Decoding digital nomads: The myths linked to nomadism.
With the increase of digital nomads and the expansion of the lifestyle’s popularity, there’s been an overwhelming push for corporate companies and local startups to build virtual offices and hire more remote workers.
The move counters the daily costs of running a well-oiled professional base, and accommodates to a generation of millennials savvy enough to work from their creative and professional spaces of comfort. However, the stereotypes linked to the lifestyle have set a dark cloud over seasoned and newly established DNs.
What’s overshadowing the benefits of nomadism? Well, a few things.
Underneath the lifestyle’s freedom of international tourism, there are underlying problems buried beneath the telling of digital nomads and their success stories.
Some issues are fairly common in other work spaces, said Chrystal Gaither, who began her career as an outreach manager and remote educator before making the leap to digital nomadism. She points to problems like a lack of community, imbalances between a person’s work and home life and the absence of interpersonal relationships among coworkers.
The biggest issues in her experience, Gaither says, are the withdrawals of micromanagement that come with remote work. Unlike other positions she’s had, as an at-home professional and DN, Gaither often felt she was being monitored hour-by-hour. In fact, her remote manager and colleagues actually had direct access to her daily calendar.
“There’s so much accountability,” said Gaither. “When you work remote, your whole team knows what you’re doing by the hour. They don’t spin it as being micromanaged, they spin it like ‘Oh, it’s transparency.’ I know some people would not be OK with that.”
Remote work, unlike more traditional jobs, contain a certain level of uncertainty and suspicion, especially concerning digital nomads. Typically, skeptics pose questions aimed at the authenticity of location independent work. Even with Gaither working full-time, with her hours often ranging between 50 and 60 a week during her nomadic travels, her family members and close associates questioned her work ethic.
“There were moments I had to check people because they would make assumptions,” she said. “I work really hard from home and I have a lot of deadlines that I need to meet. I feel like they think my job isn’t real because I don’t walk into an office. I think a lot of people make assumptions. They are either older and don’t understand, or they’re your peers and don’t get the idea of you being able to work from home.”
For Jordan Carroll, who works as a digital nomad coach and program consultant for Remote Year, an organization that facilitates travel accommodations for people interested in remote-based opportunities, he has a different view.
Since becoming a DN and helping others embark on their nomadic journey, Carroll says the most common misconception is that nomadism will provide happiness. Instead, he says, people are often left feeling empty from their experiences.
“From the outside, they say ‘Well that person gets to travel. If I got to travel I’d be happy.’ That’s so far from the truth. Happiness is what’s inside of us. Travel can be a gateway to that, but it is not a means to an end. Don’t believe the Instagram hype.”
Along with these misconceptions, nomads have also been accused of being more interested in the attention they receive on social media than actually immersing themselves in the places they visit. Rather than indulge in the customs of foreign lands, many camp out of dingy cafes and coffee shops during the day, rarely interacting with locals or adopting their cultural practices.
Experts claim many digital nomads teeter between the line of “vacationers.” They don’t deem the term entirely negative, but they feel DNs should make more efforts to learn and observe the cities they relocate to. It’s good to explore a location’s more atmospheric and popular tourist spots, but many miss the point of nomadism. Beyond these experiences, for many, the purpose is to learn through their travels and adjust one’s perspective and innate biases.
In light of these criticisms, Carroll feel there’s no definitive way to be a DN. All of their paths are different, and what they take away from their experiences is up to them. People shouldn’t feel forced to give into certain cultural traditions or customs, he says. As long as DNs are making efforts to give back to the community, then there’s no need to feed into other’s judgement.
“I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to be a nomad,” he says. “People need to figure out what makes them tick. I wouldn’t say, from a blanket statement, that everyone should immerse themselves in every culture. I think if someone’s going to be somewhere for a while, they should give back to the community and immerse themselves in some way. I’m not going to force myself to do that because someone thinks I’m not immersed enough. Observe the culture as it happens.”
In many cases, there have also been Ponzi schemes and scams within the inner workings of the location independent community. According to digitalnomadsoul.com, often aspiring DNs are sucked into falsified entrepreneurial opportunities, job directories and multi-level marketing. These fraudulent acts have tainted much of the reputation of nomadism.
“I think people are messing it up,” said Gaither. “People want to be involved in it, so they keep looking for jobs that are remote. And that’s where these cons come in. Sometimes things get through the cracks where there are jobs that are being publicized that are Ponzi schemes and they’re asking you to pay for things … It actually happens often.”
Though Carroll acknowledges the existence of the scams saturating DN circles, he feels it’s up to people to do research and decipher between fake and legitimate remote and digital nomad opportunities.
“I think that’s going to be prevalent in any industry,” he said. “I think people just need to be smarter. People need to look into backgrounds, try to find any referrals, and talk to other people who have worked with them. There’s a lot of information out there.”
In spite of the overabundance of benefits associated with digital nomadism, these criticisms will continue to be linked with the lifestyle. Even with professionals like Carroll, who work to confront these issues head on, it’s difficult to clear other’s clouded perceptions and eliminate the negative aspects within the spaces of nomadism.
The only way to counter them, Carroll says, is for DNs to continue giving back to the communities they inhabit and emphasize the legitimacy of remote work, which will make being a nomad that much more formidable. These efforts, he says, could potentially clear the darkened reputation that overcasts the location independent and DN community.
“I think the most important thing is to legitimize remote work. The more that becomes mainstream, the more digital nomadism will also legitimize. And we need to be ambassadors of our countries by giving back to the community, so people don’t think we are taking advantage. That is definitely something we should focus on.”