'I'm in adventure mode': Why this digital nomad CEO works better on the move

Nobody knows what the future of work will look like. But flexibility will be the key to success.

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This CEO is forever Zoom-ready: he carries his kit wherever he goes.

Image: David Zaitz/GETTY

Jeff Maggioncalda has been a CEO for 25 years. In that time, he's travelled the world, from Lisbon, Madrid, London and Germany to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Cairo and the UAE – to name but a few places.

Travel is a key part of Maggioncalda's approach to work. A self-styled nomad CEO, Maggioncalda travels from country to country, working from a range of locations to understand the needs of different markets, experiencing cultures and communities, and forming business relationships. Sure, he could just as easily meet with clients and peers over Zoom – but where's the fun in that?

"I have got to be out there seeing it and talking to people," Maggioncalda tells ZDNet. "I'm in adventure mode, I'm in sales mode, I'm in learning mode, and I have a capacity to learn that's much higher than just sitting in my family room on Zoom." 

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Jeff Maggionclada, CEO at Coursera.

Image: Coursera

Maggioncalda is the CEO of Coursera, an online training platform that offers online courses, certifications and degrees from universities and companies all over the world.

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He began working at the company 2017, in the midst of fierce demand for talent in the San Francisco Bay Area. "It was off the charts, especially for computer scientists and data scientists," says Maggioncalda.

"Even when you hired somebody, you really had to work really hard to keep them because wage growth was fast, and Google was right down the street."

In 2022, competition for tech workers is fierce, perhaps more so: not only are businesses doubling down on IT investments and putting more of their services online, but pivotal shifts in the workforce are also creating new opportunities for smaller tech companies to contend with the Googles, Apples and Facebooks of the world.

That shift is being driven by knowledge workers' desire to unshackle themselves from the rigidity of office-based work and have more of a say in how and where they work.

"I honestly just don't see a world where companies don't have a lot of flexibility in remote working," says Maggioncalda.

"You can't rely on charisma. You can't rely on fun parties at the office. You certainly will not be able to rely on the employer having the control and saying: 'You have to do it this way because I told you to.'"

Finding a middle ground

Given his nomadic approach to his job, it's of little surprise that Maggioncalda is a major proponent of the 'work from anywhere' ethos. He's forever Zoom-ready: he carries his iPad, MacBook, camera, Lume lights and green screen wherever he goes, and he purchases a local SIM card whenever he touches down in a new country.

Maggioncalda says the best conversations take place outside of the office – at conferences, at press events, at sales meetings – anywhere that offers him the chance to gain a fresh perspective in a new environment that wouldn't happen sitting at a desk.

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But that's not to say that everything about remote work is perfect. "One of the things that we all have realised is this phenomenon of Zoom burnout, and work-life balance can get pretty muddled, and without social connections, a lot of work feels more transactional – it's just much more business-oriented," he adds.

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The CEO also recognizes the value in having a space where employees can come together to socialise and share ideas, as well as the difficulties that remote working presents to leaders in terms of management and cultural challenges.

"I think that there will be a middle ground, which will be trickier," he says.

However, he says this won't be about mandating when workers should come into the office and what they should do while they're there: "The predominant message that we've been having so far has been work from anywhere – you don't need to come back."

Companies that do mandate office returns are most likely going to lose staff to more flexible-friendly rivals. "And not just any employees, the really hard to find employees, the computer scientists and the data scientists," Maggioncalda adds.

The chase for talent is going be global, he says: "And anyone who doesn't play that game is going to lose."

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