Academic Minute Podcast
Rachael Woldoff, West Virginia University – Digital Nomads
Being a nomad is possible in our digital world.
Rachael A. Woldoff is an urban sociologist and Professor of Sociology. She received a PhD in sociology from The Ohio State University, specializing in crime and community. Her research and publications have focused on neighborhood crime and disorder, urban redevelopment, and racial/ethnic differences in neighborhood attainment, as well as the subjects of neighborhood racial change, gentrification, housing, and creative class cities. Her work has appeared in journals such as Social Forces , Urban Affairs Review, and Urban Studies. Her book, White Flight/Black Flight: The Dynamics of Racial Change in an American Neighborhood, was awarded the Best Book Award from the Urban Affairs Association. Dr. Woldoff received the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Researcher Award. She has coauthored three other books including High Stakes: Big Time Sports and Downtown Redevelopment (The Ohio State University Press 2004) and Priced Out: Stuyvesant Town and the Loss of Middle-Class Neighborhoods (New York University Press 2016). Dr. Woldoff was elected Chair of the American Sociological Association’s Community and Urban Sociology Section (CUSS). She is Deputy Editor of the ASA journal City and Community . She has also been elected to the Governing Board of the Urban Affairs Association (UAA). Her newest book, Digital Nomads: In Search of Freedom, Community, and Meaningful Work in the New Economy (Oxford University Press 2021), examines community, creative class cities, and the rise of remote work. Her newest research is on public housing residents and their experiences of forced relocation.
For too long, our jobs have determined where we live. Conversely, where we live has geographically limited our work opportunities. However, work is changing. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the number of off-site professional jobs. Our research on digital nomads – people who travel long-term while working online –shows that it is possible to live in one’s desired location without derailing, restarting, or even sacrificing one’s career. This marks a new way to look at life choices and career longevity.
As an urban sociologist, I have made a career of studying places by hanging out with people in their communities. My coauthor on this research, Robert Litchfield, is a management professor who studies motivation in creative work. Together, we visited an established digital nomad hub in Bali and spent time with people who have migrated all over the world while working remotely. We learned that the freedom to live wherever you want and even to change that location whenever you want can be a powerful motivating force drawing people to further engage with their work.
Even if we don’t want to travel the world, digital nomads have shown us the benefits of “working from anywhere” (WFA). The “great resignation” has revealed that preferences for remote and hybrid work are not limited to millennials and Gen Z employees, but extend to parents of young children, older workers, individuals living with disabilities, minoritized people, and those with responsibilities to care for family members. The pandemic exposed the wider world to the wisdom of digital nomads. We cannot unring the bell. As we reconsider our priorities after the trauma of the pandemic, it is becoming clear that flexibility to work from anywhere without compromising our jobs may be the key to increasing life satisfaction and may even transform our entire conception of career longevity as we age.
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