Ditching the Cubicle | The Rise of the Digital Nomad

“Digital nomad” is a relatively new term used to describe knowledge workers who have taken inspiration from the tech economy’s move away from traditional 9-5 office culture and are transitioning toward mobile working lifestyles. Mobile working is of particular interest to a younger generation of workers who value the lifestyle attributes that come with location-independent jobs.

Digital Nomads have decided that doing business from a cabana in Bali shouldn’t be considered a pipe dream, but a viable option for any professional with a laptop and access to the Internet.

Mobile and remote working is shifting from being an exotic lifestyle reserved for the affluent or the adventurous, to being appealing and accessible to average white-collar workers around the world. Who needs a cubicle when your office fits in the overhead compartment?

Today, workers in diverse industries including business and marketing consulting, travel agencies, bloggers and authors, web designers and photographers are opting-out of a traditional office environment. In response, new technology and resources built to cater to these professionals are cropping up in major cities around the world. 

Barriers to Entry: Remote work is still work

Let it be said that this working lifestyle is not for everyone. It does require a certain kind of self-motivated work ethic and trust between employer and employee. One of the main challenges, however, is the fact that collaboration often requires regular interaction between people for logistical and creative purposes. While Skype and other services offer people the ability to participate in any meeting, or speak “face to face” with a client, there is still something to be said for being just down the hall from your colleague. 

There is also the isolation factor. For many, being removed from co-workers can lead to burnout and loneliness, neither of which are good for productivity. Luckily, antidotes to these issues are being created left and right. Global digital nomad communities are responding by creating numerous websites, in-person meetups and co-working spaces, as well as Facebook groups and forums like Reddit and Nomad Forum, which offer advice, job opportunities and community for digital nomads.

The Consumer Profile of a Digital Nomad

The digital nomad consumer looks for services and products that are easy to use and easy to access. Minimalism is a key trait of this lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that this group doesn’t spend, it just means they spend with specific goals and interests in mind. It also means that consumers may opt for quality items that will hold up to the demands of the frequent travel. A consumer who values quality over quantity is likely to display more brand loyalty once their confidence is gained. Clothing lines, technology brands and digital resources offering products and services that can keep up with the digital nomad will find success with this consumer.

Making it as a Digital Nomad: A value shift

In his recent article in, Jay Meistrich talks about the financial benefits of this lifestyle: He actually saves money traveling and living abroad, having reduced his monthly expenditures by a few thousand dollars (he was a formerly living in San Francisco and Seattle). Many digital nomads are happy to own less stuff in order to cut the cost of living in half.

These thoughts on ownership and accumulation reflect a popular value shift: Millennials are an “asset-light” generation, preferring access over ownership, and who get many of the things they want and need simply by having Internet access.

The consensus is that digital nomads represent a natural evolution in teleworking. Now that our technology (such as laptop battery life) coupled with the ability to connect to WiFi nearly anywhere in the world is making this lifestyle accessible to millions of people. Each year, the number of digital nomads grows as options and opportunities for these workers diversify. 

Products For The Nomad 

Already this lifestyle is becoming idolized and is creating its own set of design aesthetics and principles based around these values. One example is REI and their Evergreen Line of products.  As the nomadic culture begins to expand throughout the western world, there will be a newfound demand in the marketplace for durable technology, multi-functional products, and versatile apparel using the highest quality materials that will hold up to life on the road.