If there’s a single good thing to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s the shift to remote work.
As of April, the percentage of US employees allowed to work from home jumped from 37% to 57%, which is good for both employees and employers. One study found that the rise in off-site offices coincided with a 47% increase in productivity. And in early May, Gallup noted that 38% of workers in the US reported feeling “engaged” in their roles – the highest percentage since the survey began in 2000. Research shows that workers reporting higher levels of engagement are more likely to stay, attract new customers, and treat existing customers very well.
But if employees don’t need to be in the office to work effectively, do they actually need to be in the same country? The technology enabling companies like Twitter to take their teams off-site can also be used to facilitate international employment. Enterprises can hire foreign workers without asking them to relocate or even step foot in the country. And for some, “virtual immigration” has been a reality since long before the pandemic.
Founder of HRTechRadar, Anita Lettink, has been working in the HR-tech space for around 20 years, a large portion of which, she says, has been spent managing global teams and customers “from anywhere.” Her belief is that the global pandemic has given many organizations the push they need to start hiring based on talent rather than location like such innovative companies as Basecamp and InVision.
“People are going to start asking their managers, ‘Why do I need to sit in traffic every day for two hours when I can just be as productive at home?’“ she says. “And if that’s accepted, it increases the possibility of opening up hiring to people around the world. After all, if you work from home, you’re not in the office. So what does it matter where that home is?”
That said, Anita doesn’t believe virtual immigration will overtake location-based hiring any time soon, adding, “We predict that the future of work will involve a mixed setup of on-site and remote workers.” Because while remote collaboration does have its benefits, there are still some obvious limitations.
The challenges of working remotely
For one thing, to manage a virtual team, leaders require new skills, explains Anita. Not only must they excel in setting clear milestones and deadlines, but they also need to manage end-results and outcomes, and be very hands-on throughout the journey. Not everybody is good at that. So company heads really need to think about how they can enable their managers to become virtual leaders.
Secondly, employee health and wellbeing can be difficult to manage from home. When employees work away, it can be tricky to assess how they’re doing. Companies need to find ways to create safe spaces to address employee engagement and encourage healthy behaviors and practices.
Thankfully, Anita points out, a host of companies are rushing to fill these white-space opportunities.
The HR-tech startups enabling virtual immigration
Digital study and collaboration can be boring and impersonal. After all, there’s nothing quite like rehashing projects with coworkers and fellow students to help learnings sink in. VirBela is trying to replicate this in-person experience in the digital world by creating virtual campuses and conference rooms for a more immersive experience. With their avatars, users can explore these online spaces and meet other people as they would in person without leaving their homes. The company aims to make users feel like they’re really attending a conference or taking a course
Some courses are too dangerous or expensive to do in real life, so virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) training is simply more prudent. Stryvr is one of many companies providing AR training programs for companies looking to upskill employees at scale. But Anita argues it has potential for remote teams, pointing out that we might see this technology used in work-from-home applications simply because people want to see their classmates and coworkers in person.
How do you know if someone 2000 miles from where you are is a cultural fit for your company? Hire a computer recruiter. Neurolytics is a platform that uses AI to assess potential candidates according to “behavioral characteristics from psychophysiological biometrics.” They argue that their recruitment-scan procedure can increase diversity by taking unconscious biases out of the process while also enabling organizations to better interact with potential candidates (and not scare them away).
Foreign employees may lack the location-specific experience many employers think is required for certain roles – Huapii encourages companies to stop obsessing over job history and start thinking about skills instead. They provide organizations with an internal platform that lists employee skills rather than experience. By adopting a skills-over-experience mindset, suddenly, the candidate pool opens up, and recruiters can start looking for potential rather than people who have done the exact same thing before. This gives employers much more flexibility not only in hiring people all across the world but also in hiring internally. Their ideal candidate might be sitting in another department waiting for that very opportunity.
Is relocation-free employment the future?
Of course, beyond the technical and logistical barriers of virtual collaboration comes worries about what border-free recruiting might do to local job markets. Not only will it increase competition for job seekers, but it might see companies lose their inhibitions when it comes to employing off-shore talent willing to do the same work for less. No doubt, new hurdles will inevitably appear as governments step in. But, as with off-shore manufacturing before it, we predict that no amount of regulation will be able to overcome the benefits of a relocation-free-employment future.