The Future Of Work Is Location Neutrality, Not Remote Work—Plan For It

CEO, Contentstack | Founder, | SF Business Times 40 Under 40 & | 50 Women in Tech Dominating Silicon Valley

Many offices have had to embrace long-term hybrid and remote work arrangements after repeatedly postponing the return to the office. In some cases, workers have expressed their preferences to stay remote. Many experts agree, and studies have touted the benefits of this setup—increased employee satisfaction, more output and a larger talent pool.

However, I believe we should shift our mindset from “remote work” to “location neutrality.” This is the future of the workplace.

Remote Work Vs. Location Neutrality

Gartner Inc. defines remote work as “a type of flexible working arrangement that allows an employee to work from [a] remote location outside of corporate offices”—a coworking facility, a home office or while traveling. It spiked over the last few years, mostly because of pandemic-related lockdowns. Two years later, employees have proved that remote work can generate just as many results as in-office work, and employees have been vocal about their preferences for this work flexibility to continue.

Meanwhile, the concept of location neutrality is a discipline for the entire organization. This paradigm shift means that where employees are located should not be a factor in their performance or participation. The lack of one or several central headquarters itself puts a larger premium on asynchronous modes of communication and collaboration.

Even more importantly, embracing a location-neutral mindset means setting aside preconceived notions about where to “look” for employees. This unlocks access to talent for companies.

Reinventing ‘The Office’ So Employees Can Thrive

I envision the future of work as a hybrid model where employees can live anywhere but participate in in-person activities on a semi-normal basis. Depending on the nature of someone’s work and their role in the organization, this could be monthly, quarterly or annually.

As with most transformations, gradual moves toward an end goal tend to be the best approach. Some leaders are opposed to not having team members in the same location or across a few offices. It can be challenging to convince these individuals that work can get done successfully in new ways. Start small and prove incremental success.

When we launched Contentstack, we were already a global company. A significant portion of the engineering team was based in India, our leadership team was primarily based in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and we had a handful of employees scattered across North America. However, the shift from being largely centralized to location-neutral was not without its growing pains.

If your company is adopting a global workforce for the first time, here are some things to consider:

• Review local labor laws to ensure compliance and identify any immediate roadblocks/challenges.

• Research local customs related to employer/employee relationships. For example, our employees in India tend to be deeply respectful of hierarchy and are uncomfortable being perceived as disagreeing with their boss. Also, the perks that we choose for those based in India might vary from those that would interest our employees in France.

• Understand that expectations around working hours, holidays and vacations vary greatly. For example, the “grind mentality” that so many in the U.S. embrace—especially in startup culture—is often scoffed at by other countries.

• Consider how to best communicate across time zones and provide appropriate visibility for teammates across all geographies.

• Expect that employees will embrace mobility and will want to relocate to other locations. In response, the people team should build a more robust employee mobility team that can manage relocations, visas, immigration and more.

• Hold honest discussions around compensation and total rewards as it relates to the cost of living in various countries.

• Be clear with your employees on what the expectations of their roles are, regardless of their location. For example, if they have a job as a project manager for an engineering team in India, they’ll need to be able to have cross-over working hours with that team even if they live in Canada.

All People Are Different People

I liken it to Ted Lasso, who taught us that “all people are different people.” Each employee is motivated differently. Some of my team members like to play music and be surrounded by people in an office environment. Others need quiet and solace. Our shift to a location-neutral mindset has afforded our employees the opportunity to work in a way that benefits them, and in turn, they feel better supported by the company.

We recently surveyed our employees and found that those who work remotely were highly engaged, felt they had opportunities for growth and were satisfied with the praise and recognition they received for their work.

Lastly, we have found that location neutrality allows us to be open-minded about the candidates we interview. We are no longer beholden to finding candidates in three or four cities. Now, we can evaluate each individual based on merit, culture add and drive, not which office space they are closest to.

We’ve already proved we can do anything from anywhere. Company leadership should acknowledge that and structure organizations to take advantage of the location neutrality benefits. This is the workplace of the future, and now is the time to embrace that change!

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