Category Archives: Remote Work

The emerging global virtual workplace: A work in progress

The virtual global workforce is already here.  It just may not seem apparent.  When people log in to their smartphones to check email or apps for messages – call on clients or their office — from locations outside the traditional physical workplace – this is virtual working.  And prospectively, there’s going to be a lot less traditional physical office and a lot more virtual connectivity between employers and employees.  And the employer-employee relationship is fast becoming instead — predominantly clients and flexible talent (or temps or consultants, to use more well-known terms).

In 2007, the iPhone changed the workplace

John Naughton details in The Guardian how 2007 was the year the “world turned upside down” — as that was the year when Apple launched the iPhone.  The iPhone, as Naughton explains, changed fundamentally how people accessed and interacted with the internet.  And that billions more in the next decade will get internet access.  Most people are predicted to spend a majority of their waking time online.

That people can access the internet and work remotely has transformed the industrial-era workplace of employers and employees at a fixed location to purchasers and suppliers of units or subscriptions of work provided often virtually.   And this trend is rapidly moving to create what will be a predominant virtual workforce in the future.

Nearly half the workforce to be virtual by 2020

Alain Dehaze, CEO of Adecco Group detailed recently a prediction “that by 2020, 43% of American workers would be independent contractors.”  And this trend of course is a global one – where talent will connect with need on a project-to-project basis.  These forces have already disrupted numerous industries including hotels (with AirBnB) and taxis (with Uber), to name a few.  Now the world’s labor markets, powered by sophisticated, remote access to the internet via smartphones – are going through the same disruption.  

Dehaze encourages employers and workers to focus less on qualifications and more on learning — and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman — in a recent interview with Charlie Rose — outlined how he sees the new social contract related to employment being centered around a willingness by employees to be lifelong learners.  Dehaze believes employers seeking top talent need to be more relaxed and flexible in their corporate cultures — including a willingness to hire a more mobile, international workforce.

Some ways to adapt to the virtual world of work

Looking forward from the perspective of someone who’s worked virtually in international markets since 2002 (save for one year):

For workers:

  • Those who will increasingly seek work virtually will need to see themselves as primarily solutions providers to businesses.  
  • They’ll need to market themselves and run a profitable solopreneur business – while at the same time adjusting to the fundamentally different life a virtual career represents.  
  • A mastery of a range of tools available to help virtual workers will be required.  
  • Importantly, there will be essentially no traditional social outlets or opportunities provided by employers in a virtual career.  Think about the wide-sweeping ramifications of this over a decade and how it might impact your life.  

For employers:

  • There’s a deep need to understand that virtual talent is already highly motivated and entrepreneurial to be working with you virtually.  
  • Workers will essentially be crowd-sourcing their career and will have an ability to select the employer or client.  
  • If that employer or client is prepared to offer an attractive remuneration package – they’re more likely to retain the emerging elite talent operating as global virtual specialists in their niche.

Resources like Google and FourSquare’s joint Digital Marketing Academy exist to help workers adjust to and thrive in the new global virtual workforce as digital marketers.  Employers should find similar ways to adapt to continue to attract and retain the best talent.  Over time more virtual-friendly resources will emerge for employers and workers alike – as the world becomes increasingly a place where talent and employers are operating in a virtual, global context.

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Why remote work has a bright future

Remote work has arrived and is going to continue to penetrate the world’s labor markets.  Not just for the full-time workforce in traditional employment and telecommuting — but also for those who are location-independent Digital Nomads.  Too, retirees and part-time workers appear destined to join in much greater numbers the ranks of workers utilizing an internet connection as a prime means of generating income.

As Laura Vanderkam detailed in Fast Company: “A 2014 survey of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London found that 34% said more than half their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020. A full 25% said more than three-quarters would not work in a traditional office by 2020.”

And according to Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll conducted in 2015, “Thirty-seven percent of U.S. workers say they have telecommuted” —  a four-fold increase from 9% in 1995.  The study cited technology and the willingness of employers to allow remote work as the key forces underpinning the change.  They noted, however, that in 2013, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer changed the company’s policy “to require all workers to work in a corporate office”.  But this unique example aside, the study detailed: “An increasing number of employers allow workers the flexibility to do their job remotely”. [emphasis added]

99% of people are already working in some remote fashion

Vanderkam cited Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs who detailed how she believes that “in most white-collar jobs…99% of people are already working remotely in that they take work home. It creeps into our work style already. I think it’s just not formalized by either the employer or employee.”  Indeed, 79% of “knowledge workers in a global survey by PGI said they work from home”, Vanderkam detailed.

And the millennial generation appears poised to make remote work central to modern employment practices.  Adam Kingl, director of learning solutions at the London Business School told Vanderkam that:  “With younger workers being fully aware that you can email or call someone from anywhere, the idea of working differently becomes “a criterion that people are expressly looking for before they’ll sign on the dotted line…it’s not a perk or reward.”  Kingl said those who have grown up with digital technology are now moving into management and “are starting to be the architects of workplace culture,” He told Vanderkam that: ”Once your boss knows that ‘work is fluid—it can happen anywhere, at any time,’ then there is much less value put on ‘being around for its own sake.’”

Efficiency, productivity, lower stress and higher employee retention

“Companies and at-home employees alike say remote work is a boon to productivity”, according to a recent article in Remote.co by Adrianne Bibby.   “Fewer distractions (for the disciplined remote worker) can lead to higher efficiency,” Bibby detailed.  And in a recent Harvard Business Review articleNicholas Bloom details how remote workforces lead to an increase in productivity.

