women wokrin remotlySource: Renee Altrov

A Remote Worker or Digital Nomad?

What’s the difference between a remote worker and a digital nomad?

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic years is that remote work is here to stay. In fact, 85% of managers agree that having remote workers will become the new normal.

So, does that mean remote workers will be location independent, travelling the world and clocking in at any time? Well, not exactly. There are some differences between digital nomads and remote workers. Knowing those differences might help you determine which lifestyle is right for you.

We'll take you through the pros and cons of each way of working and how they relate to the Estonian e-Residency programme.

Who is a digital nomad?

Think of digital nomads as the modern-day Joanne Kygers and Ernest Hemingways. They pick up their life and set it down where and whenever they like. However, they've swapped a battered notebook and typewriter for a powerful 13-inch laptop.

If you are a digital nomad, you won't have a permanent fixed address and will earn money online while travelling. Digital nomads follow their own routine rather than a predefined nine-to-five routine set by someone else. And digital nomads tend to be free to explore while choosing to fit in work when needed.

E-Resident entrepreneur Bertrand perfectly captures this attitude in this interview about his e-residency journey: "They don't know what to make of it when I do a video conference from the beach."

Digital nomad careers

Most digital nomads are freelancers in the tech and creative industries. For example, software developers, social media managers, and graphic designers are popular location-independent careers. Most digital nomads can work anytime they want, except those who need to accommodate their clients' different time zones.

Pros of the digital nomad life

How would you like to work on a hammock in Costa Rica or while munching on a cardamon bun in Stockholm? Working from anywhere is one of the biggest advantages of being a digital nomad. If you wish to travel, you can satiate your wanderlust while bankrolling your adventures at the same time.

  • Travel the world
  • Work where and when you want
  • Total time freedom

Cons of being a digital nomad

Freelancing can be more unstable than working as an employee for a company. Plus, you have the added instability of needing a consistent working environment. If your Airbnb's WiFi goes down, you might have no choice but to work in a noisy hotel lobby. Being in a different time zone and away from your family and friends can be isolating, too.

  • No steady income
  • Unstable working environment
  • Difficult to maintain relationships

Who is a remote worker?

As a remote worker, you likely need to work traditional office hours. Some employers may also dictate where you live, too. Yet because of the pandemic, remote workers are demanding more freedom over where they can live and work. Remote workers tend to have less location independence than digital nomads. They might be able to work where they want to an extent, but with limited freedom. It all comes down to corporate policies or individual management teams.

Careers offering remote work

Most types of remote work include any computer-based career. This consists of the abovementioned jobs and more time-dependent roles like customer service, virtual assisting, human resources, and operations management.

Pros for remote workers

As a remote worker, you get the stability (and benefits!) of regular employment, but you can work outside the office. This could be your home, a cafe, or a co-working space. Say goodbye to commuting and eating sad office lunches at your desk. And no one will know if you go to work in your pyjamas!

  • Steady income and benefits
  • Flexible working environment
  • Greater control over your time
  • Cons of being a remote worker

Many companies want remote workers to live in a particular city or country for tax reasons. Your employers might not even like you going on a working vacation. Plus, you must still attend virtual meetings and work regular office hours set by your company. If you're used to working in an office, you might feel bored and isolated without colleagues for company.

  • Not 100% location independent
  • May still have to work fixed hours
  • Might feel isolated and bored without the office surroundings

What do remote workers and digital nomads have in common?

You know how all bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbons? All digital nomads are remote workers, but not all remote workers are digital nomads. But both can be location independent. Location independent is an umbrella term describing any worker or entrepreneur who can earn an income without being tied to a physical place, meaning they most often work online.

Making the move towards location-independent work

Being able to choose where you live and work is exciting, even a dream come true for some. Registering your online company in Estonia could make you an e-Resident, giving you access to the entire EU. E-Residency supports location-independent lifestyles. With your digital ID card in your pocket, you can take your business worldwide.

What do you need to make it happen?

Internet: High-speed connectivity is a must, especially if you have to hop on many video calls.
Community: Whether you work from home or are constantly moving, making real-world connections with locals or other nomad workers is important.
Safety: Working can be hard if you can't feel secure carrying a laptop. Everyone has a different threshold for risk tolerance, but you should be able to work feeling your person and property are safe.
Healthcare: Besides feeling safe, knowing you're cared for should you fall ill or get in an accident is always good.
Legal pathways: As a digital nomad, it's essential to respect the laws of the land, taxes and all. Luckily, many governments are catching up and offering digital nomad visas.

If you can fulfil your work obligations with a laptop and internet connection, you can be a digital nomad or a remote worker. It comes down to a question of personality: either you need a close connection to a fixed home, or you're happiest when you're on the go.