Technology (and the pandemic) have finally made “Work From Anywhere” go mainstream

Posted by: Clay Nelson, Relationship Unlimited Founder

The past year or so has brought with it quite remarkable turmoil and transformation.  One minute we were all toiling away in our inner city office blocks (or industrial parks) and the next minute, a huge number of us were simply “working from home”.

Now, I’ve always been a believer that there is a silver lining to every cloud and while Covid-19 has quite definitely been the mother of all clouds, perhaps the one bit of sunshine (when we get to the other side) is the cultural change that it will have brought to our attitudes and approaches to work.

While the concept of work/life balance is hardly new and we’ve known about “digital nomads” for nearly as long, the real-world examples of businesses ACTUALLY successfully and sustainably implementing remote work policies and practices were largely in the “rare-to-fairytale” category.

Marissa Mayer’s infamous “no more remote working” memo at Yahoo in 2013 is just one example of the attitudinal see-sawing around the value or perception of remote working, although interestingly, one of the proposed explanations for the policy switch was that it was an attempt to turn around a troubled corporate culture.

Regardless, it was something of a marker in time that demonstrates the precarious back and forth of the attitudes and beliefs attached to remote working versus office presenteeism.

Even with all the seesawing, I’ve often felt that most businesses knew implicitly that truly flexible working would provide benefits for the business, individuals (and even society) but they lacked the resources and for want of a better term “grit & determination” to properly see it through. 

Right up until early 2020, even for the most progressive of businesses or organisations, allowing employees to work remotely for one or more days a week was probably an optional “luxury”.  

Sadly (but realistically) prior to Covid-19, it would have been a brave CEO that would have staked their career on a “hunch” that such a massive paradigm shift around the nature of work would prove to be right in the long term.

But now, it’s really become a minimum for viability.

Even when things start to settle down “post-Covid-19” it appears the paradigm shift is likely to be permanent, with a recent survey on workplace productivity by Boston Consulting Group, showing that 60% of workers said they want flexibility not only in where, but when they work.

I also think it is fair to say that since the infamous 2013 Yahoo memo (and prior to Covid-19) the pendulum was slowly swinging back towards remote working being a good thing, with LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report finding a 78% increase in LinkedIn job posts referencing flexible work between 2016 and 2018 being a clear example.  

The advent of real “Work From Anywhere” or WFA

Now, it’s worth drawing a distinction between the change we are experiencing currently and what came previously in terms of language and that’s around the old “work from home” policies to what we are witnessing now, which is quite different. The concept of “Work From Anywhere (WFA)” is not as narrow in scope as “working from home” and it’s broader than “remote working” too, it literally means anywhere, which includes the office we normally or traditionally commuted to, or a café or even an isolated rural location.

That’s because faster internet and better connections, as well as advances in cloud computing now mean that (from a technology point of view at least) many individuals, businesses and organisations can now feasibly “work from anywhere”. 

The pandemic has certainly changed how many tech giants work, with several (like Salesforce) announcing far-reaching policy changes recently.  

Which in the case of Salesforce in particular is very interesting, when you could make a very good case that the famous Salesforce culture had really been nurtured in their immersive spaces — from the “Salesforce Towers” in multiple cities around the world, to their 140,000-person plus community gatherings like Dreamforce.

Of course, the pandemic also changed all that overnight too, so, like many businesses, Salesforce had to transform their approach to everything from products to events in order to meet the needs of customers, partners, employees and communities.

Creating the best workplace from anywhere, for everyone – the Salesforce example

When earlier this year Salesforce effectively announced that the 9-to-5 workday is dead with their “changing how we work” memo, they described how they will provide employees with 3 new ways of working:

  • Flex –  In the office 1-3 days per week
  • Fully remote – For employees who don’t live near an office (or have roles that don’t require an office)
  • Office-based – The smallest population of their workforce will work from an office.

Note that last bullet point. When you consider that Salesforce is San Francisco’s largest private employer and its decision could reshape San Francisco (and have implications for other Silicon Valley cities) then it’s not just an organisational change, it’s potentially a massive societal change as well.

The benefits of WFA

WFA doesn’t just benefit the individual employee, it has far reaching benefits for organisations and countries too (as well as for the environment). Indeed, many forward looking governments have already created visa options simply to attract the kind of workers that will be “locationally freed” by the kinds of changes Salesforce is introducing.

