The hermit life of the modern worker.
Re-discovering nomadism through remote work
Veronica Fanzio, University of Amsterdam
After months of a global pandemic and a strict lockdown, people have become more thirsty of travelling, wanting to break the boundaries beyond the walls of our home. But, while this feeling is easily found among the quarantiners, we have witnessed the arising of a more specific phenomenon, the so-called ‘wanderlust syndrome,’ which leverages our innate need for adventure and discovery.
A nomadic attitude designates human relationship with space since the dawning of our species, characterising its evolution in the stages of growth and definition. Hunter-gatherers societies are well-known wanderers, driven by intrinsically instinctive needs. A shift happened with the affirmation of agriculture and domestication; the environment became an object of control and a source of growth, leading to local-based increments in production.
Travelling became unnecessary. People began to settle down and evaluate sedentariness over moving. Ancient Greek possessed a term that indicatively enclosed this perspective - ‘anachoresis,’ the life of a hermit, a forced wandering off pushed by hard conditions. In ancient Egypt, however, such behaviour was noticed concurrently to oppressive rents and harsh work conditions, famine and wars, and designated an opposite state to the harmonious belonging to a permanent homeland.
Jacques Attali wrote that humankind endures the fascination of nomadism, and today we are being reconverted into voyagers. We cannot overlook the phenomena of imposed migration when considering present-day travel tendencies. But let’s focus on the conscious and unconstrained choice of moving around different territories, a decision often led by the growing appreciation of travel - nowadays considered an enriching experience - and the affirmation of the mentioned ‘wanderlust syndrome.’
This goes beyond the pure pleasure of visiting new places; it is a more pervasive need that drives individuals toward unexplored lands. But only the very few privileged ones can pursue this urgency whenever it appears. Others work, revolving their lives around a job, and its boundaries exerted over space and time. Vacation time is limited, and the pleasure of travel becomes for many, a luxury.
The America-based research shows that remote workers have grown by 91% in the last ten years, and the tendency appears to be unstoppable even in the aftermath of the pandemic. In its recent report, Upwork, one of the largest freelancing websites, showed that future managers in the US will have remote workers in 73% of all teams in the next eight years. While now working remotely means decorating your home desk as an office, people who usually choose this type of employment are consciously making a step toward a balance between work and free time, that for many still sounds utopian. A remote job is not a synonym of an eternal holiday but inevitably opens up to unexpected possibilities in the alternation of work time and wanderlust satisfaction. It is usually an option chosen to follow one’s curiosity toward the world and the willingness to fulfil it travelling, embracing a dynamic, on the go lifestyle.
Many communities have arisen both off and online, allowing remote workers to share tips and tricks on where to go and what to do, based on standards such as, internet connection and presence of shared workspaces that can be rented temporarily. The pandemic has shown us the ephemerality of the office for numerous work positions, as we face the undeniable superpower of technological advancements. Both employers and employees are re-evaluating the need for an office to effectively be productive and meaningful in a company, shifting the attention towards the importance of being in a safe and pleasant setting. Twitter couldn’t stress this more with its hashtag #LoveWhereYouWork, which accompanied the CEO’s announcement in May of the decision to allow part of the workers to work remotely permanently.
This is a clear sign that new perspectives are arising in work culture, evolving towards an increased evaluation of the overall morale and the promotion of autonomous creativity: essential elements that contribute to a growth of productivity, especially when flexibility is cherished and pursued. As Daniel H. Pink discusses on his bestseller ‘Drive,’ these factors have a significant impact on the overall satisfaction of workers, with resulting positive outcomes for the company itself. So while some workers are impatiently waiting to go back to the office, craving that cup of vending machine coffee and a good face-to-face chat with the colleagues, many are foreseeing the opportunity to work with more versatility, savouring the freedom derived from the possibility to make boundless choices when it comes to their surrounding environment.
The future of work is remote
CEOs think that a permanent remote position is a synonym of danger and loss. One point touched on the debate stresses the importance of spontaneous interpersonal interactions, stating that remote working does not allow us to build the relationships necessary for the social creatures that we humans inherently are. But what is not contemplated here is that remote work would allow for new, unexpected social synergies with the vast amount of living beings you can bump into once outside the office, building casual and significant relations with other people and other environments.
The personal enrichment that derives from the contact with otherness is one of the main drivers of the cited wanderlust syndrome, and one of the most exciting features of travelling regardless of the purpose. While we are far from disengaging ourselves form a work-centric conception of life, we cannot avoid celebrating the positive changes in the mindset brought by the extension of the possibility to work fully remote: will we rediscover the pleasure of the eternal wanderers? Remote workers could light the way of equilibrium between work and travel, blurring their edges and again awakening that profound tie we have with mobility.