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Embracing remote work can prove crucial for startups SMBs, enabling cross-border collaboration, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.Getty Images

Andrew Kim wasn’t always a fan of remote work, but when he co-founded Share FTR Technologies Inc. in 2021, he knew the business wouldn’t thrive without it.

For one thing, Carmen Da Silver, co-founder of Share, a Toronto-based real estate investing platform that primarily serves the American market, works out of Florida. Also, the company’s employees are required to have some prior experience working south of the border.

“I’ve always been an in-person kind of guy, especially for early-stage [companies],” says Mr. Kim. “It was a bit of a tough pill to swallow, but once you get accustomed to it, you adapt and make it work.”

Once he embraced remote work, however, Mr. Kim says he identified other advantages. Along with having the ability to work effectively across borders and hiring talent beyond commuting distance, he saved on overhead expenses and the company’s overall efficiency improved.

“A lot more gets done in a day, especially for those who have a long commute – that’s a lot of personal time back in your schedule.”

Apart from Ms. Da Silva, who is in the U.S., Share’s current staff also includes one employee based in the Philippines and another who splits their time between Toronto and Vancouver. All of Share’s employees are required to overlap their working hours with at least six of Toronto’s nine-to-five window.

Despite his preference for offices, Mr. Kim acknowledges that the company’s future growth depends on its ability to hire talent based outside Toronto. He adds that this structure would have been much more difficult to establish just five years ago, and practically impossible five years before that.

“The tools were available five years ago – but there’s a lot more available now – so it would have been tough, but definitely not [possible] 10 years ago,” he says, adding that video conferencing, digital white boarding and VOIP (voice over IP) digital phone systems “weren’t great” back then.

These days, he can send employees hardware basics, such as new laptops equipped with cameras, monitors, bags and cases, and provide access to basic software services like Slack, Zoom and Google Docs – and get them up and running in minutes.

Hybrid and remote work provide an array of benefits to organizations of all shapes and sizes, but the widespread adoption of more flexible work policies is particularly beneficial for startups, particularly those targeting foreign markets early in early stages of development.

According to André Allen, vice-president of IT for the MaRS Discovery District, a startup used to have to find a place where [everyone] could work together, “like someone’s garage, and then get to an office in the early stages.”

“Now we find ventures in the early stages can stay leaner, meaner and focus on building great products,” he explains. “They may move into the office, but in the old days that was taking place in month 12; [now] it may be month 36, and it’s just one less thing for them to worry about.”

Mr. Allen says although the pandemic may have been the catalyst for widespread adoption of the hybrid work model, the real enabler is the tech tools that support it. For example, before COVID-19, organizations had already begun moving from servers housed in the office and largely inaccessible from elsewhere, to more flexible cloud applications that can be accessed online.

Now that everything is available as a service it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the office or not. We’ve gotten rid of the exchange servers, we’ve gotten rid of the centralized server sitting under a staircase in the office, and now everything is available through the web.”

Carmi Levy, technology analyst

“If you compare the COVID pandemic to bird flu or swine flu or other things we faced in the 2000s, 2010s, what’s the difference there?” he says. “It wasn’t possible to achieve what we did in keeping businesses open and operating in the [COVID] pandemic without technology.”

More powerful and portable devices with built-in microphones and cameras, cloud-based software applications, and remote IT solutions were all vital in enabling this transition, he says.

Canadian technology analyst Carmi Levy agrees.

“Now that everything is available as a service it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the office or not,” she says. “We’ve gotten rid of the exchange servers, the centralized server sitting under a staircase in the office, and everything is available through the web.”

Mr. Levy agrees that the primary advantages of remote work include the ability to reduce overhead costs and expand the talent pool, but he also emphasizes the impact flexible work has had on large segments of the population that don’t naturally thrive in an office environment.

“I’m an introvert by nature and remote work allows me to focus on the work not the people,” he says. “For a lot of people, it allows them to get more done in less time with less stress. It lets the work shine. That was a huge game changer for me.”

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