Digital Nomadism Part 1 – An Emerging Remote Workforce
By Daniel Monoogian
In the last twenty years, our society has undergone a major shift. Being successful in the workforce has traditionally required a physical presence; cities were built around commuting via the automobile on highways and byways, with bustling city centers as the hubs of business. Collaboration has gone from in-person meetings, to the proliferation of cellular telephones and phone conferences, to a digital workforce, with cross-functional teams working nationally and internationally. With an ever-expanding world wide web, companies are now able to draw from an international workforce.
With changes in connectivity come shifts in the way people communicate, shop and do business. New lines of business are on the rise, and, according to Invest Ottawa, National Capital tech companies are predicting that they will be hiring 10,000 new employees by 2019. With an ongoing en masse departure of Baby Boomers from the workforce, Millenials are now poised to step in and grab the reins. As Generation Xs and Ys continue to find their niche in the workforce, the Xennials walk the line between traditional values of their Baby Boomer parents and the trail-blazing Millenials.
Millenials –the label for the generation born between 1982 and 2004, tend to value experiences over possessions, are hyper-connected, technologically savvy and tend to be driven by compelling employment, motivated by challenge rather than job stability; they are eschewing the traditional ideals of Baby Boomers. They have even been dubbed “digital natives”. With their talent in demand, their most commonly asked question to potential employers: “How will you keep me here for the next five years?”
Slow Demise of the Cubicle
Organizations must now adapt their traditional ideas, to attract and more importantly, retain this workforce. There is now a large pool of intelligent, well-educated, digitally interconnected candidates, who are highly sought after. How will modern organizations obtain the loyalty of Millenials?
The answer is: flexibility. Offering options beyond the 9-5, fulfilling the desires of the up-and-coming generation for travel – those who are not interested in the traditional house in the suburbs and nuclear family. What they are interested in however, is making an impact, feeling as though their work is valued, being challenged and progressing steadily through their career.
Shopify: Embracing Connectivity
A prime example of a company that’s embracing remote work as well as a modern corporate culture is Shopify – an Ottawa-based Canadian commerce company that offers seamless 24/7 support for their platform by leveraging a large remote workforce. With customer service roles across Canada and in Ireland, and reasonable working hours, their more than 500,000 merchants can rest assured that they can continue selling around the clock.
How does this work? With a laptop and an internet connection, the workforce suddenly becomes flexible, and the pool of candidates expands beyond cities into rural areas. At Shopify’s outset as a tech startup, the company realized it had to go beyond the traditional cubed workspace. They offer many incentives for their employees on site including self-directed budgets to support learning and growth, catered meals and house cleaning as time-savers, as well as social events and a ton of flexibility. A happy workforce is a productive workforce, and culture is king.
I spoke with Dan Beaudoin, Shopify employee who has been working on and leading teams remotely for the last three and a half years. Dan has been very successful in his employment, and is now an Apprentice Product Manager for Shopify’s billing team. Dan’s interview process and onboarding happened completely remotely.
According to Dan, the perks of a remote workforce are realized in two major ways:
“A: it’s going to save you money, because there’s no overhead on offices for these specific employees, there’s no overhead on the in-office perks, which means that you can pour that money into other things and B: it means that you’re not giving up talent just because they don’t live in the downtown core, which is typically where your offices are. Some of our best talent lives perfectly happily out in the country, as long as you have a good internet connection, that’s all you need.”
This is supported by a recent IBM survey (935-IBM.com) of 675 CIOs and IT professionals which found that companies successfully implementing a flexible workspace reported a 20% improvement in productivity and cost savings.
Yet still, there are hurdles to overcome in the mentality of those resistant to this change in the workforce:
“The biggest hurdle to remote work right now is the buy-in of people who believe that there is an inherent advantage to in-person interaction and aren’t open to the change.”
Assuming that in-person interaction is inherently better:
“Everyone has that bias because that’s how we all grew up. You will find that what you are basically doing is giving internal social protocol to remote people by giving them Virtual Reality (VR). If you and I are sitting at a table together, we are not going to put on our VR glasses and interact remotely. But, if you’re across the city and I wouldn’t be coming over to hang out and play video games because it’s cold out we can then put on glasses and we’ll socialize more. I think you’re going to find that VR is a very social thing, much like remote work is. Remote work can be a very lonely thing if you don’t do anything about it. I find it extremely social. I made a lot of very close friends being remote because all you need to do is try; reach out and chat with people, and you can have more than one conversation going at a time. So it’s even two or three times as social sometimes.”
“Social is something people worry about with remote life because they’re assuming that in-person is better. When you give yourself to remote life I think that you’ll find it gives everything back to you.”
This is supported by a survey carried out by Connect Solutions (http://www.cosocloud.com/press-release/connectsolutions-survey-shows-working-remotely-benefits-employers-and-employees)– as far as camaraderie and collaboration are concerned, 42% of remote workers felt just as connected with colleagues as when physically present, and 10% felt even more connected.
Productivity and work/life balance
“A lot of people look at remote life, especially when they’re talking to new remotes about it as “you need to convince your boss”. I’ve worked remotely long enough that my concern is more that you need to stay a good employee and live. I am really strict with my work-life balance/harmony, I don’t have notifications on my phone, I don’t have emails coming in after hours, when I’m done work I’m done work. A lot of people aren’t like that. Again, because they feel like they need to be always around, to prove that they’re doing their job.”
In fact, remote workers are some of the most productive. Global Workplace Analytics (http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/resources/costs-benefits) reports that over two-thirds of employers state that their remote workers are more productive. Major companies like Best Buy and Dow Chemicals even saw a 35-40% increase in productivity among telecommuters.
Dan has the following advice for the remote workforce:
“Getting out of your comfort zone is the only way you can grow. It’s like working out. When you’re working out, you need to tear those muscles so that they can heal stronger. You do the same thing with productivity and with progress and growth in your professional life as well. You have to tear those muscles.”