Why do remote workers choose this alternative to traditional employment, and what keeps them engaged? Though meeting milestones and goals in their respective jobs is par for the course, members of the remote workforce represent a different professional cohort from their office-bound predecessors and contemporaries.
How can we unveil what motivates them? Employers, app makers, and company leaders alike have no doubt spent a lot of time on this topic. Remote executives and HR managers from 139 companies have already contributed to Remote.co’s extensive body of knowledge on how companies approach hiring, onboarding, teambuilding, and company culture. A recent survey distributed by AND CO from Fiverr and Remote Year sought to gather more data about today’s “Anywhere Workers,” and reveal more information about the current climate for remote workers across the globe.
I spoke with the companies’ CEOs, whose own distributed teams make up a representative sample of sorts:
In your own company, you’ve likely seen some of the shifts highlighted in the report happening in real time. Which changes seem most significant to you?
Leif Abraham, AND CO: One of the biggest changes I’ve realized is the ability to hire anywhere in the world. In tech fields, salaries are skyrocketing in some locations, such as the Bay Area and New York City. Companies are engaged in a full-on war on talent.
The benefit to both remote companies and to prospective employees is an unparalleled access to opportunity—we’re not limited or confined to what’s happening locally. I’m thinking of some of the engineers on our team who live in South America. If you’re in tech, it’s likely that working with AND CO from Fiverr is going to be a more exciting proposition than a corporate role with, say, a large banking firm that exports its engineering team offshore. I mean this from an inspiration standpoint—not just a financial one.
Greg Caplan, Remote Year: There’s this time in our lives called the Odyssey period when young adults are searching for themselves. What used to be a two-to-three-month gap in the time a person would graduate from school and then achieve all the typical milestones of adulthood—getting married and possibly starting a family—has expanded to 10 to 15 years.
Today, people are looking for transformative life experiences, and many are seeking to incorporate these into their professional lives rather than waiting until retirement. Previously, this was largely unattainable to do through global travel, because our corporate contract (and the cubicles that came with it!) simply didn’t allow for that. Today’s blended approach to work and travel enables people to do that while earning an income. I believe we’ll see more and more professionals taking advantage of the rapid ways in which technology and connectivity are improving—and the growing list of employers who embrace remote work.
What can company leaders—from firms that are onsite with work-from-home options, partially distributed or fully remote—do to make remote workers feel more included?
Greg: The core difference between remote, hybrid, and on premises teams is communication. At Remote Year, we’re very focused on how we communicate. When it comes to group meetings, in-person attendance is all or nothing. Meaning, either everyone is co-located or nobody is; so there will be times that everyone uses laptops within the same building when others join us on video calls. This way, no matter where you are, you’re on the same playing field when it comes to meetings. It makes the work environment much more harmonious for everyone. We recommend this approach to our remote partners, too. If some folks are co-located and there’s not sufficient separation in space, you need access to call booths in your offices, or a culture where it’s okay to take calls at your desk. (You can actually rent call booths for your office now, too, which is an interesting development to serve this niche need.)
Leif: We agree: it’s critical that companies have a remote-supportive workflow. As the need to visit (or even have) a physical office decreases, reliance on tools to keep in touch increases. The study found that 44% of remote workers feel real-time communication tools are most vital for helping them stay connected. When an organization is majority or even half remote, it’s much easier to adapt to remote workers versus having them feel like third-party participants. So when we have weekly product meetings at AND CO everyone goes on a hangout—including our co-located New York City teammates. This creates an environment where no one is left out or has an upper hand by being physically present. How we schedule things, the tools we use, and the processes we have are all established with a remote first mindset.
What motivates remote workers and digital nomads? Do the kind of benefits and work arrangements that incentivize these groups differ dramatically from office-bound employees?
Leif: The number one motivation for remote workers and digital nomads is freedom and flexibility. A major misconception about remote work is that people won’t be productive since you can’t look over their shoulder; that somehow they’re less capable of balancing their personal lives with their work because they’re not tied to an office. In my experience, you have to give employees autonomy and trust; you can’t lead a company culture by controlling anyone.
Autonomy and trust give way to flexibility and freedom, which then finds itself implemented into work structures and the way teams collaborate. With distributed organizations, the whole approach becomes more egalitarian, as it’s harder for very outgoing teammates to shine simply by being loud or more participatory in meetings. People are recognized for the work they do, since the work culture is driven by output—an attractive prospect to “Anywhere Workers.”
Greg: Yes, everyone wants flexibility to a certain extent. It means different things depending upon the person. It might mean someone does their best work from a coffee shop, or that they’re able to have a full-time job while caring for loved ones, or spending an extended period of time exploring the world. Remote work is skewed toward those who value flexibility at all life stages. At Remote Year, we naturally have a lot of professionals who are big fans of working while traveling—although most of our team isn’t always on the move in the traditional sense of how we view digital nomads.
Connection to purpose is also highly valued. Being part of a diverse, cross cultural team is something that resonates with a lot of remote workers, especially those who are part of globally distributed companies.
Did the results in the Anywhere Workers report surprise you?
Leif: One aspect of the study that surprised me a little was that the whole digital nomad movement isn’t as widespread as we might believe it to be. Although it gets a lot of attention in articles and across social media, these folks don’t currently represent the majority of remote workers and they’re also a lot newer to remote work. More people who have worked remotely for less than a year are more likely to combine work and travel (11% vs. 6.5% of those who’ve worked remotely for seven years or more). Most remote workers are home-based employees of a distributed company, which might make sense. Anyone who has tried to combine work and overseas travel knows that working while roaming isn’t always easy; this might be why most (83%) of the survey respondents say they still generally work from their home country.
Something that surprised me, yet now seems so obvious, is how difficult it is to shut off when you’re working from home! An in-between commute creates a physical separation between your professional existence and your personal life and family. This is still tough for me, although I have the luxury of having a short commute.
Greg: I found the fact that the pervasive gender pay gap persists among remote workers disheartening. In many ways, remote work lends itself toward an egalitarian environment: it enables people of different ability types, backgrounds, races, religions, sexual orientations, and more to engage in meaningful work that’s literally without borders.
Interestingly, however, one remote subgroup is bucking this trend. Abby Forman of Fiverr’s communications team points out that 44% of women identifying as digital nomads earn over $50,000 annually—compared to 39% for men. According to AND CO from Fiverr’s follow up, the difference was especially pronounced among those in creative and design fields, where women were 21% more likely to earn over $50,000 than their male counterparts.
The team at Fiverr took the overall pay gap data in stride, analyzing the information from the perspective that remote workers aren’t wholly different from everyday workers. They face similar trials and tribulations, which sadly still includes a lack of representation in some fields and, worse, discrimination in others. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all workers, remote and office-based, receive equal opportunity.
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