Predicting the future is always a risky game – remember that 2 years ago I was outlining and pitching my ‘20 years of working from home’ book, convinced that I had nothing left to learn about that subject…?
Well, January 2020 seems like a long time ago, and much has changed. Like many people, I am wary of making any hard and fast statements about what to expect in the short or medium term future… But, I am fairly well-placed to have identified some key themes which might be important before too long. So, with all the risks of 2020 hindsight, here are a few broad ideas you might want to look out for:
Digital Nomad Visas
It’s very exciting to see nation states beginning to recognise the value of the knowledge worker income, and the benefits of attracting new residents without having to provide the business infrastructure needed to employ them.
This is coming in the form of a growing range of temporary working visas/permits, enabling people to enjoy living in attractive locations without the implications of tax residency -often for extended periods measured in years, and sometimes incorporating potential on-ramps to permanent residency and citizenship options in due course.
This makes absolute sense for countries rich in natural beauty and resources but maybe lower GDP and less to attract large employers, to compete for the chance to attract an educated and often higher-earning population, and make them welcome in paradise with minimum red tape, so – bring it on! Remote workers can upgrade their lifestyle in an area with a lower cost of living, and at the same time fuel that economy locally through their day-to-day spending, while they enjoy the stimulation of a wholly new environment and community in which to live.
Here’s a recent round-up of 38 Countries With Digital Nomad Visas to whet your appetite – and don’t forget to send us a postcard (or a comment).
This leads on to:
Digital Nomad Communities and Projects
The profile of the typical ‘digital nomad’ has also changed considerably, from that of the trustafarian 20-something doing the odd bit of graphic design while ‘finding themselves’ on a beach in Bali.
Today, there are families, employees (see below) and many more and diverse people, embracing the opportunities that remote working and the end of lockdowns offer, and seeking to extend their horizons by taking work along with them for a while – as they live and work from somewhere new. Even for a few weeks (so they might not need a remote work visa, but they do need a desk, decent internet, and like-minded company.)
Unlike the macbackpackers of old, they’re more inclined to want to learn about and contribute to the places they find themselves in, and enrich local projects as they pass by.
Here in Spain, we have some great examples in Pueblos Remotos, who bring digital knowledge workers into rural communities to exchange skills and ideas, and Sende, which bills itself as one of the oldest co-living locations in the world. Already distinct target audiences are differentiating, with projects in the Canaries attracting many tech entrepreneurs, while Sende is clearly a very different vibe – much like choosing a holiday, you can browse until you feel a fit, and think about what you want, from a combination of work and leisure time like this.
Perhaps 2022 will also bring us some new nomenclature? The term ‘nomad’ has overtones of cultural appropriation, though it seems to have been broadly adopted for anyone who wants to live and work in more than one place for now. And the idea of special trips combining a blend of work and fun really does need its own word – I have heard my habit of stuffing a couple of extra days on the end of a business trip called ‘bleisure’, but as a wordsmith that makes me somewhat queasy.
Better words, for blending travel/work/living, your suggestions please!
Does this mean that anyone presently working from home for a company can simply up-sticks for Barbados or Croatia or wherever? Well, it may not be quite that simple, especially if your employer has no legal presence in that location, or you want to move about regularly, or settle for a couple of years in a new country…
Some larger corporations have international branches to which you might be able to transfer your contract of employment, but what about smaller businesses, whose employees want to enjoy similar freedoms?
Enter employment-of-record (EOR) or professional-employer-organisations (PEO) like Shield GEO, Omnipresent, or Remote, all of whom have been growing and getting funded like mad in the past year or so, to take advantage of the demand from both workers and businesses to bridge this gap.
They do so through the service of being the employer on the ground, correctly and legally establishing businesses in each country they operate in – taking care of all the compliance and legal quirks that each jurisdiction brings to the table, and at the same time abstracting away a great deal of the HR admin that the business would have to deal with anyway. The exact liabilities and services offer vary, there are important distinctions to clarify, but essentially, they make it possible for people to employ staff in countries where they have no business presence locally.
So while it might seem expensive for the employer at first, the real upsides to being able to employ the talent you want, wherever they want to live, is well worth exploring. And before you as an employee settle for being self-employed or otherwise contracted less securely than you could be if you stayed at ‘home’, then why not investigate what an EOR or PEO in your new location might have to offer?
