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Go behind the scenes of Nomadland with director Chloe Zhao
Featurette courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Nomadtech • #NMDLND

The Open Workspace

The pandemic has altered the work landscape and most of the changes are likely a permanent shift in work habits for many. Gone is the grind of the daily commute for those whose jobs can be done remotely. In a lot of cases, that dovetails nicely within the tech industry, where so much work was already being done online. So many other functions can fit that format, though — running the gamut from financial to creative services.

The ability to work anywhere at any time had already ascended to a level of being both a blessing and a curse long before the pandemic hit; it was old-school management styles that kept people going to their cubicles — decked out with personal effects from home — as part of a daily routine. The flexibility provided by technology — including virtual meetings — is unmatchable, but it comes with the challenge of knowing when to say when and to disconnect.

For some, it should also be a fresh opportunity to rethink their lifestyle. A decade ago, a colleague packed it all up, bought an Airstream and went traveling around the country with his wife and young son. He was able to work remotely as a graphic designer and web developer; the goal was to have his kid see parts of the country and have different, life-shaping experiences while he was still a child.

Add that to Nomadland’s layers.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the nomad life more broadly.

This author has frequently commented Americans need to travel more. Ideally, internationally. Other points of view make a lot more sense with boots on the ground. Hiking boots, not combat boots.

Right as the pandemic hit, REI was on the cusp of opening an extravagant new 8-acre work campus in Bellevue, Washington. Never used, it was sold off as REI shifted gears to a remote workforce for its headquarters functions. Ironically, the purchaser was Facebook.

Many other companies — large and small — have pivoted to a remote workforce, including Salesforce, which has interesting plans to allow employees to work from any of its offices. That approach can break down the walls of hiring boundaries and work to the advantage of both the employer and the employee, particularly those who want to avoid the pitfalls and financial burdens of living in hubs like Silicon Valley or New York City.

For some, the very thought of this sort of change might be a wholly new source of stress as the competitive landscape changes. For others — those who choose to adapt accordingly — it’s a whole new world of opportunity.

It’s still early in the game and it’s not 100% clear how things will settle after the virus has been tamed. But, still, the genie is out of the bottle and it’ll be hard to argue that people need to go back to an assigned cube every day after it being proven an unnecessary step for more than a year.

What would America look like — and act like — if people simply got out more? Not just out to the bar, but out of the small, limiting borders of the typical comfort zone? Explore. Maybe not as a full-time nomad living life on the road, but at least as a part-timer, maybe tacking on some extra remote work time in a different location to supplement vacation play and thereby afford the opportunity to dig deeper into different parts of the country.

Sure, it’s not for everybody. But, for many, it’s a new opportunity to explore the freedoms of life in America. The next iteration would be to take it global.

In Nomadland, Fern is at a precarious point in her career. She can’t afford to retire early. She has a diverse work history, a mix of disciplines ranging from teaching to hard labor. But she’s still deemed unemployable in the current market. Her employment situation was the catalyst for her to hit the road and take on the odd job, seasonal work and other opportunities.

That aspect can’t get lost in the conversation. And it’s certainly not about technology running roughshod over certain well-worn traditions. Nonetheless, technology might pave a new way forward for those who want to continue to adapt and refine their own definitions of success.

Nomadland latched onto a fitting catchphrase: See you down the road. Certainly, some of that road can be taken onto the information superhighway.


Nomadland takes a seemingly very simple idea and turns it into something much more complex and rewarding.


Instead of the Telluride Film Festival nestled in the mountains, Nomadland so appropriately hit the road and was featured at “Telluride from Los Angeles.”


The pandemic has altered the work landscape and most of the changes are likely a permanent shift in work habits for many.

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