Digital Nomad, a term coined twenty years ago by Hitachi executive Tsugio Makimoto in his book by the same name, predicted that technology combined with our natural urge to travel would let people live, work, and exist on the go rather than being tied to an office desk or physical work location.
Today, 4.8 million independent workers in the United States describe themselves as digital nomads with 17 million more aspiring to become nomadic workers according to findings by MBO Partners. Digital nomads are defined as a population of independent workers that embrace a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle that allows them to travel and work remotely, anywhere in the world.
The rise of the digital nomad also embodies the essence and promise of digital transformation. The Workplace Evolution study by the Harvard Business Review found that “Digitization is impacting every aspect of business, radically changing the ways in which companies grow and compete. The speed and scale at which technological breakthroughs are emerging have no historical precedent and have created an imperative for businesses across industries to respond rapidly with their own digital transformations in order to drive growth and create competitive advantage.”
Organizations that move forward with new digital transformation strategies, products, services, cloud computing infrastructures and business models, also must develop new ways for their global ecosystem of workers to engage and add value. A worker’s ability to connect anywhere, anytime to collaborate with coworkers can determine the level of productivity possible within an enterprise, beyond independent contractors that would normally be considered remote workers. The Workplace Evolution study also found that an organization’s workplace strategy can be a key enabler of or hindrance to digital transformation illustrating the need for organizations to adopt new modes of work to maximize productivity.
Digital Native Expectations
By 2025 digital natives, those technologically adept with the expectations of a nomadic work lifestyle will make up 75 percent of the global workforce, according to a future of work-study by Microsoft. This new breed of workers expects work flexibility including where and when they work with flexible office spaces on demand to connect and collaborate with coworkers when necessary. Generationally, digital natives demand the lifestyle afforded to digital nomads, something that 75 percent of Millennials would like to do more of. Millennials and Generation Z are also looking for increased employer flexibility about where and when they work with staying connected being key to both their work and personal lives.
Digital natives have grown up with technologies such as smartphones and social media being the primary way they communicate with friends and coworkers. “For them, forming and conducting relationships with people through mobile technology tools and platforms is simply how the world is supposed to operate, including at work. These digital natives are also more likely to prioritize a sense of purpose when considering where to work and are often motivated as much by the desire to ensure their work has a positive impact on society as they are by more traditional measures of success,” states Microsoft.
Benefits of Working Remotely
In the last 20 years, the number of remote workers has quadrupled. And today 43% of all U.S. employees work off-site at least part-time, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report. Research also shows that employees believe working remotely is not a productivity barrier with the majority of Americans believing that remote workers are just as productive as those who work in an on-site office.
Providing employees with the ability to work remotely benefits both businesses and workers. According to Microsoft, in addition to increased productivity, businesses save over $11,000 per remote worker per year on decreased real estate costs, electricity, staff turnover and absenteeism.
Enabling employees to work remotely also benefits the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tons per year, roughly the equivalent of taking 10 million cars off the road. With the average round-trip work commute standing at 54 minutes a day, employees who work from home can save the equivalent of 30 work days per year that normally would have been spent in a car.
Online Security for Digital Nomads and Remote Workers
As companies embrace both digital nomads and digital natives desiring remote teamwork and open information sharing, online security is becoming more critical than ever as organizations must plan to protect their digital assets and customer data in a new work world. With 85 percent of corporate assets already digital and more information existing outside of a company than inside a company due to the rise of cloud computing, an unprecedented rise in cyberattacks is taking hold.
In 2017, the number of security breaches more than doubled compared to the previous year. For businesses, the stakes are high as it takes companies an average of more than 99 days to discover a security breach and roughly 50 days to address the breach itself. A study of 65 public companies that experienced cyber attacks since 2013 found stock market valuations fell by as much as 15 percent in the most severe cases. And it is estimated that cybercrime will cost approximately $6 trillion per year on average through 2021.
Even more critical is the potential impact on brand reputation and trust: data breaches that expose customer information can be devastating not only to a company’s reputation but also its balance sheet.
Identity as the New Perimeter
As the methods that malicious online actors use to attack organizations continue to evolve and increase in sophistication, organizations must stay ahead and deploy strategies to protect both their critical information assets and workers.
Organizations cannot rely solely on the traditional model of securing an organizations’ perimeters as identity itself has become the new perimeter due to digital transformation and remote workers, contractors, partners and suppliers all interacting with critical and private data across the globe on a daily basis. The need to identify who is accessing what information or online resource and when is quickly becoming a critical component of every modern cybersecurity strategy today.
With more businesses adopting open and collaborative work cultures that embody the ethos of the digital nomad, they are also risking the security of their information assets by allowing the open flow of data across devices, people, and physical locations.
The future of work styles enabled by digital technology and cloud computing necessitates a new way to secure and protect information as perimeters become porous with the distance between attacker and employee or contractor being only access credentials. New security models must start with an individual’s identity to identify data and digital resource breaches at the worker level so that the breach can be quickly stopped before they spread.
Companies today and in the future will need to deploy security solutions that maximize worker productivity while balancing the desire for digital nomads and digital natives to work and collaborate freely with coworkers globally. By providing remote workers, contractors, partners or suppliers with remote access tools and technologies that include critical identity access solutions, organizations will be able to protect not only their own information assets but also their worker’s data, devices and apps and resources any time, anywhere.