5 Ways to be a ‘Digital Nomad’

A café on the French Riviera one month. A condo in New York the next. How to be productive without being tied to one place.

Work remotely for five days out of a Paris café, then jet off to Miami and work remotely for two weeks out of a quaint Airbnb in South Beach. It sounds like a great life, and there is a name for it: digital nomad. It’s also one of the hottest work trends out there, with the number of these folks doubling over just three years to 11 million in 2021.

But how do you really make it work? Experts who are veterans on the topic say the logistics are not always easy, and neither is keeping up with even routine networking with your boss and colleagues. Still, the trend is only likely to grow, with a quarter of employees now full-time remote and some firms, such as Airbnb, announcing that their entire staff will go remote. “The more remote work becomes available, the more people will take advantage of that fact to travel and live with more freedom,” says Anna Boyd, a Korn Ferry senior consultant, who has herself spent part of her career as a digital nomad.

Line up remote work.

In the past, many digital nomads focused on gig work, but as companies have moved to remote work during the pandemic, more and more opportunities have arisen for employees to perform full-time jobs on the road. To be a digital nomad, you’ll need to have flexible hours and control over your calendar, Boyd says.

Manage the logistics.

If you’re working from the road, it’s important to make sure you have a sufficiently fast internet connection and the right equipment to do your job professionally. Boyd frequently searches for locations with a fiber-optic Wi-Fi connection, because it’s more reliable. “If you go to Google and type in ‘beachfront fiber optic Airbnb hotel’ you will come up with a great list of options to start with,” she says. Often Boyd will ask the Airbnb host to run an internet speed test to make sure the Wi-Fi can support videoconferencing.

If you invest in the right equipment, no one will know you’re working from the road. Boyd brings extra screens for her laptop to create a tri-screen monitor, along with a laptop stand, wireless keyboard and mouse, a ring light, headphones, and an extension cord.

Build a support community.

Being on the road can get lonely, so it’s important to find a support network, Boyd says. Look for online digital-nomad groups and seek out the local coworking space in the community where you’re staying. “Figure out who can help you in case of an emergency or if your entire internet system fails,” Boyd says.  

Don’t forget the value of networking while on the road. Leverage social-media platforms and keep your profile up to date, including any new contact information, says Seth Steinberg, a Korn Ferry senior client partner. “You might change companies, and even physical locations, but your digital presence follows you no matter what,” he says. It’s also a good idea to keep in touch with your colleagues who are in the office. “Pick up the phone and check in,” Steinberg says.

Have a back up plan.

Murphy’s Law will prevail while you’re on the road so be flexible. “You have to be able to plan everything really well—and then be able to toss that plan out the window at the drop of a hat and choose another plan,” Boyd says. Shortly after Boyd arrived in New Zealand, with plans to travel across the country, COVID hit, forcing her to come home and start over. “Always have the mindset of what’s next and what’s possible, and not be stuck in ‘I wish’ or ‘That didn’t go the way that I wanted it to,’” she says.

Be aware of the challenges.

Not everyone will understand your desire to travel from place to place while working. “I often get questions about when I’m going to settle down and do the things I’m supposed to be doing,” Boyd says.

Although Boyd is based in Santa Fe, N.M., she is currently building a remote office in a cargo van and plans to go out on the road for part of the summer in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest.

“Being a digital nomad means taking some risks, and requires courage, but it’s worth it because of what you get out of it—new perspectives and ideas, and a life that feels exciting and fulfilling,” Boyd says.