Over the last few years the trend of digital nomads has been a hot topic for urban planners — but there’s a new trend with much bigger potential to scale.
There are a couple of things I’ve always felt uncomfortable about with the digital nomad movement — it isn’t all that inclusive and seems driven by a minority of Insta influencers with a whole lot of unrecognised privilege.
There’s another factor — our quality of life is directly influenced by how much good time we can spend with friends and family. Going over to the other side of the world can create boundless opportunities, but might not be the best long-term investment for our mental health.
In 2014, in Sweden, a study by Professor Terry Hartig found a direct correlation between antidepressant prescriptions and holiday breaks. This isn’t the biggest shock, but the rate decreased even more when more people were on holiday. Professor Hartig called this collective restoration.
It implies that a holiday is good, but a holiday shared is considerably better.
Our close friendship groups and families are an important part of our mental health management that we often don’t appreciate fully until we leave them behind.
This isn’t to ignore those that don’t have the luxury or privilege of a trusted family and friendship group to return to.
But one long-lasting legacy of 2020 is that people are demanding a more flexible way of working, whether working from home, the office or a third place.
The UK has still managed to keep unnecessary commutes from creeping back in. Recent data published in the Times shows that the UK is leading the way here.
Enter the local nomads.
Local nomads are like digital nomads in many ways, they’re not tied to a single location, they have freedom in their role to roam, and see the value in a change of scenery.
But with one big difference, they can sleep in their own bed at the end of the day.
This could be transformative for so many people who are excluded from the globetrotting lifestyle of digital nomads, and much better for the environment.
Before lockdown, I used to do regular “training” trips with my very good friend Georgina Jones. Training consisted of getting a train ride for 2/3 hours somewhere, having a good lunch when we arrived and then getting the train back.
The main purpose for training was that we could each set out an agenda to go through and coach/mentor each other with no interruptions. It was really wonderful.
From our base in Cardiff we could get to so many places and be back by teatime: Bristol, Shrewsbury, Carmarthen, Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil, Gloucester, Bath, not to mention London and so many more.
We were the local nomads, using the privilege of our working situation to get out and see what Britain had to offer.
And that’s a big part of it, there are so many great towns that we have to explore but that we never otherwise make an excuse to visit.
As our teams become distributed across regions we have opportunities to put cash into different communities rather than making everyone travel to an inconvenient fixed location.
Local nomads will drive new opportunities for urban planners, but more importantly new revenue for heritage properties and interesting places.
By creating new kinds of meeting spaces we could lock in all of the environmental and mental health benefits of booting the commute.
And different work can happen in different places. Creative meetings in castles, board rooms in barns, walk and talks by the coast, appraisals above interdependent coffee shops on the high street. What if every train station had workspace?
Private spaces in interesting places.
I’ve so enjoyed in-person meetings again, there’s just a completely different quality to them that feels more productive and authentic. As we all find new ways to meet and work, we need new social infrastructure, and understanding the needs of local nomads is a great starting point.
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