Remotefulness

How the pandemic is shaping a new era of increased flexibility with global talent calling the shots

ALBERT CAÑIGUERAL, Director General for Open Data, Transparency and Collaboration at the Generalitat de Catalunya since June 2021. Before joining the regional government, Albert was the Ouishare Connector for Spain and Latin America. In 2011, he founded the blog Consumo Colaborativo and has since been regarded as a thought-leader in the platform economy. He has just released a new book, “El trabajo ya no es lo que era” (‘Work is not what it used to be”), published by Conecta, which explores the future of work and employees’ expectations.

How has the pandemic impacted work and the office environment?

Many of the trends and signs that we were predicting and observing have become a reality. This mainly has to do with: 

  1. The level of protection afforded to employees such as furlough schemes which, in some countries, was not available to the self-employed and to the most vulnerable workers, for example, cleaners. . The pandemic made the gap in the level of protection painfully obvious.
  2. The obsession for having a physical office and presenteeism has been superseded by the need to offer flexible and safe working environments for employees.
  3. The importance of digitalisation and the ability of emerging talent to deploy new ways of working. It has become clear that you can conduct business through video calls and hire talent that doesn’t share the same postcode.

Do you think these trends are here to stay or are we destined to return to the old normal?

Society and societal changes oscillate like a pendulum. We are in an inter regno hybrid situation until, as a society, we find a new equilibrium. Some vulnerable workers will go back to the pre-pandemic situation while other pandemic-related changes will stick (i.e many companies now offer at least 2 days of work-from-home benefits).

We are now laying the foundations to building universal social protection cover for all. This is the trend we are observing. But, by and large, we haven’t seen major cultural changes in the way we understand and manage work. SMEs haven’t incorporated new ways of working en masse yet. We need to become more mature about how we address today’s new work challenges and realities. For example, we still use the same outdated metrics like days and weeks. Why do we use days and weeks instead of quarters and link them to project objectives?  

Effectively, the new talent is driving this profound change as they want to work in a different way. There are young people with specific technology skills who are demanding flexibility, in terms of time and place, beyond their salary. 

The new talent is driving this profound change as they want to work in a different way. They are young people with specific technology skills who are demanding flexibility, in terms of time and place, beyond their salary.

Can we identify differences by countries, cultures, sectors, generations in the way they transition to new ways of working?

There is a Dutch Foundation called Wageindicator which publishes global benchmarking reports, a very helpful tool showing worldwide trends in protection levels for workers. In this regard, we have seen encouraging progress in levels of social security coverage for vulnerable workers in perhaps the least obvious countries. For instance, India has implemented changes in their social security to cover their vast informal sector. Malaysia is rolling out training programs to upskill some workers in order to keep new strategic digital jobs in the country. In Mexico we are seeing how the government is extending social protection and legal security to riders. In Latam, a region with an extensive informal economy, governments are paying increasing attention to traceability digital tools in order to monitor and study new working realities and its regulatory responses.

Can you describe an ideal future-ready sustainable company which creates positive impacts for all its stakeholders?

There is obviously the B-movement and the B-Corps, which do a great job in setting standards and developing ESG impact measurement tools. In general terms, a company will attract talent if it offers flexibility and an inspirational environment where ongoing learning is encouraged. I think Deloitte’s Irresistible organisation model does respond to that purpose-driven organisation many young talents aspire to work for. People don’t want to do the same job throughout their lifetime so companies have to shift from being the sum of work titles to the sum of skills and competencies. 

We are seeing a fragmentation in work relationships that are no longer assumed as life-long relationships “until retirement do us part”. In my case, I was an engineer and worked for a number of private sector local companies and multinationals. In 2012 I joined Ouishare (a global movement which promotes the sharing economy and more collaborative work models). Ouishare has given me structure, emotional support through a “professional collective”, which ensures complementary skills and diversity as well as seamless end-to-end project delivery (like the ones which exist in the audiovisual and constructions sectors for instance). Some interesting examples of these collectives include: Hoxby, Collectif-cosme, Happy-dev  Companies hire the collective, not individual workers. This set-up has provided “work wellbeing” for me, it helps me “work well”. It is definitely a best practice which I encourage freelancers to explore going forward. 

