Work From Home

Companies get around talent shortage with 'work from anywhere' policies

Companies get around talent shortage with ‘work from anywhere’ policies

Garth Gutenberg, a Peru-based software engineer for Hamilton, Ont.-based Weever apps, tours Machu Picchu. (Weever Apps)
Garth Gutenberg, a Peru-based software engineer for Hamilton, Ont.-based Weever apps, tours Machu Picchu. (Weever Apps)

A developer at a Hamilton tech company works away from the office – about 6,000
kilometres away – but he still gets invited to all the office parties.

“Last night, for our CEO’s birthday we had a mini-party at end of day,” said
Andrew Holden, chief technology officer at Weever Apps Inc., which makes an app that lets
companies track workers in the field. “We had a mini-keg of beer, a game of this
bocce ball sort of thing and, for Garth who’s in Peru, we set up a laptop with a
webcam so he could be right there talking to everybody.”

Companies, especially tech companies, are increasingly relying on employees
who work remotely, Mr. Holden said. They let existing employees work from home –
or anywhere on Earth, as long as they can get an Internet connection.

And, some aren’t just letting existing employees travel – they’re hiring
people around the world who they’ve never met in person.

“We have 18 people on our team and 10 of them are remote – we have people in
Vancouver, Romania, the Philippines, Thailand and Argentina,” said Mohsen
Hadianfard, co-founder and chief
operating officer of Sweet Tooth, a Kitchener, Ont.-based company that helps companies
create online loyalty-reward programs.

“We’re no longer restricted to
who we can hire locally,” Mr. Hadianfard said. “We can go for the best people
out there.”

Hiring employees remotely
helps companies attract workers who may not want to – or can’t – come to
them.

“The immigration process is a
total pain – we’ve had to go through a whole labour market evaluation where you
have to prove that you can’t get anyone locally,” Sweet Tooth co-founder Steve
Deckert said. “We’ve done it and we still do it – but it’s
difficult.”

Having staff in other time
zones helps Sweet Tooth provide customer support 24/7, Mr. Deckert
said.

It can also be cheaper.
Companies that can’t afford to pay salaries expected in expensive cities such as
Toronto can hire in people in cities – or countries – with a lower cost of
living. And, depending on the job, they may be able to pay workers less than
they’d pay somebody here.

“It depends, if you’re looking
at general business administration, yeah, pay [in other countries] would be
lower,” Mr. Deckert said.“But, for example, some of our engineers are certified
to work on Magento [an open-source e-commerce platform] and that certification
sets a floor.”

And increasingly, software
engineers and developers are expecting to be able to work while travelling the
world.

“There’s this digital nomad
culture,” said Mr. Hadianfard, who worked from Morocco for a month last year.
“If you really want competitive talent, it makes sense to have some sort of
remote working policy.”

Companies use chat and
video-conferencing tools such as Slack, Google Hangouts and Skype so employees
can stay in touch – and build a rapport.

“In tech, when there is a
strong remote culture, there’s a lot of investment under the hood in maintaining
the processes and culture for it to work,” Weever’s Mr. Holden said. “It’s not
easy to buy someone a beer or a latte and send it to Lima, but we do what we can
so they feel included in everything – we’ve done things like Photoshop people
into pictures at parties they couldn’t be at.”

Hiring “geographically remote”
workers is best for “roles that are relatively independent as opposed to
interdependent,” said David Zweig, associate professor of organizational
behaviour at the University of Toronto.

“If I know what I’m doing and
I know what the deliverables are, then it’s okay,” Mr. Zweig said. “If it’s a
project that doesn’t require co-ordination of effort or team involvement, the
issues around working remotely are lessened.”

Those issues can include
“difficulties in perceptions of how much they’re doing and the quality of the
work,” Mr. Zweig said.

And, when there’s no
face-to-face contact, misunderstandings can be a problem.

“We need to see facial
expressions – you can get that with Skype but it’s not a complete replacement
for dealing with somebody in person,” Mr. Zweig said. “But that can happen now
even if you are working in the same building as your boss but everything is done
over e-mail.”

Mr. Holden said a company’s
culture helps determine how well it can handle a remote work force.

“There are companies that put
cameras on their employees – but we see our employees as participants in a
growing company and not as a commodity,” he said. “The tools are there to
facilitate communication, not to keep tabs on what people are doing.”

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