Great Britain, second half of the 18th century. The process of social, economic and technological transformation known as the Industrial Revolution not only changes the face of the main cities of the world, going from being rural places to becoming urban and industrialized centers.
This process, which filled factories and industries with workers and employees who had to comply with a schedule, sometimes in deplorable conditions, progressed over the years until, in the twentieth century, we had small cities that turned into large financial and business centers, with people who routinely arrived at their offices in the morning and left in the afternoon, some even late at night.
This was what the world of business and companies seemed like. Until the year 2020 arrived and the planet incorporated three new terms into its day to day: COVID-19, pandemic and remote work.
Coronavirus forced large companies to send their employees to work remotely from their homes, as a way to prevent the spread of the virus. This resulted in many people quickly adapting to this new way of working, to the point that a large majority assures that, if they were given a choice, they would remain in their houses doing it.
This new reality, like the Industrial Revolution once did, is changing the landscape of large companies, large cities and even small towns or communities that have seen an improvement in their economies, thanks to a new paradigm and the fact that now many of its inhabitants no longer only sleep there, but also live there.
But what else is changing?
It’s all a matter of time
One of the issues that workers have most appreciated when having to work from home, is to avoid wasting time in their cars or public transport commuting to their offices. In fact, for most the commute was getting longer all over the world.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, before the pandemic, approximately 25 million U.S. workers spent more than 90 minutes commuting every day. And globally, two fifths of professionals consider the commute to be the worst part of their day, according to Bloomberg.
This situation has caused important health issues to workers around the world. Erika Sandow, a professor at Umeå University in Sweden explains that commuting has been found to be a major cause for stress that impacts on our physiological health and as well on our wellbeing. “The total working day gets longer. You get less time at home, you do less exercises. When you have long commutes you also cook less healthy food”, she adds.
Now that we have the opportunity to experience what it means to work remotely from our homes, we can draw comparisons with what it means to work from the office, especially when it comes to time.
We already know how long it takes to get to the office from our homes, but what about the time we “lose” at work? There are the meetings that must be held face to face when in fact they could be done asynchronously. There are also the interruptions generated by being in open spaces within the offices. And there are the trips that we must take to meet clients or work colleagues.
All of the above means that we lose about 10 hours between commuting and inefficient work hours, plus 8 hours that we use to sleep, giving us a total of 18 hours. That means we have about 6 hours left to attend to personal matters.
On the contrary, by working from home we save commuting time. Face-to-face meetings can be done asynchronously, as we already said. Not being in the office avoids distractions such as open spaces. And travel can be replaced by a simple video call.
Considering the previous paragraph, by not wasting time on commuting and that it is possible to get to work efficiently in four hours, as explained by Cal Newport, best-selling author of Deep Work, plus the eight hours we use to sleep, it means that we have 12 hours of time left to attend to personal matters… Double the amount we have when we work in an office!
Live more, work less
Have you ever heard of digital nomads?
According to the website Escuela de Nómada Digital (Digital Nomad School), it is a person who uses the Internet to carry out his occupation and to sell his knowledge to other people or companies. In other words, he or she works remotely, an issue that allows him or her to lead a “nomadic life”, that is, to be able to live traveling.
The same website adds that digital nomadism should not be seen as a type of work or profession, but as a way of life that combines the changes that are taking place at the work level, together with the decision to take control of our lives as we see it and not by what society dictates.
For many years, digital nomads were seen as people who lived a perfect life and who only dedicated themselves to posting photos on social media from exotic sites. However, the reality is very different.
It is true that digital nomads have managed to find a way to do their work from different parts of the planet. By saving hours of commuting and focusing on working efficiently, as Newport points out, they have plenty of time to do the things they love, like exploring and photographing where they are.
The massification of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s generated new types of jobs. We began to see people who built their business from a website or blog where they sold ads, did affiliate marketing (selling third party products) or MLM. That caused many to abandon their traditional office jobs and start working from home.
Starting 2014, we began to see the emergence of digital nomads. They were people who did the same things we described in the previous paragraph, but there were also those who offered their professional services (designers, journalists, writers, video editors, etc.) from the most unthinkable places. They realized that they could continue doing their job, keeping their professional fees, but in cheaper places that allowed them to travel.
Now, with the pandemic and remote work, many have realized that they can continue to fulfill their jobs not only from home, but from a cafe or a coworking space, anywhere in the world, leaving enough time to do things as hobbies or whatever interests they might have.
