Last week I expressed how ecstatic I am that work-life integration affords me the option of going into the office to be social and work as a team or stay home when weather, my son, or my whimsy demands. This week I want to dig a little deeper into how work-life integration is giving tech workers greater choice about how they live. Specifically, I want to focus on alternative living arrangements that are made possible by a greater industry focus on work-life integration.
The Digital Nomad
The rise of the digital nomad has been intense over the past ten years. Ten years ago, work was tied to a desk and that desk was firmly rooted in an office. Now, it seems like every company offers some kind of flexibility that allows you to extend your vacation by working part time while you are away, even if there is not an official policy on the books.
Until recently, I associated the concept of the digital nomad with young freelancers who threw a laptop in their backpack and traveled the world. However, my thoughts on that changed when I went to WordCamp Europe last year. It was there that I heard about an entire company that had gone nomadic. This company ( I wish I could link to the talk, but I am unable to find it and unfortunately cannot remember the speaker’s name- please let me know if you remember the speaker!!!) had done away with an office altogether. They had staff members living in different countries. Some traveled. Some settled. They used a virtual office to keep in touch and manage projects. To me this was interesting because it was not a single digital nomad against the world, but a team that could work together and depend on each other.
When an individual worker chooses to work remotely, they usually have a slew of issues with communication and staying up to date. This virtual office allowed an entire agency to function without fear of missing important updates that are verbally relayed around a physical office. I do not personally like the idea of a completely virtual office, because I think social work interactions are important for both companies and the individuals in them. But the freedom a well-executed virtual office can allow is still remarkable.
The Capitalistic Commune
Many large companies are beginning to realize that by taking care of their employees outside of work, they will get better work from less stressed and more creative employees. Not only is work moving out of the office, but so are the office benefits. Some companies are offering free housekeeping services or hot meals delivered to the homes of their employees. It is just one way that living and working spaces are merging together.
Another way? Work-life apartment buildings that are being built in large cities. These apartment buildings tend to be aimed at remote workers and offer micro living spaces with plenty of perks such as entertainment, social activities, and health and fitness centers. However, their real focus is a co-working space where independent workers can meet and collaborate on projects with other freelancers or startups.
While these are geared towards individuals at the moment, I am intrigued to see if any companies will jump on board, providing a completely self-sustaining work-living environment for their employees. Is it too communal or is that something that young employees would seek out?
The IT Village
The final alternative living arrangement that has caught my eye recently are the IT villages that are popping up in Bulgaria. Bulgarian villages are suffering from emigration. Young people move to major cities or abroad to find work and life opportunities, leaving an aging population in the villages. Some villages are completely abandoned.
A young Bulgarian entrepreneur had the idea to take some of these villages, outfit them with high speed internet, and create a place where remote tech workers can enjoy village life while still having all of the necessities to meet their work deadlines. Once again, the idea focuses on individuals who choose an alternative lifestyle as opposed to entire companies that relocate to a village.
The idea behind these villages is that once they reach a critical mass, they will also be able to provide jobs for people who are not tech workers, such as teachers and service workers which will bring life to these nearly abandoned villages.
I love the idea of an IT village.
But my Bulgarian co-workers were not as thrilled by the idea. Here are their reactions:
It looks like Paiyak Development will be staying in Gabrovo for the moment! And it makes me wonder if these will become a haven for foreigners looking to escape the fast-paced, expensive lifestyle of more western countries or if Bulgarians will also buy into them at some point.
Writing this article and having these conversations with my coworkers made me realize that in the tech industry, there really are options for everybody. Whether you want to travel, settle down in a city or a village, or keep your options open, more alternatives to the standard 9-5 are becoming available, and that is a beautiful thing.