Digital Nomad vs Remote Worker – The Real Difference

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Venn diagram showing how Digital Nomads are a type of remote worker
Digital Nomads are a type of remote worker

Often times, people confuse a Digital Nomad with a Remote Worker. The two are very similar concepts, but have very different lifestyles and demands. Let’s explore the REAL difference between the two.

A digital nomad is a type of remote worker who travels the world while doing their jobs remotely. The main difference between a digital nomad and a remote worker is where each considers “home base”. Digital nomads are not bound to a specific time to be working nor a specific location. Digital nomads make a conscious decision to live this lifestyle. In contrast, the typical remote worker is often required to be available during specific hours of the day. Remote workers are not able to travel often because of their need to be available during their normal working hours.

Characteristics of the Digital Nomad

Photo credit: @keripfeiffer – follow digital nomad Keri Pfeiffer on Instagram

A digital nomad is technically a remote worker, but there is one key difference. The digital nomad has the ability to work at any time or place and anywhere in the entire world. In fact, the main characteristic is their nomadic lifestyle

The digital nomad, in contrast with the typical remote worker, is viewed as more of a trendy-hippster type of lifestyle. A modern day gypsie. At the time of posting this article, there were 2.6M Instagram posts with #digitalnomad, which demonstrates its appeal.

To be considered a digital nomad, you must fit this basic criteria:

DIGITAL

  • All or most of your living must be made through a digital means so as you are not tied to a specific location.

NOMAD

  • You must be willing (and able) to travel. Being a nomad means that you are constantly traveling to any place that has an Internet connection to allow you to earn your income.

A few things people love about being a Digital Nomad

  • Work where you want – digital nomads enjoy the flexibility to work wherever they want in the world.
  • Work when you want – a feature of the nomadic lifestyle is to choose when you work.
  • Travel – digital nomads can travel freely and experience the world.
  • Independence – daily commutes and schedules aren’t a feature of digital nomads. They enjoy a sense of independence that traditional workers do not.
  • Meet interesting people – digital nomads have the opportunity to meet interesting people all around the world. This gives them a different perspective on life that not everyone will get.
  • Cultural influence – digital nomads get to experience a variety of different cultures.
  • Less expensive – depending on the country, your dollar may go further.

Drawbacks of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

  • “Creature” comforts – digital nomads are constantly traveling and may miss the comforts of home that remote workers enjoy.
  • Raising a family – is challenging in this lifestyle. Being constantly on the move isn’t the best way to raise a family.
  • WiFi – at times can be difficult to obtain in some locations.
  • Time zone challenges – traveling to different time zones can present challenges for some clients depending on your line of work.
  • Acquiring new business – being on the road in a different country can make it challenging to acquire new clients.

Characteristics of the (typical) Remote Worker

The typical remote worker may be a freelancer, independent business owner, or work on a virtual distributed team. Remote workers tend to be stationary as compared to the digital nomad. They mostly work from their home offices, but at times will travel to co-working spaces or coffee shops. A remote worker typically has a permanent residence, whereas a digital nomad will normally have a semi-permanent residence (or in extreme cases, no residence).

Photo of remote worker in office
Photo via: @estiponagroup: They’re virtual. But real. (Because they like paradoxes and whatnot.) You know what happens when you don’t have to invest in walls, roofs, floors or any other limit-imposing aspect of a physical office? You get to invest in people like Chelsey Brice (pictured), who help their agency kick some serious ad/PR/marketing/communication booty.

To be considered a remote worker, you must fit this basic criteria:

REMOTE WORKER

  • Your job must be completed outside a traditional office and completed digitally over the Internet, phone or other digital device. 
  • Remote workers are typically freelancers, independent sole-proprietors, or part of a distributed virtual team.

A few things people love about the remote working lifestyle

  • Loved ones – more time to spend with loved ones. Being a work-from-home parent has huge benefits to raising children.
  • Productivity – many remote workers say working from home makes them more productive due to less office-related distractions.
  • Health – having a better work/life balance cna equate to healthier choices. No daily office donuts and other unhealthy foods. Daily exercise is often easier to accomplish in this lifestyle.
  • Cost savings – reduced transportation costs, vehicle depreciation, vehicle maintenance, vehicle wear and tear, home cooking, and many others.
  • Career opportunities – being a remote worker means your boundaries move from your local area to the entire world. This could open up opportunities that may not have existed for you before.

Drawbacks of the Remote Working Lifestyle

  • Loneliness – this is one of the most common challenges the remote worker faces.
  • Communication – communicating with virtual teams can be difficult to manage for some.
  • Decreased visibility – working in a face-to-face environment gives the opportunity for increased visibility that remote workers don’t always get. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Prone to distractions – the remote working lifestyle can create distractions.
  • Work/Life balance – though some areas are better with work/life balance, with your home-office right around the corner, work/life balance can become a challenge.

Final Thoughts

We learned the “real” difference between the digital nomad and remote worker: digital nomads travel, remote workers are stationary. Remote working and digital nomads are lifestyles and as most things in this world, nothing is perfect. There are aspects of each lifestyle that people love with just as many drawbacks.

Are you a digital nomad and/or remote worker? What do you love about your lifestyle? Share in the comments below.

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