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Digital Nomads: Toward a Future Research Agenda (2023)

Posted on:
May 16, 2024

What is this research about?

The research examines the phenomenon of digital nomadism, a movement where workers, often from developed countries, adopt a mobile lifestyle enabled by technology, allowing them to work remotely from various international locations. The study explores the characteristics, motivations, and implications of digital nomadism, particularly for migration scholars, the future of work, and the social contract between citizens and the nation-state​. The report provides a comprehensive overview of digital nomadism research to date and charts a course for future studies to better understand this growing phenomenon and its societal implications. It is relevant for migration researchers, policymakers, and business/tourism practitioners seeking to study or engage with the digital nomad community.

What do you need to know?

  • Definition and Demographics: Who are digital nomads, and what distinguishes them from other remote workers or lifestyle migrants? Digital nomads are hard to define but generally refer to highly mobile professionals whose work is location independent, allowing them to travel while working remotely.
  • Scale and Locations: How many digital nomads are there, and where do they typically reside? Estimates of digital nomad numbers vary widely from hundreds of thousands to projections of 1 billion by 2035. More research is needed to quantify the scale. Digital nomads tend to gravitate to peripheral urban centers in countries with touristic appeal and lower costs of living. Over 30 countries now offer digital nomad visas.
  • Employment Modalities: What kinds of jobs do digital nomads hold, and how do they engage with the gig economy? Are digital nomads necessarily freelancers or independent professionals? Or should full-time paid employees who live in a different country from their employer be considered digital nomads? There are significant implications that the employment relationship has for taxation, welfare, access to health and pension benefits and remain under researched.
  • Impact on Local Communities: What are the socio-economic effects of digital nomads on their temporary host communities? The relationship between digital nomads and their temporary host communities remains underexplored.
  • Policy and Regulation: What are the characteristics of digital nomad visas, and how do they reflect different countries' approaches to this trend? Many visas appear to be quick responses to a situation and not examples of pre-planned evidence-based policy.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers conducted a comprehensive literature review, analyzing existing academic and grey literature on digital nomadism from business, IT, tourism, leisure and lifestyle migration research.. They proposed a three-dimensional framework to analyze digital nomadism, encompassing spatial (location independence), temporal (mobility duration and frequency), and scope (profession, employment modality, work/leisure balance) dimensions. They also reviewed the emerging digital nomad visas and their implications for policy and practice​​.

What did the researchers find?

  • Diverse Motivations and Demographics: Digital nomads are primarily young, highly educated individuals from developed countries, motivated by professional, spatial, and personal freedoms​.
  • Impact on Local Economies: Digital nomadism can lead to gentrification and increased competition for housing but may also bring economic benefits and innovation to host communities​​.
  • Policy Responses: Over 30 countries have introduced digital nomad visas since 2020, with varying requirements and motivations, reflecting different approaches to managing and benefiting from this trend​​. Digital nomadism has implications for the future of work (remote revolution or niche lifestyle), social contracts between citizens and states, and impacts on destination communities.
  • Future Research Needs: There is a need for interdisciplinary research to understand the long-term socio-economic impacts of digital nomadism, the effectiveness of digital nomad visas, and the broader implications for migration and employment policies​​.

How can you use this research?

By understanding the dynamics of digital nomadism, stakeholders in various sectors can better manage and benefit from this growing trend, ensuring sustainable and mutually beneficial outcomes for both digital nomads and host communities.

  • Policy Development: For policymakers, understanding the characteristics and needs of digital nomads can inform the design of effective visas and regulatory frameworks that attract skilled workers while mitigating potential negative impacts on local communities.
  • Urban Planning and Development: Urban planners and local governments can use insights from this research to manage the influx of digital nomads, ensuring that their presence benefits local economies without exacerbating housing shortages or social inequalities.
  • Tourism and Hospitality: The tourism sector can develop targeted services and infrastructure to cater to digital nomads, promoting destinations as attractive places for remote work and leisure.
  • Researchers: Researchers offer a systematic research agenda for future research, recommending multi-site and digital ethnography approaches, complemented by policy research and quantitative studies. This research agenda calls for multi-disciplinary perspectives that bring together business management and human resources, with migration studies, urban studies, tourism, and leisure approaches as well as social psychology and political science.

Summary

The research examines the phenomenon of digital nomadism, a movement where workers, often from developed countries, adopt a mobile lifestyle enabled by technology, allowing them to work remotely from various international locations. The study explores the characteristics, motivations, and implications of digital nomadism, particularly for migration scholars, the future of work, and the social contract between citizens and the nation-state​.
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