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Digital Nomads and the Evolving Concept of the Remote Office

Since the turn of the century, individuals have increasingly turned to the gig economy for opportunity. With the freedoms provided by the Internet and communication technologies, the number of freelancers grew substantially. Businesses likewise appreciated the advantages of the gig economy and the ability to outsource services that would otherwise be in-house. In most instances, this was a win-win. An in the process, society began to make a shift toward a more mobile and flexible work environment.

Today, another major shift has occurred in workspace environments thanks to COVID. Millions are now working remotely at home, and most expect this trend to continue even after a coronavirus vaccine. But this trend also has the potential to fuel an even larger movement related to work travel experiences. The number of digital nomads, remote workers who travel from place to place, is expected to boom once travel resumes. And if this occurs, the impact will be felt well beyond the workplace.

“Changes in consumer behavior — social distancing leading to reduced travel and increased remote work, for example — create opportunities for new offerings and to establish new habits. Now is a great time for experimentation…” – Robbie Kellman Baxter, Consultant at Peninsula Strategies and Author of “The Membership Economy”

The History of Digital Nomads

The term “digital nomads” was popularized in 1997 when a book by the same name was released. Since that time, the number of individuals seeking work travel experiences have grown significantly. In 2019, nearly 8 million Americans considered themselves digital nomads. Since their place of work was flexible, they chose to make choices based on locale and lifestyle. They might spend a few months in a country or even a year, depending on their preferences. As long as the Internet connection was good, all was fine.

The largest challenge many digital nomads faced at that time involved immigration restrictions. For most countries, tourists are only allowed to stay in a foreign country from 3 to 6 months a year. Anything longer requires immigration application. Some desiring work travel experiences would work around these rules by keeping their stays shorter. Others would hope the host country wouldn’t enforce the rules. But in any regard, these were not enough of a barrier to halt the trend. However, the pandemic was another story.

“I can’t buy a ticket now for February because I don’t know how things will even turn out in December. It’s day to day, week to week to see what will be the next step.” – Vanessa Perez, a freelance marketing consultant from Montreal

The Good and Bad Impact of COVID

For those enjoying foreign work travel experience previously, the pandemic certainly threw a wrench in their plans. Notably, the travel and tourism sector has been one of the hardest hit areas this past year. For digital nomads, this meant having to deal with travel restrictions, cancellations, and of course, quarantines. Some chose to roam locally around their own country or locate to the few countries that still welcome foreigners. Others are simply saving their money for better times when their travel options increase.

A woman with a workstation set up at a beach
The closing of offices has given rise to the digital nomads who can work from anywhere.

From a different perspective, the pandemic has made millions more realize the potential that work travel experiences offer. Being forced to work from home, many people appreciate now how easy it is to work from anywhere. This has prompted some to relocate away from crowded metropolitan areas to suburban or rural areas. Others are beginning to explore the lifestyle of digital nomads to see if this might work for them. An increasing number of people are now considering this type of lifestyle, especially Millennials who already embrace experience over materialism.

“When you can work from home, you can really work from anywhere. We saw that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the Netflix of the hotel industry and provide unlimited nights at a fixed price.” – Lennert de Jong, Chief Commercial Officer, citizenM, a Dutch luxury hotel chain

Accommodating Digital Nomads

Recent reports predict that the emergence of trends that embrace work travel experiences will dramatically change the travel industry by 2025. In fact, it already is. Several countries are adopting new immigration visas for digital nomads that allow them to stay for up to a year abroad. Dubai, Barbados, Croatia, and Greece are just a few that have already made such changes. The incentive for these countries is to attract long-term visitors who will contribute to their local economy without displacing jobs. And many are offering tax breaks or other incentives to entice these individuals.

Other major developments are also in the works to accommodate work travel experiences. In addition to extended stays at Airbnb, digital nomads will now have additional options. Numerous high-end hotels are moving toward a subscription-based model that offer multi-location stays for one price. These include hotel chains like Zoku and citizenM, which are moving to this strategy. By providing housing-as-a-service (HaaS), these travel sector corporations can tap into a new emerging market. Many experts see this as one of the new norms that develop within the next decade in a post-pandemic era.

A New Global Subculture

In light of the pandemic and more people working from home, the number of digital nomads is expected to grow. Some suggest as many as 1 billion may be taking advantage of work travel experiences on a regular basis abroad. This will naturally disrupt the existing travel and tourism infrastructure at many levels. And this provides great opportunities for many businesses to capitalize on change. While a digital nomad lifestyle is expensive and not for all, its freedoms and experiences will be attractive to many. Now that millions have been awakened to the concept, it’s clear this is one trend that’s certain to continue.


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The Virtual Real Estate Transaction Takeover – Pandemic Driven, Consumer Embraced

Buying a house is one of the most stressful decisions someone will make in their life. In fact, about 40 percent of Americans describe home-buying as the most stressful decision they ever face. Combine that with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s easy to appreciate modern challenges associated with house-hunting. Despite this, however, virtual real estate transactions are booming. With an array of new digital real estate tools, the entire home-buying process is being revolutionized. And for most consumers, they’re OK with that.

