What is a Digital Nomad? And why you should hire one.

digital nomad

The terms “digital nomad” and “digital entrepreneur” are no longer outlandish to the business world. Often perceived as a worker who rarely – if ever – physically comes into the office for a meeting, digital nomads have come to be recognized as a kind of hybrid between a remote and a freelance worker.

And yet some cultures still do not readily embrace colleagues with whom they can’t shake hands or share a lunch. This post reviews what exactly a digital nomad is, what it isn’t, and the advantages to hiring a digital nomad.


What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is a location-independent worker. Most digital nomads seek to spend many months a year outside of their home country (whereas “regular” freelancers work from home). Most travel because they love to explore different cultures, immerse themselves in other societies and meet new people, and they wish to do so in a “living” context and not a “vacation” one. Advances in communication technologies (high speed internet and wifi, document-sharing software, collaborative project management platforms, and call and video conferencing solutions) allow them to work from just about anywhere. Digital nomads tend to live and work in countries where the cost of living is not too high (to balance out the insecurity of freelance work), where there is good internet access and that’s socially or culturally interesting.

While more and more Millennials embrace this business structure to allow themselves the ability to work and travel before settling down into an “adult” or “real life” routine, this lifestyle is not limited to those 30 years and younger. And though it’s true that many digital nomads live in countries such as Bali and Costa Rica, where the climate is good and cost of living is low, not all nomads flock to the tropics. I cannot count the times I have seen Americans ask in online forums what are the best European countries for digital nomads (basically, where the cost of living is low and internet speed is fast).

There is a commonality in the types of jobs they do – though job types are continually expanding. Currently, digital nomads tend to be developers, online marketers (whether content writers, SEO specialist, community managers or social media experts/influencers), writers or virtual assistants which is an off-site personal assistant).


What isn’t a digital nomad?

An offshore solution.

True, you may get a lower-priced proposal from a digital nomad working from wherever than a freelancer or agency located in a large American or European city, but do not consider it a given. The cost of living of the country in which he/she currently lives has no impact on the quality of work that person can provide, hence the cost of quality work. If, say, a British digital nomad is bidding for a job, don’t expect them to bid any lower than any other British freelancer with the same level of experience and expertise.

Over the past 20 years I have followed the offshore trends in the information technology field, watching as companies who invested massive amounts of money for development centers abroad eventually made their way back to their home country, or to nearshore setups.  Digital nomads may currently live in a different country, but it is not like working with someone from a different country. In other words, there is no cultural learning curve or surprises.


Why hire a digital nomad?

So what’s the advantage of hiring a digital nomad?


1. Out of the box

I have heard and read the request more times than I can remember: “We are looking for someone who can think out of the box.”

In my experience, few are those who express this and actually mean it. Usually, they wish for box thinking, but another box. This is because thinking out of the box challenges the status quo and may instigate change, two things us humans tend to get angsty about. And yet we still want projects and ideas and campaigns to surprise our markets and draw in our ideal customers, hence the stubborn wish for out of the box thinking.

Freelancers are out of the box. Hard-core creatives are out of the box. Geniuses are out of box. And digital nomads are out of the box.

Digital nomads think and live large and wide. They see how the world can expand. They can bring to a project a perspective that is not hinged by the 9 to 5. For digital nomads, there is no box.

The best way to think out of the box is not to be in the box to begin with.

2. Cultural Kung-fu

There is much to be said about being immersed in a different culture. It is both exciting and challenging. You learn of new ways of doing and thinking and expressing things, but you simultaneously get a crash course in your own culture.

Maybe I am overly prone to introspection, but I strongly believe that to live in a different culture lends you a new perspective on your own. We learn more about ourselves by having a point of comparison. And the more cultures we have lived in, the larger our vantage point becomes. We become versed in what works in some societies but not others. We become cultural kung-fu masters.

Allow me to press the importance of immersion over and above simply observing a different culture. When I lived in London, I was part of a rowing team. Now I ask you, what can be more British than rowing on the Thames… in December? Then coming into the clubhouse for toast and tea before going out again for a second set. Through rowing, I came to understand the cultural importance of wellies, and what these boots referred to in the collective mythology (think gentlemen, hunting parties, gardening, long country walks under skies that threaten a rain storm, feel a warm cup of tea in your hands).

So when I saw in an English magazine an ad by an insurance company that featured dirty wellies by a front door, I was very excited about how perfectly they tapped into a British sense of security. So I started going on and on about how perfect the ad was until my boss at the time, a French woman who obviously did not understand my excitement, finally remarqued, “Julie, it’s just an ad. And you know, in France, we also wear boots.” But these weren’t boots, these were wellies! She didn’t get it. How could she? She had never been immersed in British life and culture.

3. Connecting the dots

Digital nomads are obviously influenced by the trends, lifestyle, art and mentality of the cultures in which they immerse themselves. They are therefore in the perfect position to suggest improvements or just different ways of doing things that can benefit their customers.

They also get first-hand experience in what works universally. If you need a worker who can connect the dots from one culture to another and tap into the pan-human, a digital nomad is a safe bet.


Your thoughts?

These are the points that I find to be the most salient so far. There are surely other pros (and maybe, just maybe a con or two) to hiring digital nomads. I would be happy to know others’ thoughts about this career model. Comment below!


Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash.

2 comments on “What is a Digital Nomad?

  1. Myriam on

    I totally relate to what you say here. Although i’m not a digital nomad i have been a nomad for 42 years, spending a minimum of 1 year in each country of my choice. In those days there was no ‘digital’ so i simply got jobs everywhere i lived, some as a nanny just to immerse myself in the culture, nothing like living with the locals. I was proficient in the local language too, it helps with communication and to make friends. Today i’m multi-lingual, multi-cultural: i cook dishes from all over, listen to music from various countries, and my perspectives are way out there. I also have difficulty with answering where i’m from because that is so not representative of who i have become and i will remain a stranger in my own country and also in my family. But that only matters if one decides to go back and that is not for me: i look forward, never go back to a country where i’ve lived as there are too many adventures ahead. So far i’ve had an exciting life and have had many exciting jobs naturally because i chose what i thought i’d enjoy doing or seized unexpected opportunities and just ran with them. All in all, to be a nomad requires flexibility, great capacity to adapt, acceptance and daring to venture on new paths while remaining safe, ability to plan and a strong sense of independence.

    • Julie Boulanger on

      Thanks for your comment! Shows how nomads have been around longer than “digital” has been! 🙂
      I, too, am starting to have some difficulty in answering the question, “Where are you from?” You don’t realize how narrow that question is until you start moving around.


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