Businesses can significantly reduce one of their biggest costs in real estate, hire the best talent globally (while helping to mitigate immigration complications and associated harms such as the brain drain that often impacts small towns and emerging markets/countries).

Many businesses already have global teams that work across different time zones, often on projects that have seasonal peaks and troughs and all of those of course will have some personal obligations throughout the day.

In our always-connected, on 24 hours world it was already becoming clear that it was no longer practical, sensible, or beneficial for anyone to expect employees to always do eight hour shifts in one place (eg, an office).  Covid-19 has really just proven that individuals and teams can perform well distributed geographically and chronologically (in terms of working hours).

Greater flexibility, of course, allows for better work/life balance which has been proven over and over again to enable employees to be more productive and successful.

Technology will enable WFA

While there has undoubtedly been huge (and very recent) cultural change and acceptance that Work From Anywhere (WFA) can not only work, but provide distinct benefits to businesses that have the organisational structure and technological capacity, over 1/3 of non-remote workers globally say they do not have the technology to effectively work from anywhere.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to be that way.  Affordable technology from the likes of Salesforce and Satellite internet services like SpaceX’s Starlink now mean that remote and regional locales (that offer great lifestyle but poor work options due to distance and poor internet speed/connectivity) are not only desirable, but now feasible places to live and work from.

Product platforms like Salesforce’s Customer 360 were already bringing together a suite of solutions, all conceptually built around the customer, but wholly capable of enabling remote workers and teams to work together effectively and productively. This is because Customer 360 works by uniting marketing, sales, commerce, service, IT and analytics and providing a single, shared view of every customer – all on one integrated platform – crucial technology for any successful WFA business.

Salesforce are of course continually adding to and refining their WFA solution suite with new technology around areas such as Visual remote assistants  and added smarts for Salesforce Meetings which comes with its own AI coach, powered by Einstein AI, where video calls are analysed for performance and improvement.

Organisations that successfully implement WFA will also make good use of asynchronous communication through tools like Slack channels (in case you were wondering why Salesforce recently paid $27.7 billion in acquiring Slack).  They will also make full use of shared content repositories that will likely contain presentations and recordings that are easily accessible and demonstrate genuine organisational transparency, these resources and artifacts will then be viewed by geographically distributed employees at their convenience.

Adapting to the challenges of a largely remote WFA workforce

Of course, the office has been a part of life and culture for so long now, it’s hard to imagine our world without it. Humans after all are social creatures and the office can still provide many positive features and attributes not only in the context of work, but broader social and psychological aspects that are fundamental to personal health and fulfillment.

The subtleties of communication, collaboration, mentoring, problem solving and brainstorming and even knowledge sharing, are all activities that can intuitively feel more productive when conducted in person. 

Which is why it bears repeating that WFA will  literally mean anywhere, which can include the office for work that genuinely requires in-person engagement and interaction.  

For the rest of the time, tools like Salesforce’s relaunched solution is specifically designed to help businesses manage and monitor remote employee wellness, training and shift scheduling. When is supplemented with apps from the Salesforce AppExchange then this even allows for users to measure the quality of virtual interactions with mechanisms for feedback from both clients and colleagues.

Finally, management will also have a huge part to play in modelling the behaviours they expect of employees and becoming not only WFA evangelists, but walking the walk and becoming WFA employees themselves.

Future proof your business and make it ready for WFA

When we think of digital nomads today, the image is one of freelancers and entrepreneurs working in the pretty narrow niche of marketing, software development and maybe graphic/web design.  But Covid-19 has provided the inflection point where digital technology has finally severed the connection between work and location (as well as work and time) and the digital nomad is set to be the new normal for many – across multiple industries and roles.

Relationship Unlimited have been at the forefront of the WFA concept for a number of years already, with employees geographically located around the globe (not just here in New Zealand).  We can attest to all of the benefits that accrue to both individuals and organisations and the end result of greatly improved customer experience and outcomes for our clients. 

Relationship Unlimited are uniquely placed to enable your WFA journey through the implementation of the best technology platform available in Salesforce and years of practical experience in making WFA work for our own business.

Future-proof your business and get in touch with us today to learn more or book your free Salesforce WFA consultation.

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