With remote working quickly becoming the new normal, more people have the exciting opportunity to live the digital nomad lifestyle than ever before.
Until very recently, the idea of working remotely while traveling the world was the stuff of fantasies and Travel & Leisure articles. So-called younger digital nomads were out there, owning multiple passports, taking pilates classes on mountaintops, and posting laptop-by-the-ocean selfies—but they made up a small, enviable niche of the travel market.
The novel coronavirus may have changed that. Along with how we shop, socialize, and attend happy hours, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way we work—possibly for the better, and probably forever. Now that so many of us are working remotely, employers and employees alike are realizing that a lot of our jobs can be done from anywhere. For a growing number of professionals, the digital lifestyle no longer seems so unattainable.
Remote Work: The “New Normal”
Even before the global pandemic upended our lives, remote work was on the rise. Between 2005 and 2018, non-self-employed remote work grew an estimated 140 percent. Months before the pandemic struck, as many as 54 percent of office workers were ready to quit their job for one that would allow them to work remotely.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, millions of people around the world were suddenly forced into remote work situations. Now, more than 60 percent of Americans have switched to remote work—and many companies don’t plan on having them switch back. A number of influential companies, including Twitter, Facebook, and Shopify, have announced that they will allow their employees to work from home indefinitely. And survey data suggests that many companies will follow their lead by shifting previously onsite employees to permanently remote working positions. Some estimates predict that as much as 30 percent of the workforce will be working at home multiple days a week by 2021.
The Benefits of Remote Work
The trend towards an increasingly remote work future comes on the heels of surprisingly successful work from home experiments. Before the pandemic, many employers were reluctant to let workers do their jobs remotely out of fear that it would hurt productivity and discourage collaboration. But COVID-19 has highlighted the undeniable benefits of a remote work business model.
Remote work spares employees their daily commute, saving them time and resources. Businesses can save money on rent, which is wildly expensive in cities like San Francisco and New York City. With a virtual office, employers have access to a global talent pool, allowing them to hunt for and obtain talent without any geographical limitation.
The entire experience has shown employers that their workers can work from home without sacrificing productivity. In fact, working from home has been shown to increase productivity. And as companies become comfortable with virtual tools, fears of limiting collaboration are melting away. For all of the hardship and stress since the pandemic hit, it has helped many employers and workers realize first-hand that they are happier and more engaged without the additional stress of commuting and office limitations.
The Rise in Remote Work Tourism
As it stands, the movement towards remote work will give way to a rise in digital nomadism and remote work travel. The pandemic has caused many workers to reassess their need to live in major hubs and hot job markets where rents are high and there is little hope of ever owning a home. Now that workers don’t have to reside within commuting distance of their offices, more are questioning their need to remain in an expensive city or country. Untethered by traditional workplaces, remote workers are free to venture off to destinations with warmer climates, easier lifestyles, and a lower cost of living. They are even free to consider selling their homes and freeing up substantial equity to help finance a move abroad and enjoy a higher quality of life.
Governments are already moving to capitalize on the shift in work patterns driven by COVID-19. In July, Barbados announced that it was launching a special 12-month visa. The “Barbados Welcome Stamp” would allow remote workers to reside on the island for a year, providing a much-needed boost to the island tourism.
Estonia has also introduced a long-term visa that lets foreign nationals live and work legally in the country. The country’s “digital nomad visa” will allow remote workers to remain in Estonia for 12 months and grant them up to 90 days of travel throughout the 26 countries of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area.
In the United States, cities and towns are trying to catch the eye of remote workers with financial rewards. In May, Savannah, Georgia, unveiled a $2,000 remote worker incentive program designed to attract professionals looking for a new home. Even before the pandemic, cities like Topeka, Kansas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma had created similar programs, attempting to draw remote workers with incentives of up to $15,000.
Where Will People Live and Work in a Post-Pandemic World?
As countries compete for remote workers, which destinations will end up coming out on top? As borders open up, first-time and returning digital nomads and remote workers are looking for destinations with a low cost of living, great climate, and high quality of life that don’t require them to own multiple passports. At Primavera Realty, we expect emerging destinations like Medellín, Colombia, Porto, Portugal, and the entire island of Puerto Rico to be particularly popular among remote workers.
A consistently top-rated spot for digital nomads, Medellín, Colombia scores highly for cost of living and internet reliability. In addition to boasting year-round springlike weather, sophisticated infrastructure, and friendly locals, Medellín sits in an ideal time zone for workers who need to work the same hours as their peers located in the U.S..
Similarly, we foresee big post-pandemic opportunity for Porto, Portugal—a charming mid-sized city on Portugal’s northern coast. Before the global crisis, Porto had been enjoying record-high travel rates with an average of 1.6 million visitors per year. In the aftermath of the pandemic, we expect the sunny city will draw new digital nomads with its affordable housing, modern coworking spaces, energetic culture, and vibrant food and drink scene.
Finally, Puerto Rico is ticking many of the same boxes, especially for United States citizens. This English-speaking Caribbean island located in the Eastern Time Zone has no visa requirements and offers the best possible tax incentives along with beautiful beaches, rain forests, and ecotourism. Even U.S. cell phones will work on this slice of paradise.
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