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Created on 08.04.2019

Being a bit of a “digital nomad” in everyday life too

A digital nomadic life is miles away from the reality of how most employees work. Lorenz Ramseyer, an expert in location-independent working, explains why we will all be affected by this new way of working in future.

Location-independent working is a peripheral issue in the world of work in Switzerland. Is this impression deceiving?

Lorenz Ramseyer: Yes. It concerns more people that you might think. Over half of Swiss employees are what are known as knowledge workers. They are not tied to a specific working environment which means they can work from anywhere. A third of them also take advantage of this opportunity occasionally. A digital nomadic life isn’t restricted to freelancers abroad. It can also be integrated into the everyday routines of permanent staff – on a selective basis and in Switzerland.

Why should a company invest in location-independent working?

To prepare for a new dawn in the world of work. Much more work will be done on a location-independent basis in future. Managers and employees will communicate differently, and will use new channels and new forms of cooperation. This requires training.

Is it something that simply has to be done? Or are specific benefits already evident?

It pays dividends in lots of ways – the younger generation is already calling for greater flexibility in existing working models. Companies that meet this requirement become attractive and have satisfied, well-motivated employees. Companies also benefit in terms of economic viability: for example, video conferences are shorter and more efficient than conventional meetings and travel costs are eliminated. The last point is the impact on society as a whole: it improves work-life balance and could even stem emigration from remote areas because the place of work and residence are no longer so closely linked.

That sounds very promising for the knowledge workers you mentioned but can traditional, analogue tradespeople also benefit?

Yes. These jobs also involve administrative tasks which can be carried out on the train, outside or in a shared workspace.

Are there losers too?

Some fears are justified – we will have a global employment market for jobs in future. The group of applicants will then not just be restricted to people living in the surrounding area of a workplace, but anyone who meets the requirements of the job profile. Those not familiar with the tools required to take part in this digital jobs market are at a huge disadvantage. The digital gap is growing.

Digitization will not knock politely on the door.
Lorenz Ramseyer, an expert in location-independent working

How well prepared are we for this change in Switzerland?

We’re a bit too sluggish for my liking. Some countries not dissimilar to Switzerland are much more advanced. For example, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands, where a law was recently adopted stipulating that every full-time employee is entitled to a day working from a home office. There is a lack of such initiatives in Switzerland.

Why is Switzerland lagging behind?

One reason is our strong culture of being present at the workplace – if you’re there it means you’re working. And if you’re not on site, the presumption is that you’re not working. Another is probably because we’re doing almost too well so there’s a lack of pressure. Pressure is nevertheless important because the digital transformation of the world of work is not a process that will knock politely on the door to ask to come in. It appears suddenly on the horizon and puts us under intense pressure. This also presents a challenge for policymakers.

Where is action required specifically?

Lots of digital nomads are freelancers which means they have little protection under employment law. They have to pay their own pension and insurance contributions. In view of this, we’re in talks with trade unions and professional associations where we can discuss such issues in depth. Tax is also something to consider: people are generally liable for tax in the country where they work. There are some grey areas though: for example, if someone de-registers in Switzerland, travels to another country on a tourist visa and works on digital projects there. These forms of virtual work are over-stretching tax authorities in my view.

Location-independent forms of work raise ethical questions: isn’t there a risk of the injustice of the world being exploited – high salaries in Switzerland, low living costs abroad?

The exploitation of this imbalance – known as geoarbitrage – can clearly represent a new form of colonialism. Large companies take advantage of this by making employees redundant and hiring freelancers elsewhere to cut costs. In my experience, the individual, digital nomadic life tends to be a form of development aid. Many digital nomads work on development projects or cooperate with local staff, providing them with access to a new international market.

Are digital nomads idealists then?

The digital nomadic life is definitely more than just a new working model, it’s a lifestyle all of its own. The aim is not to become a millionaire in the conventional sense but instead – as I put it – a time-millionaire. Time for travel, family and fun is something many digital nomads consider important.

Another practical tip – which tools are particularly useful for digital nomads?

I find SimpleMind great for creative tasks. It’s a mobile phone app that allows you to create mindmaps and notes very easily – for example, while listening to a podcast at the same time. For holding video conferences, I recommend appear.in. What irritates me about video conferences is that one person appears in large format on the screen and everyone else sits together in a meeting room. With appear.in it’s different: up to four participants can hold a conference on an equal footing directly in the web browser without any download or passwords. I use Trello as an organizational tool for most of my projects. Tasks are created, scheduled and assigned to various team members with virtual Post-it notes.

Good to know: about digital nomads

Digital nomads are employees, freelancers or entrepreneurs who mainly work with digital technologies. Laptops, smartphones and various online applications are their key tools, and they don’t generally require any infrastructure apart from electricity and a wireless internet connection. This means that digital nomads can work from anywhere and often lead a location-independent life or have several places of residence or work. 

About Lorenz Ramseyer

Lorenz Ramseyser

Lorenz Ramseyer has focused intensively on location-independent working models since 2006. He is President of the Swiss Digital Nomads’ Association and provides advice and coaching on location-independent working. He originally graduated with a teaching degree, but then became an IT project manager after obtaining further qualifications and has now worked as an IT consultant for many years on a partially self-employed basis. He works on a 40% basis as a vocational trainer at the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation.

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