Moving ourselves and our families around the globe we have become all too familiar with the hassles this lifestyle brings. Figuring out where to stay, what to expect, where to pay taxes or which visa to get. Rinse and repeat.
We mapped out hundreds of relocation nuisances we could fix with software. Once these get solved millions of people like us could benefit. So there was no choice but to start this company.
Over the last decade most of our team were busy building Skype which turned out to be quite effective making the world smaller in the metaphorical sense. We believe we can now rearrange the human population physically as well.
The bigger question here is how will we see cities and countries change in the next 50 years, with fast internet everywhere? We know what it will do to work, but how will it shape urban planning? Country planning?
What will the function be of metropolitan centers, and small towns? Will the make up of people who live in those two change? For example, maybe only the super wealthy will be able to afford the big cities? And the poor will be working in matrix-like mega flats, e.g. like in Hong Kong? That’s a bit grim, haha, but what do you think?
Skype is great because it brought people far apart together, literally everyone - I’m having in mind not only expats and digital nomads but for example immigrants that have a chance to communicate with their families in their home country, whom they might see in person even less than once per year. In fact, why some are called immigrants and others expats anyway?
Do you think the tools you - or others - are building will be so inclusive as Skype, that can be useful to people of all sorts for different purposes?
This is a digital nomad forum, most of the people here work in tech, but the point should be building tools and services that can improve the life of people outside of tech too. What are your ideas on this?
I am afraid the definite answer to your question would require a book, but it definitely sparked a few immediate thoughts:
The macro trend of technology enabling remote work (fast data connectivity, improving logistics, on demand economy to boot up faster in any new place, etc) is definitely there and unstoppable, case in point: us chatting here, and building what we build. Growing from 3 to 7 billion people using internet via smartphones and all that.
It is always hard for incumbents to change their ways, just think of the likelihood of your local bank, telco, utility, hospital or school system one morning allowing all of their employees to work from wherever. The existing 10,000 or 100,000 person organizations will not lead the change in ways of working, but will follow the ways of the people entering the workforce today, and the companies we are creating today in a new way.
While the “work anywhere” trend spreads (and some say, even despite of that) the ever-larger metropolitan areas have a lot of inertia for the value creation for new immigrants. Yes, there are people escaping them for cost, pollution, traffic, etc – but slower than new immigrants come in.
Thanks to the collaborative consumption, it is much easier to live a “normal” life in shorter sprints of time in places where you need to be. Think of a month in Airbnb or CaravanSerai instead of a 30 year mortgage.
On this backdrop, quite different developments are likely depending if you look at 5 or 50 year horizon (as you did in your question):
In the short term: the mass migration and urbanization continues, probably at accelerating pace. There are also technology trends that support that directly: what if self-driving cars and clean energy development make a 10M person city a pleasant, clean place to live? Yes, there will be people who leave, but there are others who come in. Circulation increases.
And more importantly, for many people it will be less of a binary question of where they live and if they move from A to B. Talking to Teleport users today we see that the question is not “should I move to Silicon Valley?” but rather “how should I split time between the places I need/want to be? how much time will I spend with my team, clients, friends in person VS working remotely? what is my personal location strategy?”
In the long term: we will definitely see a redistributed structure of entities the world is governed through: more city-state like things in loose associations with each-other, people with niche interests and synchronized value sets congregating. Less people feel they have “physical roots” and stay landlocked whereever the lottery of birth put them. Some of these entities will be megacities, and some could be former fishing villages turned into medium towns. And the lone dude on some remote mountain top will be more connected than ever to participate in the economy and culture at any of them.
Thanks Sten! This is a great overview and I’m sure makes anyone think about the future of merging cultures, existing paradigms going supernova and one’s personal futures! In your opinion:
a) What needs to happen for the digital nomadism to assert a more reliable/sought after position in the landscape of work and career? What needs to happen for today’s graduates to consider remote work and/or unsettled lifestyle as at least as viable choice as let’s say getting an internship in a large, stable, “cubicle-driven”, “don’t-stick-out” kind of company?
b) How much impact small communities of digital nomads online (and getting together offline) can have on the overall change of work landscape? Do we move the needle or we’re just the result of the needle organically moving towards more connectedly distributed world?
A pretty typical situation when wearing a Skype t-shirt on a plane in the early days was that you get approached by a user who notices the S logo on you and says “thank you”. This is a super powerful feeling, btw. Then you ask them for feedback on your product. They tell you: “I used Skype to call my grandmother last night…” and then you have to listen to 15 minutes about their grandmother’s health and broader family history.
Learning here: the holy grail of building such everyday tools is that you become invisible for the users. You’re just a green call button, and a fully immersive conversation with a loved one on the other side of the planet follows. You achieve that by removing as much friction from the user experience, anticipating the user’s next need and delivering more than they expect. And once you’re there, whoever benefits from your software does not have to be technical at all.
Yes, we’re starting with people in tech as eager early adopters, but we humbly dream of becoming invisible enough for use by anyone with Teleport as well one day.
I think most creative work stands above the API (jobs below are most likely to be automated in the near future) and can be easily done remotely, hence I see the world moving towards a direction where most people do information processing and creative work and thus are all included in our “free people move” vision.
Now as a CEO I want us to build not just great products, but a culture and an organization that great people want to work in for the long run. @keskkyla and I have committed to Teleport for a decade and more if we beat the odds of the highly risky startup game. We hope it will be many many years for anyone else too to get bored or tired either. But once that happens, again learning from that Skype experience we know we will be cheering to Teleporters whenever and whatever they will pursue next.
I see remote digital work as a great solution to unemployment problems in sparsely populated areas. In Estonia there are thousands of people who decide to move closer to a job, whether that happens to be a bigger town or Finland and this causes life in small villages to die plus several social problems (children left behind “to grow on their own”). I hope that more and more of those people realize how much digital work there is available and they get inspired to learn skills that allow them to apply for those jobs.
As the most nomadic of the Teleport bunch, let me give my 2 cents here:
I think it’s a question of visibility. We will see many more on the move once the realization that “see the world” and “advance your career” are not mutually exclusive.
Since young people are receptive to role models, examples of success would be the most compelling. For most folk I would think seeing your friends travel the world while working and not necessarily doing financially worse than you should do the trick (here’s where geoarbitrage can also come in handy).
Maybe the working hard bit should be asserted more than photos of laptops on the beach Efforts like Youjin’s Digital Nomad Documentary will certainly help make the community more visible.
I guess everything has to start somewhere. I personally was inspired by foreign English teachers that made their way onto my remote home island in Estonia. Especially in small places even single inspiring individuals can spark change and help see the world in ways that will later shape lifestyles.
I’m certainly hopeful about digital nomads serving as these inspiring examples that push more and more people to move and see the world. It might start with individuals, their friends and small teams, but as time goes by a lot of these experiences will be carried over to larger and larger organizations. It really is up to us to try to move that needle!
The entire history of human migration was geographically towards more opportunities. And you’re absolutely right, for the first time in history a person can alternatively move physically away (or stay put) from a place of opportunity, and still reap the benefits.
That said, for dire unemployment moving around could still be a solution. For example professor Enrico Moretti has suggested “migration vouchers” as the most effective social support governments could provide dealing with unemployment.