The state of remote work and distributed workforce strategies
The reality of commercial office space in 2020
Most business owners will agree that it’s become much harder to justify paying the increasingly exorbitant lease rates for office space in most major cities in North America. Even Canada isn’t exempt.
Once a haven for US companies looking to hire cheaper Canadian labor, Vancouver now has the lowest commercial vacancy rate. To add insult to injury, it also has the highest price of gasoline in North America.
CBRE’s Canada Q2 Quarterly Statistics Report said that downtown Vancouver’s office vacancy rate was 2.6 percent in 2019’s second quarter, down from 4.7 percent one year previously, making it the hottest commercial office space market in North America on par with Toronto, beating out 3rd place San Francisco, where the vacancy rate is 3.6 percent.
Growth in commercial office space worldwide is also being spurred by coworking. We now see coworking facilities in a large number of major cities across the globe, although the number of new coworking space openings does appear to be slowing down when compared to the previous year.
Coworking is obviously not free. It does reduce the overhead and headache of having to manage your own office (lease, insurance, maintenance, etc) but if and organization made use of coworking facilities full-time, it could likely be more expensive than a comparable stand-alone office space, per square foot.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that not only are office spaces getting harder to find, but they are also the most expensive they ever have been. For staff, who are interested in raising a family, getting them to this expensive office is also costly. This sounds like a lose-lose proposition, why are we doing this again?
Coworking + remote work | FTW!
Unsurprisingly, IT organizations and software organizations that have no real need for dedicated physical locations appear to be shuttering offices and opting for coworking + remote work models.
Automattic, Gitlab, Shopify (just to name a few) have successfully made this transition, in fact, some of these companies were purposefully built as distributed companies from the get-go.
Various reports and studies have been done which seem to indicate that everyone wants to work from home. In a recent study, Buffer published the State of Remote Work where 2,500 remote workers surfaced some interesting statistics:
- 99% of all respondents said they wanted to work remotely, in some capacity.
- Younger generations are 28% more likely to utilize remote work than older generations. — Upwork, 2019
- 73% of all teams will have remote employees by 2028, because of the influx of Gen Zers in the coming years. — Upwork, 2019
Zapier has also published a report(*) on the subject and the findings are quite similar in that it points to knowledge workers’ desire to work remotely:
- 95 percent of U.S. knowledge workers want to work remotely, and 74 percent would be willing to quit a job to do so.
- 26 percent of knowledge workers have quit a job because the company did not offer the option to work remotely/flexible work schedule
- Remote work is a highly desired perk. Nearly 3 in 5 knowledge workers (57 percent) say the option to work remotely is one of the perks they’d most prefer to be offered by an employer.
(That’s more than free daily lunch (42 percent) and unlimited vacation time (39 percent). Only one quarter (25 percent) cited recreational activities, like ping pong or foosball.)
- Almost a third of Millennial knowledge workers (31 percent), and more than a quarter of Gen X work (27 percent) remotely full-time. Only 11 percent of Baby Boomers do.
Microsoft (Japan) is also researching work routines and recently published findings on a 4 day work week experiment, which increased productivity by up to 39.9%. This could very well increase even more if they adopted a virtual coworking model for the other 4 days.
Now that we have set the stage for what looks to be an unstoppable trend, let’s take a look at why this is not a no-brainer.
I interviewed a few companies (ranging from small to large) and asked them what their position was with remote work in mind. Some business owners and team members expressed concerns.
- Security & Legacy Tech —If a company has previously built out systems it could be quite expensive and time-consuming to move to a secure cloud model. This move might require a large investment to get to a similar level of security that they already have, especially if the desire is to not use VPNs or IP tunnels. Even if the company is ok with VPNs, now IT has to manage that new asset, which doesn’t come for free.
- FOMO — The fear of missing out, is a big one for team members. Many employees that have not worked remotely before quickly develop a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). If conversations were missed, it causes a feeling of exclusion and can impact productivity and morale.
- Comradeship — Developing a positive team spirit is hard to do if team members never spend face time with each other. Humans are social animals, if we remove this face-to-face time, culture tends to be rather flaccid.
- Distractions — Some professionals have not enjoyed very much success when working from home. Some remote workers state there are too many distractions and they do not have a quiet place they can go to escape these distractions in their home. Speaking from experience, this is especially true for working parents.
- Time Zones — Spanning timezones where workers are on the opposite side of the continent or planet requires good planning and diligent project management, especially if the teams are larger. This can be a daunting task for a shop that has never done it before. Teamwork may take a hit if those in the remote time zones are few and far between, as they might not be communicating with each other or with domestic teams as regularly as you would like.