No more lash-up tech and making do!
I recently ordered some well-being products from an online store, and my confirmation email advised that fulfilment might take longer than usual, due to the pandemic. Really? Still?
Eighteen months ago, I’d have had some sympathy with that excuse, but – global supply line problems not withstanding – by now, I really expect most ecommerce operations to have figured stuff out.
And employees expect that too. Patience has a statue of limitations.
Businesses with remote teams simply have to invest in the gear that is needed, for people to work from home or anywhere else, easily, safely, and effectively. That means decent hardware – not necessarily the highest spec laptop in the world if you’re mostly dialling in to cloud-based solutions, but fast and new and with a decent battery life, and lightweight to carry around. Headphones optimised for all-day use in changing environments, and a fast enough connection to use them all without friction.
Software too which is designed for use on a single screen, rather than requiring NASA Mission Control to operate – modern, integrated ‘single pane of glass’ solutions for unified communications and operations, and persistent online storage, so people can work on the go and on their favourite devices. And security systems and protections in place, so they can do so without stressing about their end of the connection each time.
So if you are still getting by with the same set-up you used in the office, but you’re never going back, or you think the work you do really isn’t ideal for WFH because it’s too complicated, you might just need a better user interface or a better suite of applications to make your workflow more smooth and frictionless. And you deserve it!
Better solutions, optimised for the way we work today, are being funded and developed all the time. So take a step back from your clunky workflow and set-up and see if there are better ways of doing things – and employers, this may mean spending on some consultancy or a bit of bespoke development to integrate your apps for example, but it will be money well spent. Investing in removal of tech friction is actually investing in your people at the same time, your most important assets, and this will make working from anywhere (including home) better in 2022.
Measuring what matters
One of the saddest trends during the first wave of lockdown forced remote working was a leap in search volume for terms like ‘monitor my employees’ and ‘track my remote workers’ – reflecting a huge deficit in TRUST, of so many people suddenly having to work from home.
The reasons for this lack of trust are complex, and speak to a range of worrying issues in company culture. But at its heart are a range of assumptions, including the idea that the employer owns your time contracted for work (rather than the work itself), and that grown up human beings cannot be trusted to do what they are supposed to without being directly observed and supervised.
However, at the other end of the spectrum, many long-term (i.e. pre-pandemic) fully remote organisations have always put trust at the heart of their operations, and have zero interest in monitoring how long their people spend on specific activities and tasks, or when they do them. Instead, they measure what they actually accomplish, in metrics which are relevant for the role and the organisational needs.
They might call them key performance indicators, or outputs, or results areas, or progress – or it might be immediately manifest in the work itself, if creating or otherwise transforming specific things. But the common factor is that they have identified the relevant unit of productivity, and ways to assess that robustly. Then they have communicated expectations clearly – and supported the employee to deliver that, the best way for them.
If that means one person writes more and better lines of code in the middle of the night, or from a café by the beach, or whatever – fine. It’s the code they are being hired for, not the bum in a seat for specific hours, or in a specific place.
Digital presenteeism is real, and it’s just as unhealthy as the on-site kind – arguably worse, when people feel under pressure to show up in specific ways from their own home.
So, why not try measuring what people actually achieve instead?
Looking to the future
As we hopefully come towards the end of working from home just because we legally got stuck there, new choices and opportunities will open up for everyone. So, it’s definitely time to think about what YOU want, from your liberated life-of-work in 2022.
And if you’ve scanned through the subheadings looking for where I’ll talk about hybrid working, then sorry for the disappointment. This term is being too broadly and vaguely misused at the moment to be helpful right now. If you have to be in the office some days and not others, then you don’t have a location-independent role, you’re just playing a part in some game of musical chairs/space management, and it’s probably the worst of both worlds (you can’t pop off to Barbados for 6 months, or even get a larger apartment away from the city – but you’re expected to cope at the cramped kitchen table when your employer allows it).
I really don’t see this expectation as sustainable, and by the end of 2022 I think we’ll see a big shift in how people really live and work.
In fact the only prediction I will make with confidence is that the state of flux will continue, and the only constant will be change. The ‘great resignation’ may continue, but really it’s also the ‘great reshuffle’, because most people still need to work for a living.
Where, when, and how, will be the interesting questions to answer.