The rise of the digital nomad, that is, “someone who uses technology and the internet to work remotely—from home, the coffee shop, internet cafe, or even to collaborate remotely with teams anywhere in the world” has been predicted for many years now. Working for yourself virtually has been a dream for some but now the stats are proving that, like it or lump it, it’s going to be a reality for many. Recently Gigaom noted the rise in demand for online freelancers and mentioned that according to the Freelancers Union, a non-profit advocacy organization, approximately 30% of the U.S. job market today consists of independent workers with this figure expected to reach 40% by the end of the decade. Even the Bank of Scotland is reporting an increasing number of people turning to freelance work rather than look for permanent work, while Orange’s report ‘Connected Britain’ of 2009 highlights studies indicating that by 2020 approximately 80% of the UK workforce will not be tied in to a 9-5 or a fixed-place daily office routine. Which ever statistics you look at the trend definitely can’t be ignored – co-working spaces are springing up everywhere LikeMinds, The Hub Kings Cross and the soon to open Central in London are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg.
While companies have a lot to adapt to in terms of managing their virtual workforces (see Gigaom’s recent ‘7 Tips for Building a successful Team of Freelancers‘) the benefits are pretty evident – reduction in overhead costs and the ability to be nimble in the company’s offerings by bringing in talent for specific projects being obvious examples.
For the digital nomads though this brave new world does have its challenges and where the next assignment will come from is obviously high on the list. The traditional ‘who will do the job for least dosh wins’ transactional style job sites are still out there – a quick look at the FreelanceSwitch post Monster List of Freelance Job Sites 2011 is pretty depressing reading. Jesse Orndorff remarks in the comments section of this post how for him to hit his monthly goals he has to make contact with about 40 postings (freelance work opportunities) on a freelance job site, of which he might win 5 or 6 jobs. Interestingly though he says that the key to getting these jobs is to let your personality shine and give them (potential clients) a strong feel of who you are. In other words it’s not always about the money – it’s about the individual. Prospective clients do need reassurance that they can rely on individuals to whom they hand the work. A small job done badly or not on time can throw a whole project. Building trust is the key and it’s at this point that talent communities step in.
Still in a very nascent stage talent communities (not to be confused with talent pools or databases!) are all about interactive peer-to-peer relationship building between the client and the candidate / independent worker. As John Sumser of Two Color Hat and Lucian Tarnowski of BraveNewTalent explain in this video posted by Jobsite, just as we are seeing consumer brands focus increasingly on building relationships with their consumers, so we are beginning to see a shift away from the transactional based job site recruitment process to brands looking to build real relationships with potential workers. For brands to achieve this, associating either with existing trusted communities of workers or building their own talent communities seems to make sense. Brave New Talent appear to be leading the way in Europe in this area working with many big names including the BBC, Tescos, L’Oreal and Deloittes.
As an independent worker, belonging to these type of communities could well become a normal way of finding work. But to be part of these communities does mean engaging with them and with this comes the necessity to build online social capital which even now is time consuming – and this is before the general population’s on board. I just wonder what will happen though once everyone joins in the community game and we’ll have the whole world conversing like crazy to be noticed to get that job. Only time will tell…
This brave new world of digital nomading may well seem like hard work for many. But to leave on a lighter note I’ll pass over to digital nomad veteran Phil Campbell who knows how to stay one step ahead of the game and can spot a hot new trend in any market and develop it. So watch out for Phil’s Digital Nomad Jacket because if this takes off he’ll have to nomad no more ;o)