The pandemic has brought about many changes that range from the growth of delivery services to home entertainment. The Come-to-Me Economy is now in full swing. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that digital real estate tools are expanding as well. New apps and digital platforms are streamlining every aspect of the process despite quarantines and lockdowns. In fact, many believe virtual real estate sales will not only be preferred for the near-term but long after also. The convenience and security these new offerings provide are a big reason that consumers see this as the new normal.

“Having those digital roots is paving the way for the digitization of the overall mortgage industry. We’ve seen so much activity and focus in the space.” – Jeanne Casey, Principal at MetaProp, a real estate technology VC firm

Virtual Tours – From Novelty to Normal

Many consumers used virtual tours prior to the pandemic. As one of the latest digital real estate tools at the time, many recognized its potential. However, most treated it as more of a novelty and something to augment in-person showings. But then COVID-19 came along and changed everything. Not only are virtual tours much more popular, but consumers have now come to expect them in many markets. In essence, they have become a normal part of the virtual real estate sales process.

Statistics demonstrate just how popular these virtual home tours have become. Street Easy, a 3d platform used by many homebuyers, reported a substantial increase in virtual tours this year. Between the second and third quarters, virtual tours increased roughly 110 percent. Zillow also reported significant increases in virtual tours as well. Year-to-date increases exceed 150 percent on its site. Given the convenience these platforms offer, it’s expected these digital real estate tools will be a lasting feature.

“In my experience, the majority of people are comfortable using DocuSign on their phones. [The pandemic] has really forced people to rely even more heavily on technology and I don’t think that’ll change going forward.” – Michael J. Franco, New York Real Estate Broker, Compass

Lending Platforms – Streamlining the Limiting Step

In many ways, the virtual real estate sales process has become faster during the pandemic. Except for home appraisals, most other steps of home-buying have accelerated during COVID for a variety of reasons. But the lender verification process hasn’t been one of these areas. In fact, qualifying buyers and verifying income and employment information has actually be more challenging. But thanks to a couple of new digital real estate tools, this is no longer the case. The result has been not only faster services but also enhanced trust between lending companies and clients.

A bunch of people bidding on houses on their phones
When there’s a will, there’s a way – which, for real estate, means virtual real estate sales.

One of these new digital real estate tools goes by the name of AccountChek. In essence, this is a digital verification service that helps lenders virtually verify borrower income and job status. Another such company is Encompass, which is a platform used by Ellie Mae. It provides similar tasks as AccountChek, which has greatly shortened closing times. Other virtual real estate sales platforms target borrowers in the lending process. For example, Morty is a platform designed to educate and empower homebuyers. Each of these have been well accepted changes in the post-pandemic real estate world.

Contracts and Closings – A Completely Virtual Landscape

Perhaps, he most notable developments in virtual real estate sales has been in the areas of contacts and closings. Several new companies are expanding or introducing new digital real estate tools to help the process. Many boast shared editing capacities where multiple users can make changes to contract platforms. Likewise, several use blockchain technologies for added security and auditing capabilities. Termed “smart contracts,” everyone involved in the home-buying process can complete everything virtually. Many states have even adopted laws that now allow remote online notary services.

One of the best known virtual real estate sales platforms in this category has been around for some time. DocuSign is well recognized as a tenured virtual document signature company. But it has recently added other features to its menu. This includes DocuSign Rooms where buyers, sellers, and brokers can connect and share information. DocuWalk is another such company that promotes is smart contracts using blockchain signatures. DotLoop, acquired by Zillow a few years back, also offers similar closing and contract services. In essence, these digital real estate tools have eliminated the need for in-person closings. And in the process, they have also shortened the entire home-buying process significantly

“When it comes to important emotional transactions like purchasing a home, there’s always going to remain that in-person touch.” – Pamela Liebman, President and CEO, Corcoran

Technology’s Role Moving Forward

Many in the real estate sector appreciate how impactful digital real estate tools have been. By providing a virtual real estate sales process during COVID, the industry has survived quite well. In fact, if anything, real estate is actually booming with housing supply falling well short of demand. Thus, it’s readily apparent that a virtual home-buying process is both feasible and effective. The question is to what degree will these new platforms be used once relative normalcy is regained. In all likelihoods, consumers will want to once again touch, feel and see the house their buying in person. But at the same time, these new virtual technologies have demonstrated that they offer many advantages. For this reason alone, virtual platforms will undoubtedly continue to be a major part of the real estate process.


