Way back in 1997, the emergence of the digital nomad was seen as a passing fad. They were generally freelancers who worked remotely whilst travelling abroad, or consultants who were well suited to the flexibility of working from home or on location, rather than being office-based 9 to 5.
But over time, the idea of the digital nomad gained more ground. A majority of larger businesses started to see the overwhelming benefits of employees working remotely, particularly in field-based roles. Productivity increased because there were fewer interruptions, staff motivation was higher because of a better work/life balance, and less office space was needed which brought a lot of financial gains. This resulted in the growth of hot-desking, signalling a shift in office work culture.
We now find ourselves in trying times, and the challenge for all businesses, both large and small, is the global outbreak of Covid-19. Those businesses which hadn’t already adopted remote working for employees have all been forced one way or another into taking a digital nomadic approach for their employees. So are we about to see a new breed of digital nomads emerge in 2020?
The Covid-19 pandemic has created uncharted territory. Some businesses who maintained office-based working, appear nervous at the prospect of employees not being in the office. Remote working requires regular communication, trust, and the ability to manage one’s own time in a productive way. However, the immediate and attractive benefit these businesses will glean is saving money in downsizing office space because it is no longer needed. It’s inevitable that in light of an economic downturn and an uncertain future, businesses face a fundamental shift in the ways they work. The office culture in the ‘new normal’ will be the hardest element to get right.
Demands on technology
For the long term, until Covid-19 is eliminated, many employees are likely to adopt a digital nomadic way of working. Fortunately, current technology for sharing data and information has made the shift to remote working fairly straightforward. However, businesses are having to cope with a move from secure proprietary networks to home networks, which are less secure.
We live in a world where data is at the heart of everything we do, so the increased threat of data breaches poses a real risk. For many businesses, they will need to rethink their business model, and this will mean getting support from IT and software providers. They will need to look at how their business uses data, where the risks are, and educate staff by raising awareness of the risks.
Centralised systems for active communication, sharing and learning
Communication and managing information is now a business’s main priority. If a business hasn’t already adopted a centralised system for all its data, now really is the time to make that important investment. An enterprise-level document management system will enable employees to securely store, manage, and access documents from one place. The main advantage is that there is only one location from which to upload and download a document. This means that version control is high, with no risk of different versions of the same file in various staff folders.
From a project management perspective, implementing a centralised project management system will allow teams to share all their documents and get an up-to-date overview of each project. They can maintain active lines of communication at all times, see who owns what task, and keep in touch with key stakeholders and clients.
What is fundamentally important for the new breed of digital nomads is keeping in regular contact with the business. Regular communication is crucial, whether it’s online using collaborative software, digitally via conference calls, or by mobile phone.
Staff development and learning also play a major part. Just because the ‘new normal’ means remote working, staff development should still play a significant role in the remote workplace. A learning management system arms the business with all the necessary tools to enable their employees to build their knowledge and achieve their ambition.