Digital Nomads In a Pandemic World?

The pandemic has pushed many workers to remote work, and many workers will continue to work remotely at least some of the time.

Remote workers are, of course, the folks who invented and populated the first wave of coworking spaces.  For many, remote work was a necessity, or at least a choice driven by circumstances.

But for some workers, remote working has been a lifestyle choice / philosophical stance.  These digital nomads eschew not only conventional offices, but the very concept of a permanent residence.  These transient workers are happy to work from anywhere, including coworking desks.  Of course, they prefer to be somewhere cool (or warm in the winter).  Some just like like to travel, some are seeking to live permanently “off shore”, independent of “the man”.

So, are we going to see a lot more digital nomads in the post-pandemic “hybrid” working environment?

The technology is here, as it has been for a while.  Many workers need little more than power and wifi, which they can get a lot of places.  And if you already work remotely, you can work just as well from Hawaii or Bali or Croatia as from you kitchen table.

So, is nomadism going to take off?

This summer Bryan Lufkin discusses the not-so-clear future of digital nomadism [1].

First of all, there are different levels of “nomadism”.  Lufkin notes that during the pandemic, some workers were able to retreat out of the city, to work from relatively healthy rural abodes.  If the clubs are closed, why put up with living in the city?   These remote workers may or may not be especially mobile, so this may or may not be a nomadic lifestyle.

Lufkin points out that true nomadism is a very privileged situation.  You not only need a high paying remote career, you need political and social capital.  Blithely bebopping around the world is fine if you have money and a passport, but a lot harder for poor people, AKA, “illegal immigrants”.  And in a lot of places borders are closed and will remain closed.  Good luck trying to work remotely from New Zeeland if you aren’t already there. Heck, I can’t even go to Canada from the US these days.

(Some digital nomads have surely been trapped in place by the pandemic, spending a year or more in what was supposed to be a short visit.  That was not so fun, and could happen at any time in the future.)

In any case, most jobs involve real world, physical activities.  Most workers have to show up at work. And even in the commonly envisioned “hybrid” workplace, workers have to come to the office some of the time.  Maybe they will have fewer but longer commutes, but how many workers will be allowed to just phone it in from anywhere they want? Not many.

This is really a highly privileged lifestyle.

So yeah, rich kids may continue to bebop around the world, “working” remotely.  But most workers won’t.

I’ll also point out that the entire mind set–eschewing a permanent home, living a permanent spring break–is a whole lot more prevalent among young adult (rich and poor) than older people.  Soon enough, kids grow up and want a family and a home. 

OK, some retirees go nomad at the other end of the lifespan : – ) 

But the point is that a lot of the noise about digital nomadism is from Internet media that are written by and for twenty somethings.  It was never, and will never be, a thing for most workers.


  1. Bryan Lufkin, Is the great digital-nomad workforce actually coming?, in BBC News – Worklife, June15, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210615-is-the-great-digital-nomad-workforce-actually-coming

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