There is a growing number of professionals in South Africa and around the world who have begun to realise that they don’t need an office to reply to emails or even run a business.
This part is of a growing movement, dubbed “digital nomads,” who are being driven by millennial entrepreneurs, designers and developers.
Speaking to CNBC, software consultant Nick Sarafa said that despite still working with various firms, he has been able to do so from the Indonesian island of Bali for the last two years.
“Most people don’t understand that I can wake up, open my computer and have a full day’s work from anywhere in the world,” Sarafa said.
“Most of the people I’ve worked with, I’ve never shaken their hand,” he said. “I’m building my work around my lifestyle. Not the other way around.”
Unlike many of his peers, Sarafa’s major life decisions are less about renting an apartment versus buying a home, and more about where his next destination will be.
Digital nomads usually spend anywhere from a few months to several years in a country, and then they move on.
This has resulted in websites such as Nomadlist which ranks Cape Town and Pretoria second and fourth, respectively, for this type of lifestyle in Africa.
Digital nomads in South Africa
Erik Brits, office manager at Greenpoint Consulting said that, beyond the increasingly popular remote working option, there is now also a hardcore community of nomads.
These are people who feel that you only really count as a “digital nomad” if you have trouble listing a home address because you haven’t been anywhere for longer than a visa duration for a few years.
“Just like there are ‘cyclists’ and then there are cyclists, we feel that anyone who takes advantage of the location independence offered by the incredible advances in communication technology over the past decade could qualify,” he said.
“In our eyes, a remote worker is someone who works primarily from a location that is not their company’s official address, and on top of that, a digital nomad is thus someone who uses this freedom to work from different locations, especially with a focus on seeing interesting new places.”
For those less inclined to spend their working lives traveling, Brits said that co-working gives Capetonians the chance to work unconventional hours and take advantage of leisure activities.
“We obviously don’t set the hours for our clients – they have 24/7 access to the co-working space, and with a good mix of chill spaces and dedicated work corners our clients tend to be very productive.”
“We do, however, do our best to ensure that everyone knows how much is on offer in Cape Town, and to advise them how to best take advantage of their free time, and occasionally we get our hands dirty and get out there with them.”
It’s even possible to arrange and book trips directly from Greenpoint’s front desk which also offers basic business services (marketing, web development, book keeping, sourcing other specialists) so you have opportunity to get outside more.
“The majority of digital nomads that we’ve seen coming through Cape Town have been digital service workers or remote workers for established companies,” said Brits.
“In other words, people who are comfortable performing all their business functions online, but who are fairly secure in their income streams.”
Brits acknowledged that while he is yet to meet a digital billionaire, a number of nomads have passed through who are easily matching local executive level incomes.
Digital service providers (marketing, development, etc) do very well, but the highest incomes tend to go towards those who have built up some form of business of their own, and now have little teams working under them, he said.
“Cape Town is dotted with very successful individuals, but the ones we’ve seen have been specialist engineering consulting, niche digital media, and e-commerce.”
Not just for Cape Town
“Locally, there tends to be more tech or tech adjacent industry workers who take up the remote work and/or digital nomad lifestyle, so we do feel like most of the nomads we know are somewhat ‘in tech’,” said Brits.
“Cape Town is also making a name for it self as a hotspot for good developers and other high skilled individuals, but this is still being pushed down by the general lack of information about the country of the whole.”
However, it’s not just Cape Town where this style of nomadic working is on offer.
“I’ve heard of remote workers in the Karoo, and in Harrismith, and I once worked from a little village just north of Phalaborwa myself,” said Peters.
“I must say that it is hard to concentrate on adding text data to an online database when an elephant is playing in the river in front of you. However, before I go out on a limb and say that nomads have a number of options in South Africa, one must consider the specific needs of each individual.”
He warned that if you’re working solo, South Africa has connectivity problems that preclude efficiently communicating (e.g. dropped Skype calls, no chance of a screenshare or video chat, etc).
Johannesburg, the Garden Route, Somerset East, and Durban were named as some of the other more popular destinations.