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The Global Mobile Worker – A Solution to the Talent Gap

November 27, 2015

War for TalentA consistent theme at #WebSummit 2015 was the war for talent. Every co-founder cited getting good talent in the door as one of their greatest challenges, and one most didn’t expect.

What Founders learned was talent is not just about developers. It takes a range of skills to build a company.

These Founders thought there would be talent knocking down the doors of the hottest, hippest new thing. Sorry. There are a lot of shiny objects being flashed in the faces of Digital Natives.

Global Mobile Workers are the Solution

Everyone wants MillenialsPerhaps a new perspective on talent is required. Because startups still operate on the same paradigm as larger, older companies. Everyone wants Millennials and they want them geographically located at headquarters or a satellite office.

I mentioned in my last post that I was disappointed by this outdated way of thinking about talent, the internet makes geographic distance simply a state of mind. After all, this was the largest “technology summit in Europe.”

Remote workers more complex work testimonialStrategy, user experience, marketing, sales, back office operations, customer experience; remote talent can be a solution for all of these needs. Talent that is living in a city they love, and in more affordable conditions than the traditional headquarter cities of San Francisco, New York, London or Berlin.

Besides, these cities are swept up in a highly inefficient game of talent swap.talent-changing-jobs

Despite a decade of talk about flexible work arrangements and telecommuting, the idea of leading a remote workforce still seems as exotic as SpaceX.

There has been some progress. Almost 50% of managers in the US, UK and Germany are allowed to work remotely. And, the trend is global, the percentage of managers who work remotely in many developing countries has risen to between 10 and 20 percent.

It’s not just millennials driving the movement. Every generation has expressed a desire for remote work options. In their book Making Telework Work, Offstein and Morwick, found that workers nearing retirement also prefer to work remotely in order to spend more time with their families and to have a more flexible schedule.

Yet, companies are still struggling with the concept. When I worked as a corporate lawyer in the Palo Alto office of a global technology focused law firm, I asked my partner if I could work from our San Francisco office because the commute was crushing me. He said he “didn’t believe in telecommuting.” I later learned one of my colleagues had moved with his family to North Carolina without telling anyone. It had been two years, no one seemed to notice, and he was enjoying a more family friendly lifestyle in Raleigh/Durham.

So what’s the problem?

Many of the greatest companies in the 21st century, including Virgin, 37signals, and IBM have built successful businesses providing people the freedom to work where they want, when they want, and how they want.

People criticize working remotely because they find it difficult to measure the number of hours their employees are working. What they forget is that going into the office does not equal productive work.

“Office workers are interrupted—or self-interrupted—roughly every three minutes.” The Wall Street Journal

I once worked at a Silicon Valley life sciences icon that had built a sprawling campus on the Bay. It took 10 to 15 minutes to get around campus and meetings were a constant. Everything had to be face-to-face. I spent hours every day shuttling around campus to share my face. The company struggled to get people to even read the flexible work policy because nobody believed you could succeed without riding the campus shuttle several times a day. Most people ended up doing their real work at home at night, and large segments of the population were living in burnout.

Then, what does it take to promote remote work? What is required is a culture of trust and respect, empowering your employees; which, guess what, has also been shown to increase engagement, productivity, and company loyalty.

Managers have to get better at understanding and focusing on results

Focusing on output forces everyone to prioritize tasks that will have the biggest impact. It forces managers to better define the tasks, even repetitive tasks or what is required to oversee a process. Employees will have a clear understanding of expectations, another driver of engagement and productivity. This chart keeps it simple.

Results oriented approach

Systems such as ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) are being introduced to promote output work cultures, where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence. It has been implemented in companies such as Best Buy and Gap, where they’ve seen: 20% improvement in productivity, 90% decrease in turnover rates, and increased customer satisfaction.

Who has done it successfully?

Education startup Citelighter has workers scattered around the world, from developers in Romania to account executives in Northern California, and another group in Baltimore. The company recently shared with Fast Company how it successfully manages it dispersed workforce.

Citelighter goes beyond online communication tools, they designate certain people as communication leaders, who are expected to know the answer no matter what. If, for some reason, those people aren’t available, there is a backup person. Distributed knowledge in action.

“I’m not just left in the dark because our developers are in Romania,” said Co-founder Jokl. “That expectation eliminates a lot of the risk.”

Founders of companies like Zapier, built with a distributed workforce, evangelize the movement. Zapier published The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson from 37Signals, whose Basecamp product is designed to support teams (I’ve used it – it’s intuitive and fairly robust), wrote Amazon Bestseller Remote – Office Not Required.Remote Amazon Bestseller

You can speed your rate of growth by having a diverse team from the start, not the same 20-something demographic that is shaping every other startup in your town. Having a geographically and demographically diverse team from the start can be your “blue ocean” competitive advantage.

Managers and talent leaders may fear the thought of managing a virtualized workforce – terrified of losing the ability to track employee progress. Yet, there are success stories and the future global workforce is inevitable.

Top 10 companies winning at remote work culture and their secrets

100 Top Companies with Remote Jobs in 2015

76 Virtual Companies and Distributed Teams

50 Best Companies Hiring Remotely

By establishing core values, like clear and frequent communication, with a strong onboarding program and embedded collaboration tools, you will be streaming workflow seamlessly between on-site and remote employees. The bonus, you create a company that organically seeks to bridge differences and be inclusive.

Now Hiring Remote Workers

Next – Finding employees that “fit” and global mobile workers being found are the two ends of a market as inefficient and equally hated by both sides as any that’s ripe for disruption. Not Ready for the Global Mobile Worker – Talent Sourcing is Broken.


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