Virtual Working isn’t as Simple as Working from Home

June 03 2020

In the post COVID-19 world, three out of five UK employees would like to work from home more often than they did before the lockdown. As we return to work, business leaders are speaking out about changes to their remote working policies – Facebook and Twitter being the most high-profile.

But switching to a more virtual workforce and workplace isn’t as simple as just embracing working from home.

From real estate to reward, diversity and inclusion, remote work has far-reaching implications. I do believe that organisations can use this opportunity to tap into global talent in a way that’s never been possible before. On one condition – that we’re prepared to completely re-think how and where work is done. A number of questions around this are already surfacing:

  • Reward How will companies handle differing reward expectations? Mark Zuckerberg has already suggested that working from home will come at a price. Facebook will “adjust salary to your location” said Zuckerberg, which given that the Bay area is one of the most expensive places to live in the US, is likely to be downwards.

“If you want to work for Facebook from your house in Peoria, Ill., don’t expect a Palo Alto, Calif.-sized paycheck”

New York Post, 21st May 2020

  • Legal implications – an HRD of an international engineering company that attended one of our recent webinars raised the question of “How do we manage and pay employees who have returned home to another country to work so that we have employees there but no legal entity?” Employers don’t want to lose great people just because they’re now in another geography. Meanwhile, German-language paper Tages-Anzeiger reported last week that Switzerland’s top court ruled that employers are required to contribute to employees’ rent payments if they are expected to work from home. These are new risks and questions that need to be considered before organisations make a major change to their operating model.

“The judges estimated a monthly compensation of CHF150 ($154) for the employee’s rent to be justified. This is the first time Switzerland’s highest court has dealt with the topic of rent allowances for employees working from home.”

Tages-Anzeiger, 24th May 2020

  • Real estate- since the COVID-19 pandemic, Google’s parent company Alphabet pulled out of deals to acquire more than two million square feet of office space. And they’re not the only ones. “In the old world, an office was a form of corporate peacocking — a flashy location in some iconic building with a boutique-hotel level of design for clients, employees, customers, and investors— in the new world, it is becoming a very costly line item that could be reduced to the equivalent of a single flagship store.” As summed up by business journalist Courtney Rubin.

“Businesses seeking new office accommodation are likely to require less desk-space per head, with office function shifting to a greater proportion of accommodation devoted to collaboration/meeting room space”

Deloitte, Considerations for the real estate industry, March 2020

  • Diversity and inclusion Remote working on a global scale needs to be considerate of those who can’t work from home. What about those who live in crowded multi-generational households? This is a conversation I had with an HRD of a major fin-tech company with a large number of employees based in India. She explained that while she’s long been an advocate of agility and remote working, “It’s not as simple as just embracing remote work”.

Rethinking your talent and location strategy

Future of work strategist, Heather McGowan, believes that a move to a workforce that relies less on bricks and mortar can improve income equality. Cityscapes will be transformed with secondary cities and even rural areas becoming hubs for talent. And some companies are already managing global virtual work and all its complexities relatively well. Wordpress’ parent company Automaticc has been doing it for years. CEO Matt Mullenweg says the company aims to “pay the same rates for the same roles, regardless of geography.”

As people re-think both where they live and where they work, skills will become available in new places and will be accessed in different ways. There is already an imbalance between supply and demand for skills by specialism and geography; this is an opportunity to improve organisational resilience and agility through talent strategy by:

  1. Piecing locations together: The factors that guided location decisions in the past have now changed and new factors determine successful location strategies.
  2. Rethinkingyour talent and location strategy: Talent strategy should guide and inform location strategy. A rethink of reward policies is needed to support remote working anywhere.
  3. Creating agile operating models: Adapt the design and governance of operating models to encourage cross-functional and self-organising teams.

The new factors that determine successful talent strategy is the topic of our latest white paper. If this post has raised some questions for you, you can download a free copy of our paper, A New Ecosystem of Work by clicking on the link below.

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