What Hesitant Expats Can Learn From Digital Nomads

The so-called “digital nomadic” lifestyle was once dismissed as a millennial’s escape from responsibility or a Baby Boomer’s one last hurrah at realizing his failed dreams. Their age differences may create a huge generational gap between them, but both sets of adventurers are bound by several values: a passion for travel, a genuine interest to work with the locals of the country they are visiting, and a drive to build their business while doing so. These are not just freelancers who are doing their stints while soaking up the sun in their destination places. For many digital nomads, the experience of living in another country like a native is inseparable from the act of entrepreneurship.

Expatriate executives work hard and play hard. Remote contract workers equate their flexibility with freedom. Digital nomads think of themselves as businessmen in a globalized world that has no boundaries. Many of them have proven their point and stuck to their guns, creating a respectable living and a sustainable enterprise as they do deals with fruit growers in Latin America or develop new technology platforms in Silicon Valley.

For global mobility specialists assigned to look for talents who can only work for short periods of time, digital nomads seem to fit the bill–with some exceptions. Some prefer to take in all the wonderful experiences a place offers that they may not fit the corporate culture, but there are many others who are hybrids– solid professionals who put in the hours but who like to slow things down during weekends. They know how to strike a healthy balance between work and recreation. It’s their way of recharging. Companies that encourage this get more settled, happier people working for them, for sure.

This is one workplace trend that is emerging, and one survey estimates that the number of digital nomads will rise to 1 billion by the year 2035.

More people are becoming digital nomads and not just expats. The line is blurring as both can easily adjust to living like the locals. There was the traditional expatriate executive and there are the more adventurous ones who genuinely desire to know more about the local culture and develop relationships with people. Digital nomads like doing what every local does. In contrast, the conservative expatriate may show up because he sees it as part of his professional duty. And while highly paid executives tend to stay in five-star hotels, digital nomads eschew the glamour and the glitz to rent an apartment as long as they provide a safe harbor, a retreat from the foreignness around them.

The degree of independence and flexibility that the  extreme digital nomads thrive on cannot be totally applied to more structured workplaces, but if global mobility specialists dangle a good offer, many actually consider it and even accept jobs that satisfy their wanderlust. If not and you just need a traditional expat, at least use the playbook digital nomads use in acculturating a foreign assignee to his new environment. You will need it to get more ambivalent expats to enjoy his work and temporary home. They must think like digital nomads: Where they are is their home.

Below are some ways to motivate an assignee to think like a digital nomad:

Encourage your assignee to reach out to the local community

This goes beyond taking them to the best amusement parks or doing cocktails in the next networking conference. Make him volunteer for work in non-profit organizations, although companies do take care of that from their end. Have him join expat clubs or suggest to have spend some time with expats who have imbibed the digital nomad mindset. Instead of dining in familiar and comfortable restos, take him to an unconventional foodie spot where the locals hang out. If the neighborhood where he lives in holds occasional weekend barbecues and getting-to-know lunches, tell him to go. Ask help and support from the owners of the accommodations your assignee now lives in; California Corporate Housing, for example, takes the effort to familiarize their tenants with the lay of the land and the various communities within them.

Ask him to experiment and go beyond the familiar

Explore the nooks and crannies of his assigned location. After having his fill of the famous tourist traps, take him to local cultural hangouts. Replace parks with nature trails, and beaches with long drives to the countryside. He (and you) just might establish a connection with a person or an organization who will prove helpful later on. Some digital nomads find inspiration for their own personal projects when they venture out of their comfort zones.

The bottom line: immerse your assignee in the wonderful experience of his new assignment. If he feels connected to the community and explores first-hand and in-depth those small but significant nuances that make America a great place to live and work, that homegrown next-door mom-and-pop resto that still bakes classic American pie will be more attractive than the formal fine-dining resto.

It’s important to remember that a digital nomadic lifestyle is low maintenance, precisely because most places they go to are off the beaten path and they know the best bargains in travel, recreation and accommodation. They know how corporate housing providers like California Corporate Housing can give them the best deals.

Any hesitant expat will definitely learn a thing or two from digital nomads. And global mobility specialists, the way they are perpetually mobile and imbibing what locals do, are in their minds digital nomads anyway.