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Digital nomads happy to be in Bermuda

Digital nomads: pictured clockwise from top left are Tom Allason, Abbie Sheppard, Chris Evans and Lynesha Lightbourne, the panel moderator

Abbie Sheppard visited Bermuda for what was supposed to be a brief vacation in July and ended up not going home to London.

The chief of staff of tech start-up Cameo arrived on the first flight from Britain after the reopening of LF Wade International Airport.

She found out about the Work From Bermuda One-Year Residential Certificate being offered to attract digital nomads and wasted no time in applying.

“I came for five days, but I rang my parents and said ’I’m not coming home’,” Ms Sheppard said, speaking on a virtual panel during the Bermuda Tech Summit last week.

“The big question for me was, work aside, am I happy in the environment that I’m in? The answer for me in London was ‘no’. I’ve always wanted to travel and see beautiful places and meet amazing people.”

Speaking outside against the backdrop of an ocean view and a clear blue sky, Ms Sheppard said the certificate had come through within ten days. Finding an apartment and a rental bike had been easy, she said, and “the people here are awesome”.

“If you can’t already tell from the smile on my face, I’m very happy here,” she added.

According to figures released by Jason Hayward, the labour minister, this week, Ms Sheppard is one of 406 people to have been approved for the certificate, which allows prolonged stays for remote workers and students from overseas.

Another Briton who has made Bermuda his temporary home is Chris Evans, cofounder of Flyt, a software start-up that works with the restaurant industry was acquired by Just Eat last year in a deal worth more than $28 million.

For Bermuda, digital nomads represent a great opportunity, Mr Evans said, given the island’s geographical location between Europe and the US, its beauty, climate and preclearance by US Customs for those flying to the US. But what really made it stand out was its relative normalcy in a world ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Bermuda is the best place to be right now for Covid,” Mr Evans said. “You will get tested five times when you come here. But that is so you can live a life that’s almost Covid free.

“We had Octoberfest last week, we go out on boats. You can do things that you can’t do anywhere else at the moment. To have that kind of work-life balance now is pretty amazing.”

Mr Evans works with a team that is scattered around the world. Before the pandemic, they met in person only for quarterly meetings and the launch of major projects.

His next venture involves, as he put it, “looking at the disadvantages of remote working and trying to make those things better than you can do in an office”, a significant upgrade from today’s videoconferencing experience that he saw as achievable within five to ten years.

Mr Evans told panel moderator Lynesha Lightbourne of the Bermuda Business Development Agency that he expects many companies to take a “hybrid approach” to remote working, with staff working perhaps three days in the office and the rest of the time from home.

Tom Allason, founder and chief executive officer, of Residently, a start-up that combines technology and home services to improve the experience of home renters, is another tech executive now working from Bermuda.

His team had initiated a “work at home on Wednesdays” policy before Covid-19. He had initial doubts, but conceded it had worked well, setting his company up well for the enforced remote working during the pandemic..

Mr Allason said: “Productivity was up 20 per cent. People spent less time travelling, either for work or for trips. Using Zoom, there’s a lower barrier to accepting a meeting.

“What we’ve seen is the acceleration of a trend that was already starting to happen. What’s become clear is that we were wasting a lot of time doing things that we should not have been doing.

“However, there’s a lot we miss out on in terms of interaction. People want to collaborate and be social, but those are not things you need to do five days a week.”

Ms Sheppard said one disadvantage was with work-life balance as “it’s really difficult to shut off when you’re remote”.

She added: “That doesn’t necessarily help productivity. You might feel like you’re working a lot, but are you producing? Maybe not, because there’s an increase in burnout.

“But it can definitely improve productivity, in that you don’t have to commute, and some companies are allowing employees to work the hours they want to.”

Mr Allason said the phenomenon of digital nomads had the potential to transform the labour market.

He argued that it’s long been accepted that financial capital can move around the world to the places where it will get the best yield. The same should be true of human capital, he said.

The employer is no longer limited by the talent in one particular market or area, and nor are people limited by the place in which they live.

Mr Allason said: “It removes the barriers to a true free market in employment, a market in which both the companies and the team members get to benefit massively.”

Cities traditionally most attractive to business talent, such as New York and San Francisco, may lose some of their appeal, “because why, as a company or an employee, would you want to go and live somewhere with very high real estate prices and very high taxation?”

Mr Allason added: “Instead, I’m likely to want to move to the place where I can have a better home environment, a better place to have children. Tax is also an element of this. Employees are going to make the decision on where is best for them.”

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Published October 23, 2020 at 8:03 am (Updated December 15, 2020 at 9:34 pm)

Digital nomads happy to be in Bermuda

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