The new frontiers of digital nomadism

22-09-2022 | News

The pandemic has accelerated innovative and complex forms of work, based on a wise use of time and the digital tool, destined to remain in the future. However, it is not a question of banal remote work, but of completely new ways that digital technology makes possible.

by Andrea Granelli

The concept of Long CoVid - the consequences on health of those who have been infected with CoVid and that is the problems that persist even after the disappearance of acute symptoms - it is not only a dramatic novelty of this particularly subtle disease, but it is also a powerful metaphor that reminds us that the impacts on the world of work of the social distancing and the future risks of new pandemics, combined with an increasingly powerful and widespread digital revolution, they will be not only lasting but also progressive release.

We know that digital, combined with organizational transformations, had already made the boundaries of companies much less defined and more porous. Now - after this long period of forced social distancing - the difference between employees, temporary workers, consultants, freelance and suppliers is even more unstable. Above all, the need to launch processes of radical transformation in companies to adapt to increasingly changing markets is not only transforming change into a new form of permanence, but is constantly requiring - almost stabilized - external reinforcements to the processes of change (digital designers, organizational designers, evaluators and trainers of skills , coach, ...).

For these reasons it is reductive to speak of smart work that, in this period, has generally expressed itself in working outside the office with a little support of digital tools (sometimes the telephone and some standard application on one's PC was enough) and basically doing what one had always done.

The question that is being posed, however, is to conceive more or less long moments of work outside the office, often not even in the same place, carrying out activities with colleagues that were not necessarily done before. It would then be appropriate to start talking about "digital nomadism", Which is based on two important capabilities: 

  • make the most of the new digital platforms and the potential of the data world; 
  • knowing how to work - anywhere - without losing efficiency and effectiveness.

This form of work will require rethinking many operational practices, such as meetings, and above all having a new sensitivity to manage one of the most valuable resources that the company assigns to a manager: the weather, his and his collaborators. That increasingly precious time, which digital tools have promised to expand but which, instead, has become increasingly compressed. Elias Canetti captured this dynamic with acuity in The province of man: «Everything became faster, so that there was more time. There is less and less time ». Time that smart work has made even more scarce and perishable with endless (and often useless) meetings without pauses.

The two lives of the manager

In addition to skilful time management and to make the most of the opportunities offered by the increasingly pushed and pervasive diffusion of digital, managers must also become amphibious manager, ie manager from the two lives (this is the meaning of the Greek term), able to move at ease both in the physical and in the digital environment and able, thanks to specific digital skills, to manage, even for prolonged periods, emergencies that require social distancing, without however degrading the quality of their managerial performance in any way. Able, therefore, to practice digital nomadism whenever circumstances require it. Managers who do not compromise with digital (as the expression hybrid - often used to describe this coexistence of the two worlds - tends to suggest) but split to get the most out of the two environments, the physical and the virtual one, as they consider them two aspects of the same universe, the two dimensions ofonlife - to take up the happy expression coined by Luciano Floridi - where «real and virtual merge (with) themselves».

All of this requires the manager to master three operational skills, which are increasingly critical as the digital revolution spreads:

  • manage and interpret both i big that small data;
  • communicate via screen;
  • organize your own digital backpack.

I will focus on the last two, since much has been written about the importance of data and the necessary skills.

First, the communication via digital environments. It is not a question of simple remote interactions but of new ways of communication mediated by the screen; for this reason it would be more appropriate to talk about communication shielded. Communicating effectively via video requires mastering the specificities of this form of communication, for example knowing the cognitive effects of framing that the screen / frame causes, the particular narrative effects originating from the film editing (revealed by the technical term that experts use: diegetic illusion), the importance of the information conveyed by the background behind our video image and, above all, the specificities of what we could define digital proxemics: the possible distortions of the voice linked to connectivity, the distorting effects of the camera, the pupil-camera misalignment which allows you to look the interlocutor in the eye without being perceived as impudent ...

A video communication is not a simple communication via video. Learning to use Zoom or Microsoft Teams isn't enough to be effective and persuasive. We have to master the specificities required by a digital communication. For example, knowing how to use, where possible, the emotional power of images and color, knowing how to master sounds, rhythm and even silence during digital communication, knowing how to control and use the gaze, facial expressions and our gestures to channel the attention or underline important points of our speech. But also plan correctly the light that illuminates us and the background behind us and make sure we have a good shot.

