Welcome to the
Upside-Down Future of Work
By Giulia Tarditi
It’s 5.55 a.m. when my alarm goes off on a Friday morning. Trying not to wake anyone, I put on a shawl and tiptoe to the living room, where I open up the laptop to join my 6 a.m. call. As the Zoom meeting loads, I adjust the camera angle ever so slightly to ensure it does not take in my night gear. I think I have just about succeeded when a minute into wrapping up the call, my Slack lights up with a message from Dan, my fellow customer ops manager in APJ: “Thanks for the presentation — nice pajamas, by the way!”
Dan is one of our services functional leaders and is based in Sydney. As peers reporting to the same manager, he and I don’t need to talk every week, but a monthly cadence is necessary for us to bring each other up to date. Aligning is especially needed because Dan, who was once a regional manager overseeing the APJ ops teams, has now transitioned into a global role like the one I am in. Not only aren’t Dan and I co-located — neither of us sits in our company’s headquarters in the US. It used to be that, in companies like ours and here too until recently, global functional leads were all in the same flagship office, with regional managers reporting to the global leads working out of EMEA, APJ, and LAC. Besides their teams and colleagues, whom they were sharing a physical office space with, they didn’t really need to meet with anyone regularly except their US-based managers. Now things are changing.
For businesses in all parts of the world, the purse is tightening. The situation is especially dire in tech, where hundreds of thousands of people have been laid off in the past two years alone. According to layoffs. More than 362,000 workers were let go by their employers since the start of 2022, with the trend accelerating sharply in 2023, given this year’s to-date figure is now more than 20% greater than the overall number for 2022. Besides macroeconomic reasons, companies are saying the market is now rewarding profitability over growth. And when investors and shareholders call for something, it must be delivered.
A positive side effect of such efficiencies is the increased cultural diversity of the affected workforces. As organizations seem to be cutting out everything that is superfluous across their geographically-distributed staff, many cut back on regional leadership and regional roles. What they are not doing, however, is going back to the days when teams who work closely together are to be physically together. This means that job-cut “survivors” face a changed landscape — one in which the concept of one’s own team is becoming more fluid and less physical, less bound to specific locations. The skills that we have finessed through the years of remote working imposed by Covid, self-discipline, and the ability to work seamlessly with or manage people we don’t share an office with, are now coming in handy.
So being lean makes us more diverse incidentally. Whether any of this is intentional, we are seeing more international employee bases across the board. Companies who have the ambition to make it globally now know that they need global talent, an essential element if they want to grow their footprint across regions. Where they used to relocate big managers to open an office in a new location, now they are looking at a talent pool that is, if not just local, decisively more varied. People are increasingly headhunted for their competencies — and if headhunting talent based elsewhere has been the case for decades, unlike before, prospective employees are now rarely asked to relocate to often US-based headquarters. Companies know that uprooting people comes at a cost, with the average relocation package bills totaling millions a year — a cost that more companies will want to do without now that profitability is the word. This is especially true if we think that the result of overseas corporate relocations is not always phenomenal, with two out of five expatriate employees returning to their home base earlier than expected or with uncompleted goals, according to a recent global leadership trend survey by ManpowerGroup. I see it more both in my companies and others around me — and so is mandated company travel. That, too, is a cost that we are all trying to save up on. Maybe, in a world where we have learned to seamlessly build relationships virtually and across time zones, corporate travel has become somewhat superfluous.
So, less travel, fewer relocations yet more locations — a trend that is here to stay. In a generational shift, more and more companies are letting their workers choose where they work. By the time 2023 will be over, one in four of us will be working remotely — a four-times increase since the pre-pandemic era. Very few companies are holding on to the fully in-office operations, citing solvable issues like the security threat posed by home networks as the main reason — but thanks to an increasing number of vendor solutions coming to the market to address these few remaining doubts, and with employers struggling to earn candidates’ trust following multiple rounds of lay-offs, work-from-anywhere is the perk everyone is craving and is where we are headed. Teams are bound to become more and more diverse in composition, location, and culture. Alongside the many solid pros such as greater flexibility, enriching diversity, and a reduced associated carbon footprint, there are surely a few challenges. Because working across time zones and cultures, as rewarding as it is, is no piece of cake.