Until not long ago, work was what most tied us to a specific place. In second and third place were family and friends. Now, with the possibility of being able to work from anywhere in the world, only family and friends remain as what ties us to a place.
Focus on your interests
As the subject of work is not a limitation, we can choose the place from where we want to do our work, as long as the company that hires us allows it. That is if you are not a digital nomad.
Today, Canggu, in Bali, is the favorite place for digital nomads. It is a coastal town with a 10-kilometer beach, which also has various gastronomic, cultural and fun activities. It is an ideal place for those who enjoy working in a relaxed place.
But, for those who enjoy another type of environment or activities, whether it’s winter sports, hiking, cycling, kayaking, etc., there are also alternatives around the world. And it is that the small destinations that had a higher hotel or residence occupancy per season have seen an increase in their income thanks to these travelers who come to stay for long periods of time to be able to do their work.
But, they don’t just have to be natural destinations. If your interests are museums and cultural life, different countries in Europe have become an excellent option for digital nomads or remote workers. Portugal, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Hungary are destinations that offer excellent infrastructure and very good living conditions. Did you know that Estonia was the first country to declare that Internet access is a basic human right?
Latin America also offers facilities for digital nomads. This is how Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia, specifically the city of Medellín, are the most popular today for those who do remote work.
Some Caribbean islands and Asian nations with beach destinations are other alternatives for those who among their interests have the Sun, sand and beach. The Caribbean islands offer a visa for digital nomads, but we’ll talk about that later.
The transformation of communities
Do you remember when in your city or community the most important businesses were the grocery store, the bakery, the butcher shop and a local diner or bar? They may still be, but the landscape is changing.
A study done by IBM found that 54% of the people surveyed want to continue doing remote work, while 75% want to do it occasionally. These are very interesting numbers because it could bring changes in small communities that previously only served as dormitory towns.
Before 2020, big cities were busy hubs during daylight hours. People came to their jobs and commercial areas depended on it for their income. Having a coffee, lunch or buying something in a supermarket was the most common. When evening arrived, the city became a desolate place.
Meanwhile, what was happening in the dormitory towns?
Those at their jobs rarely socialized in their communities. On weekends they would rest, visit family or friends and on Monday they would go back to routine.
With the new trend of remote work threatening to stick around for many years, things are changing for these places. Now we see that coworking spaces, cafes and restaurants with internet service, parks with a renewed face, leisure sites and local daycares have appeared.
Ultimately, neighborhoods became that again: neighborhoods, with people being able to go for a walk, exercise, share with neighbors, and have more life in their communities.
What can governments do?
In general, digital nomads can stay for a short period of time in the countries they visit because permits for a tourist usually last between 30 and 90 days. With this pressure, it is very possible for a digital nomad to look for a different alternative that is more friendly when receiving him/her.
Let’s set something straight, a remote worker or digital nomad will spend much more money in a country that receives them to be able to do their job than a tourist who only stays for one or two weeks.
According to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, an American spends an average of $271 a day on an 12 day international tourism trip. If we multiply that figure by 365 days, it means that he/she can spend almost $99,000 in a year.
Now, a person who does remote work from a country other than his own and who earns about $150,000 a year, can spend much more in the local economy as a resident than as a tourist. This is where governments come in.
Countries like Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dubai, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Spain and many islands in the Caribbean and even Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, are offering visas for digital nomads and freelance workers. They have certain conditions, but allow the worker to stay for at least a year in some cases and even more.
The recommendation is that governments understand that the horizon is changing and that not everything is about a local job offer, because many of these people already have a job or their own company. Rather, it is about creating the exact conditions so that this visa can be applied for online, with other facilities, such as that it lasts one year and that it can be extended for a longer time.
Making it easier for remote workers or freelancers to settle in a country will in the long run bring substantial benefits to nations, with people leaving money in local economies.
Even hotels are incorporating kitchens in some of their rooms and offering them as a residence, since they are finding it better to occupy them with remote workers who are looking for a place to live with certain amenities and services included.
Remote work is a reality. Every year, more and more people will do their jobs in this way. That will give them the opportunity not only to travel the world, but to take time to do the things they love, that is, focus on living.
Are you working remotely? Then you should pay special attention to the following article: Ergonomic recommendations for remote work