Digital Nomadland

Andrew Spence
5 min readJul 31, 2021
Frances McDormand, starring in Nomadland (2020) Photo Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Anywheres vs Somewheres and The New Geography of Work

The location of work has changed for half the workforce. When the world opens up again many will join the Digital Nomads because they can work anywhere. Others will need to stay local. This will have big implications for employers, and city economies too.

Anywheres Vs Somewheres

Any discussion on the future of work quickly moves to the future of society and involves politics.

Political power battles are constant:

  • capital vs labour — see for example Uber’s recent PR
  • those with Covid vaccines, and those without
  • young vs old — public spending clashes on education and health care

In David Goodhart’s book, “The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics”, he adds another political power battle.

In his view, the main fault line in contemporary society is not between right and left, or capitalists and socialists.

It’s between the people who see the world from Anywhere and the people who see it from Somewhere. This can help explain recent political events.

The Anywheres are footloose, often urban, socially liberal and university educated.

The Somewheres are rooted in a specific place or community, usually a small town or in the countryside, socially conservative, often less educated.

He cites UK polling evidence to show that Somewheres make up roughly half the population, with Anywheres accounting for 20% to 25% and the rest classified as “Inbetweeners”.

It’s one way to look at society, but what might it mean for the future of work?

Anywhere Jobs

According to a new report, one in five jobs can be classified as ‘Anywhere Jobs’.

These include programmers, engineers, and designers and have characteristics that mean they can be done remotely. In the UK for example, they estimate that 6 million jobs can now be classified as anywhere jobs.

This is part of a broader trend where individuals are able to earn outside of traditional employment, using platforms. The report references my essay, ‘Unleashing the Decentralised Workforce’ — a world where solopreneurs can set up digital shops, teachers can teach students remotely, and gamers can earn income by sharing their Fortnite prowess on Twitch. This has big implications for careers, education and society.

The New Geography of Work

The ability of millions to work anywhere shapes a new geography of work and has big implications for employers and national and local governments.

The defensive position is that if this type of work can be done anywhere, then it can be moved elsewhere.

Blue-collar work has moved elsewhere in the last 50 years, and now professional white-collar work can be moved abroad.

If you spend 10 minutes looking for a video editor on a freelancer platform, for example, Fiverr, you’ll see what I mean. There is a clear Quality vs Price line you can choose from. There are willing digital workers living in cities from Caracas to Karachi, and from Austin to Albuquerque.

To illustrate,

A cybersecurity consultant, Eve, who lives in London is building some eLearning and needs support from freelancers.

Working anywhere — Eve chooses an eLearning designer from the platform, Dan. He has 55 good references and can do the work for an agreed price. Dan lives in Bali for half the year, where he also teaches scuba diving and lives in Birmingham for the rest of the year. Eve is pleased with the work and payment is approved — she doesn’t think about where the work was done.

Working somewhere — Eve chooses the best graphic designer on the platform, Valeria. She has 240 great references and her pricing is competitive. Valeria lives in Caracas, where she lives and supports her family. She does graphic design work after her shifts finish in the local supermarket. Eve is pleased with the work and payment is approved — she doesn’t really think about where the work was done.

In this way, digital work can flow easily around the globalised economy.

Over time, this type of work will become more commoditised and it’s harder for those with higher living costs or poor infrastructure such as broadband to compete.

There will be winners and losers as work shifts between the anywheres and the somewheres.

How to Attract Digital Nomads

Photo by Peggy Anke on Unsplash

This has policy implications for a city or country. From a defensive position — trying to reduce work leaving the country, to a more positive one that identifies opportunities.

How can a country or city attract workers who can work anywhere?

Digital nomads are not new. Over the years I’ve been known to browse Nomadlist for pleasant workspaces and interesting suburbs to explore in Lisbon, Shanghai, or Copenhagen. This community alone has 27,000 remote workers living around the world.

In the Digital Covid era many work anywheres have found an AirBnB apartment in a new city to work.

Examples of established and up and coming locations for Digital Nomads, include Canggu in Bali, Madeira, Cancun, Tenerife, Dubai, Mexico City, Zurich, Berlin and of course Hove Beach.

View from my Office — Hove Beach, UK Photo Credit — Andrew Spence

The ‘Anywhere Jobs’ report makes some recommendations for UK to attract mobile labour which includes:

1. Strengthening the support infrastructure ­– such as childcare, transportation, 5G and broadband, and suitable housing and workspaces.

2. Designing new forms of skills and (re)training — to give employees the softer, interpersonal skills they need to have in order to benefit from technological change and to ease the frictions of moving between different professions.

3. Renewing the social contract to support more mobile, flexible world of work and to help people become resilient to risk, cope with challenges and attain human capital.

Many of these recommendations will also benefit the somewheres too.

The factors that make a city attractive to overseas digital nomads are similar to those that make a location attractive for new businesses and tourists.

There might be some factors within the control of the national government, for example, hassle free Visas in Estonia and simple taxation.

At a city level, there might be support for co-working hubs, support for networking and events, training, tax breaks, etc. The Mayor of Miami has shown how to attract workers to an industry niche such as the crypto community. An example is passing legislation to make fee and tax payments in crypto. It’s been reported that Miami beach is now a heady mix of investors, libertarians, techies, and altruistic blockworkers.

Some factors are out of our control though, for example, the weather,

Miami Beach 1🌞 Vs Hove Beach 0⛅

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This article was originally published on Workforce Futurist Newsletter on July 1st 2021



Andrew Spence

Passionate about making work better. Writes Workforce Futurist Newsletter.