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16 June 2016

Revolution of the office nomads

They work from Dubai to Derby and from Sheffield to Singapore: the ‘digital nomads’. They are freelancers or entrepreneurs who live and work wherever it suits them best. All they need is a laptop with an internet connection. Pieter Levels, entrepreneur and one of the world’s best-known digital nomads, expects there to be a billion such nomads in twenty years. But until then organisations will be operating with yet another type of staff-member: the ‘corporate nomad’ who is not bound to his or her office. And that involves new challenges.

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A digital nomad is independent, is skilled with the internet and is not dependent on time or place as long as he can contact his clients and satisfy them. As the internet is now available faster, more cheaply and in an increasing number of places, Levels expects the number of nomads to rise sharply. And with travelling also becoming cheaper and more accessible, the threshold for working where it suits you best is also dropping. It could be in an attic in England, but just as easily in a beach tent in Thailand.

A crazy idea? This evolution has not occurred in isolation. The idea that ‘working’ occurs at a desk in an office building has been steadily eroded over the years, for instance with the introduction of flexible working or ‘telecommuting’ – working from home. The next step is working from an external location, perhaps a café or a so-called ‘co-working space’. I see this as the birth of the corporate nomad – the employee who decides for himself just where and when he will perform his activities for the organisation. In contrast to the digital nomads, this group is integrated into the corporate world. The concept is a natural way of working for new generations of employees. 

Corporate nomads move easily through the office jungle and thus constitute a challenge for the facility manager. This is because how many workplaces does the organisation need if staff come and go as they wish? How can you harmonise flexibly with this dynamic group? The key question for a facility manager is: “What do I recognise in these corporate nomads?” Where do they like to work, and what resources does this type of employee need to be able to operate comfortably and efficiently? By meeting these needs, the facility manager can ensure that there is always a suitable workplace, wherever it might be.

The facility manager ensures that facilities match the daily and life rhythms of the corporate nomad. This means internet everywhere and at any time, and access to places where the corporate nomad can work temporarily. In the office that means not just fast connections, but also that there’s a good and varied range of facilities. At the same time the facility manager must also provide an environment with which talent can be identified. An expensive undertaking? Many HR managers are aware of the flexibility of the corporate nomad and regard good facilities as an investment to attract and retain talent, thus adding value to the organisation.

I might be a little sceptical that the internet will indeed eventually produce a billion digital nomads – estimated to be a quarter of the total professional population. But Pieter Levels absolutely touches on a phenomenon here which can spur the facility manager into action.

David Stillebroer
Director Product Management