Bersin’s Simply Irresistible Organization model

We are seeing a fragmentation in work relationships that are no longer assumed as life-long relationships ¨until retirement do us part¨

Do you think it is possible to extend these new ways of working to the public sector where you now work?

It is complicated. Inertia forces are strong. The system is designed to resist and fend off change. In some way it is legitimate as public authorities invest for the long term and therefore legal security and stability is required. Having said that, there is rigidity in the way talent is managed and promoted. Again, it is legitimate in a way as civil servants have made a personal life investment and the rules of the game they have bought into cannot be altered overnight. There is an opportunity for innovation with the generation renewal which will take place in Spain in 10-15 years. There will be resistance, of course, but I think public authorities will come to realise that they need to outsource services and bring in more flexibility, new talent and innovation.

What skills should a company promote and reward to adapt to a new work environment and what is the best way to achieve that goal?

The new soft skills required by the market are well documented by international organisations like the World Economic Forum. These include critical thinking, adaptability, team work, ability to receive constructive criticism etc. A key skill in this context will be the ability to unlearn and to engage in lifelong learning.

I know a consultancy in the US where employees go to the office in the morning not knowing what project they will be involved in for the following few months and what their role will be in that project. They sign up to projects on a skill need/availability basis and have a coach assigned to them to support them through the process. Quality time dedicated to this mentoring process is key. Leading by example is also critical; senior management working in hybrid mode and being involved in the mentoring process sets the tone for the rest of the company. This flexible allocation of work and skills is very effective but resources need to be allocated to ease workers into their changing responsibilities and required skill set.

The new soft skills required by the market include critical thinking, adaptability, team work, ability to receive constructive criticism etc. A key skill in this context will be the ability to unlearn and to engage in lifelong learning.

Can you think of a company, organisation, country which you consider a trailblazer in this new ways of working space?

There is no one-size-fits-all in this area. Every organisation and country has to find ways which make sense for their particular context. In the US there are a number of organisations which pride themselves for working fully remotely. It is their value proposition to attract talent. Some even have their company handbook available for others to reference and replicate into their own organisations. Some examples include: Hub Spot and Buffer. Another interesting organisational model is the one designed by Chinese company Haier, which operates on the basis of internal microenterprises, with their own P/L and is supported by functional communities and departments within the organisation.

What do you think of the competition between regions and countries to attract this new breed of smart workers? Will it be positive from a common good perspective?

It is still an elite that can engage in this new flexible work lifestyle. Some countries require a high salary in order to grant work visas. We may even see destinations competing to attract talent with a low tax proposition which may not be desirable.

We see two types of remote workers emerging:

  • “Workation” workers: Where companies offer employees the opportunity to work from specific locations with the right infrastructure and connectivity for a limited period of time (i.e. 1 month a year) as a flexibility benefit. Dubrovnik, Barcelona and Malaga are examples of such destinations which are positioning themselves to tap into this emerging trend.
  • Digital nomads: Workers that work from different locations throughout the year. They also require the right infrastructure, connectivity and non tourist rates to make it viable for them.

What are the new challenges/opportunities for organisations/public authorities in this new emerging environment?

Among the challenges I see is the ability for governments to overcome the status quo and adapt their regulatory frameworks to more fragmented work choices and careers. Those that can read the current picture of trends and demands will be able to attract talent. Companies will need to offer the flexibility the new talent expects. We are already seeing companies poaching their competitors’ talent by offering a more flexible and attractive work package.

Those that can read the current picture of trends and demands will be able to attract talent. We are already seeing companies poaching their competitors’ talent by offering a more flexible and attractive work package.

Who will be the winners and losers in the new post-pandemic context?

The winners are likely to be the remote digital talent that can now access a global market. We are now in a post pandemic hybrid transition space. While the dust settles, those who can manage the transition positioning themselves as adaptable location-free talent will win the day.

The losers will be those whose activity cannot be carried out remotely. There is also a possibility that digital jobs will go to those countries where salaries are more competitive for employers. Other losers will be those governments that are unable to manage these flows and adapt to a work/social protection system fit for an increasingly fragmented internet-based and borderless work environment. In this regard, there is an interesting idea that the nation-state of acquired rights is outdated and needs to be reset to create a minimum viable state (MVS) capable of managing digital nomads global mobility, distributed work and borderless living. Only time will tell, but we can certainly influence the new equilibrium that emerges. 

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