The digital communication context has in fact two important specificities:

  • provides very powerful tools thanks to the continuous innovation of platforms and digital content;
  • takes place in an environment that is impoverished from the point of view of the stimuli that we can grasp and send.

For these reasons, a communicator - if he wants to excel in this form of communication and "pierce the screen" - must also know how to go beyond the spoken word and be able to exploit every information, every grip, every communication technique to dilate and expand a communication that is it is made more compressed, almost claustrophobic. Therefore, he must first of all be an excellent communicator and fully aware of what his communication determines. This also requires knowing how to read between the lines and beyond the glances to grasp the unsaid, the thought-but-not-manifested and above all it requires to prepare very carefully before the meeting.

When we make a proposal that we hope will be approved we cannot base our communication only on the reactions of those who listen to us. In fact, if these reactions are negative, it is too late to verify this during the presentation. We must necessarily anticipate them, anticipate them. It is no coincidence that the prescient of antiquity - one for all Tiresias - were blind. As forced to live in environments with few stimuli, they had to strengthen their skills not only to grasp every little detail, but above all to anticipate what would happen, to understand its possible implications.

Secondly, it digital backpack. The challenge today is not only to continue learning but also - perhaps above all - to remember what has been learned and reuse, not as a parrot but in a creative and combinatorial way, what should be remembered. Seneca gives his pupil Lucilius this important advice:

"It is now time for someone to lean on himself, to express these thoughts in his own words and not by heart ..." Zeno said this. " What are you saying? Until when will you move under the guidance of another? You take the lead and also express something of your own, that others can memorize ”.

(Letter to Lucilius 33)

The risk of forgetting is almost a certainty; just think ofinformation overload of the digital society that creates cognitive fatigue and progressive aging that progressively reduces the number of neurons. And when we remember little and badly we not only lose valuable information but we also risk make decisions based on the latest information and knowledge we remember, not necessarily the most relevant.

We therefore need a method capable of structuring a systematic collection process of what strikes us; but we also need a container that collects this knowledge and (re) organizes it to allow it not only its conservation and easy retrieval but also - and above all - the (re) use, ideally in a creative form. A container capable of organizing digital content and making it accessible via the Internet, at any time and wherever we are.

An experienced explorer would never face a journey without a backpack with everything necessary, even to manage the unexpected. The same goes for the digital nomad, who can work anywhere and for long periods. This digital container / tool of our knowledge - or rather the “digital backpack” - is therefore vital and a necessary condition for an authentic digital nomadism. This expression originates from the powerful metaphor of the backpack, used by George Clooney in the famous backpack speech one of the climaxes of the film Between the clouds of Jason Reitman (2009).

This personal digital container must therefore contain ideas, information, passages from books that have struck us, scattered notes or raw material on which we are working, but also memories, curiosities: a container therefore created as a website, an accessible space wherever there is a connection to the Network.

Digital Intelligence

The skills described and digital nomadism also require basic digital competenceabsolutely necessary to guide and operate in the future competitive context, characterized by an increasingly massive and widespread presence of tools, logic and working practices derived from digital. Not a simple literacy but a complex and articulated ability that we could call digital intelligence. A skill, combined with systematic critical thinking, which enables us to move at ease in digital environments where, among other things, soft skills - inseparable indeed blended with the hard ones - they become more and more important. A intelligence - and the choice of this English term is not accidental - where the mastery of digital is not only linked to the knowledge of procedures, tools and apps but also knows how to grasp the intimate interrelation between intelligence and information. The data revolution - big is small - has in fact an intimate connection with the digital: it presupposes it and feeds it.

We are therefore only at the beginning of a powerful and widespread transformation of the world of work, oriented and shaped by the digital and characterized by paths that are not necessarily linear and progressive. We will therefore see deviations and second thoughts but the final direction is now defined. Digital will be increasingly present in the world of work and the digital intelligence and digital nomadism will be absolutely critical skills for managers.

Andrea Granelli he is the founder and president of Kanso (innovation consultancy and change management). 

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