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Australasian Conference on Information Systems Wang, Schlagwein, Cecez-Kecmanovic, & Cahalane 2018, Sydney Digital Nomadism: Theoretical Framings
We live in a world in which digital technologies have transformed work. This is the phenomenon that the digital work research agenda seeks to understand (Orlikowski and Scott 2016). Digital work has been described in recent literature as a “grand challenge” for humanity (Colbert et al. 2016). It is such a challenge because it is accompanied by, for example, the loss of jobs as a result of more efficient production operations (Mrass et al. 2017), and reduced clarity about established work-related norms (Bordi et al. 2018). Nonetheless, as “the future of work itself” (Colbert et al. 2016), digital work presents an opportunity to improve human lives.
Digital nomadism is emerging as a growing segment of the digital work labour force. Digital nomads are teleworkers who have become so geographically mobile that they are free to work from almost anywhere in the world. They therefore choose not only to work from almost anywhere in the world but also live almost anywhere in the world, as “perpetual travellers” (Nash et al. 2018). Due to the digital nomads’ defining characteristic of never staying in one place for too long, the total number of digital nomads is difficult to ascertain, in the rough order of magnitude of 200,000 to 500,000 (Schlagwein 2018). Moreover, due to the recency of digital nomadism, research has been scarce (Schlagwein 2018), and the research that does exist is fragmented and primarily focused on the digital nomad’s lifestyle and psychological considerations such as self-actualisation (Müller 2016) and loneliness (Nash et al. 2018).
Yet digital nomadism is much more significant for humanity’s historical narrative than simply another lifestyle. Digital nomadism is not only a new lifestyle option but indeed a new way of working and organising. Therefore, the research question we address is: How can we theoretically frame digital nomadism holistically as a new way of living, working, and organising?
We answer this research question based on an interdisciplinary literature review. Grounded in the literature review, we propose and discuss three theoretical framings of digital nomadism: digital nomadism as economic activity; digital nomadism as a cultural phenomenon; and digital nomadism as a new technology-enabled form of working and organising. These theoretical framings enable us to develop a holistic view of the state of knowledge relevant to digital nomadism. Consequently, we are able to propose a research agenda. Our contribution is relevant for academics interested in, and those seeking to explore, a holistic understanding of digital nomadism. Our contribution may also be beneficial for driving the strategic decisions of commercial organisations, and the policy directions of governing bodies, responding to digital nomadism and related concerns.
2 Literature Review Method
We operationalised the hermeneutic approach to literature review developed by Boell and Cecez- Kecmanovic (2014). A hermeneutic literature review is characterised by interpretive, non-deterministic, non-replicable incremental discovery and understanding of literature. This was an important distinction for us, since there are many concepts and streams of literature that are related to digital nomadism but do not explicitly use that label, or even synonyms of that label. Keyword searches and systematic literature reviews would have therefore been unable to capture all relevant literature.
Accordingly, we started with a small set of highly relevant publications, and the resulting body of literature was formed through the conceptual relatedness of additional papers’ contents, rather than the semantic similarity of additional papers’ keywords. Although digital nomadism is still a very new phenomenon, it was possible – through a combination of initial keyword searches, subsequent interpretation, and citation tracking – to find a set of the most relevant articles (Müller 2016; Dobrinskaya 2016; Sutherland and Jarrahi 2017; Schlagwein 2018; Reichenberger 2018; Nash et al. 2018; Thompson 2018). The defining characteristic of this set is that they all explicitly use the term ‘digital nomad’ and provide an overview of digital nomadism from some perspective. Through multiple hermeneutic cycles, papers were discovered, read, re-read; and the direction of the literature search changed in response. The final set of 64 relevant papers includes 42 research papers (from academic journals and conferences, and chapters from edited volumes) and 22 papers from practitioners’ literature and newspapers. We selected these papers based on their ability to shed light on the phenomenon of digital nomadism, even if the papers were not specifically written about digital
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