Is The Office Obsolete? Many Travellers Hope So
National Geographic Traveller India|October 2020
As the pandemic drags on, remote workers see unexpected opportunities to become digital nomads
Jackie Snow
Arthur Deane never imagined that the digital nomad lifestyle—travelling the world while working remotely—was for him. As a senior manager for tech giant Google, he thought being in an office was essential for the job. But the pandemic changed that.

Four months of working from his apartment in Washington, D.C., had him going stir crazy and needing to get out. After researching places where Americans were allowed to travel and reasonable safety precautions seemed to be in place, he jetted to Aruba for a week in July.

“I wanted to dip my toes into the water, literally and figuratively,” he says.

Now, he’s looking at returning to Aruba or one of the other destinations open to Americans for a longer trip. There are still details to sort out, but he has time: Google’s U.S. offices aren’t reopening until July 2021—at the earliest.

Freelancers, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed have made up the majority of the digital nomad crowd, but this could change as more companies reevaluate work culture after six months of remote log-ins. The number of people who might remain out of office is staggering.

For Deane, the chance to work remotely for a few months each year while maintaining a home base in the U.S. could be an ideal setup— and a reality sometime soon.

“I don’t see returning to an office fulltime being the way of the future,” he says. “The pandemic has taught us that we can be productive without being in the office, Monday to Friday, nine to five.”

A GROWING TREND

Remote work was gaining steam before the pandemic, with companies experimenting with work-from-home days and investing in hardware to ensure safe off-site log-ins. Now that millions of employees have months of experience proving they don’t need to work from an office, some want to take it a step further and find out if they even need to work from home.

The term “digital nomad” dates back to at least 1997, when the book Digital Nomad argued that technology would allow humans to work from anywhere and return to the wandering ways of our ancestors. It took another 15 years before widespread Internet and budget carriers like AirAsia allowed the dream to become reality for a distinct group of travellers. By 2019 one report found that 7.3 million American workers consider themselves digital nomads.

Places such as Bali, Chang Mai, and Mexico City have become popular destinations, and they offer co-working spaces with high-speed Internet and high-octane espresso bars. Most digital nomads, however, rely on tourism visas, which technically don’t allow any work. While many nations are more focused on local jobs and have turned a blind eye to digital nomads, this will not be enough for companies worried about liability.

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