Some of these concerns are legitimate and it could be they will not be overcome with even the best remote work processes.
Case in point — In 2012, Marissa Mayer was hired as CEO of Yahoo! and was charged to return the former powerhouse to its glory days. Among the many things she had to fix were company culture and productivity. According to sources closer to Yahoo!, it was made clear that many of those working at the company were not getting their jobs done when working from home. A review of VPN logins and source repository access logs surfaced a gap in the lack of work being accomplished while Yahoo! staff were working from home.
In 2013, an internal letter was issued, the company mandated that remote work was to be all but banned. Here is an excerpt from that letter…
To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
Some of Mayer’s staff, the press, and many other groups let her have it, no one seemed to be impressed. It could be said that Mayer had little choice. She had to do whatever she could to turn the company around and for her, that meant taking some drastic measures. In a Forbes post, Yahoo! commented further…
“This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home — this is about what’s right for Yahoo, right now.”
At first blush, it would seem this was more about timing and the position Yahoo! found themselves in at the time. They did what they thought needed to be done to influence behavior.
This seems like an extreme case, but the same sentiment can be found in other IT and SaaS organizations worldwide. In fact, some of these companies are the creators of communications software and services we use for remote work every day. In fact, they openly promote the “work from anywhere” mantra in their own product marketing. It might seem a little hypocritical, but it is happening for many of the same reasons we have shown.
Remote Work — Benefits
Now that we have heard the concerns, let’s talk about the potential upside. Here are some high-level benefits:
- Reduction in Overhead — This one is rather obvious, but it goes further than just nixing the lease cost for the office space. If there is no office, there is now no longer a requirement for furniture, desks, lunchrooms, bike rooms, office snacks, bought lunches, office insurance and much more. Depending on the size of your business, savings could be significant.
- Sans Commute — Most staffers love the idea of working from home, especially if they have been successful in doing it at previous jobs. This means spending less time on the road, more time working and less time away from their family. It also means cash savings as they no longer have to pay for transit passes, gas, insurance or parking for their vehicles.
One in four knowledge workers find their commute to be among the most stressful parts of their job.*
- Choose your Location — Since location matters less in a delocated organization, team members are generally encouraged to live wherever they want, as long as they can get good Internet, power and work effectively with their peers. They are no longer tied to living in expensive larger cities where the cost of living precludes them from buying a home. This should also contribute to happier team members in general.
Obviously, these benefits can contribute to a more attractive and economical approach to building a business, as long as you can overcome the concerns.
Taking the plunge
If you are still with me and undeterred, you are not alone. Personally, I have been working remotely 100% for several years in various roles with teams all over the world. I have learned a few things along the way. Here are the cliff notes.
Remote Work Guide: A good place to start is by creating a “remote work guide” document that embodies some or all of the elements listed here along with your own spin on things. Your teams may not have experienced working remotely before, they will need some guidance and direction, this is also where we set expectations eg. working hours, always-on video, etc. It could be an addendum to your existing company handbook or a completely new document, keep in mind it will grow with your company. (Note: Many miss this step and it’s likely the single most important contributing factor to a successful remote work strategy for your company or organization.)
Small Teams: You are going to need some time to plan your rollout and decide which processes and tools are going to work best for your various teams. When your teams are first getting started, parcel off smaller project teams that are tech-savvy and preferably have experience using online collaboration tools. Their experience will pave the way for everyone else. Once you have a good process that seems to be working, you can roll it out in stages for everyone else.
Always-on Video Conferencing: This may sound a bit creepy but it can actually be quite effective in preserving team spirit, fending off FOMO and helping with the isolation that some feel when working remotely. It can be done in pairs, teams or even using a water cooler approach where team members drop in and out during the day. You can even use it to bridge branch offices, like a window into each remote office. Let’s be honest, organizations are going to see a bit more opposition when introducing this concept, it will need to be actively managed. As the business leader, you will need to actively work with team members to encourage participation (eg. by leading a weekly all-hands meeting or asking them to join or lead regular video calls, etc). If managed properly this idea can be a great communications centerpiece.
Weekly all-hands Video Conference: This is less about remote work and just good business practice. I have seen this work well in traditional and remote businesses, but few business leaders do it. Weekly highlights are shared by the CEO with support from other leaders in the organization. A master slide deck is prepared in Google Slides, with input from various departments. Friday afternoons are a good time as it ends the week on a high note (and serious note if things need attention) and helps start the next week off with a positive sentiment.
