The global economy is not looking great. Most economists agree that 2023 will see a recession fueled by post-pandemic inflation rampage, war in Ukraine and a number of other factors (Brexit, supply chain issues, workforce strikes everywhere), all of which are now somehow intertwined in a happy hot mess of a global economic meltdown.
Recent tsunami of layoffs across tech giants (Amazon, Meta, Lyft, Twitter, Snap) sent shockwaves through social media and the press and contributed to the pre-Christmas panic on the employment market. The stock market’s mood swings worse than what’s happening to the weather (which is saying something, considering we’ve had almost two weeks of 17+ Celsius in November in London) did not help in boosting the global morale. What a joyous Q4.
Before you dig your head in the sand, or if you already did so, before you dig even deeper, it is worth pausing for a second and taking a deep breath in. It is not all so doom and gloom as it sounds. The employment numbers in the US, the overall employment, is actually looking okay. Europe is not much worse off. Inflation had to come after all the money printing and money stashing we have seen and done over the last two years. If you are still employed, your employer has probably increased or will increase your salary to keep you from joining the raging river that is the Great Resignation. Inflation will eventually stop, as interest rates go up and global supply chains slowly recover.
So — do not despair. It is a good moment to rethink the future of work, particularly the “location-independent” lifestyle so widely loved and promoted on Instagram and TikTok. I do not believe that millions will now decide to embrace #vanlife (14 million posts on Instagram alone!) or that die-hard corporate leaders will suddenly abandon their London or New York fortresses and set out for Bali. I think they will stay where they are and fight for their employees to return. Whether the employees will listen, however, is a completely different tale and one where I think that remote and hybrid work will prevail.
The global population of “digital nomads” reached 35 million in 2021 and continues to grow exponentially, particularly in the US. I think the trend will continue. This should not come as a surprise. Many Gen Z have never really settled into office life and many completed their university experience online, making learning and working online more normal for them than turning up at an often highly uninspiring office in the city centre.
Importantly, Gen Z pay significantly more attention to their wellbeing and are decisively less excited about working into the early hours of the morning to prove their loyalty to the firm. In fact, I’d argue they have little loyalty to their employers unless it is earned (which, in my opinion, is a great thing).
Finally, because of us all working from home and therefore blurring the boundaries between personal and professional, many of our Gen Z juniors have simply had more opportunities to develop their professional spines and learn how to say “no” to bullish bosses (or grow blissfully ignorant of the passive aggressive body language most of us have learnt to understand during our early employment days).
All of this is to say that this new generation is more likely to want to either work for themselves (apparently more than 50% say they would like to have their own business!) or will seek to work remotely or in a completely asynchronous way. Whether asynchronous work is possible for junior employees is a topic for another post (I believe it is, but it is more difficult). Which brings us to today’s question — is now, the very onset of a global recession, actually a great time to become a digital nomad?
I’d argue that it is. Why?
Let’s start with explaining what a “digital nomad” is.
No hard definition here, but in my head the difference between a “remote worker” and a “digital nomad” is that as a nomad you expect to change your location at some point in the future. This might be next month, in the next 3 months, a year or three years from now. I tend to draw a line on the one year in one place, but truth be told this is not necessarily the case, as someone who has been changing their location every three years for the past fifteen years is definitely nomadic. So, no hard definitions here.
Why would anyone want to become a digital nomad?
Most nomads when asked this question say “freedom”. A fairly nebulous concept, but for most nomadic individuals I have spoken to it comes down to not feeling trapped or attached to any particular social or financial situation. Mortgage? Not a very nomadic thing (although I will get back to that later). Growing a garden? Not very nomadic either. Freedom aside, becoming a digital nomad has other undeniable benefits.
Lower costs of living
Most nomads go where their dollar goes further. What you can afford in London for £100 is far less than what the same £100 will get you in Medellin, Colombia, one of the top up and coming nomad hotspots.
Better weather & the Great Outdoors
You get to choose what natural landscape you wake up to as a nomad. For those of us with the seasonal mood disorder this is actually a game changer. Even better, if you are active and love your sports, you could choose places where you can pack a surf lesson, a hike or a mountain biking session before work (or straight after) and feel like you truly are living on holidays.
My partner and I used to do night scuba diving after work in the Canaries or kitesurfing before work in Egypt (working for the UK timezone combined with early morning good wind conditions means you can pack an entire session before logging in for your 9 am start).
Many nomads choose locations based on the availability of the so called “digital nomad visa” which may mean you don’t pay income tax or that you pay significantly less. This is usually not true if you are an EU citizen nomading within the EU, but it might just be one of the few good things that Brits will get from Brexit.
Be careful though, it can become a real nightmare and you do need to keep track of how long you are working where and whether you are allowed to do that.
New friends, new you
The Great Resignation, as it is now called, was in my opinion about so much more than just being unhappy with our jobs. It was an overall exhaustion caused by the pandemic, by questionable or completely unthought-through lifestyle choices and also by a very brutal (in some cases) reality clash experienced by Millenials who now often found ourselves in jobs we fought so hard for, but which simply did not deliver much in terms of career progression and satisfaction.
One way to find the mental space to reflect on this, if you find yourself fairly disillusioned with your job, is to go and do that job from a completely different place. Find new colleagues with fresh perspectives. Meet people who made completely different life choices and yet share your professional interests. Find out whether it is the where or the what, or, possibly, the with whom.
This one is to the thousands of people now facing unemployment. Most of you are incredibly highly skilled with experience and knowledge needed by plenty of other people. The creator economy and the knowledge economy are booming. Connect the dots.
Chances are, you are perfectly capable of building your own freelance businesses or upskilling to a new role aligned with what you already excel at. Use your severance package wisely and extend the runway of that compensation payment by going somewhere where life is cheaper. You might find that becoming an expat or a nomad is not for you — it does get very lonely for most people — but changing your environment completely for a time will help you gain perspective on how to best use the circumstances you found yourself in.
In fact, there is a precedent here. My parting words will be that the location independent lifestyle and the boom in “lifestyle businesses” started back in 2008/2009. The times were different back then (to start with, fuel was dirt cheap), but much like today millions of people found themselves unemployed or disillusioned with the life value framework they believed in and sought solutions in the nomadic lifestyle. Most of them did not remain nomads for all these years and ended up settling somewhere for good, but almost everyone who did pack up and left their home country back in 2009 will tell you it was a great decision.
After all, we very rarely regret travelling, and even less so when there is nothing particularly amazing waiting for us back home.
What do you think?