Exploring the Future of

Work and Location Independence

COVID Nomad | Research Project

In 2020, the entire world witnessed a seismic shift towards remote work, accelerated in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This shift propelled many salaried professionals out of their tiny city homes to explore alternate ways of living, working, and traveling.
How does this type of new worker take advantage of this new freedom to pursue location independence through a nomadic lifestyle?
 

MY ROLE

UX Research 

MY TASK

Desk Research

Web Scraping

Competitor Analysis

Journey Map

Primary Research

Sense Making

Data Analysis

TEAM

Amya Jacob UXR

Nikita Nerurkar UXR

TIME FRAME

2022/03 ~ 2022/06

3 Months

Introduction

Who is digital nomad?

Digital nomads embrace a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle that allows them to travel and work anywhere in the internet-connected world. They are usually independent workers (e.g., freelancers, contractors, business owners). Unlike the majority of remote workers, who tend to stay in one place or shuttle back and forth between their home and a vacation retreat or a relative’s house, digital nomads travel and explore while working.

There’s been a drastic shift in the composition of the type of employment digital nomads pursue. 

  • 49% increase in Americans describing themselves as digital nomads.
  • 96% of the increase in salaried professionals pursuing digital nomadism.

After being untethered from their offices, many individuals who are employed by an organization and are considered salaried professionals decided to take to the road.

Salaried professionals now make up a majority of those pursuing this non-traditional work lifestyle.

We started wondering

What is pushing salaried professionals to pursue this lifestyle?

STEEP Framework

The Trend

When we started looking at the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political factors to understand the trends over time that might have caused salaried professionals to rethink their location-based lifestyle. We noticed some common trends.

  1. COVID became a catalyst for remote working for all digitally enabling jobs.
  2. COVID also became a major motivator for people to pursue location independence,
    now that they didn’t have to go to the office.
  3. Companies moved/transitioned to temporary remote working during the pandemic.
  4. Remote working allows traditional office workers to work from anywhere.
  5. This increases their motivation to pursue location independence.
STEEP-CP

Hypothesize

Salaried professionals who adopted a location-independent lifestyle post-pandemic, who we call “COVID Nomads” are taking advantage of this new freedom to pursue location independence to pursue a nomadic lifestyle.

COVID Nomads

Unlike digital nomads, COVID nomads are usually employed by an organization or an individual and might have higher management to report to. They often also have a ‘9-5 work life’ and slightly less control over their schedule. They also choose to embrace a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle. 

CovidNomad-CP

DESK RESEARCH

Through out desk research, we wanted to:

Understand how COVID nomads pursue and experience location independence.

     1. Distinguish what makes the experiences of COVID nomads unique from that of digital nomads and remote                workers.
     2. Build an understanding of the work ecosystem surrounding COVID nomads.
     3. Identify and research the different players catering to the current digital nomad market.

Academic Research

There have been work-based motivational shaping people to adopt a nomadic lifestyle as:

  1. Choice: Consciously choosing and moving to specific locations to engage in work according to personal preferences.

  2. Opportunity: Engaging in work as some resources are unexpectedly made available at certain locations.

  3. Obligation: Moving to specific sites where the needed resources are available or because a superior tells one to do so.

AcademicResearch-CP

Web Scraping

Observation of online communities

Motivation, Caution, and Pointers: Experienced nomads encouraged novice travelers to have realistic expectations of the lifestyle.

  • “Besides the obvious stuff, I like to have a cheap local cell phone. This way if it is lost or stolen, I will not be too upset about it and have my US phone as a backup. Ear plugs, bring 3 pairs, thank me later, also a sleep/eye cover mask.” - Redditor
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Sharing Experiences, Community Building: Individuals in the community shared advice, resources, and lessons from being on the road. We saw community building and camaraderie in the community.


Basic Needs Don’t go away: “ If you want to live anywhere you need the same things you need to live where you are now: income (or a pile of cash in the bank), the legal right to stay there (and maybe the legal right to work there), a couple of changes of clothes, and some common sense. Calling yourself a Digital Nomad doesn't make these basic needs go away.”*

There were a lot of conversations around motivations, planning, and experiencing the location-independent lifestyle. We saw some significant common themes standing out, which were:

  • How to start living like a Digital Nomad
  • Remote Jobs/Work
  • Freelancing Jobs
  • Location Research
  • Accommodation
  • Visa/Taxes
  • Gear
  • Loneliness

Competitor analysis

The Exisitng Service

Everyone has a different experience with this lifestyle and many products and services have been created to solve a variety of pain points. It also dispelled the common misconception that digital nomads navigate these challenges alone. Many of the tools were created or centered around the community. They also largely focused on the individual nomad as the key stakeholder.

CompetitorAnalysis-CP
  • Social connection (Eat With, Meetup, Web Work Travel)
  • Navigating the lifestyle (raddit, Digital Nomad Daily)
  • Decision making (Nomad List)
  • Travel aids (Nomad Notes)
  • Accommodation Platform (Selina)
  • Planning (Nomad Collective)
  • Obtaining work (Galavant)
  • Routine (Classpass)

Journey map

We used our research findings to create a journey map that showcases major milestones, thoughts, and feelings commonly experienced and expressed by people who choose to pursue this lifestyle.

JourneyMap-CP

Foundational Research

Primiary Research Question

What do the different stages of motivation, planning for, and experiencing a location-independent lifestyle entail?

