It is a little over 18 months since Dubrovnik publicly dipped its toes into the world of digital nomads with the Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads conference. The event, the first of its kind in Croatia, was the start of a new direction towards a more sustainable tourism direction for the city which has been plagued by overtourism in recent years. This was followed by the award-winning Digital Nomads-in-Residence program – the first of its kind in the world – where the city, community and 10 resident nomads co-created a roadmap to help Dubrovnik develop a strategy to meet the needs of the future of work for remote workers interested in spending time in the city.
Both events attracted considerable international attention, and last week;’s Work. Place. Culture. conference demonstrated how much Dubrovnik is now part of this emerging story, as a number of top names in the world of remote work travelled to the city to attend the event, and Dubrovnik continues to pivot itself as a pioneering destination in the field.
Work. Place. Culture. was a collaboration between the City of Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Saltwater Nomads, and Total Croatia News – as both earlier events had been – but with additional partnership this time with the Croatian National Tourist Board, Digital Nomad Association Croatia, and Dubrovnik Heritage. The unity of purpose of key stakeholders, especially the public and private partnership, has been a key element in Croatia’s success.
As we reported previously, the welcome party in the spectacular Sponza Palace (sponsored by the Croatian National Tourist Board) in the heart of the UNESCO Old Town provided the perfect welcome. Sponza Palace was just one of several spectacular settings for the conference, and an example of how the backdrop of Dubrovnik, its beauty and its heritage, can significantly enhance the conference experience with its varied and flexible locations. In the second of this four-part look at the 4 days of the Work. Place. Culture. conference, we look at Day 1, which was mainly located in Lazareti, but with some fabulous outdoor extra locations as well.
Having hosted both Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads and the Digital Nomads-in-Residence program, as well as the first co-working space in the city, Lazareti is the cultural home of the Dubrovnik digital nomad story. Its use as such is the latest in a long list of creative uses of the space which has quite a history and which recently underwent complete renovation. Its original purpose had been a quarantine base for traders and travellers wanting to visit the city (Dubrovnik is credited as the birthplace of quarantine back in 1377). Today, in addition to conferences, its multiple waterfront spaces – both inside and out – are used for concerts, conferences, exhibitions and other events. The historic buildings just a few metres from the famous old town walls and Banje beach, are the ideal base for a conference with multiple components and locations to explore.
And so to the rich list of speakers from all over the world, experts in the field of remote work. To give an indication of the quality of the lineup assembled by Saltwater Nomads, Mandy Fransz of Make the Leap Digital was one of 3 of the top 10 LinkedIn voices on remote work speaking at the conference. Fransz was the first keynote speaker on Day 1, charting her story of how she built up her remote work business after quitting her job at LinkedIn, and then offering her services and LinkedIn expertise to help others leverage their LinkedIn profiles to improve their businesses.
Her top piece of advice for remote workers: LinkedIn is the world’s most powerful online network with more than 810 million users who you can tap into at the comfort of your own fingertips. If you’re not investing in building your personal brand as a remote professional on LinkedIn, you’re missing out on massive business potential.
(Please note that recordings of the individual presentations will be added to this article as they become available.)
One of the most eagerly-awaited keynote speeches at Work. Place. Culture. joining from Australia was Aaron McEwan, who as VP, Research & Advisory for Gartner’s HR Practice for Gartner a $4.1 billion company and member of the S&P 500, he provides strategic advice to some of the biggest companies on the planet about the future of work. Recently named as a Top 100 Global HR Influencer and one of 5 HR Leaders to Follow in 2022, Aaron is clearly a voice worth listening to on the subject of the future of work.
And for an overview of the radical shift in work and the need for a radically more flexible approach, McEwan’s presentation was outstanding, as he showed how the way we relate to work has fundamentally changed. McEwan is advocating for radical flexibility as a major solution to the Great Resignation and one of the biggest movements of talent we have ever seen. He likened the pandemic to hybrid work revolution to a seismic change on the way we work on a level such as the invention of electricity to the industrial revolution, or the Internet to the digital revolution. The pandemic has changed the way we work and society, and people now want a different relationship to work. Competition for talent is at an unprecedented – and global – level, and across all sectors. In addition to this, there is also competition from lifestyles, priorities and alternative careers. Radical flexibility from employers – extending beyond merely from home – is needed, and research has shown that companies implementing radical flexibility strategies enjoy improved productivity.
Sarah Hawley of Growmotely was the next to take the microphone, the second of three of the top 10 LinkedIn voices on remote work presenting in person. Sarah launched the Growmotely platform during the pandemic, with the goal of connecting professionals with their dream jobs at companies they love.