Coworking Passes: In addition to virtual coworking, it’s a good idea to include at least one or two days a week of onsite coworking for those that feel they need to get out of the house and be around other professionals. This has been widely adopted by some of the larger distributed organizations. Going completely virtual can be a bit of a shock to the system, this helps ease the transition and keeps everyone feeling like they are still human.
Offsite Team Events: With the reduction or elimination of in-person face time, team-building exercises now become more important. Organize quarterly or semi-annual gatherings at your favorite coworking establishment or pick a fun recreational location. If your company is large enough, you can divide these meets into geographical pods. Schedule at least one all-hands meeting per year with some fun events to ensure everyone feels like they are part of the organization. Do yourself a favor and don’t leave this to the last minute, you will have a poor turnout, piss people off and defeat the purpose.
Collaboration, Productivity & Automation Tools
There are literally dozens of team collaboration tools you can use to empower your remote workers. Try as many as you can. Select tools that are intuitive and self-explanatory, this will cut down on the learning curve. Make sure the vendors you select provide mobile support so your teams can be connected via phone or tablet.
Here are some that I have used and have found work well for remote teams, in no particular order:
- Cloud business phone system with SMS:
Google Voice, Dialpad or roll your own by using CPaaS & WebRTC eg. SignalWire — (btw, I work here).
- Cloud storage, word processing, spreadsheets, slide decks:
Google G-suite, Microsoft Office 365
- Text-based team collaboration
- Software source repo and issue tracker
Jira & Github
- Task Management
- Video & Web conferencing
- Sales CRM
- Product Management
Product Board, Trello
- CRM and Marketing Management
As this remote work thing matures, we will see more purpose-built applications that aim to bring our teams closer together, virtually.
We are already seeing some activity in this space with the recent capital raise by Tandem, which has a sidecar collaboration application that works pretty well with Slack.
Another is Sococo, which looks more like a virtual workspace with web conferencing. They take an interesting approach to how they visualize the virtual office and how team members work together. I actually think this is an intuitive idea, although it does feel a wee bit recreational. To be fair, I have not used the service.
It is expected these solutions that personalize and aid remote teams in working better together will certainly evolve. It is still unclear if customers would opt-in for purpose-built applications or just use several disparate applications to do the same job, time will tell.
The next post will speak to the future of remote work. We will be touching on AI & bots, VR & AR in the remote work realm, some of which are being used today and some are not far off at all.
If you work in a distributed company, I’d like to hear from you. What tools do you use today and how are they working for you? How often do you use video/web conferencing as part of your daily routine? If you prefer sharing your comments or questions privately, feel free to shoot me a text message or call anytime: (877) 897–1952 (Note: All calls will be recorded).
None of the ideas expressed in this post are shared, supported, or endorsed in any manner by my employer.
With the recession having forced business decision makers to change their investment priorities, communication vendors and service providers are re-assessing their challenges and opportunities for growth. One of the top questions on communication vendors and service providers’ minds is how perceptions of unified communications (UC) have changed and how the down economy is impacting demand for the individual communication applications as well as demand for UC as an integrated set of voice, data and video applications with pervasive presence across all communication media.
UC Awareness and Usage on the Rise
We conducted an end-user survey of over 100 C-level executives at U.S.-based multi-national corporations (MNCs) that sought to accomplish the following objectives:
Measure awareness of communication and collaboration tools
Identify leading communication and collaboration vendors and service providers
Identify frequency and level of communication and collaboration tool usage
Determine importance of communication and collaboration tools
Understand the effect of the recession on communication and collaboration tools
Determine future intentions for deploying communication and collaboration tools within organizations
We sought to understand the degree of awareness, usage and importance of the following applications:
- Audio conferencing
- Web conferencing
- Video conferencing
- Instant messaging
- Unified messaging
- Unified communications
One of the most positive findings was the fact that over 30% of respondents were aware of all these applications. Most respondents (80%) were aware of VoIP and the three main types of conferencing applications, whereas about 31% were aware of UC (the lowest awareness level of all applications). Interestingly enough, over 30% of respondents also claimed to be using UC within their organizations, which may indicate that, due to varying UC definitions, users identify UC with IP telephony and/or other advanced communication applications. Another reassuring survey finding was the fact that at least 30% of the respondents found all the communication applications listed above to be “very important” and at least 73% found each one of these applications to be either “very important” or “somewhat important”.
The really bright spot was the finding that 74% of the respondents expect their budget for communication and collaboration products and services to increase or stay the same with only 26% anticipating a budget reduction over the next 12 months. Some of the stated reasons for increasing spending included expansion and growth at the respondents’ organizations and industries as well as technology advances and replacement of outdated systems and use of new applications. Respondents who stated that they planned to continue or increase their usage of UC explained their decisions listing a number of actual and anticipated benefits including: cost savings, productivity and the ability to better communicate both internally and externally.
