To nomad or not to nomad – is it even a question anymore?

The global pandemic taught us all to work differently. We achieved things working remotely that we never thought possible. At the same time, as more remote and flexi arrangements become the norm, the collective fear that we will forever lose the productivity and people development that comes from an office-based work culture is palpable. Are we denying young people the opportunity to learn by osmosis in the hustle and bustle of a busy office if we all stay at home in track pants?

This is one of the key issues vexing senior leaders in our industry and across all sectors.

Vast stretches of empty office cubicles, closed down cafes and emptied out cities are no longer just the stuff of apocalyptic movies. They remind us that so long as there is stable internet you can work from anywhere. This is of course not a new phenomenon. People have been experimenting with all forms of remote work for years – but the limits of technology and accepted work norms generally made it a part-time novelty to spend some time at home, or working from a cafe, library or holiday house. But the pandemic pushed us over that cliff, and we all became Digital Nomads of some sort.

It's an official term in the Merriam-Webster: a Digital Nomad is someone who performs their occupation entirely over the internet while traveling. The name itself, like the Grey Nomads that came before, suggests an even greater sense of freedom and wanderlust. At its extreme, its relocating to beautiful remote places being freed from the need to be in an office. It can even be a “no fixed address” life as digital nomads in camper vans hold down a full-time job. And it’s not just something for gig economy workers or freelancers – plenty of people have discovered they can do their corporate job from a villa in Ubud.

Now we also have the ‘Corporate Nomad’. According to Harvard Business Review in ‘The Rise of The Corporate Nomad’, this group of people maintain full-time employment with an organisation but without the traditional limits on mobility and place, they get to work across different geographies, teams, cultures and different work assignments from where they are – without having to leave and find a new job. So, this new flexibility may be a way to keep people as they nomad through an organisation.

And this is not just for the Gen Zs. There is great appeal for the 30-50 year-olds who may have thought the constraints on place due to family or other commitments would rule them out of putting their hand up for new opportunities – now they can zoom in and be part of a team on a new assignment on the other side of the world, bearing some time zone issues.

However, not everyone is convinced that “nomading” is the way to go. Research by the European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS) conducted in 2019 and published by the Association for Information Systems, found that being present in a conventional corporate ‘work-at-office’ culture is key to understanding a certain situation for what it actually is. Factors such as body language, eye contact, and sensing the atmosphere were all vital cues lost over the fibre cable. It also cited time zones, unstable network, and different choices of communication tools as other barriers to effectiveness.

Whatever way you look at it, the nomads are here to stay. The challenge will be to navigate this new normal and find the balance between flexibility, opportunity and human connection so that everyone can grow, develop and flourish.

We are making sure that there are set days that everyone comes together, encouraging teams to get together for their own work meetings, making sure we are seeing clients face-to-face, and creating opportunities for social interactions. It’s a start.