Revolution of the office nomads

They work from Dubai to Dallas and from San Francisco to Singapore. They are freelancers and entrepreneurs who live and work wherever it suits them best. All they need is a laptop with an internet connection. They are the “digital nomads.”

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Pieter Levels, entrepreneur and one of the world’s best-known digital nomads, expects there to be a billion such nomads within twenty years.  As that number grows, organizations will begin operating with another type of staff-member more often: the “corporate nomad” who is not bound to his or her office. And that involves new challenges.

A digital nomad is independent, internet-savvy, and more flexible—time or place doesn’t matter as long as he can contact his clients and satisfy them. Because the internet is now faster, cheaper, and available almost everywhere, Levels expects the number of nomads to rise sharply. With traveling 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, especially 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 coworking 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 organization. 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 will move easily through the office and business world, and thus constitute a challenge for the facility manager. How many workplaces does the organization need if staff come and go as they wish? How can you maintain office harmony with this dynamic group? Key questions for a facility manager become: Where do they like to work and what resources do they need to be able to operate comfortably and efficiently? By meeting these needs, the facility manager ensures that there is always a suitable workplace, wherever it might be.

The facility manager ensures that facilities match the daily rhythms of the corporate nomad. This means internet everywhere and at any time, and access to space where the corporate nomad can work temporarily. At the same time the facility manager must also provide a stable environment with which talent can and will identify. An expensive undertaking? Many HR managers are aware of the flexibility of the corporate nomad and regard great facilities as an investment to attract and retain talent, thus adding value to the organization.

I might be a little skeptical 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.

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