The term ‘future of work’ has been brought up a lot lately. It’s almost creating the impression that we are indeed heading towards a revolutionary change that could happen overnight. Over the past few months I had a chance to hear opinions on this subject from tech people, HR, fellow digital nomads and startupers alike. It’s intriguing that whatever the industry, certain themes pop up again and again – flexibility, education and automation above all others. Freeformers’ London Tech Week panel was no exception.
So let’s have a look at these topics from a digital nomad’s standpoint.
From its very nature the remote working environment doesn’t allow the same benefits as the traditional office setup – think company lunches, bean bags or game rooms. On the other hand, it’s becoming a standard to offer perks like paying for e-courses, conferences or even fiction ebooks from Amazon.
Some companies go as far as offering paid sabbaticals every couple of years (Automattic and Basecamp, to name a couple). And of course, if you have a globally spread team, you’re learning constantly about other cultures through day to day communication.
These benefits, focused more on employee’s growth and flexibility, may sound a bit futuristic. But remote companies, or “distributed” companies as we call them, understand that to be on top of their game, providing flexibility, freedom and room for learning are necessary and help attract the best talent.
A great part of Freeformers’ panel discussion was dedicated to automation and AI taking away jobs in future. As a member of a workforce that is entirely reliant on digital, I can see that automation already enables me to leave tedious tasks to machines and algorithms, while I spend time doing something more meaningful (email or social media automation, anyone?).
The evolution of new jobs is inevitable, and we’re already witnessing the transformation of present professions. Teaching languages remotely over Skype, learning basically any subject through MOOC courses, even online medical consultations are booming (and it’s not at all surprising that Google taps into this industry).
Naturally, the remote community is first in line to welcome such development. Embracing change allows us to think of new, usually more creative jobs that can replace obsolete professions and, more importantly, that can be done remotely thanks to technology. Instead of seeing it as a threat, technology acts as an enabler, offers flexibility and helps achieve better work-life balance.
Gaining experiences through travelling and new environments
One of the things that most resonated with me from the panel was the question of gaining experiences through travelling as a form of learning.
While still an issue in a traditional office setup, the situation is different in remote companies. Not being based in the same office isn’t seen necessarily as a hindrance and many employers respect constant travelling as part of their employees’ lifestyle.
On the other hand, we have startups where travelling is engrained in their company culture. British travel startup Maptia decided it would be cheaper if they worked while travelling around the world instead of paying sky high city rents. Others follow their lead and experiment with working on the road.
And this nomadic DNA isn’t restricted to businesses. Entire families can be seen living on the road, travelling around the world in an RV with children.
I wouldn’t dare suggesting that every family should sell their house and get on the move indefinitely. But a couple of things can be learned from nomadic families: valuing highly the time spent together, introducing children to nature, promoting outdoor activities and exposing children to foreign cultures would only help global citizens of the future.
Digital nomads and distributed companies might represent only a small bubble for now, but the trend is growing.
Coming predominantly from the tech world, the biggest remote-first companies like Automattic, Buffer, Basecamp or InVision understand the need for progress if they want to be successful. They tend to be the first to implement new, bold ways of working and show a path that is worth considering if you’re serious about the future of work.
This post was originally published on the Freeformers blog on August 1, 2016.