Remote vs. Return-to-Office: Will Remote Work Lead to a Rise in Digital Nomads?

By Kristen Harris

After decades of working in creative roles and helping companies find and hire marketing talent, I thought I knew what a workplace was. It’s an office where everyone goes, five days a week (generally). You’re all there at the same time, sitting in certain places, and working together. Yes, I knew a few people who worked remotely for a company in another city, but it was rare.

Then 2020 came along and blew apart every concept we had about what a workplace had to be and how work gets done in professional roles, including the marketing and creative space. Offices emptied as people started working from home with just a few days’ notice. And that has continued for over a year. 

Now, in the U.S., those working from home are emerging from our COVID cocoons and once again experiencing the outside world. Whether that means a coffee meeting, team meeting, professional event, or checking out your dust-covered office, people are starting to come together and interact in person. 

Let’s stop here to acknowledge the many people who work in roles that can’t be done at home. We are deeply grateful for the essential workers who keep our world running no matter what, and realize that working from home is not an option for you. 

We also know that some people are looking forward to returning to the office. Maybe you don’t have a good work-from-home location or set-up, find it distracting, want more interaction with co-workers, or miss having a separation between work life and home life. You’re ready to go back, and that is awesome! This desire to work remotely probably doesn’t apply to you either.

Back to the statistics: a recent Harvard Business School survey found that over 80% of respondents don’t want to return to the office full-time. What do they want? 

A variety of hybrid arrangements:**

  • 27% Hope to work remotely full-time 

  • 61% Would like to work 2-3 days a week from home

  • 18% Want to go back to the office full-time 

**Yes, this adds up to over 100%–there’s some overlap in categories

Within that percentage of professionals who want to work remotely some or all of the time, there’s also a second trend emerging–the rise of the “digital nomad.” Oxford Languages defines a digital nomad as “a person who earns a living working online in various locations of their choosing (rather than a fixed business location).” Untethered to any location, they might be continuously moving or choosing a place to work that is not their company’s office. I used to imagine it as someone living out of a camper van, constantly on the move. Now it sounds a lot like all the tech workers who fled San Francisco.

TBH, this trend had already started before COVID but greatly accelerated in 2020. Forbes called it one of their Game Changing Predictions for the Job Market and the Way We’ll Work in 2021

So, will remote work lead to a rise in digital nomads? Maybe. 

Are all remote workers also digital nomads? Sometimes. If they want to be. 

Many remote workers work from their homes. While they don’t work at their employer’s place of business (matching the dictionary definition), they also don’t seem very nomadic. However, most remote workers have the flexibility to move locations whenever they want or be nomads. Along with the 27% of survey respondents who want to work remotely full-time, the 61% who want to work remotely 2-3 days a week could conceivably be digital nomads as well. 

Consider a marketing professional who comes to the office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then works from…wherever they want (home, beach house, another state, a remote island, the woods) the rest of the week. Partially remote workers can also be digital nomads. Because they go to an office a few days a week, you might think they have to live in the city where that office is. But, flip the concept around, and they’re complete nomads–only coming to that city two days a week and living somewhere else or traveling around the rest of the time!

Whether we think of them as remote workers or digital nomads, these remote and flexible work arrangements are here to stay. And all of this makes hiring and employing digital, marketing, and creative talent more complex than ever. If you need a partner to help you navigate this new world of work, whether the role you need to fill is in the office, remote, or an in-between hybrid, we can help!