Ding’s Barbara McCarthy discusses the rise of the digital nomad and how employers can ensure they embrace the opportunities and navigate the challenges ahead.
For years, prestigious universities attempted to convince us that flexible work, remote work and working from home were a positive, presenting research and reports that highlighted greater productivity, higher employee satisfaction and loyalty. But the business community largely took these reports with a pinch of salt, with managers preferring to see their employees at their desks.
It was only when offices were forced to close that the world collectively realised that desk-based jobs in particular could be conducted from virtually anywhere. Communicating with your colleagues once we got the hang of Zoom etiquette was, as it turned out, efficient. And it has certainly worked for Ding as a company, where we have happily succumbed to being digital nomads to great effect.
This, of course, would never have been possible without technology. The development of smartphones, broadband and cloud-based software has saved millions of jobs around the world by allowing staff to continue their jobs remotely.
As facilitators of remote working, many within the tech community were already adept at working from anywhere. Within the tech industry, the programming and coding languages transcend geographical boundaries. As developers, it is not the amount of time spent in the office but the output of your work that is most important.
As we all retreated indoors, global trade declined, supply chains faltered and many questioned the future of globalisation. But in the technological sphere, lines were bridged and solutions to the problems that had arisen were forged. Hackathons were held online, with developers from all around the world participating to innovate and provide technological solutions to the new problems we faced. For example, contact-tracing apps, financial solutions for businesses and the use of ultraviolet light in handwashing to kill viruses came through hackathons.
This all happened outside of the office. Technology and the world’s tech talent maintained lines of communication, facilitated globalisation and brought tech communities from all around the world closer together.
As flexibility becomes the norm, offering remote working has the ability to change the approach to hiring and securing tech talent. Embracing working from home on an industry basis has the power to redefine what we value about our work, our sense of time and our values as an industry.
Younger companies around the world have for years found no qualms with hiring freelancers or workers from different continents to outsource their tech work for more affordable rates.
This is why pockets of technological centres have sprung up around the world. Places such as Estonia, Bangladesh and Jordan have established thriving ecosystems of tech talent working for some of the world’s best-known companies. Expedia’s software development now takes place in Jordan, a place where the youth are well educated, well skilled and comfortable with both English and Arabic, providing the company with diversity in thought and experience within its own organisation.
Embracing offsite hiring
While Ding’s headquarters is in Ireland, it is a global business. Our customers are based all around the world, and we have eight offices and 28 different nationalities that comprise the Ding family. This diversity is an incredible source of strength for us. It provides different perspectives and it strengthens our understanding of our customers and the markets in which we operate.
This massive working-from-home shift has highlighted to us that jobs we previously thought of as onsite roles, which included key tech roles, can now by fulfilled from anywhere and embracing greater flexibility will stand to strengthen our community and companies around the world.
On a more global basis, flexible working conditions might encourage greater economic diversity. Estonia is trialling a Digital Nomad Visa, which will allow for location-independent workers to live in Estonia for up to a year while working for employers or clients outside of the country. Alongside Estonia, both Georgia and Barbados have launched similar worker visa programmes. Such flexible working policies might also encourage more women into tech, further boosting diversity and improving access to opportunities.
Living at work
There are some setbacks to consider, however. Working from home can quite easily turn into ‘living at work’. A survey conducted by Monster suggests remote workers are feeling burned out. Staff can feel they are ‘always online’, answering emails and taking meetings well into time that would normally have been their own.
There is also the risk of the loss of culture and sense of belonging. In traditional offices, ideas often take shape as employees discuss them over a morning coffee or lunch. Teams bond at after-work drinks. Tech companies need to look at creative ways to build those bonds even with remote workers so that nobody feels isolated and teams still work harmoniously.
At Ding, we have tried to find solutions to counter any potential loss of culture in our organisation brought on by virtual working. We encourage weekly virtual coffee chats and still do our Friday afternoon monthly pizza get-togethers – albeit now virtually.
We have also recently rolled out a solution to turn our office into an area in which staff can hold socially distanced collaboration workshops and meetings.
We have also seen a positive move away from longer meetings with no loss in productivity. The demise of the hour-long meeting looks to be nigh, which is certainly a positive. In fact, preliminary research by Microsoft suggests that while meetings are happening more frequently, shorter meetings are on the rise.
It remains to be seen what the impact of the lack of face-to-face interaction could mean on performance management and ensuring staff stay motivated.
As an early adopter of remote working, the tech community is once again at the forefront of offering possible solutions to the challenges we are facing and has the opportunity to determine the best practices and policies to facilitate the future of work – at home or abroad.
Barbara McCarthy is the chief technology officer at mobile top-up technology company Ding.