What Is the Future of Work for Digital Nomads and Remote Workers?

We are seeing contrasting opinions in the news with regards to remote working: on the one hand, studies quoted in newspapers point to an impressive growth of remote working and an increasing number of people choosing to become digital nomads; on the other hand, workplace reports state that companies are curbing remote working and aiming to bring employees back to the office, hinting at a potential shrinking of remote job opportunities.

What options are out there for digital nomads and other freelancers who work remotely? Is it still viable to rely on clients to pay living expenses? Or should digital nomads look at alternatives to stay afloat that don’t require to receive income exclusively from clients?

Numbers of Digital Nomads and Remote Workers Are on the Rise

Figures for 2023 showed that in the US alone there were more than 17 million digital nomads and forecasting further growth in numbers to 24 million by 2026. Forbes predicts that by 2030 the total number of digital nomads globally will be 60 million.

Similarly, it has been estimated that by 2030 digital remote jobs will grow to more than 90 million roles.

There is also another side to digital nomads and that is to see them as consumers: they are perceived to be big spenders as they need to buy flights, accommodation, insurance, telecommunication and banking services and other products and services including those that have been specifically targeted at them such as conferences. It is estimated that digital nomads contribute $787 billion to the global economy every year.

Because selling to digital nomads can potentially be big business, some digital nomads themselves started offering consulting services to other digital nomads and remote workers, making a decent annual income.

A large section of the remote working community had a past of working in an office environment and is reluctant to go back to a traditional in person job.

This reluctance is also felt by employees who did work remotely but had been told to return to the office. They are not able to leave their in person job, which in itself has created a whole new market of consultants hired to convince people to stay in their job and learn how to survive in an office environment.

There are many factors to consider to get the full picture.

Happiness is linked to productivity (CNN) as Gallup discovered after surveying almost 130,000 people across 140 countries and asking them about their experiences in the workplace, including how engaged they felt.

The report highlighted that low engagement at work costs 9% of the global GDP or almost $9 trillion to the economy.

Lack of care and provision for employees’ well being and general negative emotions linked to work affect productivity.

41% of the respondents said they felt stressed while 25% of the full time remote workers said they felt lonely. Overall, only 23% of respondent said they felt engaged at work.

Remote working was often described as an attractive option for people who enjoy working on their own terms without interruptions from colleagues and from attending meetings in person, but also for people with disabilities and caring responsibilities allowing them the flexibility they need.

Digital Nomadism Was Portrayed as a Glamorous Lifestyle

The reality of being a digital nomad is not always in plain sight and the media prefer to share stories of successful entrepreneurs who have achieved location independence, glamourising their lifestyles.

There are a few accounts from digital nomads who tell their own stories through their websites, newsletters and social media channels, reminding people that there are every day problems to solve from finding accommodation to addressing feelings of loneliness. Finding and keeping freelancing gigs can also weigh heavily on digital nomads’ minds. On top of all this, competition from AI is casting a shadow on work opportunities because jobs such as virtual assistants could be replaced by automated chatbots.

Unexpected gaps between freelance projects or being on the receiving end of client budget cuts can have a devastating effect on the potential to earn a stable income. To counteract these risks it is often recommended to diversify by adding passive income streams such as investments. However, there are concerns about the viability of passive income due to the risk of diminishing investment returns, as markets can be unpredictable.

Some articles listing all the available opportunities for remote work are fast getting out of date because they are glossing over issues such as increased competition and lower availability of projects. The market has changed so much over the past 10 years, particularly after 2021. On a similar note, return to office mandates, especially since 2022, seem disjointed from what workers need today, as both employees and freelancers are aware of their rights and may not want to compromise.

Also, the goodwill of local people towards digital nomads is waning as competition for affordable housing has increased and private landlords have pushed rental prices up in many countries that are popular with remote workers.

Is Passive Income the Solution for Remote Workers and Digital Nomads?

Should digital nomads and remote workers look at diversifying their income-earning activities to include passive income? Is investing a good option to earn extra money?

Financial uncertainty is a critical issue for digital nomads.

Investing in shares, government bonds and stock markets can be one of the available options but to be successful at generating a return or an income you need a lot of planning and a long term strategy.

Investors need to evaluate many aspects of the market as a whole, government decisions that affect future spending of companies, trends as well as the amount companies pay in dividends to shareholders compared to the capital appreciation of individual stocks over time.

It is recommended that you speak to a financial advisor to help you choose what types of investments best suit your needs. You may look at a mix of different investments with some stocks paying high dividends and others that have been appreciating over time, and adding some government bonds that have a lower yield but offer a lower risk profile plus exchange-traded funds. Capital appreciation ultimately is what can help an investment portfolio beat inflation in the long term.

In summary, what can remote workers do in the future? It is essential to diversify sources of income and analyse how factors such as housing will prevent newcomers from establishing themselves in a new country.