A Second Order of Remote Work, Please
A friend asked me to move to Miami last week. He recently moved there and the tech ecosystem is booming. The mayor even DMs with people who are thinking of moving. My friend’s rationale to me was simple: as a remote worker, I can relocate there no problem, right?
Not quite, but yes? Let’s explore the concept a bit more.
Ok, and we’re back to exploration.
My friend made a few key assumptions when he said the simple phrase that as a remote worker, I can easily relocate. He assumed:
- That I want to be a digital nomad away from home. (I don’t, at least not full-time)
- That I can live and work in the United States legally. (I can’t because I am Canadian and don’t have visa sponsorship)
- That I am unhappy where I am and largely only here trapped by my former office job and inertia. (Inertia got me here (Toronto), but I also like my life so I don’t feel trapped or unhappy)
- That I want to live a fun in the sun tech lifestyle (I burn too easily and don’t like sand so that’s a no from me)
So we’ve solved those dilemmas.
However, a second thought popped into my head: as a remote worker, there’s nothing stopping me from going to Miami on an extended work trip. Show up for maybe 2 weeks or a month. Get an Airbnb (or a subscription hotel stay) and make a thing of it. I can run my business from anywhere (I proved that when I was in a French chateau in 2020). So why not?
And with that second thought, I realized what I’d known in my gut for a while but hadn’t yet been able to verbalize: The real power of remote work is not in working remotely for its own sake but what working remotely allows you to do.
Introducing the second order
As a remote worker, I have detached my earning potential from my physical location. That in and of itself has wonderful benefits for productivity and also problems for things like isolation and loneliness (and not feeling connected to coworkers if you are an employee vs. a freelancer like me).
A lot of analysis stops here. Remote work is more productive! They say. And they are right. But there’s more to it.
Instead of business travel being a flurry of meetings in a single metropolitan city that everyone flies to, we can think more slowly. We can choose to travel when and if it’s valuable for us. That can be to see a client, to build a new business relationship, or for family purposes (I know someone who, because her job is now remote, was able to spend a month with her partner halfway around the world while still earning her salary. Try doing that with an office job. I believe the term is “unpaid leave”?).
It also gives me the opportunity to attend more in-person events (when safe to do so and when I want to), because my corporeal being is not required to stay at one address all day. There are some restrictions and expectations to this, for example in Russia’s remote work laws which stipulate employers can put rules in place about nomadism. There are also valid questions about whether employers should allow employees to be nomadic or ask them to stay in one place (like Spotify did).
I have many opinions on all of those topics (3 hyperlinks in one paragraph’s worth, apparently!). I won’t dive into them here. Instead, it’s to (re)introduce the simple thought that remote work is a fundamentally different way of work. Yes, it allows you to become a digital nomad if you so choose (here are the countries that have digital nomad visas!). But that’s not for everyone.
Instead, what it truly allows is choice. And that changes the game. Who knows, I may even end up in Miami (PS, Mayor Suarez. If you’re reading this, let’s DM!).