What Does Estonia’s New Digital Nomad Visa Herald for Workers Everywhere?
Life as a digital nomad — a worker who telecommutes and lives where he or she likes — is an exciting concept. Not only do you remain untethered to an office, but every day can be an adventure because you can work from some of the most incredible places in the world. For example, I worked for two years in Indonesia and checked out the beaches of Bali and hiking mountains I never thought I would see in person.
The downside: Some sticky legal issues with the tourist visas many digital nomads rely on to give them this flexibility. Many of these visas forbid the nomad from working while in the country. Because these nomads fall into a legal gray area, many keep low profiles.
Estonia seeks to clear up this gray area with its plans to roll out a digital nomad visa in 2019 that will allow digital workers to live in the country for up to a year and work remotely for companies around the world. It’s an innovative idea targeting a growing cohort of workers, and one that, should it spread to other countries, could have many ripple effects. Here’s how.
It Could Give Workers a Raise
There is no mistaking the reason many digital nomads do what they do. Of course, they love the sites and the freedom of traveling, but another huge reason for travelling the globe with only a laptop connecting you to an office is the ability to grow your buying and saving power.
According to Numbeo — the cost-of-living-tracking website — the U.S. is the 21st most expensive country to live in out of the 117 countries it tracks. Dropping down that list into smaller developing countries can turn a $30,000-per-year digital job into the equivalent of earning $100,000 or more per year in the States.
For example, when I began my digital-nomad life, I barely crested $20,000 per year, but because I lived in Indonesia, which is No. 87 on Numbeo’s list, I rented a gorgeous home, hired a full-time maid not named mom, ate at fancy restaurants and never struggled financially.
Estonia ranks No. 45 on this list and has a 27 percent lower cost of living than the U.S., so you will essentially give yourself a raise by moving there.
It Could Improve Retirement Savings
Retirement in the U.S. is not what it used to be. Decades ago, you worked for 25 to 30 years, became fully vested in your company’s pension and retired off the combination of that and social Security. Today, pensions are nonexistent, except in some government jobs, and Social Security is hemorrhaging cash as Baby Boomers continue drawing cash faster than Millennials and Gen Xers can refill the coffers.
While Social Security will probably still be around for a few more generations, modern retirement is mostly a mixture of 401(k) and IRA accounts with some individual stocks mixed in. This leaves a lot of uncertainty for future retirees as we never seem to earn enough income to meet the $1 to $1.5 million in retirement savings many experts say you need to retire in the U.S.
With Estonia’s lower cost of living, your money stretches farther, leaving you with more extra money to stuff in your 401(k) and investments. And as more countries jump on this digital nomad visa bandwagon — especially those with extremely low living costs — our retirement accounts may swell from the savings.
It Could Create a Whole New Meaning for PTO
Vacation time is relaxing and stressful at the same time. Sure, you get time off work, but you’re in such a rush to do everything on your list during your time off, your vacation feels like a job in itself. With a digital nomad visa like the one Estonia plans to roll out this year, you can work from your vacation spot and see the sites freely during your off time.
Sure, this is all limited to Estonia for now, but as countries see the benefits of allowing digital nomads to roam their countries freely, your options will open up.
It Could Improve Creativity
Being a successful employee often means solving difficult issues that have no clear-cut answer and require abstract or creative thinking. According to a 2014 study of MBA students, travel can have a direct positive impact on creative thinking.
According to the research, people who traveled and experience other cultures found it easier to hold conflicting viewpoints in their minds. It may seem odd to some that holding conflicting ideas in one’s head is a good thing, but this ability to reason using opposing opinions shows your ability to see solutions from all sides — not just the side you are on. And with digital nomad visas like the one coming to Estonia, workers can travel freely and gain these new perspectives they can apply to their work.
It Could Help Eliminate Daily Commutes
Research has shown commuting can cause increased blood pressure, high levels of hostility and other nasty personality issues that can bleed into your work day. Being a digital nomad on one of these visas can help ease the stress of driving into work every day and lead to a more relaxing and rewarding day on the job.
While abandoning your daily commute is not exclusive to being a digital nomad — you can also achieve this by being a remote worker — it is an added benefit of this visa. Sure, you’ll have one huge commute to your final destination, be it Estonia or another country that launches a program like this, but you’ll be free of the daily commute from then on.
It Could Help You See the Global View
In the hustle and bustle of the U.S., we tend to put up blinders to the rest of the world as we get through our day. This shuts out many differing viewpoints that can actually help us as employees and entrepreneurs.