Finally, one other interesting phenomenon revealed by the survey was the respondents’ strong intentions to increase their usage of managed and hosted services. Only 18% planned to decrease their usage, whereas the rest intended to either “somewhat increase” or “significantly increase” their usage of such services.
The days are numbered for all Free Conference Call services, it’s simply a matter of time. The big telcos have been a bit pissy for having to aid their competitors indirectly via the USF. The emotion over this has been coming to boil for years now and recently Free Conference Call provider Foonz fell, just a few days ago.
I am sure glad we decided to pull out of that Free Conference Call game long ago. Our conference call service “Lypp” (formerly Gaboogie) started by offering free conferencing but quickly decide that was a bad idea (duh!). Lypp is now cash flow positive, growing like crazy and not showing any signs of slowing down.
Gaboogie has just won the Red Herring Canada Top 50 award in the category of Communications based on our Lypp Conference Call application. We would like to thank Red Herring Canada for the recognition and all of our supporters and clients for making this possible.
The company continues to grow organically and we are very excited about what the future holds.
Thanks again to all who made this happen!
Erik Lagerway – President
Gaboogie Canada Inc.
Just a quick post… We quietly launched our International service for Lypp teleconferencing this evening. Users from Australia, UK, Germany and many more countries, can now sign-up and start using Lypp teleconferencing. Existing and new users in North America can also now include participants from 20+ countries. We only charge you for minutes you use and there are NO additional long distance costs if you use the outbound calling feature.
Since Lypp calls you and your attendees there is little or no need for an International Toll Free number. Use the Lypp for Outlook Add-in or the Lypp.com website and simply set it and forget it. Lypp notifies and calls everyone for you at the time of the meeting. The only thing you have to remember is to answer the phone when it rings.
Yes, Conference Calls and now International Conference Calls are just that simple at Lypp.
WebHuddle’s Web Conferencing and Desktop Sharing solution has integrated Teleconferencing / Conference Calling via Lypp.
WebHuddle is an open source Web Conferencing & Desktop Sharing solution that works on both Mac & Windows. It is both free to download and use. For a limited time WebHuddle is offering free Teleconferencing via Lypp as well. WebHuddle + Lypp works rather well even though it is in early beta.
In recent rulings the FCC has ordered certain Conference Call service providers to start paying into the controversial USF (Universal Service Fund). InterCall (the largest Conference Service Provider) has appealed, apparently unsuccessfully.
Excerpt from FCC 08-160
Adopted: June 27,2008 Released: June 30, 2008
By the Commission:
1. In this order, we deny in part and grant in part a request for review filed by InterCall, Inc.
(InterCall) of a Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) decision finding that the audio
bridging services offered by InterCall are “toll teleconferencing” services and that InterCall must
contribute directly to the universal service fund (USF) based on revenues from these services.
As discussed more fully below, the audio bridging services InterCall provides are equivalent to
teleconferencing services and are “telecommunications” under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (1996 Act) and the Universal Service First Report and Order. Providers of these services must contribute directly to the USF based onrevenues from these services; therefore, we deny InterCall’s request to reverse USAC’s decision in this respect. We, however, grant InterCall’s request and reverse USAC’s decision requiring InterCall to contribute based on past revenues. Instead, InterCall must contribute directly to the USF beginning as of the calendar quarter immediately following the next scheduled FCC Form 499-Q filing after the release date of this order. We further direct USAC to ensure that all similarly situated audio bridging service providers contribute directly to the USF beginning as of this same time frame.
This is interesting for us CSPs (Conference Service Providers) to say the least and it’s likely going to get very interesting for those CSPs who are charging for toll teleconferencing. What this order basically says is that if a CSP is charging for toll conference calls (user has to dial into a local exchange) that revenue is subject to USF taxation.
This could be viewed as another win for Alex cory’s group ala FreeConference.com. They get paid via the USF and other providers have to pay into it, ironic and somewhat comical. Well, you know what they say, if you can’t beat’em, join’em.
Here is the entire document regarding InterCall’s appeal.
As a guest contributor for Techvibes I recently wrote a story about my journey through the land of SEO. It is my quest to make Lypp the number 1 conference call service in North America. I knew SEO would play a huge part.
I managed to take lypp.com from page 61 to page 1 in 7 weeks for key word phrase “conference call” on both google.com and google.ca. No small feat considering there are nearly 60 million results for that term on both sites.
You can read the entire story at Techvibes.