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AI Algorithms and Mental Health – New Tools in Suicide Prevention

Advances in technology have affected a variety of industries, with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning becoming increasingly prevalent as a result. This has become certainly noticeable in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Several companies, including many not even in healthcare, have leveraged technology against COVID-19 effects. Thus, it’s not surprising that healthcare is also turning to such applications given the pandemic’s effects. Not only is machine learning being used in routine healthcare diagnostics. But AI algorithms and mental health benefits are now being utilized to help those with a variety of mental illnesses.

Research studies as well as clinical data are now reporting the use of machine learning as new suicide prevention technologies. AI algorithms and mental health protocols combined to identify those individuals who are at the greatest risk. These new suicide prevention technologies could offer a much-welcomed improvement in detecting risk. This is especially valuable since suicide rates have been climbing for two decades. And it’s also noteworthy given the stress associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is a critical test for these big-data systems. If these [AI algorithms] have a high rate of false positives, for instance, that marks a lot people at high [suicide] risk who are not — and the stigma associated with that could be harmful indeed downstream.” –  Alex John London, Director, Center for Ethics and Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh

Research Involving AI Algorithms and Mental Health

AI algorithms and mental health benefits are being increasingly explored as of late. Researchers at MIT and Harvard, for example, recent joined forces to determine the change sin mental health post-pandemic. In their study, over 800,000 Reddit social media messages were analyzed using AI algorithms. The process scanned a variety of forums involving both mental health and non-mental health groups. Using a natural language processing (NLP) process, language was scanned for word frequencies. Several key pieces of data were discovered, which suggested these approaches might be useful as suicide prevention technologies.

Some sort of brain scan with 0s and 1s
The union of AI algorithms and mental health could lead to innovative technology saving lives.


Based on the tone and content of the Reddit messages, the presence of suicidal ideation and loneliness doubled from baseline occurrence. Forums dealing with anxiety were affected first. But subsequently, other mental health forums followed as did some non-mental health discussion areas. Those individuals who appeared to be the highest risk were those in borderline personality and PTSD forums. Thus, it’s feasible that AI algorithms and mental health apps could be used in screening. As suicide prevention tools, these could offer insights not only at individual levels but at public health levels also.

“The things this [suicide risk] program picks up wouldn’t necessarily be the [risks] I thought about. The analytics are beginning to change our understanding of who’s at greatest risk.” – Marianne S. Goodman, M.D., Psychiatrist, Veterans Integrated Service Network, Bronx, New York

Clinical Applications Involving AI Algorithms and Mental Health

Believe it or not, AI algorithms and mental health protocols have already made their way into actual patient care. In the VA system, a machine learning program called Reach Vet is actively being used to assess suicide risk. The system basically compares a vast database of patient information form veterans dating back to 2008. This data is then compared to over 60 different factors of current patients. If the algorithm identifies the individual as being in the top 0.1% of suicide risk, the patient’s chart is flagged. These individuals are then reassessed by their doctors on a monthly basis.

Despite their active use as suicide prevention tools, these AI algorithms and mental health protocols are unproven. The VA is actively collecting data to determine their benefits as well as their costs. However, it has already been noted that the system is flagging individuals as high-risk that otherwise would not be. Thus, it will be interesting to see if such systems have a better success rate that current clinical models. Statistically, the ones flagged by these suicide prevention technologies are believed to be 40 times higher risk than average. If the number of false positives and negatives are low, then this could have profound consequences for the future.

“Right now, this [AI algorithm] and other models predict who’s at highest risk. What they don’t tell you is who is most likely to profit from an intervention. If you don’t know that, you don’t know where to put your resources.” – Ronald Kessler, Professor of Health Care and Policy, Harvard Medical School

Evolution of AI Algorithms and Mental Health Screens

The latest developments related to suicide prevention technologies are certainly exciting. However, the use of these types of systems are not necessarily new. In fact, the National health Service began using AI algorithms and mental health screening systems in 1996. Likewise, the U.S. Army, Kaiser Permanente, and Massachusetts General Hospital each have their own versions. But none as of yet, only the VA is actively using these systems clinically to screen for suicide risk. Applying these systems to larger groups of people will be critical to determine their utility moving forward.

One thing is clear, however. The existing screening protocols for suicide risk have been failing. Over the last 2 decades, there has been a 30 percent increase in suicide rates in the U.S. veteran population. Physician and provider screenings continue to miss many who are at risk. This, in turn, prevents them from getting the support and help they need. The fact that the current AI algorithms and mental health protocols are detecting different patients offers some hope. Perhaps, these suicide prevention technologies detect risk factor combinations that clinicians can’t. This is why many psychiatrists and mental health workers are cautiously optimistic about recent developments.

A Catalyst for Mental Health Technologies

Like many other aspects of healthcare, the pandemic looks to be a catalyst for mental health technologies as well. Telemedicine has advanced in this area, and AI algorithms and mental health apps look to be as well. These digital therapeutics, diagnostics, and screening tools can enhance existing practices and lead to better outcomes. This is particular true in relation to suicide prevention technologies where significant improvements are needed.


Want to make 2021 a better year than 2020? Then check out PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.