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In the 1960s, sociologist Marshall McLuhan first posited the idea of the global village in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy. Though at the time, he was primarily focused on media such as telephones and television, the ideas he proposed back then seem even more poignant today. Our world is now more connected than it's ever been.
We can connect with people on the other side of the world in a matter of minutes. With a few keystrokes, we have access to information from an entirely different continent. And this can all be done from anywhere, be it from a desktop at a workplace, a laptop at home, or a smartphone on the train.
Given such flexibility in how we connect and community, it should come as no surprise that remote work is now surging.
Per a recent survey carried out by career marketplace FlexJobs and analyst firm Global Workplace Analytics, remote work in the United States increased by a factor of 159 percent between 2005 and 2017. There is, notes the company, a major upward trend toward telecommuting. This is extremely likely to continue, even disregarding current circumstances.
According to recent research from recruitment specialist Capability Jane, the demand for flexible working opportunities is a top priority for 91 percent of millennials, who now make up the majority of the workforce. In short, modern employees demand flexibility. They demand the ability to work remotely, remaining close to friends and families and avoiding lengthy daily commutes.
As an employer, it's in your best interests to grant them that —and not just because it can lead to a more satisfied workforce.
As mentioned in our strategic talent mobility course, mobility is not just about physical movement. It's about filling a talent shortage. It's about finding the best person for the job, regardless of where they're located, and recruiting them.
Traditionally, this did involve relocation. You'd either have to move the employee to a city where you have an office or establish an office in a new market. Unfortunately, these two options aren't always feasible, particularly for smaller businesses.
Let's say, for instance, there is a valuable employee in the U.K. with the exact skillset your organization needs. Unfortunately, she's unwilling to relocate on your behalf, and you lack the funds to establish a new office near her. Twenty or thirty years ago, you might have had to forego hiring her.
Remote work, however, brings in a third option. Rather than having to physically relocate, you can simply allow her to telecommute. She's able to enjoy all the perks of working for your company while staying close to friends and family, and you're able to hire exactly the person you need to fill your organization's talent gap.
In this way, your talent pool is larger than it's ever been, and you can tap into markets all across the world. Perhaps more importantly, your organization becomes a highly-attractive prospect for many of the top job seekers. After all, who wouldn't want all the perks of a full-time job while working from home?
At this point, it's important to note that remote global mobility is not without its challenges; cultural, legal, and technological.
Unsurprisingly, one of the most significant roadblocks to remote global mobility involves distance. A local office may still be comprised of individuals from diverse backgrounds, but they'll likely still work to the same schedules and have certain common cultural threads between them. In a globally-distributed team, this is far less likely.
As such, one of the first things you must do when bringing in a remote hire is to understand them.
Understand how their culture impacts how they work. Understand that they may have a different work ethic and a different approach to collaboration. Talk to them openly and honestly about their goals, expectations, and workplace tendencies, and work with them to find an approach that will make everyone happy.
A secondary challenge to this involves different time zones. An afternoon meeting, for instance, might work for employees based on North America, but it's likely not feasible for staff based in the APAC or EMEA regions. For meetings and touch-bases, collaborate to find a timeslot that everyone can attend.
On the topic of hours, distributed work means you'll also need to adjust your expectations of both when and how your employees work. Don't focus on when they work, nor how many hours. Instead, trust them to be capable, productive, and accountable on their own.
Software is the key enabler of digitized global mobility, particularly cloud-based solutions which are themselves both distributed and infrastructure-agnostic. For that reason, selecting the proper software solutions is one of the first things you'll need to do when considering this form of mobility. What form those solutions take depends largely upon your industry.
A distributed software development team, for instance, would likely need a chat app, a videoconferencing tool, project management software, and a development tool that allows for remote, multi-person collaboration. A location supplier, meanwhile, might have applications for remotely coordinating and supporting moves and vendor meetings. A marketing agency might use cloud-based document management and photo-editing software.
The best advice we can give here is to talk to your teams. Work with them to figure out what they need, and how you can best enable it for them. At the end of the day, it's that collaboration and cooperation that will carry you forward.
Because at the end of the day, that's the true foundation of distributed work and global mobility.
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Mobility is Worldwide ERC®’s monthly magazine, delivering industry and business news and updates, as well as insights on global talent mobility programs, tips and trends.