We all know what a vacation is.
Then came the “staycation” – having a vacation in the country you reside.
Now, we have the “workation”, or working while exploring the world, which some of you might also known as digital nomadism.
Wait, but isn’t work and travel different things altogether? Why check your emails when you’re supposed to be relaxing on your holiday? Why visit a vineyard in Tuscany and sip on delicious Chianti when you’re supposed to be working?
Well, because we can.
Technology has made the world more connected than ever. We could be in Hanoi and communicating face-to-face with a client in Sao Paulo via Skype. Furthermore, thanks to cloud computing, we don’t have to be in a physical office space to access our work documents.
All we need to work today is an internet connection. Location no longer matters. The world can be our office.
But the convenience afforded by technology isn’t the only reason why digital nomadism is a growing phenomenon. More and more people, especially the millennials, are choosing to integrate work and travel because this lifestyle resonates with them.
According to a study by Bentley University, 77 percent of millennials said that they are more productive when allowed to work flexible hours. In a 2016 FlexJobs survey, 84 percent said that the most important thing they looked for in a job was work-life balance. The life of a digital nomad checks these two boxes.
Moreover, millennials tend to prefer experience over material, and there are only a few better ways to do achieve this than through traveling.
A survey by Realty Mogul found that some 47 percent of young people aged between 18 and 34 would prefer to spend their money on traveling than buying a house. Another study of Britain’s millennials by GkF had similar findings. Most of them said they were more interested in traveling than buying a car or a home, or paying off their debts.
Last but not least, millennials today have a penchant for entrepreneurship, and technology has made it possible for anyone to easily set up their own virtual shop fronts on the Internet.
The confluence of all these factors have thus given birth to the rise of digital nomadism. But are millennials so eager to jump onto the workation bandwagon simply because it’s the cool and trendy thing to do?
Or are there real benefits to be gained from integrating work and travel?
Studies suggests that the workacation could actually do wonders for your personal growth. In fact, travel can make one more creative.
“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to take deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who has performed extensive studies on how travel can affect one’s creativity.
But Galinsky also points out that simply being in another country doesn’t do anything to boost creativity levels. He says that travellers must first be proactive in learning about the foreign environment.
“The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment,” he says.
As it turns out, getting immersed in another culture and learning about their traditions and customs can also have a positive impact on our minds.
“What a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California.
“Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values…is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had.”
Being in a foreign country as a digital nomad is starkly different than spending a week’s vacation there. For most of us, living for an extended period of time in a foreign land yanks us out of our comfort zone and forces us to adapt.
As a semi-permanent resident, one would have to be more invested and deal with matters a holiday-goer would typically not have to face. We’d need to run the gauntlet and find an apartment, sign up for a broadband connection, deal with local immigration matters, pay utility bills and know how the local culture works.
This experience in setting up a new life somewhere beyond the comforts of home inherently helps with self-development. Because we become more independent and self-confident. Because we learn about local customs and gain new perspectives to life. Because we realize that what we consider to be right back home is not necessarily so in another place.
Living abroad also allows us to meet more people, which in turn broadens our network and opens up doors to new adventures.
Picking up a new language could also been a boon for our intellectual capacity - the mental gymnastics involved in navigating the nuances of this new vernacular helps with divergent thinking, a key component of problem solving.
It’s safe to say that this way of life does come with benefits. But it also largely depends on how a digital nomad engages with the foreign environment. The key is to go forth, explore, and most importantly, learn.