Blog Future Work Report

Remote work isn’t just for digital nomads, it’s also for boring people like me

I love reading stories of intrepid people living as digital nomads, living in exotic places while running their businesses, or freelancing their way around the world.

Aussie digital nomad James Clark has a great list of resources and links to the blogs of other folks doing a similar thing, which often revolves doing web-related or at least web-enabled work that doesn’t depend on being in a particular location to fund their living in relatively affordable countries (often in south-east Asia).

Having travelled reasonably widely, lived in three countries and even written a travel book about my adventures, I have a great deal of time for people prepared to head out on their own and use remote working to travel. But now I’m at a different stage in my life, I see how remote work is also key to ensuring quality of life even if you’re not going anywhere.

Nicole at Buffer recently wrote a great article about what their remote working structures meant for their team (and the team’s families), and what really stood out was how brilliantly mundane a lot of their experiences were.

Helping to bring family members on the company retreats (and realizing that families might want different accommodation from single people) is a great example. It’s obvious that one parent traveling for work will necessarily create some disruption at home, but it’s a rare organization that would even think of this as an issue, let alone help pay to bring the family along.

Similarly, Buffer’s Kevan Lee looks after his son during the day, and works more in the mornings and evenings. It doesn’t sound much, but Buffer grasps that this means a great deal to one of their employees and their family, and then takes steps to accommodate that need. This flexibility can change lives and create loyal happy people who want to work of you, and yet it is still so rare as to be worth commenting on.

I love this appreciation of flexibility either in a day, or in geographic location, not just for abstract reasons, but for very personal ones too. I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico with my wife and daughter. It’s a nice town to be in, my daughter loves her school, her friends and her soccer team, and my wife runs her own architecture firm — we have no plans to leave any time soon.

But staying here while working remotely would open up a wider range of professional opportunities for me. I expand all the possible jobs for me to all the remote-friendly opening in the world, rather than looking just within my town of 80,000 souls. I don’t have to compromise on the job I want to live in the place i want.

That’s looking at things from a macro level — the job I do and where I live — but as Kevan Lee’s example shows, remote working has lots of micro-level benefits: small daily improvements that add up to a markedly better quality of life both for the employee and their family. Being in the town you like is great, but not so great if you never get the chance to see much of it during the day, or you can’t coach your kid’s sports team or attend their end of year concert because you’re always in the office.

Remote teams replace showing up to a particular location for a set time with a much more nuanced set of tools for measuring performance and communicating with their colleagues regardless of time and space, giving everyone more flexibility to set their own hours and working arrangements.

So digital nomads might be the poster children for this new way of working, but creating opportunities for globe-hopping is really just a fringe benefit of the move to remote working. The key changes are more mundane, but much more far-reaching and valuable — the potential to change the way a huge number of families live, even if they stay exactly where they are.