The Rising Importance of the Digital Nomad: Results of The First Crowd-Sourced Whitepaper

In August, 2008, we launched  the Digital Nomads and asked the community to start defining the term “Digital Nomad.”  What is it, what are the ramifications of managing a nomadic workforce, what are the challenges for the nomad? The initial results are compelling because they illustrate how technology is changing how we do business.  Although the most likely people to read the whitepaper will be our fellow Nomads, my hope is that non-Nomadic executives around the world take a moment to learn how their workforce is changing.  The idea of a mobile workforce is not just a cool concept, for many it is indeed reality.  Nomads are redefining how we work and their ideas can quickly become tips on how to improve one’s business.

Before I start, I want to mention how fortunate we are to have insights from some of the smartest folks out there in social media, ranging from Shel Holtz and Andy Sernovitz to John Jantsch and Hugh MacLeod (in addition to the thousands of others who have joined the Digital Nomads community, have guest-blogged for it and contributed to the whitepaper).  And remember this is not about Dell, but about the broader community of individuals who call themselves digital nomads. In fact, the term was originally coined by many others, including Steve Rubel, Chris Brogan and IBM’s Luis Suarez.

But thank you to all who contributed……just remember this is Chapter One of a long book we will write together.

Go here to download the whitepaper.

After reading the whitepaper, here are my top five observations on why the Digital Nomad shall inherit the earth, so to speak.

#1 – We have hit the “Collaboration” tipping point – we’ve all been interested in mobile productivity for eons, but a combination of four factors have allowed us to reach the collaboration tipping point.  They are a.) improved connectivity (WiFi, 3G); b.) device improvements (lighter/longer lasting laptops, phones with Internet connectivity); c.) social networking software (blogs, forums, wikis, Facebook, ideation sites like IdeaStorm, etc); and, d.) attitudes have changed towards the value of remote workers (recessions never hurt to advance this cause).  The result is that we can do more from anywhere in the world than ever before.  When we look back at today in five years, we’ll realize we were at the tipping point, but like many tipping points, it’s never completely obvious at the time to most folks.

#2 – Who Cares About Your Cube, Your Office is in Your Bag – our backpacks can carry all of the equipment we need, paper is less relevant than ever and capacity and power of our equipment is going up, while the size of our devices is going down.  Years ago, you would have needed a Sherpa to carry what you needed.  Now, it’s a matter of carrying the right equipment and you’re in great shape.

#3 – Your Communities Are Portable Now – we spend a lot of cycles talking about OpenID, which most of us want, but we forget that our communities are really portable now…today.  Think of it this way.  Being “mobile” used to mean you were the person who worked outside the office.  That’s old school now.  Being mobile today means you are able to talk with your communities from work to twitter to facebook whenever you need to from wherever you sit.  The Nomad can reach their work community anytime they want.  OpenID will add more value, for sure, but Nomads are already there.  We’re not waiting for some genius to finally figure it out for us.

#4 – Great Nomads are Great Team Builders – When you are involved in communities that are often global, you don’t get to meet everyone in person.  But Nomads are embracing the tools and techniques that help build relationships, from the use of Skype to instant messaging to WebEx to Jeteye.  The key is that Great Nomads like to share their knowledge and look for ways to get to know each other.  All techniques that benefit the increasingly global companies of the future.

#5 – Return on Information is the New ROI – A funny thing happens when people are more mobile and nomadic.  What our fellow Nomads are telling us is that they are more productive, more satisfied, more likely to innovate and we all know it costs less.   Employers will continue to look at commute time, transportation costs and expenses, as they should.  We do it ourselves.  But what should not be lost on these analyses is the “return on information” we can receive, as well.  A workforce of Digital Nomads makes it easier to be geographically diverse, easier to network, its potentially easier to innovate and our speed of response is simply more nimble.  Nomads, however, need to be equally conscious of protecting intellectual property, making efforts to build relationships that are not face-to-face and show loyalty to their employers.  It’s a two-way street and we need to prove this new way of looking at ROI matches up with the ROI we all know well.  Results and the right behaviors will always matter.

Overall, our report shows how important the Digital Nomads revolution is in today’s world and it is a revolution, albeit a quiet one.  It may seem subtle to any one of us on a daily basis….in fact, it always does…but collectively, what you are all doing is huge.  We look forward to continuing to gain insights from our Community on what’s next for the Nomad.

A special thank you to Mike Masnick, CEO and Founder, of Floor64, for coordinating this first white paper – Chapter One.

And, as a Nomadic aside, I want to let you know that I wrote this at home, listening to Dave Matthews and Bob Schneider, while occasionally participating on my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

If you still want to hear more, here’s a recent chat I had with Bruce Eric Anderson, our Chief Nomad.

About the Author: Bob P