Her presentation, Conscious Culture, and Thriving Teams of the Future, focused on how remote work was the key that unlocked the door to a more conscious way of leading and doing business. She defined this conscious leadership approach as:
“The most important thing we can do as leaders is our inner work, and then bring that growth and transformation into our companies… creating a safe space for our team to do the same.”
In what was probably my favourite moment of the conference after she opened her talk to questions, Ukrainian digital nomad Orest Zub asked if there was something that Growmotely could do to help the tens of thousands of Ukrainian freelancers who had become refugees overnight.
Without a second thought, Sarah agreed to develop a special section of Growmotely to help Ukrainians, a decision which was sealed with a photo of Orest and the Growmotely team. It was one of several examples of the outstanding collaboration between the various conference participants.
The initial keynote speakers then handed over to the first of several panels, which wrapped up the morning’s events before lunch: Remote and Cultural Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging, with Marty Lewis (ABC Travel Network – named as a Leading Voice in Travel by Skift), Julian Green (Headroom), Dr. Irene Cop, and Sarah Hawley (Growmotely), moderated by Carolyn Zelikow, one of last year’s Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence.
You can view the panel discussion above.
Work. Place. Culture., in association with Sun Gardens Dubrovnik, offered a free 7-day luxury workation competition, as guests of the luxury Sun Gardens resort. Applications came from all over the globe, with video travel app, Navi Savi, winning the trip. Despite being in business for over a year, most of the team had never met, so this was a first meeting for many. CEO Sally Bunnell expressed her gratitude, as well as talking about her new startup, during her Win a Workation presentation.
The conference was a hybrid event, with attendees from all over the world, and one of the most thought-provoking sessions of the day brought some heavyweights together on the panel: Remote & Hybrid Policy and the Benefits Boom – Aaron McEwan (Gartner), Nadia Vatalidis (Remote), John Lee (Work from Anywhere), Matthew Parsons (Skift), Francisca Russo (Juno), moderated by Tanja Polegubic of Saltwater Nomads.
18 months ago, Dubrovnik and digital nomads were rarely mentioned in the same sentence, and yet here were a number of destinations at various stages of their nomad journey, swapping experiences and learning from each other in Dubrovnik. Global Stories: Early Phase, Emerging Phase and Established Digital Nomad Destinations featured three destinations at very different stages in their journeys. Scotland is now exploring how best to move into the sector, with a theme of food and drink, while Venywhere (Venice) is making significant progress to diversify away from overtourism much like Dubrovnik. And many destinations look for guidance to Estonia, who gave a great presentation on how they are pushing the boundaries of the remote work story.
You can watch the three destination presentations in the video above.
One of the initiatives launched at Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads in October 2020 was the Digital Nomad Association Croatia, the first of its kind in the world. DNA Croatia has played a pivotal role in coordinating stakeholders and initiatives over the last year, and it should be congratulated on the success of its efforts.
And it seems that those efforts are being closely followed elsewhere, with no less than four DNA associations now formed and presenting in the session Destinations – Digital Nomad Focused Associations & Initiatives – DNA Croatia, DNA USA, DNA Italy, and DNA Bulgaria. Check out the session in the panel above.
Having a pretty destination for a conference is not much use if you are stuck in a conference hall all day, and it was time to explore the infamous and majestic old walls of Dubrovnik, a chance to stretch one’s legs, take in the city’s breathtaking beauty and history, while listening to the next presentation in an idyllic setting – on the very walls themselves – by the self-proclaimed King of Nomads, himself: NetWALLking – Dean Kuchel on the Power of Yes.
And having explored the Dubrovnik Great Outdoors and the historic walls, the wrapup panel location before dinner was pretty hard to beat, with Banje Beach against a background of the island of Lokrum the setting for Happy Hour Panel: Business Growth, Burnout & Boundaries, with Sara Dyson (Expat in Croatia), Lona Alia (Safety Wing), Jan de Jong (DNA Croatia), Orest Zub, moderated by Rowena Hennigan.
An intense and thought-provoking opening day, and rarely have I seen conference participants so engaged or networking so passionately. Many participants knew each other by reputation or online contact, but this was the first in-person meeting for many. The level of brainstorming only increased as the evening wore on, with the majority heading into the old town to continue discussions over a glass of wine over dinner.
It is clear that the world of work is changing considerably, and that Croatia is very much at the forefront of that change. Exciting times in Dubrovnik. And this was just the first day.
For more information about the conference visit the official website.
For more news and features about Digital Nomads in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section.