Last year was the tenth anniversary of the publication of Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week, which many see as the charter of the Digital Nomad movement. Tim’s book was a siren call to those who wished to leverage the growing spread of technology and remote access to gain access to more time and mobility. A decade later, his ideas are still at the heart of how digital nomads build companies and we are seeing the next iteration of those ideas in both business and education.
Indeed, because there are so many more remote workers now than there were a decade ago, we need more than the occasional (or even frequent) Starbucks to host them. Juggernauts like venture-backed WeWork have not only begun to span the globe, offering desks to those remote workers, but also to full-time staff at Microsoft, Salesforce, and Airbnb, just to name a few. It turns out that digital nomads love the benefits of a formal workplace without the constraints of a formal employer (and employers like not having to commit to long leases and expensive buildouts).
It seems that even WeWork itself is thinking collaboratively, as shown by its recent purchase of Meetup. It seems a natural fit: a growing provider of space marrying a worldwide link to communities who need space to meet. But a decade ago, neither possibility would have made sense for any but the earliest of Kevin Kelly-esque adopters, and there’s still plenty of innovation in coworking to come.
Even those venues far outside of well-trafficked cities (or countries) are creating their own value propositions. There’s Coworking Bansko, which is snuggled up next to a ski resort in Bulgaria (a country with one of the fastest internet speeds in the world), but still only 90 minutes from the capital, Sofia, or Mokrin House, in a beautiful Serbian location near the borders with Hungary and Romania, and close to three different airports. Both of these coworking spaces are also offering the newest service demanded by digital nomads: coliving.
If we accept that those who enjoy finding community in coworking spaces and in groups they find on sites like meetup don’t simply want to limit their interaction to work or play time, then coliving is a natural result. Think of a high-end apartment or “dorm” filled with digital nomads. Now the conversations and interactions aren’t limited to working hours or weekend events, but ebb and flow with the natural rhythms of life. The possibilities for collaboration and influence, already latent in coworking and meetups, multiply exponentially. Furthermore, digital nomads often pride themselves on being able to move without too much hassle, so furnished living spaces without constraining lease terms are very attractive prospects.
The Gig Economy comes to Education
Someone who has spent a fair amount of time working and traveling herself, Manisha Snoyer is no stranger to the forces transforming education. Indeed, as founder of CottageClass.com, she’s quickly becoming one of those influential forces.
Manisha’s firm is a community marketplace for childhood education. It’s an “airbnb for education,” allowing “teacherpreneurs” to build and create client-reviewed classes of varying types and lengths for children from Pre-K all the way to 12th grade. Classes can be as free-form as exploring outdoors to recognizable ones like world literature.
Manisha’s a millennial, so it’s no surprise that her company has a social mission: 10% of profits go to expand access to education in underserved communities. Her 15 years in teaching have exposed her to environments in the comfortable confines of Paris to the more challenging ones of Palestine. She sees the bigger picture of what the disruption in education brings: more personal attention, more ability to meet students where they are (geographically and educationally), and more resources to help them obtain a more promising future.
Manisha is leveraging a parallel “nomad” trend in education: homeschooling. Once the domain of a small minority, often religious, homeschooling has gone “mainstream” and a recent Wired article opined that:
“The Internet has already overturned the way we connect with friends, meet potential paramours, buy and sell products, produce and consume media, and manufacture and deliver goods. Every one of those processes has become more intimate, more personal, and more meaningful. Maybe education can work the same way.”
Manisha agrees: “With private school costs soaring and public schools facing overcrowding, we’re seeing increasing numbers of families turn to homeschooling who normally wouldn’t consider that option. The great discovery for these families is that homeschooling is no longer a ‘teach your kid at home’ kind of instruction. Families are turning to brilliant, independent teachers and small microschools to supplement their child’s at-home instruction. The world is literally their oyster and they can provide a highly personalized and affordable education for their child that draws on all the resources their city has to offer. Parents are watching their children develop autonomy, creativity, social skills, flexibility and reach their full potential through self-directed learning: all critical skills for a 21st century citizen in a rapidly evolving workforce and world.”
All indications are that it already is. Whether it’s the ever-growing reach of platforms like Khan Academy, opportunities for homeschoolers to participate in selected classes or sports at traditional schools, or platforms like Fiverr or Kickstarter that don’t suffer from the conventional thinking that you need to graduate from high school or college to create a company or build something great, it’s clear that society is more and more accepting of the possibilities that the answer may not be to fix problematic schools, but to find other solutions entirely.
A decade on from The Four Hour Work Week, we are seeing many of the predictions and the promises about digital nomads playing out. The community, comradeship, and collaboration that our modern society enables causes dramatic transformations in work, education, and even how and where we live.
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Stephen writes about startups, hiring and career issues for VocaWorks.