Tamarindo, Costa Rica, has several draws: sandy beaches, great surf and turtles – and soon, the office of an enterprising Toronto-based tech startup. But only for a month. Then, after a pause back home, the company is off to Uruguay.
Starting this November, Lazer Technologies, a 60-person computer engineering firm founded in 2019, will move its physical office to a different destination for one month every quarter. Employees will have the option to continue working remotely from home, or join for part or all of the month away. The company will retain a small head office in Toronto.
Co-founder Arif Bhanji, 31, believes his is the first Canadian company operating a “travelling office.”
“Tax lawyers have said they’ve never put together a package like this,” Mr. Bhanji said. “They told me, ‘You will be the guinea pigs to figure out what the playbook will look like.’ That’s exciting.”
As COVID-19 vaccination counts rise and companies consider the return to the office, many are experimenting with novel ways of building a hybrid work style. Meanwhile, tech firms are up against added pressure to attract and retain in-demand talent. While some are offering higher pay, flexible work hours and on-site attractions such as workout spaces and catered meals, Lazar’s bold solution is aimed at a younger generation seeking more adventure.
“I can’t tell you how many engineers reached out to us and asked if we were hiring,” Mr. Bhanji said.
The company plans to rent office space in each new location, and the first week of each month abroad will be dedicated to team bonding. The company will cover the cost of food and activities, while employees will be responsible for their travel and accommodation. After the first week, employees can choose to stay for as long as they want, but must take on all costs.
Employees’ families are welcome, and the company will hire an early childhood educator to ensure kids don’t miss out on their schooling. Lazer will also hire a pet-sitting service for families with dogs and cats in Toronto.
More than 80 per cent of Lazer’s employees are under the age of 30, meaning many don’t have family commitments or mortgages to pay, Mr. Bhanji said. More than half live outside of Canada, with some currently living in South and Central America, Europe and Dubai. He hopes the travelling office will help team members learn more efficiently from each other.
“I think we’re going to see a huge increase in productivity,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having folks sit together and help each other. It’s much harder to learn through a Zoom chat.”
However, experts warn frequent moves could invite tax challenges. According to Debra Baker, a partner in U.S. corporate tax at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, companies that operate in other countries may be required to register with local governments and pay taxes. Requirements vary widely by country, and even by U.S. state.
“It becomes really important to understand whether treaty protection is available and what kinds of activities you can undertake that may create a taxable presence,” Ms. Baker said.
She points to other considerations: immigration rules, employment law issues and employee benefits such as health insurance all require thought.
While the trips could prove to be expensive for the company and its employees, Shivam Sharma, a partner at Lazer, said the quarterly get-togethers will help to foster a valuable company culture among the globally distributed work force.
“A lot of these people have never met each other face to face,” Mr. Sharma said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to let them meet each other in a way that’s more meaningful, and build those deep connections that last even when we’re off of this trip.
After Costa Rica and Uruguay? The company has not yet decided which location is next, but Dubai, Muskoka and the south of France are all on the table.
“This isn’t just work any more,” Mr. Sharma said. “It’s a lifestyle.”
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