The Rise of Digital Nomads
The digital nomad movement is very much on the rise throughout the world. Rather than planting roots in a city or town and working for a company nearby, increasing numbers of people are choosing to travel the world but work at the same time. They are essentially self-employed, but they can work for the same company from anywhere – Bali, Thailand, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa – as long as they have a laptop and access to the internet.
However, while this is a great way of working for the individual, it throws up a number of challenges to traditional businesses, notably in terms of the way the HR department operates. Its work often depends on company employees being located in a centralised area, rather than scattered around the globe and working remotely. How, then, will this growing digital nomad movement affect HR departments in years to come?
- Integrated workforce management systems will be vital
With such a wide-ranging remit, HR departments need to be able to implement an integrated talent management system that they can use to capture and store relevant data on all employees in order to track their skills, training and qualifications (among other things). If employees are working remotely from different parts of the world, though, tracking and reporting in this way becomes a lot more difficult. Additionally, in order to meet legal responsibilities, HR may need to work with different departments with whom they would never have had to share data – digital nomads complicate the issue.
It will therefore become vital for businesses to apply integrated human management solutions to working processes to ensure that they are getting everything they need from their digital nomads as well as their onsite staff. In terms of archiving work and communications so they are easily accessible to teams and managers around the world, using Cloud based solutions is something many do. It also can be a good idea to segment them so they are getting everything they need in order to retain them – their needs will be different to the needs of those onsite.
- Leadership development becomes fragmented
A significant role that HR plays within the structural hierarchy of a business involves the development of leaders through different departments. Through organising L&D programmes as a means of developing skills and supporting effective leadership through policies, systems and processes, HR can have a huge influence over the present and future of a company.
However, as digital nomads have chosen their lifestyle for a reason (i.e. not wanting to be tied down to a desk or a nine-to-five position), some have little interest in becoming leaders within their organisation. It’s clear that they may not be suitable leadership candidates, but managers must also consider whether they can be relied upon as part of a traditional team structure in their current role. What incentives do they have to remain with a company when they can leave at any time with little or no fuss and work for someone else instead? It comes down to the maintenance of engagement.
- Maintaining engagement will be a more difficult challenge
Another key HR role is the maintaining of employee engagement throughout the business. As has been extensively covered over the past few years, a highly engaged employee produces the highest quality work, has a higher productivity rate and is aligned with the company’s goals and motivations.
It could be argued that employee engagement is much easier to maintain when the employee is onsite with the company every day. This allows for more open, regular and effective communication with managers and other team members. It’s much easier for them to be engaged when they’re exposed to positive atmospheres, win celebrations and relationships that they might have with their colleagues, but this won’t be the case if they’re working on the other side of the world. HR departments therefore need to assess the requirements, goals and motivations of digital nomads and devise processes to keep them as engaged as possible wherever they are.
- HR strategies have to take nomad millennials into account
Allied to the difficulty of keeping digital nomads engaged is the fact that the majority of them will belong to the millennial generation. Millennials are known for being difficult to retain, please and motivate even when they are based in one location, so it stands to reason that this issue would be exacerbated by millennials who are also digital nomads.
On the flipside, millennial digital nomads could be greater assets to a company than normal millennials. A key millennial trait is the desire to maintain a good work-life balance while experiencing as much as possible, and many will probably feel as though they are achieving this if they’re able to move around from country to country but still enjoy the security of regular employment. This means that they could be more reliable members of an organisation than they otherwise might have been.
If more and more workers begin to classify themselves as digital nomads, it’s clear that HR departments will have to become a lot more flexible and creative in their approach to employee development, engagement and working practices. Whether they can meet that challenge remains to be seen, but as millennials begin to enter HR, they may be better equipped to understand and meet the demands of their digital nomad counterparts.
Alex is a passionate digital marketing executive with a hunger to learn. He loves to read write and share anything to do with career progression and would love to be recognised as a motivational icon within the business environment. For more from Alex, check out his Twitter @AlexBradnum