I don’t know about you but I’ve settled into this new remote reality. I no longer set alarms for hours before my meetings, allotting for commute time and a Starbucks stop. I no longer spend my pennies on train tickets, and I even no longer wear pants most of the time.
Yet I also no longer enjoy greeting my teammates and coworkers in the mornings with hugs and an extra croissant for the one who always runs late. I no longer fist bump my partner after we crush a proposal or comment on her impeccable sense of style. I dream of the days when I can finally go back to real round table conversations free of pauses and bad connections.
As I sit at my home not far from my office, I think some part of me feels as if I’m holding out hope. Maybe one day not too far from now, I think, I can go back to sitting next to someone. We speak in meetings of how close we are. . . “it’s almost as if we are together,” we say. Or, “once it gets a little better we can do meet ups!”
Alas, unfortunately this feels like a false hope. Not only is COVID-19 absolutely rampaging from coast to coast across our country, but reports show that remote work may be here to stay. People enjoy the ease and some companies are finding that they have less carbon footprint and can cut back on extra expenditures.
I must say, embracing a longer term new normal wasn’t something I anticipated, nor did I particularly think I would enjoy. However, maybe it will get better.
Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, recently announced her new plan called the “Barbados Welcome Stamp”, the answer to every remote worker’s grievances.
“There’s nothing like waking up and seeing the sunshine. And there’s nothing like being able to work and go for a sea bath and come back and put in the second shift of work,” Said Mottley.
I think that she has a point. The new program will allow visitors to stay on the island sans visa for up to one year provided they test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of arrival. Workers employed just about anywhere can stay in Barbados for up to a year without paying the income tax that normally sets in after six months.
The plan is expected to cost 2,000 dollars per person, and 3,000 for families irrespective of the number of children. Visitors will be welcomed to stay at villas, hotels, and condos on the island and efforts are being put in place to create working spaces for those who want.
Moreover, island life is resuming to normal. Shops and restaurants are opening back up. That means that instead of the instant espresso afternoon pick me up you were used to at home, you can make a new pina colada routine perfected by the place that invented rum.
Advice from magazines and websites during quarantine told us that in order to stave away the blues, we should be picking up new hobbies and skills. Crocheting got boring, but I doubt surfing or snorkeling would.
If relaxing on a beach for a year while waiting for the world to figure itself out doesn’t sound nice to you, then you might be crazy. Mottley said, “ Covid-19 has placed a severe strain on people’s mental wellness,” . . .The sunshine is powerful. The seawater is powerful. They’re both therapeutic in ways that are hard to explain. And we felt that, why not share it?”
I don’t think I’ve ever been miserable on a wide open white sand beach in the southern tropics.
Remote workers also no longer have a need or desire for office life. Even before COVID-19, freelance work was becoming much more lucrative and popular. Remote workers before the pandemic were earning up to 70 percent more than most workers in the US and 53 percent of the younger Gen Z work remotely. Remote work crosses industries from editorial to tech and finance, and often attracts skills based professions such as marketing and IT. And new technology enables a depth of connection unseen or heard of before.
Additionally, workers increasingly value working on their own time which yields productivity, especially for workers with personal circumstances that otherwise would prohibit work.
The move towards attracting remote workers doesn’t only help American workers; Barbados also reaps the benefits. Barbados, like many other destination spots, has suffered largely from the pandemic. The loss of tourism, which makes up 40 percent of the economy and which employs 26,000 people yielded a 31 percent decline in government revenue.
Yet despite Mottley’s predictions for a “rough, rough, rough” economic future, the small Island of 280,000 people has seen fewer than 100 cases of COVID-19. The new stamp is a way to leverage Barbados’ positive standing against the virus.
The CDC still warns against all non essential travel, and most countries balk at the thought of letting red-hot US through to threaten their healthy handling of the virus. Short term stays provide complications with quarantine rules and are often more of a hassle than are worth. The extended length of time allows for economic reparations and a resurgence in the tourism industry while bypassing the need for quarantines.
Mottley is also hoping that the long sunny days will prove too addicting for US citizens to bear. Like Canada, she is hoping to attract more permanent immigration. Canada is an example of a country that was severely underpopulated and which welcomed newcomers to both strengthen the economy and provide a hospitable new home.
Some forecasts predict other Caribbean Islands following suit. Barbados might have sunny beaches, but they soon might also be in competition with others developing their own visa programs geared towards freelancers. Estonia will soon be launching their “Digital Nomad” program. Georgia, Germany, and Costa Rica already have programs as well.
Those interested should also be careful to look at the fine details. Workers in Barbados must be making above 50,000 dollars a year, severely diminishing the amount of qualified applicants.
Maybe the future of remote work is hyper global. I wonder what would happen if I worked for my company based in NYC from Germany. And if my partners were in Barbados. What does this do for our interconnectedness? Studies suggest that remote relationships can be equally as intimate, and maybe international perspectives will diversify company practice.
College students have also long loved study abroad programs. Many people who can afford to do so find themselves living somewhere else in the world for lengths of time. Perhaps these proposed programs are similar to those.
However, the move comes with multiple questions. Is Barbados simply casting a lifeboat from their sandy shores that they hope will land at the US? How many remote workers will actually go? Will there be a robust network of international writers, freelancers, and students there to mingle and work alongside? Or would the stays be spent mostly battling poor wifi connection on an island mostly known for the life built around visitors from abroad that are simply not there. Would that lead to lonesomeness and mutually felt depression?
And so, I’ve been wondering, is this the chance for the Study Abroad style trip I have been dreaming of? Or, is it safer to cut my losses and make the best of my home office?
Digital Nomads are not a new idea, and as remote work has become more popular, workers have taken to distant shores to do their work, many without worry of visa or taxation due to shorter stays or tax laws based on country of origin. If every country employs special visas, workers may need to give up their prior loophole exceptions and choose a tax domicile linked to their location.
The hope that these efforts will lead to economic expansion may be overshot. Two of the most popular destinations for digital nomads, Bali and Thailand, report negligible economic impact as a result of these working visitors. Reports suggest that for the more than 6 million tourists from primarily China to Bali in 2019, there were a few hundred remote workers. In Thailand, there were over 40 million visitors of which workers made a tiny dent.
The upside is that the pandemic has created new conditions by which more workers have become remote, and many may choose to work abroad. As many countries introduce the remote work opportunities, perhaps the market will in fact increase.
For me, after months spent cooped up at home and at a time where the climate feels as if US citizens are barred from everywhere, relaxing on a beach while at work sounds like a really great idea. However, the successes of these endeavors may yet be unknown.
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