Sea view instead of office wall: Can we all be digital nomads now?

Now that most of our employers have been forced to open up to the idea of working from home, could we not just start working from the seaside while we're at it? — Leander Baerenz/Westend61/dpa

Digital nomads travel the world as freelancers, but the concept is becoming increasingly tempting for permanent employees who are now working from home. So can a retreat to the wilds work?

The pandemic is accelerating the debate on working models. The efficiency and usefulness of working from home, for example, was long disputed.

Now, though, many companies have been forced to concede that it can work very well. So, if it is no longer necessary for the employees of a company to be in the same place at the same time, why not move to a new, exciting place?

It's a seductive idea– get out of your rut, get to know a new country, or concentrate fully on a project in a remote location and continue to earn money.

Digital nomads are usually freelancers who work in a purely digital environment and can therefore work from anywhere in the world. All that is necessary is a reliable Internet connection.

"Working from home is ideal for me," says Carolin Mueller, a psychologist who offers therapeutic online consultations and has been travelling the world as a digital nomad for six years. She emphasises that this lifestyle requires a lot of planning and self-discipline, as digital nomads are usually independent entrepreneurs.

A new autonomy

Permanent employees would of course have to fall in with the wishes of their employer – and is it realistic to expect them to go along with it?

Romana Dreyer from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Hamburg says in her home country there are only a small number of permanent employees whose work is completely independent of location.

She conducts research in the field of industrial and organisational psychology and its influence on mental health.

In her opinion, corporate structures would not necessarily have to change very much for location-independent work to run smoothly. "However, the technological effort is obviously greater," she says, "and many companies would have to change the way tasks are organised to allow employees greater autonomy and flexibility."

Working from wherever

The interpersonal aspect should not be underestimated either. Spontaneous conversations with colleagues, for example, are no longer possible, even though they are often important for team spirit and productivity.

Similarly, employees often cannot see from a distance how their work is received by their colleagues and bosses. It's therefore important for office-based staff to make a special effort to provide regular communication, feedback and appreciation.

"The most important thing is good planning and communication," says Dreyer. "The teams needs to be able to trust that agreements are kept and tasks are completed as soon as it is possible for the travelling colleagues. In principle, I think that is feasible," she says.

Insurance and social security

And what is the legal situation? In principle, it is possible to move the workplace beyond one's own place of residence after consultation with the employer.

"However, there are still no precise regulations for many aspects of this issue" warns Berlin-based labour law expert Miruna Xenocrat. "Data protection, occupational health and safety and the proof of working hours are all big issues," she says.

Moreover, statutory accident insurance only covers accidents at work. If, for example, you work in a café on the way to your office and someone accidentally tips hot coffee over your lap, accident insurance does not necessarily apply. It is therefore advisable to adjust your private insurance coverage accordingly.

Within the European Union, an employee who performs more than 25% of his work abroad is also subject to social security contributions there.

However, there are no clear rules for the special situation of digital nomads who are permanently on the move. In case of doubt, Xenocrat recommends seeking advice from the social security institutions.

Who benefits?

Digital nomadism is a lifestyle with challenges. You'll need a highly developed ability for self-motivation, for example. Employees should always discuss their motivation and expectations with superiors and colleagues to get them on board.

Those who succeed find the lifestyle rewarding and enriching. After all, working from wherever you want can promote self-confidence, especially when dealing with new, unfamiliar work situations.

If there is also a strong culture of trust within the company, this can have a knock-on effect on the team as a whole and become a positive driver of innovation. – dpa

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