Co-Founder at Altar.io
Unbeknownst to us, due to the current Covid19 pandemic, a new era of rapid growth might just have already begun. The era of remote work. The era of work around the life you design instead of the era of life around your work’s designs.
For companies it could mean significantly less overhead costs, more efficiency in sourcing talent globally, not locally and measuring KPIs more effectively. For the global economy, it could ease inequalities between rural landscapes and global cities, between poor and rich countries and change the definition of what a company is and how it works.
It could be the beginning of the remote era in the history of work. The pre-industrial era had people work from home on “putting out”. Only by 1914, even in highly industrialized England, did more people work in factories and offices than from home.
Across the urban capitals, most people worked vending in streets, in their own fields or from street-facing workshops with their kitchens and beds in the back of their homes.
The office and the factory floor is not the natural setting for companies and work but rather a modern construct that could now be subject to review. According to The Economist, 63% of the US workforce went remote in May 2020 with the pandemic, a huge jump from the 5% that used to, and by October 40% still stood at home (or wherever they chose to be). After the pandemic, 22% of workers reckon they will keep doing so according to this Univ. of Chicago study.
Even companies that have performed better during the pandemic have been “assetless” or “digital asset” companies that do not own tangible assets but rather Intellectual Property rights.
From Zoom to Spotify or the big FAANG companies. Digital transformation has changed how business is done, how contracts are signed, how you file taxes, have classes, hail a taxi or book a hotel.
And soon, that digital transformation could reach how you work in your company forever.
Here are a few trends we may expect moving forward in the new era of Remote Work.
Designing your life is about putting your comfort, interests and leisurely pursuits first and placing work around it for a wholesome, virtuous life. The office commute is the first thing to be shaved off. Then naturally comes the ditching of the tiny apartment in rainy London for a sunny villa in the South of Portugal, Spain, Italy or France. After all, why should the sun be in your life only three weeks per year?
Living rurally or in affordable metropolises becomes the thing to do. Preceding the pandemic there had been a huge loss of net migration to London, New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam and even large traditional Asian ex-pat destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila. With the pandemic, megacities stopped receiving new people altogether. Idyllic cities like Valencia, Lisbon and many small destinations in the south rose in popularity for ex-pats according to Internations, an Expat community.
At first, this was simply due to happen to the world of software developers. But now that everyone has been forced to work via kitchen tops and zoom, companies are getting to grips with the need for setting up collaboration remotely.
Tech firms and software developers have long hated meetings. They’ve progressed to SCRUM rituals which favour a single short early morning call to organise the day. Other meetings are rare, but when they occur they’re extremely goal-oriented. The rest of the day is focused on task completion.
Companies in other sectors are now learning these techniques and are beginning to follow suit.
Many new startups and tools from large companies (such as Microsoft & Salesforce) are helping to enable this. Especially for asynchronous work and enabling work without remote KPI measurement. Now, more qualitative metrics are used, such as being present or being the kind of person you’d be happy to have a beer with, etc.
This brings about also a whole new era of output metrics (or “putting out” to use the slang of 100 years ago). This new era will help everyone focus on deliverables, consistency and any relevant performance KPIs.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) via tools from UiPath, BluePrism, Microsoft and many others will allow anyone to set up robots to do processes that require little creativity and take up time. It is possible that future jobs will come with a Robot included, releasing team members from repetitive tasks.
Commuting might well disappear for a majority of service industry people. The 15–30 days this frees up every year will allow people to focus on what matters. As well as free up gas costs, reduce the need for cars and lessen the demand for public transport.
Soon bosses who worry that employees don’t work enough while remote will discover the contrary — that they might work too much.
Since many will stay home for most of the day some bad habits will need to be unlearnt and give place to new, healthy habits. From meditation to longer walks with your pet or child to the nursery or school to a local pool membership.
On the other hand the endless meetings over Zoom, longer workdays “because I’m home anyway” and non-emergency “asks” after six o’clock must be unlearnt. Precise tasks and clear metrics must replace the presenteeism and “trying to look busy”. Dashboards, tasks and metrics and visibility will be the new normal.
Until now it wouldn’t make sense to have five members of a team in the office and one in another country — however well suited for the job they may be.
However, as company strategies shift to remote, they can also broaden the hiring scope globally, hence making it more efficient to have the right talent.
This also brings about new possibilities in terms of having a truly diverse workforce on one hand and local expertise on the other. All while eliminating the necessity of massive relocation costs, sending over senior staff, setting up local offices, etc.
Also, companies like the one I co-founded, the Product and Software house Altar.io, do cater to a global demand, do have multi located and ethnically diverse workforce early on. On top of this, our clients often create their startups with a global workforce to cater to a global clientele as well. But again, what is true for the Software sector is often true decades ahead of time for other sectors.
As seen during the pandemic, highly skilled jobs will be the first to reap the benefits. These changes “are a disaster for low-skilled labour and could be a good thing for high-skilled labour” says Gerald F. Davis, a professor of management and sociology at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business told the NYT.
Teachers facilitate classes from home, software developers live their dream of being remote, financiers work from their vacation homes, the list goes on.
On the other side of the coin, in the hospitality and tourism sectors, for example, we see workers losing their jobs and incomes. This is due to the fact that Central Business Districts have become void of commuters and tourists. Again, startups like Uber Eats reap the benefit of the “stay at home worker” ordering a quick lunch. Meanwhile, restaurants payout 35% of their income to ordering services as they are forced to fire staff.
Another long term shock could be brewing for the commercial real estate business as a whole. These highly paid remote specialists will tend to avoid strip malls thus hurting shops and offices as service industries (finance, IT, consulting, accounting, consulting) increasingly move to remote work. While remote, startups and established companies like Amazon eat shopkeepers lunches and Zoom and other collaboration services reduce companies office footprints.
One of the boldest ideas is that for some sectors there could be Private Equity firms focusing on making companies go remote, save on salaries by hiring nearshore, cut offices at scale and save massively, thus producing significant gains.
Would there be a market to then sell Remote only companies? Would holding Zoom leases be the new office lease? It seems far fetched now but the same could be said about the biggest tourism companies in the world (Priceline and Booking) actually owning zero beds. No one could see it until it happened.
This new wave of digital transformation would hurt primarily big cities (think San Francisco, Frankfurt, London, NYC) and Mayors of secondary cities will have a unique opportunity and mandate to attract these highly skilled and well paid joie-de-vivre seekers to sunny 5G equipped hotspots. Globally, this would spark a new competition for locations that can provide world-class schooling, safety, entertainment to the growing location independent community.
The bigger global opportunity at stake, however, is for a more transparent, meritocratic, diverse and location-independent workforce for both startups and established countries if remote-first companies and startups are to be the next big thing.
If H1B visas could be a thing of the past and Facebook were to hire directly based on merit a graduate from Nigeria or the Philippines without needing to fly them over to an office then something big could be around the corner, bringing about a fairer world.
The same goes for current employees of big companies in big expensive cities. If they could just move to wherever they please, live the lives they design while keeping their attained income level, this could spark growth in new locations and deflate sky-high rentals in big capital cities making them… well, better to live in.
What opportunities do you see a culture of remote work bringing?
Thanks for reading!
PS: I’m the Co-Founder of Altar.io — a team of experienced second-time founders, world-class developers and product talents based in London and Lisbon helping startups and corporates to build great tech products.
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