A brave new world for digital nomads

How location independent entrepreneurs including many e-residents have adapted to and innovated during the pandemic

It’s been a strange time for the whole world, but as the saying goes, ‘same storm, different boats’. The covid-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions and lockdowns have affected everyone, but for one cohort in particular there have been particular unforeseen consequences.

The term ‘digital nomad’ obviously embraces a range of lifestyles, from those who are used to operating with no fixed base at all, to those who have disconnected work from a fixed location and enjoy the flexibility this offers to try out different places to live and work. Then there are ‘slowmads’ like me, living in the same country for 12 years that just happens to be different to the one I was born in.

For the spectrum of approaches, Estonian e-Residency often provides the perfect solution to operate a business flexibly and globally, wherever life and work leads you to next. But the lockdowns of 2020 meant everyone was stuck in one place, and while for some that meant a scramble to get back ‘home’, for others it meant hunkering down wherever they were.

Co-working during the pandemic – new ways to serve in changed circumstances

This was a challenge for many and often brought significant changes, including for e-resident Lavinia Iosub — because her business, LivIt, catered specifically to the typically nomadic community whose movements were abruptly curtailed.

E-resident Lavinia Iosub saw opportunity in the rapid global uptake of remote work

“During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, our innovation & coworking hub in Bali was closed for several months. We also had to cancel lots of pre-booked and pre-paid events and refund significant sums. These were all important sources of revenue for us, so it wasn’t an easy time,” she explained.

But as a living exemplar of flexibility and innovative thinking, she responded fast: “We pivoted & enriched our offering. “We built the Remote Skills Academy, which teaches Indonesians and Thais the skills needed to work online. We offered premium work-from-home packages, where we would deliver office furniture, meals & associated services to those struggling with their work-from-home setup. We focused on remote-capable services (training, HR business partner services, recruitment & talent acquisition, etc.

“Our team has risen to the challenge by being flexible, open to new possibilities and ways of working. In times like this, the obvious answer is to innovate. As fast as you can. And, I’d argue, you can do this more effectively if your entire workforce has an entrepreneurial mindset.”

Iosub’s experience was consistent with that of many e-resident entrepreneurs, as evidenced by our community survey undertaken during the first wave in April 2020. The survey of 1500 people confirmed that the ‘covid pivot’ was a widespread phenomenon in the e-Residency community. It also confirmed that e-Residency made it easier to innovate during the crisis as it provided the means to run a borderless business remotely, support a lean and agile company setup, and focus on creating value for clients. Read more in our blog post:

A new wave of digital nomads

For many other people around the world, the pandemic brought many people their first experience of remote working. While for many it was in far from ideal circumstances, the taste of a new way of working certainly had a lasting impact. And as the world begins to unlock, people are starting to explore the potential for what location-independent work means when you are NOT stuck at home. Many can’t wait to get away.

Gonçalo Hall is creating a sustainable coliving village in Ponta do Sol, Portugal

In Madeira, e-resident serial entrepreneur Gonçalo Hall has been working to create a new Digital Nomad village in Ponta do Sol, ready to embrace the wave of new-normal-nomads: unlocked from home, and from doing their job in a fixed place.

“50% of the people here are doing this for the first time ever”, he explained. “And what’s really new is that we have 50-60% full-time employees.”

While staying in the village, guests experience the local culture and events as well as co-working facilities, and create friendships and connections with people from around the world.

One early visitor to the new project was remote work expert and lecturer Rowena Hennigan, who was invited to contribute to sustainability aspects of the project. She is a great example of a family-life-stage ‘slowmad’, living in Spain and taking advantage of flexible remote working to explore everything life offers with her young family.

Co-living: embracing diversity and difference

Remote innovator Rowena Hennigan

Last October, Hennigan seized the chance between lockdowns to spend two weeks at Sende, the oldest co-living project in Europe, in rural Galicia to participate in the community there and understand how the local community has been supported, regenerated and integrated into the project. Sende is a bit less accessible than typical urban coliving setups, and attracts a slower-moving less typical remote worker, more likely to be committed to the project’s sustainable development objectives.

