Is remote work working?
We are now two years into the accelerated experiment on remote and hybrid work. Most companies are now back in the office, at least in some form or another, and many are A/B testing their approach to WFH/Hybrid and remote hiring.
Generally, the appetite for remote is holding and even those companies that are pulling staff back to the office full-time recognize that with such talent shortages and cost pressures, some form of remote hiring is necessary and desirable.
The available tools to support remote hiring and the appetite from global talent has made this a trend that is unlikely to reverse. However, not everything is perfect.
Lets look at some first and second order impacts of remote. In no particular order:
- Not all remotes are equal - In-country remote is different from Global remote. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. In-country is providing a benefit to your core employees and expanding your hiring base in the country. Everyone works in a similar time zone and can, if required, be in the office for an emergency or regular meeting. Culturally people are more aligned and likely more familiar with one another. They are more likely to meet up on a regular basis, however informally. Global remote is very different. You gain access to a global talent base and often a cost base arbitrage but a rapid increase in location nodes brings complexity and cultural challenges to the broader organisation. Cross functional interactions can become siloed and remote members will face challenges to interact, engage and discover what they need within the business. Cultural differences are also likely to compound this.
- Onboarding Nightmare - Onboarding in the old days used to be challenging enough, but at least if you turned up at the office reception, someone would be there to great you. In a world of zoom and frantic hiring remote hires face the real risk of a poor onboarding experience and a negative experience from their first day - this is never a good start within an organisation and risks attrition risk and more challenged cultural buy in. Remote hires need a detailed and thorough onboarding process, some form or mentor-ship and tools to assist with visualization of the org and outreach. This is a critical challenge at the moment in such labour tight markets.
- Time zone max - creating a time zone maximum for a team or function that is hiring remotely can be helpful, as stretching time zones and minimizing crossover can slow decision making and sharing. Even with async communication channels and a strategy towards documentation and written work, it is still advantageous to keep some time for direct, face-to-face communication. For example, an engineering team in the UK can be supported by a team of engineers in Asia (India through Vietnam) but this becomes far more challenging to include a developer in the US or Australia into that mix. Each company and function needs to find their natural level on this.
- Increased Nodes, Increases Complexity - As we add location nodes to an org graph in a linear manner we risk increasing complexity in an exponential manner. Process, communication, onboarding, culture, tooling and compliance all need to be tight and effectively managed. Thankfully technology is providing solutions to these challenges and an effective marketplace of ‘remote solutions’ is appearing to support leadership and hiring managers.
- Cultural Fit - Again, highly functionally driven, but some teams will need more culture alignment or a stronger investment in alignment than others. Marketing vs back-end engineering would be good examples here, where local market knowledge is key.
- Geopolitical risks - with Russia and Ukraine at war and the prospects for a near-term resolution diminishing, these large technical engineering markets are in turmoil. Many software houses are run from both Ukraine and Russia, as are a huge number of remote and freelance engineers. After the last 10 years of general geopolitical stability, especially in in-demand hiring markets, geopolitical risk is definitely on the rise. One to watch carefully and manage on a risk basis and have contingencies in place.
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