- Digital nomads are growing in number and redefining the way work gets done. According to MBO Partners' 2018 State of Independence in America, 4.8 million independent workers label themselves as "digital nomads," technology enabled workers who travel across the globe, sometimes relocating for years, and performing their jobs remotely anywhere across countries and continents. Other digital nomads go on shorter "workcations," while others take sabbaticals.
- The study found that digital nomads tend to be young and mostly men, although a third are women. Most work as full- or part-time independent contractors, freelancers or other contingent workers, while some hold down traditional jobs.
- MBO Partners said digital nomads use the Internet and various digital, cloud-based telework tools, including chat services and online video to interact with partners and customers. They also use tools for creating content, cloud storage platforms and such online services as Google's ITA Matrix and Airbnb.
Independent, or contingent workers, are expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. Technology enables many to work from anywhere, ready to take jobs on short notice. Employers reportedly plan to use more contingent workers of all types as they need them to remain agile so they can adjust staffing levels as the economy dictates. An American Staffing Association study reported that staffing for temporary and contract workers rose 2.2% in May, but declined slightly in its month-over-month index. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported in June that contingent workers had declined in number. Still, other reports indicate that employers expect to turn over a significant number of full-time, permanent positions into openings for contingent workers.
Digital nomads may create serious challenges for HR; some employers have no clue as to who works for them. Company leadership may enjoy bringing in talent on the cheap, but the responsibility of contingent worker acquisition usually falls to procurement or individual managers rather than HR — and that drives up liability, experts previously told HR dive.
Unresolved problems with hiring contingent workers could worsen as more workers join the ranks of digital nomads. Employers could find classifying independent workers, maintaining a pipeline of reliable contingent workers as new projects arise, and complying with possible changes in the law to protect independent workers more challenging when hiring digital nomads.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, the workers described by the American Staffing Association study were misidentified. The workers are W-2 workers of temporary and contract agencies.