“Sharing similar values is essential as your daily routines and conversations happen with the co-livers,” Hennigan explained. This interdependent and engaged model of rural coliving is deeply rewarding, but “managing expectations before arrival is essential”, she continued. In particular, “communicate with the coliving host about the infrastructure in the area, and how the experience can allow you to enjoy working in a mindful environment.”

Now summer has arrived, Hennigan and her family will relocate to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to spend time with the blossoming digital nomad community there, contributing to events and building awareness through her network.

Often criticised in the past for lack of contribution to the places they travelled through due to isolation in distinct facilities, these new sustainable models of digital nomadism are making a real difference to the communities who are welcoming them — as with LivIt in Thailand, so it is in Madeira, where there are already over 1000 remote workers on the island. This is having a transformative effect on a local tourism and hospitality sector devastated by the pandemic.

“It’s not just the impact in the village,” Hall pointed out. “People are staying in different areas further away, and spreading their income in different establishments, and then already the locals are asking me what these guys do — how can I do the same? So a big part of the project for the future will be to educate local workers and have more of an interchange, as the COVID-19 threat subsides.”

These are exciting times, for a new wave of remote workers, who have undreamed of options open to them. Such as the Estonian remote work visa, complementary to and distinct from the e-Residency scheme, and offering opportunities for entrepreneurs to base themselves in the heart of Estonia’s legendary startup culture for up to a year. Read more about why Estonia could be a great place for your next remote working experience:

And if you prefer a different climate, take a look at Barbados instead, or Cape Verde (which Gonçalo Hall has in his sights for future nomad village projects).

Global citizens, trans-sovereign individuals…

I have always found it incredibly exciting that I can be a British citizen living in Spain and operating my business in Estonia serving clients in 4 different continents. And we’re only just getting started — as transnational paradigms for citizenship, business establishment, and day-to-day living take shape globally. 

To attract creative entrepreneurs, nations will need to leverage their strengths and create tactical advantages, because it’s becoming easier and easier for people to vote with their feet, both physically and digitally. As more and more people grasp the potential of the options on offer, this arbitrage will expand, and countries will seek new ways to compete for citizens on a global level.

Andreas Wil Gerdes has seen this coming from a long way off, being immersed in both the digital nomad scene as well as the communications industry — which is the nervous system underpinning the location-independent lifestyle — for many years.

“I prefer the term empowered human beings”, he explained, “because we’re soon going to leave behind the terminologies like remote work, distributed work — if they’re not self-explanatory and redundant they just get in the way. There’s a quantum shift and change coming, with real digital identity management solutions, and better frameworks for global taxation and investments.”

Work from anywhere and everywhere – empowered, international humans for the future

Certainly we’re going to need new language and terms, not least as the phrase ‘digital nomad’ has some cultural appropriation overtones — and may always be synonymous with the old-style of drifting millennial tech-enabled stereotypes, beloved of unrealistic stock photography.

Empowered human being Andreas Wil Gerdes

Gerdes sees the constraints of nationality and residence as keeping us trapped in fear of difference, which a globally nomadic lifestyle can overcome by offering insight into the rich variety of international cultures. Driven by a combination of technological and social change things are already shifting, with the pandemic accelerating this as so many other trends. From his early involvement with the GSM standard for globalizing mobile communications, the direction of travel has always been toward location independence.

“We need to fix things around compliance, and then mobile schooling and education. Our kids’ experiences will be so different.”

Work itself is changing, and e-residents and other global citizens are part of a powerful new wave — redefining the boundaries between life and work and purpose and passion. As Iosub put it, “the pandemic allowed all of us an opportunity to reconsider and reimagine how we structure our lives and work. What is personal has become professional and the other way around, the lines between the ‘compartments’ of our lives got blurred and all that has prompted everyone to look at things from a slightly different angle. Many of us are going back to big questions: ‘Is my work meaningful? Do I contribute to causes I believe in? Do I bring my whole self to work?”

When the work is anywhere and everywhere, the self matters more than ever.

And as part of the world talks about ‘going back’ to the office — which for many is a desperate attempt to go back to life in 2019— the real potential lies in ‘going forward’ and embracing everything the new and changed world of opportunity has to offer.

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