Does telecommuting offer more opportunities than challenges?

Apr 05, 2021

5 mins

Does telecommuting offer more opportunities than challenges?
David BlayLab expert

Journalist, consultant in teleworking, lecturer and podcast host.

There’s no getting away from it. Teleworking is continuing to expand worldwide as a result of the pandemic and many companies have decided to continue using it after the crisis has passed. Several questions have emerged about the development of this way of working. Will it cause a huge offshoring of professions within the digital ecosystem as happened in recent decades when manufacturers moved their factories overseas to reduce costs? Are we heading towards an employment landscape in which competition will be created between workers from different regions? If so, what impact will this trend have on them? How will it affect the recruitment of talent?

Here David Blay, a journalist who specializes in issues related to teleworking and author of a book on the topic, discusses the labor market that is emerging as teleworking becomes more common worldwide.

Let’s start with the basics: not everyone wants to telecommute and not everyone is comfortable doing it––even when they want to do it. Even though I have been operating remotely since 2007, I tend to avoid making generalizations on this subject. That’s because there are too many internal and external factors affecting each organization to assert one single truth. In a survey by Ipsos MORI, 59% of those now working mainly from home say it is not a challenge, while 40% admit to struggling a lot of the time. Unfortunately, most people are not taught how to deal with this new way of operating or given any training on social media, email management, or instant messaging. Although this may be a positive trend for the world of employment, it also raises challenges and issues that are worth addressing.

Location-based compensation? Yes or no

One of the biggest fears employees have is that they may be paid less simply because they are based in a less expensive city than where their firm’s headquarters are. This is possibly triggered by seeing the decision that Facebook made to cut the pay of staff who moved out of San Francisco when told to work from home during the pandemic. That does not happen often, however, and may never happen to them.

In the UK, if you have been with your employer for at least 26 weeks and you want to continue working from home, you have the right to request flexible working. The organization does not have to say yes, but it must deal with your request in “a reasonable manner”. So that’s a start, though there is no mention of salary.

Globally, firms that use remote workers tend to offer a standardized salary according to the position to be filled, regardless of where the applicant is based. Many multinationals have employed staff from different countries for years and have paid them well. This is nothing new. This staff was offered high compensation only if they were required to leave their homes and families to move to another city or country. The salary was no less competitive if the employee was not required to show up at the office each day.

It is true that some companies hire staff in countries with a lower cost of living rather than pay a more competitive salary to find staff in their countries of origin. In these cases, the company pays the foreigner less than it would pay someone in the same position in the country where the company is based. For example, there are many cases of Dutch companies that have contracted senior software developers in Spain but pay them the same salary as a junior developer would get in the Netherlands.

Does this mean that the same could happen to you if some jobs are offshored?

This may be among our greatest fears–––or what employers have made us worry about. But the reality is that the spread of teleworking opens up more options than ever before for everyone: we may lose some opportunities, yes, but we may also gain others. Because physical attendance is no longer the main requirement for many jobs, instead it hinges on the ability to do the job and find solutions. So the fear that someone from India can do your job, but for less, is legitimate. At the same time, however, those in other countries may have the same fears about us. In the digital age, costs are not lowered by production. They are lowered by efficiency.

An opportunity for talent

So have we learned nothing from the economic offshoring that happened when production was moved to cheaper countries around the world? Bear in mind that this tends to occur within the manufacturing industry, where teleworking is almost impossible to accommodate. On the other hand, even before the pandemic companies were looking overseas in their search for digital talent at more competitive prices. Is it not true that platforms such as Upwork, which is used to find work as a freelancer, allowed many people to offer their skills at better prices than other citizens of the world? Globalization came before remote work, but that does not mean that employers were looking only for cheaper labor.

Let’s look at an example. In software development, unemployment tends to be at zero. It’s not just the best who get job offers quickly, but anyone who is able to reasonably demonstrate their skills. Many of these receive messages daily through social networks offering them a higher salary to switch companies. These employers are not looking for cheaper workers. They are looking for better ones.

Those who understand this, prepare themselves by taking advantage of fast, cheap, and efficient training to switch the focus of their careers regardless of what sector they are in. Some markets are sinking, but others are emerging in a big way. Mass media as we know it may be dying, but there are many companies looking for journalists to produce content such as podcasts or videos. Imagine two possibilities: workers are no longer afraid to ask to work from home, a challenge that exists today; and those who doubt that working from home is efficient are shown that it can be a good option for those who want to try it.

The positives outweigh the negatives

Many of us began to telework in the middle of a health crisis, trapped at home in charge of children or dependents, adding family and economic concerns to work issues. We had no training before starting to do it and just had to get on with it. And yet, thanks in large part to businesses that have been able to operate remotely, the downturn in the economy and job losses are not as bad as they might have been.

During this time at home, it is possible that many people realized what teleworking really was like. They had more flexibility in their lives and could take advantage of some time during the day to do things other than just staying in an office.

As often happens when we enter a routine in any area of ​​our lives, however, we do not give ourselves time to stop and reflect. When it comes to the implementation of teleworking in companies, reflection is vital to optimize not only the processes, but also the state of mind of the staff. Today everything is measurable, including performance, productivity, and the mental health or the risk of burnout of the people in your charge.

Those companies that, during the first months of the crisis, had conversations with their teams about how they or their families were doing, should now have them about whether or not they feel comfortable with remote work. This will greatly influence each employee’s motivation, efficiency, and engagement.

Based on this premise, we can imagine ourselves living happier, less stressful lives five years from now if companies and staff around the world adopt remote working as standard practice and overcome the mistrust that surrounds it.

Translated by Sunita Maharaj-Landaeta

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