Less than a year since the introduction of breakthrough tax incentives for digital nomads, while remote working has gained widespread acceptance during the Covid-19 pandemic, Greece is presented with a top-class opportunity to become established as an international remote working paradise.
In early July 2021, the latest study by on-demand housing platform “Nestpick,” highlighting the places that are most attractive to digital nomads in search of a new home, ranked Athens 31st out of 75 cities worldwide.
Although more Greek cities have been claiming a spot in the digital nomad universe in recent months, Athens is currently the only Greek location to appear on Nestpick’s list, which rates destinations based on local remote work legislation as well as livability factors.
Positioned in the top half of the list, Athens enjoys spectacular scores on aspects such as gender, LGBT and minority equality and cost of living, followed by safety and rights, healthcare, weather and pollution levels.
However, the score chart indicates that the city is lacking in the fields of “culture and leisure” and “remote working infrastructure.”
Speaking to Greek Reporter, experts on the local remote work industry tend to agree that a shift in business culture and a conscious promotion of the distinct digital nomad lifestyle could be key in attracting, and retaining, more of the latter in Greece.
Policymaking and infrastructure for digital nomads
According to Stavros Messinis, co-founder and community curator of The Cube Athens, Greece’s largest startup cluster, event, co-working and maker space, the newly-acquired state incentives allowing digital nomads to register their tax residence in Greece for a generous tax reduction, seem to be really working.
“As we speak, there are 3-4 people here at The Cube Athens discussing with accountants about becoming tax residents of Greece — and these are both Greek repatriates and foreigners,” he tells Greek Reporter.
“The entire digital transformation of the Greek state, which materialized recently, has definitely helped a great deal. The pandemic was a catalyst in this direction.
“It all made our (remote work) environment friendlier, more effective and more functional. Remote workers don’t fear the monster of bureaucracy so much now, because they see that procedures have been simplified,” Messinis adds.
For now, the majority of digital workers operating from his co-working space in Athens are foreigners, while the few Greeks who choose to work remotely are either local start-uppers or Greek repatriates familiarized with co-working abroad.
Co-working model on the rise
Messinis believes that co-working is on the verge of a huge boost globally, and is confident that Greek co-working businesses will be capable of responding to the rising demand.
Thessaloniki, Crete, Corfu and Larissa are also growing their digital nomad communities around promising co-working spaces.
“In the very near future, companies will offer their workers the option to work remotely more than they did before, and will become more versatile when it comes to their real estate. They might keep smaller offices, use these offices as co-working spaces, or only require physical presence few days during the week,” he opines.
However, the entrepreneur clarifies that, even if traditional companies do free up real estate stock for use as co-working space by real estate operators, the two functions should not be confused.
“The difference lies in that a co-working project, as opposed to a real estate project, requires a strong community. The people in these spaces operate as in a neighborhood; they share common traits.
“Therefore, it will be hard for a real estate company to succeed in co-working, unless it adopts the respective culture and hires people who know how a community space works; it’s not just hiring offices like we were used to,” he explains.
But other than co-working culture and infrastructure, technicalities such as internet connection speeds should be drastically improved in any place that wishes to house a remote worker community.
“Smaller destinations, such as the islands, need to invest in better internet. We often have digital nomads return to The Cube after few days’ work elsewhere — in the Cyclades, for instance — because the connection there wasn’t good enough,” Messinis concludes.
Digital nomad lifestyle in Greece
Digital marketing and internet technology expert Rafael Koudounis, the CEO of Dingo Marketing, agrees that infrastructure and internet connectivity indeed differ from place to place in Greece but maintains that those are factors that can easily improve.
In view of the rising interest in remote work destinations in Greece, Koudounis founded the Digital Nomads Observatory in 2020, headquartered in Rhodes, with the aim of researching the socio-economic needs of digital nomads and encouraging this particular lifestyle in the country.
The private initiative he presides over is supported by a strong group of scientists and professionals, in the domains of research, information exchange and policymaking strategy.
Rather than infrastructure, it focuses more on the promotion of cultural fundamentals that can make the life of digital nomads in Greece easier, and render the country more competitive in this relatively new category of aspiring residents.
“The only thing that holds Greece back in attracting larger numbers of digital nomads is Greece itself; in all things, there is always the shadow of incorrect approach due to the infamous Greek nonchalance.
“That’s why, through the creation of the Digital Nomads Observatory, we have really worked towards the direction of correct approach, through methodology and measurable results, all thanks to the exquisite team in our think tank, some first findings from whom will soon be announced”, Koudounis tells Greek Reporter.
While Athens, Thessaloniki and Crete are still the leaders in co-working, as they offer digital nomads all the quality infrastructure that they need, Koudounis points out that his home island of Rhodes doesn’t fall far behind in popularity.
“Rhodes is currently studying the digital nomad phenomenon through the Observatory’s 8-Layer methodology, as the island looks to become a digital nomad hub.
“We see important actions taken elsewhere in Greece too, though. Some first steps to introduce the society to the phenomenon have also been taken in Magnesia, Central Greece, and Messinia, in the Peloponnese,” he notes.
Necessary shift in business culture
By the first half of 2021, there were no statistics or demographics available which could paint the profile of the digital nomad who chooses Greece, and for how long they stay. At least, not enough for the standards by which the Observatory would allow itself to draw conclusions.
“That is why we are in cooperation with stakeholders from all across the country and abroad, as well as with the digital nomads community, in order to be able to register both the trend and their own profile,” Koudounis explains.
In the meantime, the Observatory receives regular requests by foreign digital nomads for suggestions on choosing the ideal Greek destination for remote work.
“The digital nomad’s need for a co-working space is rather a psychological one. They may work on-the-move, and find a co-working space to cover their social needs.
“On top of that, however, it is necessary that we have a developed business culture in a broader sense. The culture of cooperation is included in this term too, as it consists of a leverage for attracting not only digital nomads but wider progress as well,” Koudounis adds.
“That will ensure that these bright minds don’t just remain consumers of money coming from abroad, and that they participate in collaborations that create more extensive added values,” he states.
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