goes without saying that there are many different types of digital nomads, which include those who set up a semi-permanent residence in a country with a low cost of living. Some of them spend years in the same place, all while working remotely, so even though they started out as digital nomads, they slowly transition back to remote working.

Contrary to popular belief and what social media may make you believe, not all digital nomads work from the beach with an ice-cold drink in hand. Most of the time, they work from coworking spaces or their lodgings. Being a digital nomad is not just a string of never-ending fun, and it actually entails many days spent working in a hotel or the kitchen table of an Airbnb.

digital nomad

On the other hand, not all remote workers are glued to their home office desk or their favourite table of the corner coffee shop. They often take their work with them while travelling, sometimes for extended periods of time, but they always return to the same place or set up a new base in another place after trying the digital nomad lifestyle.

Being a remote worker vs. digital nomad is certainly not a black and white sort of situation. There are many areas where the two lifestyles overlap, but as you can see above, digital nomads have certain defining characteristics that the remote workers lack, particularly when it comes to location independence.

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In the end, it all comes down to job flexibility and your lifestyle preferences. Remote working brings countless benefits, including the lack of a commute and the ability to set your own hours, so it’s certainly a lifestyle that suits a wide range of personalities.

Nevertheless, being a digital nomad requires an adventurous spirit and a desire to delve into the unknown. Not everyone is cut out to sell all their possessions or put them in storage indefinitely to travel the world while also honouring work commitments. As such, there will always be more remote workers than digital nomads, but the lines between the two lifestyles are inevitably blurring continuously.

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