Innovation

Rise of the digital nomad: Why working remotely could draw more millennials to the tech industry

Startups such as WiFi Tribe and Hacker Paradise offer millennials the chance to travel and work remotely from different countries. Here's what you need to know.

pool.jpg

WiFi Tribe participants work from Nicaragua, as part of a digital nomad program that connects remote workers to travel and work together.

Image: WiFi Tribe

Karoli Hindriks was born in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and grew up with restricted access to outside knowledge and ideas. When the socialist state dissolved in 1991, she learned about Western culture, and decided to study abroad in the US.

"After my experience, I realized that If every person in the world could spend a year abroad, the world would be a better place," she said. This vision led her to co-found Jobbatical, a platform that connects tech and business workers to temporary jobs abroad, allowing them to travel to a new place while still making an income.

Jobbatical is one of a number of "digital nomad" programs, which offer tech and other workers the opportunity to work outside of traditional US corporate life. Others, such as WiFi Tribe and Hacker Paradise, offer millennials who already work remotely the chance to travel with a group, for anywhere from two weeks to one year.

The sudden rise in popularity of these programs could pave a way for tech companies to attract millennial talent, by allowing them to take advantage of such remote work and travel opportunities.

"These would only work for people in particular kinds of jobs," said Jennifer Deal, senior research scientists at the Center for Creative Leadership and co-author of the book What Millennials Want From Work. "If you have to be in a particular office with particular people to get work done, you can't take advantage of this. But for those who don't, they sound like a really fascinating way to do something different that meets a lot of people's desire to travel and see the world while still making money and continuing your career."

SEE: The 10 most popular tech companies for job seekers

The trend follows the rising popularity of remote work in the US: In 2015, 37% of US employees reported doing some of their work remotely, a jump from 9% in 1995, according to Gallup.

This idea is gaining traction in the tech community. Remote Year—a program in which participants spend a year working abroad, moving to different cities and countries each month—received an investment of $12 million in Series A funding in October. Participants must already have a job that allows for remote work, and pay a $5,000 down payment and $2,000 per month to cover travel, accommodations, internet and workspaces, and activities. More than 130,000 people have applied for Remote Year programs, the company has said.

"It was really clever of people to notice the business opportunity," Deal said. "People have been going overseas to work forever. But going with a group of people from country to country where someone else organizes the logistics makes it more accessible and less daunting than having to go by yourself."

Tech's freedom to be mobile

Jobbatical has connected hundreds of people to jobs in tech and business in a number of countries including Singapore, Spain, Germany, India, and Australia since it was founded in 2014, according to Lauren Proctor, head of marketing.

"When it comes to employers offering jobs, we don't care if we're helping a major furniture conglomerate, a shipping and logistics company or a startup," Proctor said. "Almost every company needs some kind of business or technical talent and we can fill those roles with some of the best mobile-ready talent around the globe."

Business and technology talent already make up the bulk of digital nomads, and many of these workers are already familiar with a more global way of life, Proctor said. "What Jobbatical does is provide them with a means for working around the world on a steady income, with a team of people who will support them when they arrive at their new destination," she said.

The majority of job applicants hold college or graduate degrees, but those without formal education who have tech skills are welcome to apply, Proctor said. "If you know Python or Perl or if you know how to close a big sale then you can do that anywhere," she said. "A good UX designer is a good UX designer, whether you sit them down in Brazil or Bali."

Fewer millennials are buying homes and cars; therefore they have more freedom to be mobile, Proctor said.

SEE: Report: 40% of employers worldwide face talent shortages, driven by IT

For WiFi Tribe, which offers both short and long-term co-living and working trips, "the idea was to bring together a bunch of really smart, easy-going, collaborative people to an exciting location, to work together and to live an adventurous life on the evenings and weekends," said WiFi Tribe co-founder Diego Bejarano Gerke. "The motivation is higher, and the sharing of knowledge, ideas, tips, tools and tricks makes you more productive while you're working, so that you have more time to do new things. You simply squeeze more out of life every day."

WiFi Tribe tested a co-working/co-living arrangement for the first time in Cyprus in summer 2016, with more than 20 participants. It then launched its first official location in La Paz, Bolivia. Thus far, 75 people have traveled through different locations. Prices vary by country, and are listed here.

"Work in the tech industry can often be isolating and a lot of time is spent just working at a desk," Bejarano Gerke said. "The way to counter-balance this is to make sure you are doing enough active stuff in your time off. Many people find it challenging to find these activities or people to do something with. Having a community of people together who work hard and then spend time exploring a place together is an easy way to make sure you get that balance."

The program also allows participants to learn from people from other backgrounds, and build a strong personal network, as well as travel. "Millennials are looking for ways to get more out of life, while still building their own careers and dreams," Bejarano Gerke said.

Attracting millennials

Young people desire overseas work assignments, Deal discovered in her research. "When you're at a life stage where you have pretty close to complete freedom, it makes sense that you would take advantage of that and do this kind of thing," she said.

Those interested have to consider their line of work, and if they can accomplish their goals and further their career while taking part in one of these programs, Deal said. "It's going to affect the kinds of opportunities you have, and the networking you do," she said.

Tech jobs are well suited for working remotely—since most of the work is done online, the transition to working remotely is logistically simple, said Casey Rosengren, founder of Hacker Paradise. "As a result, the most important factor for success in a remote work environment is the culture of the team and the individual," Rosengren said.

Hacker Paradise organizes trips worldwide for developers, designers, and entrepreneurs who want to travel while working remotely or focusing on personal projects. Participants sign up for a minimum stay of two weeks, and can continue traveling up to one year. Pricing varies by location. More than 200 people have participated since the company's founding in 2014.

Hacker Paradise is more like a conference than a vacation, Rosengren said—it helps participants grow professionally while on the road. "When you travel with Hacker Paradise, you have a group of 30 other people who are traveling while doing interesting work. This means that you're more likely to discover new ideas, learn new things, and get unstuck during challenging times, because you have a community of other smart, like-minded people around you for support."

In general, millennials and older people are looking for similar things in a workplace, Deal said. They want to work with people they like and trust, they want bosses and mentors who will provide them with feedback so they can learn and grow, they want opportunities for development and advancement, they want to be paid enough, and they want work/life balance, she said.

"Only 15 years ago, the tech wasn't there to be able to do this, and now it is," Deal said. "It creates really wonderful, exciting opportunities for people, and they should think about what they want in their career and life."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. A number of companies have recently been created to allow millennials working in tech and other industries to either work remotely while traveling the world with others or to connect to temporary jobs abroad.
  2. The rise of these companies follows the increasing popularity of remote work in the US: In 2015, 37% of US employees reported doing some of their work remotely, according to Gallup.
  3. These jobs are appealing to tech industry workers in particular, as many are used to traveling and working online, experts say.

Also see

About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

Editor's Picks