The remote working spirit can be felt across much of the world. Even before 2020 it was a trend during pre-pandemic times. For those who are working in an ever globalised world – and particularly digital – the notion of working virtually anywhere with a laptop and a dream can be achievable.
THE GROWTH OF WORKING VIRTUAL
It is no secret of the digital transformation that has been happening across much of the world – which also not only includes the ecosystem infrastructure but the mentality and work culture to those in it as well. Digital nomads are those who are able to work and be location independent. They do not necessarily have to be based where their office, clients and other traditional mechanisms that tied a person to a certain place.
The idea has been romanticised in a way – where often young people would live like nomads and work in exotic places such as in Bali in Indonesia with little more than their laptops and working WIFI. Both for entrepreneurs particularly in tech-related industries who are often able to do be location independent, as well as increasingly those who are employed in roles where their functions can go remote.
According to research done from Stanford University, digital nomads are 13 percent more productive than their office counterparts, as well as taking less time off as well as taking fewer sick days.
COVID-19 has made much of the world go virtual working and asks the questions “despite the challenges I’ve been able to do my work remotely – even in a post-COVID world my job function can probably continue as so?”
It has changed work culture amongst many organisations. They, assuming that the employee can still care about his or her duties remotely, can benefit. First, as employees who can work remotely exercise their right to do so then companies do not necessary have to have offices to cater for all their employees, resulting in less office space. Second, the lost of time for one to commute to work (particularly those who live in large metropolitan areas with infamous commute times such as London, New York City and Tokyo would also create more time for workers to channel to other means such as spending more time with their families, learn new hobbies – to name a few. There are also counter arguments such as teamwork inefficiencies, replacing physical interactions with Zoom calls and isolation of an individual.
Nevertheless, companies such as Facebook announced work from home until at least July 2021 and Twitter letting employees work from home forever are groundbreaking. This has begun to alter many who often lived in cities seeking to move away to the countryside, other states and even abroad.
THE DECLINE OF CITIES AND GROWTH OF THE COUNTRYSIDE
COVID-19 has made many people reflect and think about life and where they live. An article from The Guardian highlighted that In June and July this year, the number of buyer inquiries made to Rightmove (an online property website from the UK), from people living in 10 cities increased by under 80 percent compared from last year. There was a 126 percent increase in people considering properties in village locations, in comparison with a 68 percent rise in people searching for towns.
People from the city of Liverpool looking for a village property increased at under 300 percent compared with the previous year. Noticeable trends were seen in Edinburgh, where village inquiries have risen by over 200 percent, and Birmingham, up 186 percent.
In New York City’s Manhattan, there were still over 16,145 unrented apartments in October, which is an all-time high. Normally at around 2 percent, the vacancy rate hovers around 6 percent.
Across the other end of the world in Japan, a recent World Economic Forum piece highlighted the trend of Japanese moving out of cities and into the countryside due to COVID-19. In September, 30,644 people moved out of Tokyo, which is up 12.5% year-on-year, while the number moving in fell 11.7% to 27,006. In other words, more people left Tokyo than arrived.
WORKING ABROAD AS A DIGITAL NOMAD – WHERE TO GO?
For those able to, whether they have employers who would permit a digital working lifestyle or those who are their own bosses, location independence could prove appealing. It requires a mix of those who not only could, for the most part, conduct much of their work activity via online but also those who generally are adventurous and willing to live where their heart takes them.
Headlines were made recently when Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s commercial and largest city, announced it was launching a digital nomad visa. The new programme allows remote workers and their families the opportunity to relocate, on an annual basis, to one of the world’s leading tourism and business destinations and enjoy a safe and high-quality lifestyle underpinned by a strong digital infrastructure that provides seamless connectivity. Dubai has been able, thanks in part to strong measures to combat the pandemic, reopen its economy and welcome tourists again. It is known that the UAE as a whole is not only a leader in digital competitiveness in the Arab World but a key player in the space globally, coupled with its attractions, lifestyle and tax-free and business-friendly environment creates a hotbed for future entrepreneurs.
Separate, the UAE Cabinet also recently announced an expansion of its UAE Golden Residency programme that allow for a 10-year residency for those who meet the criteria, which includes holders of doctorate degrees and medical doctors, as well as computer, electronics, programming, electrical and biotechnology engineers, in addition to specialised degrees in artificial intelligence (AI), big data and epidemiology.
Other countries that have recently adopted and launched a digital nomadic visa. For example, Estonia has allowed for the creation of a digital nomad visa. According to Estonia’s Ministry of Interior, a digital nomad visa allows internationals who are engaged in jobs independent of location and time, mostly in the field of technology, finance or marketing, to work in the country. Both short and long-term stay intentions would be granted, according to the Ministry of Interior. Estonia generally is known to be a leader and pioneer in digital transformation, such as having 99 percent of government services available online.
Another country that has allowed digital nomad visas has been Barbados. For those looking for a tropical paradise, earlier this year, Barbados launched a new visa for remote workers called the Welcome Stamp. It costs $2,000 and allows someone to spend a year on the Caribbean island. Around 3,000 people, mostly from the US, Canada, and the UK, have taken it up so far, but many more have arrived to do the same thing on tourist visas lasting up to six months.
Similarly, Singapore made a similar announcement with its own version of a tech visa programme. The Economic Development Board (EDB) plans to launch Tech.Pass, a targeted programme to attract founders, leaders and technical experts with experience in established or fast-growing tech companies, so as to contribute to the development of Singapore’s tech ecosystem. Tech.Pass aims to have pass holders flexibility in the participation of activities such as starting and operating a business, being an investor, employee, consultant or director in one or more Singapore-based companies, mentoring start-ups and lecturing at local universities. Singapore is a leader not only in the fintech space but wider tech world, attracting some of the best talent in the world and attributing to the success the country has achieved.
Other countries that have a visa of this sort includes:
Aruba has a work visa programme called One Happy Workation (an off-shoot of their tourism motto, One Happy Island). The visa offers stays of three months, a stark contrast from the usual 30-day period a tourist can be admitted to the island.
Bermuda offered One of the first new visa programmes for remote workers. This caught the likes of British and North Americans wanting to spend a year in the beautiful country.
Costa Rica, the popular tourist and retirement destination in Central America, has a visa programme for foreign nationals called Rentista, which grants temporary residency for remote workers. Costa Rica’s Rentista Visa is for two-years and a tourist permit is for three months.
Georgia during pre-pandemic times was emerging as both a digital nomad hotspot and a growing tourist destination. This year, Georgia’s economy minister Natia Turnava announced a new visa policy that would allow foreigners to work remotely from the country.
Antigua and Barbuda, the two-island nation in the Caribbean, is offering a Nomad Digital Resident, or NDR, visa to attract remote workers. Unique to the others is the NDR is valid for two years. To be able to qualify one will need to certify that they earn at least $50,000 a year while on the NDR visa and have sufficient means to support themselves.
To note other countries have some form of a long-term visa that allows for people to work remotely such as Germany, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Spain. And finally, with the recent US presidential election, President-Elect Joe Biden potentially could look favourable for non-Americans looking to work in the fintech and wider tech space in the USA, where with the current President Donald Trump has seen strict immigration controls. That of course remains to be seen whether the US would one day adopt its own digital nomad visa programme.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, working remotely – whether in one’s home country or abroad in an exotic destination such as in Dubai, Aruba, Barbados or Costa Rica, is achievable. For current and future workers, particularly in the fintech and wider tech space, much of it can be done virtual.