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remote worker

Working remotely (and travelling) during the pandemic

By Franz Buhr, Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Lisbon

As the COVID-19 pandemic disseminated and intensified remote work practices, more and more professionals became interested in spending a few months at pleasant destinations where confinement restrictions were not so strict. These ‘pandemic travellers’ add to existing mobility patterns of digital nomads – professionals who work while travelling. Lisbon has increasingly attracted mobile remote workers, who relocate to the city for short periods with the goal of combining work, travel and leisure.

During (and even before) the pandemic, a number of countries established schemes facilitating the inflow of remote workers, such as Croatia, Estonia, Barbados, among others. In December 2020, Greece joined the global hunt for digital nomads as its parliament passed a new law allowing digital nomads to half their income tax. Although there is no national programme aiming to specifically attract remote workers to Portugal, digital nomads have demonstrated interest in relocating to places like Lisbon, Ericeira or the Madeira islands.

Long before ‘pandemic travellers’ started heading to Lisbon to enjoy its mild weather and the possibilities of working from cafés or coworking spaces (which was impossible in Belgium or Germany, for instance), digital nomads had already ranked Lisbon as a favourite destination. In 2018, the economy magazine Forbes placed Lisbon as the fourth ideal city for digital nomads (after Bali, London, and Chiang Mai). These professionals seem to be attracted to Lisbon’s sunny weather, fast internet, walkability, and local infrastructure to work from. In November 2020, during the first phase of the pandemic in Portugal, a special decree was passed authorising hotels (which were mostly empty) to adapt their restaurants and lobbies as coworking spaces, signalling a growing demand for shared offices by digital nomads and other remote professionals.

Although some prefer to work from ‘home’ (usually a short-term rental with high speed connection), digital nomads often work from cafés and coworking spaces. As temporary residents, they seem to blur long-established distinctions between tourists and residents (or between outsiders and locals), as they find accommodation through digital platforms, but also become knowledgeable about local trends using mobile technologies to learn about nightlife, restaurants and the city’s ‘hidden gems’. Moreover, as their mobilities are motivated by the possibility to combine work and lifestyle, digital nomads usually move to places where they maximize purchase power, thus adding pressure to local markets. In this sense, the impact of digital nomads upon local neighbourhoods deserves further research, especially as it may intersect with wider urban change patterns, such as gentrification and commercial landscape transformation.

Transnational gentrification, tourism and the formation of ‘foreign only’ enclaves in Barcelona

Cocola-Gant, A & Lopez-Gay, A (2020). Transnational gentrification, tourism and the formation of ‘foreign only’ enclaves in Barcelona. Urban Studies. DOI: 10.1177/0042098020916111.

In a context of global-scale inequalities and increased middle-class transnational mobility, this paper illustrates how the arrival of Western European and North American migrants in a central neighbourhood in Barcelona drives a process of gentrification that coexists and overlaps with the development of tourism in the city. In understanding how tourism drives neighbourhood change, the paper moves beyond the impacts of visitors and Airbnb and considers how tourism is made and shaped by different forms of mobilities. This involves that urban tourist destinations experience the influx of transnational mobile populations such as lifestyle migrants, international students, and digital nomads who tend to settle in centrally located areas that are themselves impacted by tourism. Given the spatial division of labour within Europe in which Southern Europe has historically targeted consumers from core-accumulation areas as a means to stimulate the economy, transnational mobile populations from more advanced economies become privileged consumers of housing and therefore are able to gentrify the places in which they settle. Relying on socio-demographic data and in-depth interviews with both migrants and Spanish residents, the paper shows how the issue of unequal income structures was mentioned by all the participants and regarding housing markets, it reveals a clear difference in the perspective of migrants and Spanish residents. On the one hand, migrants found Barcelona a cheap place to live in and indeed, for many, Barcelona was a good place to invest in terms of real estate. On the other hand, Spanish participants felt increasingly excluded and as one resident stated, ‘if you want to buy a house to live in you actually have to compete against people that for us are super-rich’. The result is that in a context in which housing has turned into hotels and holiday rentals, the remaining stock available for long-term occupation tends to be rented by transnational mobile populations. Furthermore, as tourism and transnational gentrification spatially coexist, we found that the effects of this overlap go beyond the inability of residents to access housing, and it further creates an exclusion process marked by the differences in lifestyles between long-term residents and transnational mobile populations. The fact that transnational migrants feel more integrated in a tourist area leads to the formation of ‘foreign only’ enclaves that are not attractive to Spanish residents. Not only housing, but retail and spaces for leisure and socialisation cater to transnational mobile populations as well; with little interaction between them and Spanish individuals. As a result, the paper illustrates how residents experience the transnational appropriation of space and their encounters with transient foreigners who are better positioned in the unequal division of labour.

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0042098020916111