Vanderkam also cited a report by PGI detailing how 82 percent of telecommuters reported lower stress levels — as well as a Stanford University study showing how offering remote work options reduced employee turnover and reduced job attrition rates by 50%  And companies report “significant decreases in operating costs.”  For example, Aetna saved $78M USD by converting approximately ⅓ of its’ workforce to remote.  And American Express reported savings of between $10M and $15M USD thanks to a remote workforce.

Companies and workers alike are embracing remote work options

Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and Founder of FlexJobs detailed in an article in Entrepreneur how companies have embraced remote work.  She cited in particular Kaplan, which allows 85% of its’ staff to work remotely.  “Kaplan’s expanded remote hiring includes not only teachers and tutors, but also sales, operations, and business development.”  And Intuit is looking for talent on a global basis, without regard to location. “In today’s global economy and with Intuit’s expanding global footprint, we know great talent is everywhere,” Terilyn Monroe, Director of Global Employee and Community Engagement, told Sutton Fell.

Vanderkam also detailed how 50% of current part-time remote workers would like to increase their remote time. And “60 percent of remote workers in the survey said that if they could, they would leave their current job for a full-time remote position at the same pay rate.”

Ultra-remote work:  Digital Nomads

As Tanya Mohn detailed in an article in Forbes, there is a growing number of professionals — called “Digital Nomads” —  “who prefer a location-independent lifestyle that allows them to travel and work anywhere in the world”.

Many Digital Nomads “use…co-working spaces  — which provide desks, Wi-Fi, meeting rooms and other office amenities, as well as camaraderie to independent professionals who prefer to work among peers rather than from the isolation of home or hotel rooms”, as Mohn explains.

Mohn highlighted the experience of Ally Basak Russell, head of international marketing at online work marketplace oDesk (now Upwork) “who said she is able to support a productive and rewarding digital nomad lifestyle due to careful planning and the wealth of tools made possible by modern technology.”  “There’s truly a global community of digital nomads” — “many of whom know and support each other”  — both online and offline, she told Mohn.  

And a recent example of the growing Digital Nomad ecosystem is the 7in7 Digital Nomad Conference — conducted by “ a team of digital nomads, remote workers, and location independent entrepreneurs” who are conducting 7 conferences over 7 years on 7 different continents — the first of which took place in October, 2016 in Bangkok.  

A remote future for many

As the 7in7 conference organizers detailed on the event website: “We believe that location independence isn’t just something you do for a few years in your twenties before “settling down.” It’s one of the pillars of the future of work, not to mention an amazing way to live.”

Trends certainly indicate that 7in7’s prediction of remote working becoming one of the pillars of future work — is in the process of becoming a reality.

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New report: 9 EU nations “embracing the digital economy”

According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group — EU member states Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden — have “warmly embraced the digital revolution”.  Details of the report were outlined in a recent article in the EUObserver by Paul Hofheinz, president and co-founder of the Lisbon Council, a Brussels based think tank and Fredrik Lind, senior partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group.

Digital Economy reported to be increasing economic activity

The authors detail how these relatively smaller EU nations – in contrast to some of the EU’s larger member states — are “investing heavily in broadband, ensuring digital skills are taught in schools, even moving much of their public administration over to hyper-user-friendly digital formats”.  They refer to these countries as “digital frontrunners”.  The result has been a marked increase in “not only cross-border commerce and real-time communication, but in the actual economic activity undertaken by those that have embraced the new technology most fully.”

A “fully functioning digital single market”, the report detailed, “could in the frontrunner countries result in a GDP growth rate almost twice that of today” — “translat[ing] to a net gain (after the effects of automation) of between 1.6 to 2.3 million jobs by 2020 in these nations.”

Individuals, governments — faced with the need to adapt

In another report, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has detailed the challenges both individuals as well as governments face in adapting to the changing economic and workforce landscape the digital economy is creating.  In particular, the European Commission has detailed how “47% of [the] EU population is not properly digitally skilled, yet in the near future, 90% of jobs will require some level of digital skills.”

There are a range of options — both formal and informal — for those wishing to develop the skills necessary to thrive in a digital economy.  For example — on the formal side: “The Skills for the Digital Economy programme [in Wales] develops and delivers flexible, industry-led training..for.. creative media employers and freelancers working.”  More informally, the digital economy has also produced what are referred to as “Digital Nomads”: Remote workers who are also often “location independent”.  Many blog about their experiences and the development of their digital skills.  The Making it Anywhere blog, for example, details the skills which are helpful to thriving as a digital nomad.

Asia adapting quickly to digital – Europe can, too

Some of Asia’s economies — Singapore, Taiwan and China in particular — “are on a digital rise, undergoing rapid change with ambitious plans for the future”.  These countries are seeing digital being fueled by investment and friendly regulatory environments — complimented by an explicit desire to lead in the field.  Europe on the other hand faces disagreements on a range of issues related to the full adoption of a digital single market.  Some European tech bodies have recently made the case for a full adoption of the original Digital Single Market plan.

With the track record of economic benefit digital innovation is bringing to Europe’s “digital frontrunners” — it would, as Hofheinz and Lind argue – be ideal to more quickly resolve the disputes surrounding it and accelerate the transformation.  Those seeking to adapt to the digital economy — can also actively work to develop or retain the skills required to thrive in it.

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