The number of digital nomads in the American workforce grew 131% from 2019 to 2022. According to our research, this growth will continue as traditional employees as well as independent professionals embrace an “on the road” work style.
Among the 16.9 million digital nomads traveling and working in 2022, many are independent professionals with high-demand skills (5.8 million), and more are traditional, full-time employees (11.1 million). Companies that attract and retain these digital nomads can gain a competitive edge and make better progress toward business goals.
Working successfully with digital nomads has the same characteristics as working successfully with any remote independent professional. For example, simplified and quick processes like streamlined onboarding are important and can be especially valuable for traveling contractors. Working with digital nomads, though, often requires additional or different approaches to proven practices.
1. Get Clarity
Clear agreements, processes, and schedules are important in any independent professional engagement. When engaging digital nomads, there are additional aspects that need to be clear for you and the contractor. For example:
- Agreement regarding the location(s) of the digital nomad for the project duration.
- Assurance by the contractor that:
- They will comply at their own expense with tax and immigration regulations for the locations in which they work.
- They will carry any insurance needed at their expense.
- Assurance that the digital nomad will comply with the company’s cybersecurity policies.
To ensure clarity around the engagement of digital nomads across the enterprise, a corporate digital nomad policy can address aspects of the contractor’s work style that may impact the company and the contract.
2. Be Adaptabile
The Great Realization prompted enterprises to move toward a blended workforce of employees and contractors. Adjustments were made as companies put independent talent into strategic roles and on multiple teams. As more of these professionals become digital nomads, further adjustments may need to be made. For example, there may be newly minted digital nomads on your team who are now working in distant time zones. Adjustments may be needed to meeting times or to the hours that the contractor will work concurrently with you. In some cases, most communications may need to be asynchronous rather than in real-time. This kind of adaptability can allow the enterprise to engage the best talent for business needs regardless of location and work style.
3. Maintain Flexibility
Even for digital nomads traveling closer to home, unforeseen circumstances may delay communications or milestone achievement. Internet bandwidth may interfere with online meetings, delivery of digital documents, or interaction with online files. Glitches in equipment or applications that take time to fix could slow or stop progress for the digital nomad. Maintaining flexibility when such situations arise can help both client and contractor.
Collaborate with your contractor at the start of the project around worst-case scenarios. Given their itinerary, what might get in the way of making progress with work? Consider establishing “Plan Bs” to put into play for possible issues or if your contractor encounters unexpected circumstances. This kind of flexibility can help ensure that the project can still proceed while issues are being addressed.
4. Communicate Effectively
Strong, effective communication is the key to success in any client-contractor relationship. It is of course the case with digital nomads, though the form it takes may be different. Location-dependent limitations may interrupt or block common communication channels. Anticipating such a situation and planning for workarounds can alleviate any issues that might arise from such a loss.
Work with your digital nomad contractor to determine multiple communication channels. These could include:
- Primary and secondary email addresses
- Online direct messaging
- Device-based direct messaging (e.g. WhatsApp, which is a popular app outside the U.S.)
- Primary and (possibly) secondary mobile phone access
- Depending on location, a fax channel may even be advisable.
Agree on which will be main channels used for communication and which will be “in case of emergency.”
5. Establish Trust
Trust is the bedrock of any working relationship. For companies with remote workers who are well-embedded in the workforce, trust is an implicit factor starting with the vetting process prior to engagement. Is this independent professional a proven result-producer? Do they have the requisite skills at the right degree of expertise? Are they reliable? Do they deliver on time and within the agreed-upon fee? References are checked, and background checks are made. These questions and actions serve to establish trust in the relationship.
If you are already working with an independent professional who becomes a digital nomad, these questions have already been answered on the job. The shift to location independence is not likely to affect the trust in the relationship. In fact, that trust is likely to facilitate the adaptability and flexibility that might be needed to maintain a productive relationship.
If you are considering engaging or have engaged a digital nomad, it’s important to build trust from the start. Vet them the same way you would a stationary contractor. If possible, check client references for projects they have worked on while traveling. Think through the points noted here and set you both up for success by taking the contractor’s location and itinerary into account.
The ability to engage remote workers gives enterprises access to the skills they need independent of geography, which can result in significant opportunities for business growth. Engaging the subset of remote workers known as digital nomads offers the same opportunities. Extra attention to the factors discussed here can ensure productivity no matter where on the planet your digital nomad contractor is working.
Download our new research to get a more detailed view of digital nomad growth.