Well-being is More Important Than Nomadism for Relocating Pros

It’s easy to say that the cost of living in the Bay Area is the reason it’s not a popular destination for digital nomads. People choose to live in Northern California for a different reason — their well-being. Out of the 100 largest metro areas, San Jose and San Francisco were ranked highest for immigrant well-being, according to a study by the Bush Institute. It goes to show why many people still choose mental health over so-called remote and hybrid work arrangements.

Another study by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) had the same conclusion: increased mental health issues. While early reports indicated that remote and hybrid work arrangements showed such benefits as increased happiness, productivity, and employee retention, it’s turning out to be the other way around.

The IBI study found fully remote workers (40%) and hybrid workers (38%) reported higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms compared to in-person workers (35%). The differences were statistically significant, indicating remote work may not be ideal for every employee.

Last year, Microsoft’s 2022 New Future of Work Report also found that although remote work can improve job satisfaction, it can also lead to employees feeling “socially isolated, guilty and trying to overcompensate”.

Other studies have also found remote and hybrid workers experience more mental health problems. Executives reported remote work negatively impacted employees’ mental health, with feelings of isolation. 

These findings indicate why many career-oriented people still relocate to the Bay Area.

Mental health factors

Factors contributing to the decline include constant interruptions, lack of home office space, slow internet, isolation, blurred work-life balance, and disconnection from colleagues. Overall, global mobility specialists should take note that lack of human connection is a common issue. 

Who is affected the most? Younger workers under 35 report high anxiety and stress. Recent graduates or those without dedicated workspaces struggle most.

However, remote work has been a gamechanger for some. Those juggling caregiving and long commutes have seen improved mental health. Mothers can work flexible hours and spend more time with family, outweighing any negatives.

Still, loneliness and disconnection are real issues companies must address. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Younger, single employees may suffer more than older staff with local networks. Employers should balance flexibility and social needs.

The ideal model depends on the organization and employee makeup.  

Mental health issues have grown across all workers during the pandemic. But employers and global mobility specialists can take steps to help, like increasing access to mental healthcare, promoting inclusivity, reducing stigma, adding well-being programs, allowing schedule flexibility, and encouraging work-life balance.

Significant challenges beyond Instagrammable beach views

The digital nomad lifestyle of working remotely while traveling the world seems glamorous. But it has significant challenges beyond the Instagrammable beach views.

As organizations consider post-pandemic work arrangements, they should evaluate what’s best for their people, business, and culture. Just because employees can work remotely doesn’t mean they necessarily should. Assignees should also voice what’s best for their mental health. 

Balancing work and life can be tough for digital nomads. The excitement of a new country makes it tempting to say yes to everything, but a consistent work schedule is key.

Finding a routine is challenging, too. The freedom of working anywhere can mean poor time management and work-life balance. 

Loneliness is difficult when away from friends and family for long stretches. Joining digital nomad communities provides crucial support from those who understand the lifestyle, but it’s not easy to make friends when some nomads choose to party more than work.

Frequent travel involves expenses, including flights, deposits, and supplies. Going out and experiencing new places also adds up. Choosing affordable destinations can offer financial advantage compared to home. But some countries’ high costs are prohibitive.

Time zone differences may demand working odd hours for calls. It’s better to live in a compatible timezone with clients. Time zone differences make scheduling remote meetings frustrating. Tools like Slack somewhat help distributed teams. But early/late calls are still difficult.

Moving locations every few days causes burnout. 

Income instability is a risk as well, especially for freelancers. Affordable places to start out keep costs low while building a business. One is always under pressure to have a financial safety net if income dries up. Life plan uncertainty is a significant drawback. Lack of stability and permanence causes anxiety and stress. 

Comfort and security with a home base

A home base can provide comfort and security. Immigrants in the Bay Area don’t need a digital nomad visa because their priority is stability.

While immigrants face the same unaffordable housing challenges, the tech ecosystem offers a range of jobs from food service to engineering. Nearly every sector has been shaped by immigrant contributions. Many small and large businesses were founded by immigrants seeking entrepreneurship and mobility.

For immigrants in San Jose, their own digital nomad lifestyle is about staying put when they consider the financial difficulties they endured before they came to the United States. The Bush study shows San Jose has the highest median income for foreign-born households at $136,154. It tops other major metro areas like San Francisco and Baltimore. 

For those thinking of moving to a sweaty lifestyle on the beach somewhere in Mexico or Southeast Asia, it could be a little too late. Most companies are bringing in employees to come back to the office at least 3 times a week. A balance of work from home and office could just help make inroads to the mental health issues plaguing today’s workforce.