What should companies invest in to embrace this new normal and make it work for everyone? Here is a shortlist based on my experience. I compiled it with the help of my fellow colleague Ioana Andrada Sirbu, now a senior manager at Tenable, who is one of EMEA’s top global hiring and payroll experts.
Our teams are little melting pots
Work-from-anywhere perks mean companies will have increasingly diverse workforces, with teams made up of people scattered across geographies. Employees will be dealing with diverse cultures, languages, and work styles. These differences can have an impact on communication, teamwork, and overall organizational dynamics. Companies need to be mindful of how cultural sensitivities may come into play. This means that, where companies were once investing in providing their employees and expats with language courses so that they could communicate effectively, now the focus is to teach them how to work together. Investing in creating company values that everyone can relate to no matter where they are located is important, and so is creating ample opportunities for people to get to know each other — both of which help create a sense of unity and belonging. Ideally, companies should include working-together-across-regions dos and don’ts in their new hires’ onboard experience, and a yearly refresh for existing employees is key.
Inclusion starts with hiring
Inclusion starts with hiring — we must be mindful of our current recruitment and hiring practices and revise the entire process to ensure we are not inadvertently putting off or screening out candidates due to legacy processes that are built around outdated candidate personas that may have focused on a single culture of origin. I once had a very promising candidate from China failing a “company culture” interview step made for American talent. Getting a diversity and inclusion team to revise the hiring process and our value set as a whole is key. Once a company is certain about its culture’s global readiness, hiring people that align with it is going to be easy as pie.
We need to learn to work asynchronously
To encourage good work-life balance, companies must encourage employees to work asynchronously. This means having fewer group and one-on-one meetings, as finding a time that suits everybody across regions is often impossible. A few companies made the news recently for their decision to drastically cut down on meetings, instead moving their decision-making process to decision documents. A proposal is put together and shared with the relevant colleagues for input. Everyone will provide input in their own time, which on top of being the most efficient process also ensures that people who don’t speak up in meetings because of the language barrier can better understand the ask and communicate feedback that they may have otherwise never brought up. Managing remote teams is always a challenge, but it is more so when time zones and cultures differ. It is crucial to establish clear communication channels, set expectations, provide regular feedback, and foster a sense of team cohesion and engagement. Team activities, which can now easily be done remotely, can go a long way.
Each country has its own employment laws, taxation regulations, social security contributions, work permits, visas, and other legal obligations that must be understood and followed. Managing payroll, benefits, and compensation across multiple jurisdictions can be complex. Companies need to navigate varying tax laws, social security contributions, benefits packages, and currency exchange rates to ensure fair and compliant remuneration for employees in different locations. Expanding the workforce across geographies may entail additional costs, such as travel expenses, legal fees, company tax implications, and establishing local infrastructure, as well as compliance with the local data protection policies. Getting expert advice is key to avoiding bad surprises further down the line. If one doesn’t have a legal entity in a country they want to hire someone in, options now abound, with Deel, Oyster, and Atlas being the main players in this market. These organizations typically handle employment contracts, payroll, taxes, and any other legal obligations. But a company looking into it must weigh up pros and cons, as when sharing sensitive employee data with a third-party platform, there may be concerns regarding data security and privacy. Assessing the platform’s data protection measures and compliance with relevant regulations to mitigate these risks is key.
Localizing salaries is common practice (for now)
Market benchmarking, researching and analyzing the salary data for specific job roles within the local market, is still common practice for companies as they choose where to hire. Many organizations use job evaluation and grading systems to assign a value or level to each position based on factors such as skills, responsibilities, and experience. This allows for consistent salary structures across locations, with adjustments made based on local factors such as cost of living. Contingent factors market adjustments are still fairly common practice. But as work-from-anywhere becomes mainstream, more employees will demand compensation based on the value they can bring to an organization, not based on where they live
Giulia Tarditi is the global leader of localization and global experience at Qualtrics, a SaaS company in the experience management space. She specializes in setting up high-profitability localization functions and is known for her ability to move language strategy to the top of the C-suite agenda.