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Rise of digital nomads in Kenya

Welcome to the world of laptop-toting workers who make a living online and can live just about anywhere. One moment they are at Diani beach enjoying the sun, sea and sand while the next, their office moves to the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro where they enjoy the thrilling experience

Wambui Virginia @kuivirgie

magine having not to report to your place of work every morning, where you are not confined  within four walls? Where you do not have to wear official clothes? Sounds absurd, right? But we are in the 21st century. Now almost everything can be done virtually. Enter digital nomads.

They are people who use modern technologies to earn a living while moving from location to location. Wandering the globe while doing internet-enabled work is now a common fantasy among traditional workers and one that more are acting on.

And while many are freelancers in creative-class jobs such as writers and designers, those in tours and travels,  IT professionals, marketing and communications professionals and ecommerce pros—some are remote workers with traditional jobs.

Digital nomads are usually in two categories. The first group works while on the move. For instance, they may stay in a country for a few weeks, before moving to another destination. They make it a part of their lifestyle.

“This is an attractive trend for all those workers who want to keep working, but in a different environment. How many times do we hear people saying that when you have time to travel, you don’t have enough money … and when you finally have the money then you don’t have the time?” Walt Akoko of Freelancer Kenya poses.

The other group is the most common.  These people have a traditional job, could be a lawyer, a banker, or a journalist. “Here,  a company allows you to keep working, but do what you want. You could be working on the beach, on the plane, but just deliver your work. It’s that freedom to enjoy yourself while keeping your life in play. All you need is a laptop, and making sure you answer your phone if need be,” Akoko explains.

Nairobi is slowly becoming a hub for digital nomads, both local and international.  Akoko says his website, Freelancer Kenya, mainly encourages those who want to be digital nomads to join. “Many people would ask how we get money from just using our laptops. But most people don’t understand that the global village is now becoming a digital world. 

Most businesses are going online. In terms of businesses, there is digital marketing, online freelancing, journalism and even blogging. Need to talk to a client face to face? Skype is there and it enables personal digital contact. The good thing is that you don’t have to be a millennial to be a digital nomad,” he adds.

Changing job market

However, there has been mixed reactions over the idea of being a digital nomad. Lena Moraa, a customer care representative with a telecommunications company is pessimistic about this.

“It’s not just millennials who want this. Trust me. I’ve been working for eight years and who would not love to explore this world. But we need to understand not all work fields can accommodate this lifestyle. There are jobs that almost always need face to face interactions,” she says.

But, the big picture is the job market is changing. All because of technology. “Even labour intensive jobs are being phased out by robots in factories. We have to be prepared to adapt to a new 21st century way of working and living by continuing to up our skill and appreciate that our work-life balance may actually improve. So, we are not changing the remote work. Technology is making it feasible,” June Njeri a fashion design student and a blogger says.

However, there is a challenge. “Can millenials do manual labour? I am not  saying they can’t do anything physical, but most of them won’t agree to. Some even feel they are too good for some jobs. But they have to get they can’t all have digital jobs.

So, this might be a problem if in coming years we won’t have people to do the physical jobs. You’ll see most of them on social media; ‘living the life’. For a strong economy you can’t have one without the other,” Alluded Olech Marvin, a lecturer at East african School of Media Studies. 

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