This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.
In October I worked from a Rio de Janeiro cafe, finishing up a PR campaign. In November I did business development in Tokyo. This month I’m designing a new product line from Seoul. For the past two years I’ve run a marketing agency and an e-commerce store from 20 countries with just a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection.
The desire to work outside a traditional office is on the uptick in the U.S., with part-time and full-time remote workers now making up 43% of the national labor force, according to a Gallup study earlier this year. And despite a few recent instances of big employers curbing remote-work policies, a majority of companies now offer some type of flexible work arrangements. In other words, the freedom to opt out of office-bound work (at least some of the time) is fast becoming the new normal. Some employers have understood this for years, building all-remote workforces with relative ease; others are getting in on the trend by sending their onsite employees on “study abroad”–like trips overseas.
So in the race to hire and retain great talent in the years ahead, companies will need to get more comfortable hiring not just remote working but remote workers who roam from place to place. As someone who’s done it for years, I can attest that the so-called “digital nomad” experience has equipped me with skills I’d never have picked up otherwise. These are a few reasons corporate recruiters should look more closely at digital nomads for both freelance and full-time gigs.
1. We’re Self-Reliant And Never Confuse Time Logged With Output
Typical job listings brim with phrases like “can work independently,” “an entrepreneurial mind-set,” “flexible and self-reliant,” and so on. Guess who has those traits in spades? Without a fixed income or the support of an office environment, digital nomads need to deliver high-quality work on schedule in order to eat.
That’s true of every freelancer, though, including those who are based in one place. For those who aren’t, the pressure to adapt to ever-changing environments is second nature. Entrepreneur Ryan Robinson says he “actively hires” digital nomads for his marketing consultancy. “The biggest benefit I get is having the opportunity to work with immensely talented people who are intrinsically motivated,” he says.
Many, in his experience, “can handle setting their own deadlines and still be very aggressive with their workloads, despite being on the move a lot more than the typical remote employee.” And this helps shake the assumption that time equals productivity. “By its very nature, our working relationship is based more around deliverables than, say, just the number of hours they’re contributing each week,” Robinson explains.
“This focus on hitting goals and milestones creates more trust compared to the traditional management style of checking in multiple times a day.”
2. We’re Constantly Growing Our Skills And Experience
My digital-nomad experience has involved closing new business deals to designing a product line, plus firsthand forays into sales, design, marketing, PR, and business development–all in just two years. Think about how much the top-performing employee in your office has grown in that same amount of time. Maybe they’ve deepened their knowledge base, but chances are a digital nomad at the same level has gone much wider.
Indeed, GitHub’s chief strategy officer Julio Avalos told Wired last year that using people from a single location creates a talent “echo chamber.” With limited exposure to new experiences, many employees simply repeat the same ideas over and over. Tapping a pool of digital nomads can prevent this from happening.
“When a brand hires a digital nomad, they are hiring one person who has lived multiple lives, across the world–and brings a fascinating, international point of view to the table,” shares Goldie Chan, head of Content and Creative for the marketing agency Confirm/Deny. Digital nomadism, she says, has taught her “how other cultures both work and live their daily lives, which is invaluable for real-time market research as well. A digital nomad can speak (and work) from a perspective that takes into account many points of view and will be much more at ease culturally with international clients or brand partners as well.”
3. We’ll Help You Avoid Unproductive Meetings
For years (decades, actually), business folks have cited “11 million” as the average number of meetings held in the U.S. each day, but in all likelihood, according to a 2015 analysis, it’s up to five times higher. That means hundreds of millions of meetings a month. And according to Parkinson’s Law, which suggests that work tasks expand to fit their allotted time, most take up their scheduled 30 or 60 minutes whether that’s necessary or not.
When you hire a remote worker who’s based in one spot, you have no cause to shake your unproductive meeting habit; you just force that poor soul to suffer through a conference call. But when you hire someone who’s always changing time zones, this no longer works–and that’s a good thing. After all, says, Mitchell Weijerman, founder of Nomad Accelerator, “Whether the person delivering the result is sitting in an office behind his or her desk or from a sunny tropical destination–why should it matter?”
When they do have to call into meetings, digital nomads are happy to contribute. The need to collaborate across long distances makes many nomads clear, concise communicators who can get right to the point.
4. We Offer Round-The-Clock Flexibility
Flexible working hours can also open up new opportunities for employers. A wide geographic distribution of a workforce creates the potential for 24/7 productivity without burning everybody out. While local staff sleep, digital nomads keep busy. Plus, their flexible hours also mean they won’t miss work to visit a doctor, attend a PTA event, or take paid holidays–that’ll be done on their own time.
With budget constraints often restricting new hires, employers often bring in freelancers to fill skill gaps for key projects. But when those freelancers are based in the same location as headquarters, you’re still dealing with that locale’s working hours. Digital nomads half a world away, however, can offer the same level of expertise without losing time. The added flexibility that comes with location might determine whether you make or miss a big deadline.
While some companies have been slow to embrace remote work–let alone digital nomadism–cities around the world haven’t waited. I’ve found robust infrastructure and local businesses to support digital nomads in literally dozens of cities. As the lifestyle becomes more appealing, more workers will start taking notice–and packing their bags. Now is the time for employers to figure out how to tap that mobile talent pool.