Laptops in Paradise – The Rise of the Remote Worker

With nearly 20 years of scouting experience under my belt, I thought I knew how to recognize a tourist.

But in Tulum, on the Riviere Maya (where I spent some time recently), you never can be sure.

That couple who were sunbathing on the beach are now logged into their laptops, fielding Zoom calls and writing computer code. The lady doing yoga by the pool is actually live-streaming a class for clients across the world. The young patrons at the beach club aren’t hanging out, they’re networking (and those piña colada are virgin—at least ’til 5 p.m.)

In Tulum, the gentle tapping of keyboards is as much a part of the soundscape as the rustling of palm trees and the calling of great kiskadees from the jungle canopy. Tourists and the remote working crowd are often one and the same.

The town is chock-full of folks who would have dropped $5,000 to come here on a two-week vacation. But now, they’ve discovered that they can stay in paradise for months at a time…to live and work, as well as play.

The boom of remote working is one of the most exciting trends to hit real estate in decades…

It completely changes how rental markets operate, boosting demand, growing the shoulder-season, and adding a new and affluent market of renters.

Yesterday, I sent my researcher—and my Tulum travel partner—Jason Holland out to get a sense of who these remote workers are and why they’ve come to Tulum…

Here’s what he discovered…



Ronan McMahon


Laptops in Paradise – The Rise of the Remote Worker

By Jason Holland

“I’ve been working from home for the last year. I’m from LA. I grew up there. I love it. But my apartment was $3,000 a month. Here I pay about $2,000, and I got a bigger place with an office, and I can ride my bike to the beach.”

“And I get to live here,” he said, gesturing to his surroundings.

My new friend and I are in a hip little café on the beach road in Tulum, Mexico, one of the hottest vacation destinations in the world right now…a longtime must-stop for digital nomads…and, since the pandemic, a hub for the work-from-home crowd.

One of many outdoor eateries and cafes on Tulum’s beach road.

The beach is just on the other side of a strand of trees. People flow by on beach cruisers. The breeze rustles the palms above us. He’s just come from some sort of shaman-led jungle retreat—I didn’t ask too many questions about what he saw during the ceremony, but one of the effects was that he never wanted to go back to the office.

He’s certainly not alone in Tulum.

I’m amazed at what’s changed in the area since I was last here three years ago.

Aside from new development, there are just a lot more people. Families and couples of all ages coming for beach vacations are still the primary group. But there’s also this new crowd here for weeks, months…some even settling down long term. All working from home.

Check out the scene at a beach club about 15 minutes ride north from the cafe…

Digital nomads are sprinkled among vacationers at this beach club in Tulum.

When lockdowns began and employees were sent home to a world of Zoom meetings and working in pajamas, many decided that if they were going to be working from a home office…it might as well be in a cool place with a highspeed internet connection.

Many came to Tulum, as well as Playa del Carmen about an hour up the coast. They were drawn by the laidback lifestyle, the white-sand beaches, and the clear Caribbean waters…a quick walk or bike ride away. And who would want to settle for a vending machine snack when you could get street tacos for lunch?

During my visit this week to the Riviera Maya, I’ve seen the digital nomads and work-from-homers all over the world. In the mornings and the middle of the day, you see them gathered in cafes, co-working spaces, and even beach clubs. Usually, headphones in, tapping away at their laptops. I’ve overheard more than one conference call at a neighboring table. I always imagine someone in a dress shirt and tie in some bland conference room on the other end…I wonder what they must think of their world-traveling colleague…

Even I got into the action in between appointments.

Yes, I came all the way to Playa del Carmen to sit in a Starbucks. In my defense, the French café and indie coffee shop down the street were both packed with people working.

Of course, the Riviera Maya is just one place. Los Cabos over in Baja California, Medellin, Colombia, the Algarve in Portugal, Spain’s Costa del Sol…all have seen an influx since the pandemic started that could continue for years to come.

And even as vaccinations roll out and lockdowns are lifted, many offices remain closed…and many companies, including big names like Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and Spotify are allowing all or a portion of their workers to continue working from home permanently. Others are allowing this arrangement on a case-by-case basis.

Research firm Gartner found that 47% of organizations surveyed plan to allow employees to work remotely full-time post-COVID. And many will. Every work-from-homer I’ve met on the Riviera Maya plans to do it for the foreseeable future…some have even quit their old jobs and gone freelance or started consulting businesses.

Companies themselves have realized savings on utility costs and office space. And studies have shown that a remote workforce, free of office distractions, actually gets more done. A study of major companies by Global Workplace Analytics found that employees are actually 35% to 40% more productive working from home.

Obviously, many of these companies that allow working from home post-pandemic are in tech and lend themselves well to working remotely. (My new friend in Tulum works for an ecommerce consulting company.) And not every job can be done from home.

But really this trend is inevitable…unstoppable, and in years to come we’re going to continue to see a large percentage of the workforce with this arrangement.

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