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Before the rise of remote work Canadian organizations faced financial, logistical and legal hurtles when tapping foreign talent, says Jack Newton, CEO of legal tech provider Clio.Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

When B.C. legal technology provider Clio neared 10 employees, it needed a physical office space to maintain growth; when it reached 1,000 employees, it had to ease out of its reliance on its office altogether.

Chief executive officer Jack Newton explains that when he co-founded the company in 2008, its employees were spread across Western Canada, using early remote tools like HipChat messenger and Skype to build out its legal tech platform.

“We started a physical office in Vancouver, and over the last 13 years or so, we’ve grown to 1,000 people worldwide,” he says.

Prior to the pandemic, most of Clio’s workforce reported to offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Dublin, Ireland. As a provider of digital tools for legal professionals, Mr. Newton says the pandemic proved a huge boon to business, and that growth required the company to rethink its workforce structure.

“As we scaled into a $100-million-plus ARR [annual recurring revenue] business [and] into the 500-plus employee threshold, bringing U.S. and international expertise to the team was instrumental,” he said. “That’s the reality for scaled Canadian businesses.”

According to Mr. Newton, there simply aren’t enough large enterprises in Canada to facilitate a sufficient pool of executive talent with prior experience managing a company of that size. In recent years, Clio has brought on a chief operating officer and a chief financial officer based in San Francisco, and a chief product officer based in Los Angeles, with roughly one-quarter of its vice-president-level executives similarly working remotely from outside the country.

These key hires were only possible following the company’s transition to a more flexible structure – what they termed a “distributed-by-design” framework – which lets most employees choose their work location most of the time, he says.

Staff may gather for two or three days or even a full week for specific stages of an employee or project lifecycle, such as onboarding and kicking off product initiatives, he says – “and after that focused collaborative effort, it’s back to whatever your preferred modality of working might be.”

Before the rise of remote work, he adds, Canadian organizations faced significant financial, logistical and legal hurtles when tapping foreign talent, inhibiting their ability to surpass a certain level of growth.

“Now it’s much easier, and more commonplace, and maybe even viewed as an expectation to have an executive that is based in California – even though your company’s home base is Vancouver,” he says.

Remote work is also a clear preference among employees. According to a recent survey conducted by Cisco Canada, 81 per cent of Canadians indicated flexible work policies impact their decision to remain or leave a job. In a separate global Cisco survey, 77 per cent said that technology was a top priority for enabling remote work.

“When we think about the organization remaining productive, retaining talent and attracting top talent is key,” says Courtney Elling, hybrid work leader at Cisco Canada. “If we want to provide that kind of a policy, the technology has to support it; it can’t be more difficult at home or on the road.”

Ms. Elling explains that if employers are going to give staff the freedom to choose their work location, they also need to ensure a seamless transition between locations and make going into the office worth the commute.

According to Brian Jackson, research director at Info-Tech Research Group, new in-office spatial technologies can help organizations understand how to best use their real estate assets.

“By understanding the presence and how often different spaces are used with sensors, you can figure out what is the best hybrid work setup,” he says. “Do we need more open work environments? Do we need more individual silent rooms where people can focus and get work done? Or more conference rooms for meetings of 15 people?”

Enabling a smooth transition between locations also requires a range of tools and technologies that Mr. Newton says were not available to him when he founded the company 15 years ago, including cloud-based software tools like Slack, Zoom and Google Docs; company-issued laptops, microphones, cameras and other home-office equipment; an office management solution that directs staff to available workspaces, and board rooms equipped with big-screen TVs, cameras and microphones.

Anything that creates friction moving into the home or office will inhibit that idea that you can work from anywhere, which is fundamental to the distributed-by-design ethos.

Jack Newton, chief executive officer, Clio

“Anything that creates friction moving into the home or office will inhibit that idea that you can work from anywhere, which is fundamental to the distributed-by-design ethos,” Mr. Newton says.

While the transition was intended to facilitate the hiring of more global expertise, Mr. Newton says it has also resulted in greater employee satisfaction, work-life balance and productivity.

He says, “three and a half years into the pandemic, it’s feeling like our productivity levels are just as high, if not higher, than they were prepandemic.”

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