The future of work is remote, global, and collaborative

Asian woman working on a laptop in a bright office

The nature of the work environment has been changing significantly for the past few years, and 2020 provided the push it needed to accelerate this change. 

The COVID-19 crisis is really only one part of a change that’s being influenced by massive shifts in the geo-political and social landscape. 

Globalism or nationalism? Corporate workforce or gig economy? Remote work or office life? A new normal or business as usual? 2020 gave us more questions than answers and in this post we’re going to address them.  

Globalism or nationalism? 

Despite headline-grabbing talk of tariffs and trade wars, global business continues to drive economic growth as Bloomberg reports: 

“Even as Trump is putting up new U.S. trade barriers, the rest of the world is responding by lowering theirs with each other.

  • A European pact with Japan went into effect earlier this year. One with Canada took force last year.
  • Japan and 10 other Pacific economies have gone ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  • In Africa, countries are going ahead with a continental free trade agreement.”

And  technology and services are the real performers in that growth, as McKinsey reports:  

Globalization is in the midst of a transformation. Yet the public debate about trade is often about recapturing the past rather than looking toward the future.

Cross-border services are growing more than 60 percent faster than trade in goods, and they generate far more economic value than traditional trade statistics capture.”  

In a recent interview about his latest book, The Ages of Globalization, Professor Jeffrey Sachs explains:  

“Globalization is not going away. The number of terabytes that are circling the globe is unimaginable and rapidly expanding. Fundamentally, globalization is driven by the technology of communications and transportation. That’s not going away. The digital age will be intensely global. Maybe we’ll work from home, but I guarantee you we’re going to work globally when we do so.

Corporate workforce or gig economy?

The complexity of modern business challenges demands a collaborative approach. Individuals working alone are less likely to overcome these problems.

In the book Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed points out that the shift from individual to team work is the most significant trend in human creativity.  

He highlights his point with these undeniable observations: 

  • In science and engineering, 90% of academic papers are now written by teams
  • Most patents are now awarded to teams, not individuals
  • 25 years ago, most equity funds were managed by individuals; today, the vast majority are run by teams

It’s clear that teamwork is the future of success in many industries, even though the gig-economy and online work has shifted contractual relationships. 

Even the Hollywood model of assembling and then disbanding the best talent for each project relies on communication and collaboration for success. 

As knowledge management consultant, Nick Milton, puts it: 

“For a knowledge worker, your worth at work is directly related to how much you can learn, how much you can apply what you have learned, and how much you can share new knowledge with others. Not how much you personally know.

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Remote work or office life?

The debate over the long-term permanence of remote working has probably driven more tweets and column inches than any other business topic in recent months. 

While it’s unlikely we’ll see a 100% remote workforce, the acceleration of broader adoption among knowledge workers is compelling.    

Workers are (for the most part) enjoying it more, they seem to be getting better at it, and progressive businesses are embracing it.   

Workers are enjoying it more

In fact, McKinsey reported that 80% of workers enjoy working from home. 

Almost a third of workers surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers said they’d prefer never to go back to the office, while 72% said they’d like to work away from the office at least two days a week.

And 42% of workers had a positive view of working remotely versus 14% who viewed it negatively according to Wells Fargo and Gallup. 

We’re getting better at it 

The figures show that traditional concerns of decreased productivity are unfounded. 

McKinsey reports that 41% of workers say they are more productive working from homes, and 28 percent that they are as productive as they would be in the office. 

According to Korn Ferry  two-thirds of workers say they’re more productive working from home. 

And the tech sector shows the greatest results with Dice reporting that 53% of technologists list greater productivity as a benefit of working from home

Businesses are embracing it

Perhaps the greatest indicator of its success is the way businesses are encouraging and facilitating it for the long term. 

Major tech players are all seeing the benefits and riding the wave of remote working, as reported in this Forbes magazine article:  

“Salesforce Google, Facebook, Spotify, Slack, Shopify, PayPal and Uber, have all informed their respective employees that they can either continue working from home through the end of the year or up until the summer of 2021. Some companies, including Twitter, Square and Zillow, have made it clear that their people could work remotely for as long as they’d like.”

Commentators often focus on potential savings in office costs for large corporations. But, as HR Director magazine points out, the benefits to global companies embracing remote work is much deeper than downsizing the fancy corporate HQ.    

HR leaders will also begin to realise, if they haven’t already, that there are major advantages to remote, global teams.

Specifically, remote teams are inherently more efficient, and when they’re global, they bring valuable insights into local markets, which can greatly increase the overall performance of a business.

And finally, when businesses embrace remote work, it means the pool of talent just got a whole lot bigger.”– HR Director Magazine

The Future is Global, Team-led, and Remote

Technology made working together across borders and time zones possible. The global pandemic accelerated the adoption of this tech and now workers and employers are embracing remote work like never before. 

Global business will be increasingly reliant on the success of remote teams working across cultural divides. Unlike local teams, remote global teams face cultural friction that can undermine success, no matter how talented the team is, or how smart the technologies are..

Organizations that attack this cultural friction can unleash the disruptive power of diversity within remote global teams, leading to greater productivity, innovation, and growth. Teams that don’t, risk failure for any company-wide initiative.

Learnship helps remote global teams attack cultural friction and capture their diversity dividend by improving their business language fluency, intercultural intelligence, and personal communication skills.