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The Future of Workspaces: An interview with Lauren Razavi

"What's happening now might feel new, [...] but these ideas have been simmering away for decades – ready to enter the mainstream when the right moment came."

Lauren Razavi is an award-winning business and technology journalist, former managing editor for the future of work at Google, and a digital nomad who has spent the past 11 years exploring what "working from anywhere" can truly mean.

We were lucky to speak with her and explore her perspective on remote work, the role of COVID-19 in "the future of work", and get a sneak peak into her upcoming book “Global Natives: The New Frontiers of Work, Travel and Innovation.”

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What trends, ideas and innovations do you think will define “the future of work”?

LR: We're entering an era of work where there is more emphasis on individuals. A person's work opportunities are no longer restricted to their geographic location, which means more choice and flexibility in how they earn and spend. Some people are choosing to take their San Francisco salaries to lower-cost locations like Bali and Thailand.

Others are choosing to reduce the hours they work to pursue side hustles, hoping to be their own boss in the future. Remote work has gone mainstream, there are new ways to generate income online, and people are demanding more flexibility and mobility than ever before. These are enormous shifts that will have impact for years to come.

COVID-19 has obviously been a catalyst for the conversation around the “future of work” to take centre stage in the past year and a half, but you have been writing and speaking on this topic well before this became a reality.

LR: That's true. The future of work was still relatively niche before COVID-19, but it's been at the forefront of the global conversation since March 2020. If we consider that work occupies a majority of most people's waking lives, it seems strange that it took the shock of a pandemic for the conversation to take centre stage. Now it has, though, it's here to stay.

What I find most exciting is the potential for work to flatten global access to opportunities. There's a lot of talent waiting to be unlocked, especially in low passport power countries, and the move to remote makes it possible to tap into it. The ideas I've been championing for years have become important and timely. Where does the conversation go next? How quickly and permanently will things change?

How has the dialogue around working ideals evolved over the past decade, and has COVID shifted the dialogue or simply amplified it?

LR: There was already a trend towards greater flexibility at work, including in terms of remote work and location independence, but COVID has amplified it. I don't think there's any going back now. Talented workers will demand flexibility and mobility by default, and turn to side hustles and entrepreneurship if their employers don't grant it. Work culture tends to develop slowly within organisations, while people's thinking has been drastically accelerated by a year with more time to think and reflect.

For those who have not had the joy of reading your twitter thread on the history of digital nomads, could you explain a little bit about this history, and how the movement of “working from anywhere” is not in fact a new one?

LR: Many people are only just hearing about digital nomads, but early adopters like me have been experimenting with this lifestyle for a decade.

Even before the 2010s, there were fringe futurists like sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke in the 1960s and semiconductor pioneer Tsugio Makimoto in the 1990s who predicted the work from anywhere movement with startling accuracy. For generations, writers and artists have lived borderless lives and worked from the road too.

What's happening now might feel new, and the standard of tech tools available definitely is, but these ideas have been simmering away for decades – ready to enter the mainstream when the right moment came.

Tell us a little bit about your upcoming book “Global Natives: The New Frontiers of Work, Travel and Innovation.” How long has this project been in the works, and what can readers look forward to?

LR: I was first approached to write a book about digital nomads in 2018 but had no idea what I wanted to say. The next year, I left my day job as a tech editor to work more on my own ideas. I started writing about borderless living in my weekly Counterflows newsletter, which helped me figure out exactly what I wanted to explore.

My book Global Natives: The New Frontiers of Work, Travel and Innovation (Holloway, September 2021) delves into the early days of the work from anywhere movement, based on a decade of reporting as a journalist and first-hand experience living as a digital nomad. It's a business title with insights for entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders and policymakers, and includes parts of my personal story too.

In your article “The Rise of Subscription Living” you referenced research that shows millennials “value experiences over material possessions and flexibility above all else at work.” How do these priorities influence the rise of the subscription economy?

LR: For previous generations, success was getting a job, climbing a career ladder, buying a house and filling it with nice things. Millennials inherited an economy where these traditional milestones were harder to accomplish, which has led them to prioritise experiences like travel and events over material possessions. Essentially, millennials are interested in spending on experiences that will enrich them now, rather than working for 40+ years in the hope they can afford those experiences in retirement.

As tourism and hospitality recover, there will be more emphasis on subscriptions that facilitate longer, slow travel and services offered at the global level. It's becoming easier and more seamless for remote workers to move around the world and live flexibly between multiple places, as shown by the rise of new nomad visas.

There are already early signals of this future: Airbnb has switched its focus to monthly stays and WeWork is offering flexible, cross-border coworking packages. Dutch accommodation providers like Zoku and citizenM have launched hotel subscription packages targeting remote workers. Global platform services like Uber for transport, HelloFresh for meal kits, and Wise for money transfers reduce the hassle and friction of living across multiple cities or countries.

Lauren will be a panelist at NORNORM's upcoming virtual speaker's summit "The Future of Workspaces", co-hosted by The Next Web and in partnership with MRP. Register using the link here.

Sign up for Lauren's weekly newsletter about distributed work and borderless living.

And pre-order her first book, Global Natives: The New Frontiers of Work, Travel, and Innovation (Holloway, September 2021).