A digital nomad visa will allow workers to see how their job is done in other countries. This would work particularly well in creative positions, like graphic design, writing and art, as there are often amazing creative concepts stuck in a bubble and separated by borders that never get their worldwide dues. These types of visas will allow these ideas to spread more organically.
It Could Lead to Around-the-Clock Coverage
The way companies work is steadily changing. People now have 24/7 access to information, online stores and news, and companies are hustling to keep up with the increased around-the-clock demand for information.
This leads to some companies hiring staff to work graveyard hours, but some of the best workers may not be willing or able to work these shifts. With a digital nomad visa from another country in a different time zone, these graveyard shifts can become a normal daytime shift.
A great example of this occurred during my time in Indonesia. I was the only writer willing to deliver live coverage of Asian auto shows, which generally took place in the middle of the night in the U.S. This gave our website the up-to-the-second coverage it needed for our most demanding readers.
It Could Reduce Costs
The spread of the digital nomad visa can also help build a company’s distributed workforce. With a distributed workforce comes a reduced need for million-dollar offices and all the foosball and ping-pong tables that come with them. This means more profits for the company and more cash to give workers for well-deserved raises and promotions.
It Could Increase Productivity
If you love to travel, being stuck in a cubicle can feel very restrictive. With digital nomad visas, workers are free to travel wherever they want and work from wherever they want. This will scratch that travel itch, keep you out of the cubicle and boost your productivity.
It Could Lead to Improved Technology
Technology to help facilitate the digital nomad’s rootless career is steadily improving, but there are still some improvements to be made. With the Estonia digital nomad visa and the others possibly to follow it, remote-focused tech companies may see the potential profits in developing this tech and work double-time to perfecting it.
This new tech could all-but-eliminate the tech-limitation excuses so many companies give for not allowing employees to work from wherever they want.
It Could Lead to Better Employee Fit
Some of the hottest jobs are in some of the most expensive places in the world. Silicon Valley, for example, is a hub for tech jobs. But it’s nearly impossible to earn a livable wage in the Valley or similar areas because of the insane cost of living, so many potential employees never bother applying or run away screaming when they see a one-bedroom apartment costs $3,000 per month.
As these digital nomad visas expand, forcing the remote-working technology to improve, companies can focus more on bringing in the best people instead of those willing to compromise on cost of living just to work for one of these companies.
It Could Help You Find a New Niche
We sometimes place ourselves in pigeonholes and never see other potential niches we could excel in. With the eye opening that often happens as a digital nomad travels the world, new doors open and new, previously unknown niches can present themselves. This can lead a digital nomad to a new and exciting career they never knew about before, or just land them in a hobby they never knew they’d enjoy.
It Could Even-Out Benefits
Distributed companies are nothing new, as there are plenty of companies well ahead of their time in hiring workers from all over the country and around the world. One issue that often pops up in these structures — particularly the worldwide ones — is the uneven distribution of benefits.
Because each country and state has its own laws surrounding healthcare, retirement accounts and other corporate benefits, many of these companies don’t offer their distributed team quite as many benefits as the team in their home states. As these digital nomad visas spread, companies and their benefits providers will have to develop more globalized benefits system that offer more world-based benefits as opposed to state or national-based benefits.
It Could Lead to Hyper-Customized Workspaces
Many office-based companies have put a lot of time and thought into their pricey physical offices, but these offices still lack the customization some employees require. Companies that embrace remote employees often offer stipends to help their remote employees customize their offices to fit their needs.
As these digital nomad visas grow and the global employee becomes a reality, more companies could spread their savings from not having physical offices to employees so they can create personalized workspaces that fit their needs.
It Could Emphasize Results, Not Hours Worked
While some employees are perfectly happy putting in their eight hours a day and going home, some prefer a more flexible arrangement. A results-only work environment (ROWE) is one way companies can ensure productivity remains high in a remote setting without tracking employees’ every keystroke.
How a ROWE works is an employer sets a benchmark of work that each employee must complete daily, weekly or even monthly. The employee remains on the clock for as long as it takes him or her to complete this work and deliver high-quality results. If the employee can finish 40 hours of work in just 25 hours, then he or she only works 25 hours that week but still gets paid for 40 hours.
As these digital nomad visas, like the one coming in Estonia, spread, more employers may look to the ROWE structure as a way to keep productivity high without micromanaging from a distance.