In the fall of 2018, with some trepidation, Danielle Simpson joined the ranks of remote workers by accepting a job as content strategist for Victoria-based technology firm MetaLab Design Ltd. – telecommuting from her apartment in San Francisco.
It sounded like a dream posting – the interface design company works with clients such as Disney, Google, Uber, Apple and Slack Technologies to improve the experiences of customers using their services and products. But Ms. Simpson initially feared that working on her own, offsite, would feel like “solitary confinement.”
A year into her new role, Ms. Simpson says she cannot imagine returning to the confines of traditional, full-time work in an office.
Her firm is among the new-age pioneers of remote work, crossing time zones through Slack’s collaborative work platform and co-ordinating schedules for real-time meetings through the Zoom videoconferencing system. More than 30 per cent of MetaLab’s 130 employees, including the chief executive officer, work in locations scattered across Canada, the United States and Europe. Another handful work from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil.
The technology gives MetaLab access to a global talent pool, CEO Richard Ward notes in a blog post on the company website. "When the war for talent is as fierce as ever, why limit yourself to … your particular metropolitan area with rules around where and when people work?" (Mr. Ward is based in San Francisco. The majority of employees are concentrated in Victoria and Vancouver, where the firm has offices. They, too, have the option of flexible work arrangements.)
Mr. Ward recalled attending the World Economic Forum in Davos a few years ago where business leaders were talking about how the digital age will create opportunities to reinvent the workplace, build more inclusive work environments, be more productive and create better balance between work and life priorities. "These business leaders espoused their ideas before heading back to their corporate headquarters where they ask employees to commute to an office each day to sit at desks at specific times. They described a future that seemed so far off to them, but it got me thinking about the here and now," he wrote in his blog about being a remote CEO.
At MetaLab, "we hire adults who are passionate about what they do. We don't need to micromanage or babysit anybody. Their work will speak for itself," Elexa McMahon, director of people operations, said in an interview.
In its 2019 report on the state of remote work, San Francisco-based Buffer Inc. reported that 99 per cent of the almost 2,500 remote workers it polled in a global survey said they would like to continue to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers.
Buffer's own "fully distributed team" is dispersed across 15 countries. Clients use the firm's software to manage their social media accounts.
The broader group of remote workers, including Canadians, who participated in the state of remote work survey reported that flexibility in terms of when and where they work are the biggest benefits of working offsite.
However, Buffer reported, "remote work isn't always as Instagram-worthy as it may seem. In fact, many remote workers struggle with unplugging from their work, loneliness and communicating [with colleagues]."
It takes commitment from employers and self-discipline on the part of employees to create remote work arrangements that are beneficial to both parties, Ms. Simpson said. MetaLabs provides allowances for tech equipment and ergonomic chairs.
“As with any relationship, particularly of the long-distance variety, communication is paramount. At MetaLab, it [regular communication] is non-negotiable. The mutual support, positivity and culture of inclusivity permeate … as a result,” she wrote in the first of a series of company blogs on working remotely for MetaLab.
The freedom to schedule her work hours around business needs has actually allowed Ms. Simpson to spend more time with family and friends. She has also found a way to effectively collaborate with a colleague in England through Slack “despite the fact that we are ships in the night [with the eight-hour time difference].”
“When I’m awake, I am kind of jamming on ideas or copy changes or things that I can tee up for her when she wakes up for her day. … We just pass things back and forth. It ends up working pretty nicely.”
Ms. Simpson met her English co-worker and others in person for the first time at a company-wide retreat at Whistler, B.C., in September. “It’s kind of like an epic first date for a lot of people. People you have met online show up and … we all end up bonding over the initial awkwardness.”
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