Step 1

Choosing

Choosing-CP

What is the motivation to pursue this lifestyle?

  • Do they want to experience culture or freedom?
  • How does their life stage affect their motivation?
  • What factors affect an individual’s decision?
  • What digital tools and services did they utilize ?
  • What are the pains? What was enjoyable?
  • Why are they hesitant to pursue this change in lifestyle?

Step 2

Planning

Planning-CP

What are the current enablers and barriers to a location-independent lifestyle?

  • How did they prepare for the transition?
  • How did they approach planning for the travel?(e.g., understanding logistics)
  • What tools did they use? Was it helpful?
  • Was there anything they didn’t expect?

Step 3

Experiencing

Experienceing-CP

What do people enjoy or dislike about this lifestyle?

  • How to maintain a work-life balance?
  • How to manage their responsibilities? 
  • What support do they receive from employers?
  • How do digital nomads build community?
  • How did the experience meet their expectations?
  • What do you enjoy the least? What is challenging?

Research method

Semi-structured Interviews with Artifact Sharing

Artificate-CP

Shared Artifacts

We conducted 60-minute semi-structured remote interviews with 10 participants with the goal of:

  • Confirm hypothesis from secondary research and build on the journey map
  • Understand more pain points and workarounds participants have experienced in real life.
    Narrow down problem space with the need for technological intervention.

All our participants qualified the following criteria:

  • Are either full-time salaried professionals or long-term contract-based employees.
  • They either pursued or are pursuing a work and travel lifestyle recreationally after March 2020.
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Sensemaking and data analysis

Sensemaking-CP

We affinity mapped our coded data and interview notes based on wide patterns and themes and then co-related them.

What Did We Find Out?

Insight 1 | COVID Nomads

“COVID nomads” aren’t nomads.
People just want the agency to travel more often.

The ubiquity of remote work during the pandemic inspired more people to rethink the status quo. They don’t seek a fully location-independent “lifestyle”, but simply use their newfound freedom to work from anywhere.

COVID was a catalyst for intrinsic motivations to take over like exploring new places, reconnecting with friends and family, and testing potential homes.

NomadQuote-CP
SocialPattern-CP

Unlike traditional digital nomads, the Majority of participants traveled in groups or pairs for at least one trip.

Frequency-CP

Participants spent the majority of their time in their home base taking short recreational travel trips (2-4 weeks) during which they continued working.

Insight 2 | Social Connectedness

Work while traveling can deepen preexisting relationships at the expense of new ones.

People prioritize social connectedness while working and traveling. The majority of participants are using location independence as a way to meet and reconnect with old friends and family who don’t live around them.

People are willing to sacrifice the possibility of making new friends and professional connections to spend more time with people they already know.

SocialQuote-CP

Insight 3 | Planning

Planning never ends. 

Regular planning is required to maintain continuous work and travel lifestyle. It is a cyclical, ongoing process. Through experience, people learn to balance work and maximize travel while avoiding overplanning.

Overplanning by excessively compacting activities can reduce the enjoyment of the trip.

People also want to make the most of their time in a location by strategically planning PTO time.

PGraph-CP

Insight 4 | Flexibility

Work flexibility is the future.

Almost all participants moved to a fully remote job during the pandemic, with the majority actively seeking fully remote positions that offer control and freedom of when and where to work after experiencing this lifestyle.

When participants described their ideal future, they describe a lifestyle that incorporates work and travel even if they don’t see themselves pursuing it long-term.

Half mentioned preferring hybrid work in the future where they could choose how often they work in-person.

FlexibilityQuote-CP

Insight 5 | Routine

People have the same self-expectations for personal and professional routines when traveling as when they are in their home base.

Routine is key for participants to be productive. Constant changes in environment and schedules caused by location-based activities, timezone differences, and lack of resources cause disruptions in their routine. 

Participants found themselves struggling to set a new normal expectation for themselves: Exercise, keep up with friends and family, work, engage with locations, do interesting activities, etc.

Routine-CP

Insight 6 | Work Tools

People view establishing an office-like work environment as essential to maintain work productivity while traveling.

When packing, some participants cared more about work equipment compared to personal items and mentioned packing work “kits” with essential equipment.

Their accommodations were often selected based on the availability of adequate workspace.

Participants are also willing to purchase temporary tools to support work productivity when they are traveling depending on how much time they are spending in a location.

Environment-CP

Insight 7 | Law & Policy

People are reluctant in accessing information about laws and company policies due to how it might affect their travel plans. 

Lack of awareness of company policies and laws makes people reluctant to disclose their travel activities. Many have a fuzzy understanding of laws and requirements.

Some people openly share their plans with employers while others intentionally hide that they are traveling while working. 

From our secondary research, we understand that very few organizations have formal policies and programs to support this lifestyle.


LawQuote-CP

Design Implications

Based on our research we see opportunities for:

  1. Designing for the future of work and this new “normal”
  2. Support group travel and social connectedness
  3. Alleviate the pain of planning
  4. Assist people in finding the work flexibility they crave
  5. Help with maintaining routine or productivity
  6. Explore the ideal work environment or packing
  7. Facilitate legal or work policy clarity and transparency
DesignOpportunity-CP

Next Step

Design Solution will be updated once it's available, visit the full research report here first.

2022 Eric Chen - Images and content may not be used without written permission. All rights reserved.®