The Work of the Future Will Be Shared

At the present moment, I am situated in our San Francisco office. With a few simple clicks on my phone, I was able to connect with my colleagues in Singapore via Facetime and quickly obtain a report on the status of a new employee at one of our portfolio companies. In this modern age, this form of communication is the closest we can come to teleportation, and it allows us to do work that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.

The dawn of the digital era is ushering in a new, globally dispersed workforce, enabled by the ever-increasing capabilities of technology to bridge the geographical divide between individuals all around the world. For both start-ups and established businesses alike, it is essential to be prepared to work with, and benefit from, this new style of labor in order to remain competitive in an ever-evolving global market.

As to Why It Should Be Distributed.

It is widely accepted that many businesses struggle to attract the most talented individuals in their local area, often at a high cost. At the same time, ambitious and highly capable people from around the world are searching for better opportunities as they may not be available in their own countries. As my friend Niko Bonatsos often states, talent is universal, but opportunities are not. For this reason, companies have been venturing beyond their own boundaries for some time in order to fill positions with the most suitable candidates.

In the 1980s, Western businesses started to outsource certain operations to overseas specialists, taking advantage of the lower wages in countries such as India and Bangladesh to increase their profits. This decision was a major contributor to the growth of the outsourcing sector in those nations. For example, Cognizant, an Indian IT outsourcing firm, reported a staggering $12 billion in sales in the last year.

Traditionally, there has been a wide gap between those who are participating in economic exchanges due to language, cultural, and educational barriers. Remote independent contractors are often not seen as colleagues, but rather as members of an outsourced team with a specific job to complete, such as a contact centre or website engineering for a U.S. company. Until recently, the concept of “outstaffing,” in which companies provide full-time employees to their customers, was limited to tactical tasks like software quality assurance. However, this has been changing as the economic landscape continues to evolve.

Justification of the Remote Worker

As outsourcing and entry-level outstaffing remain a viable option for businesses, an emerging model of distributed organiaztion is gaining traction. Companies such as Stack Exchange and Upworthy offer their staff the ability to work remotely if they so choose. One example of a successful business utiliizng this model is Automatic, the founders of WordPress, which is currently valued at over one billion dollars and employs remote workers in 43 countries. It is likely that the dispersed organization model will continue to grow in the future.

Companies have a fiduciary duty to maximise profits to shareholders, and this tendency is driven by that obligation.

Research conducted by Jerry Porras of Stanford University has indicated that teams which are unified and driven by shared values are more likely to be successful in the long run for businesses. While assembling a dispersed team could potentially be more cost-efficient than hiring people in a single physical location, the best way to optimize performance in this domain is to fully integrate remote employees into the culture, values, and structure of the organization.

Recent advances in collaborative technology have enabled a completely new way of doing business. Similar to how telephones revolutionized the workplace in the 20th century, modern Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions such as Jira and Asana, team messaging applications like Slack, and a bevvy of video conferencing platforms have transformed the modern office. Nowadays, “working” with someone on the other side of the world may involve a video chat with screen sharing capabilities and a Slack channel for exchanging information. This is just the beginning, and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact virtual and augmented reality will have on remote work in the future.

There is no comparison between this and using a landline phone and a fax machine 30 years ago.

Cultural Integration: The Glue of a Distributed Future

In spite of the numerous advancements in collaboration technology, it remains difficult to find a true alternative for face-to-face interaction when it comes to building trust and creating an organization’s culture. There is a greater concern that needs to be addressed in regards to training and education, and technology is essential to bridging this gap.

The startup ecosystem has been making strides recently, and the case of Works is a great example of this. Works is a startup which Spark supports, and they specialize in connecting organizations with remote software engineers, particularly in Asia. Their focus is on finding and training engineers that not only have strong coding skills, but also the aptitude and social skills to collaborate with colleagues from distant locations. Works developers are highly sociable, engaging with their clients on social media, and often joining video conference meetings to contribute to technical and product planning discussions.

It is somewhat paradoxical that as technology advances and makes it easier to communicate remotely, entrepreneurs are increasingly confronted with the challenge of mastering the human element.

The development of geographically dispersed teams is only the beginning of a much larger phenomenon. There is great potential in extending this type of remote team model to a global labour market. By leveraging the untapped talent that is available across the globe, businesses and ideas can reach their full potential, regardless of their origin.

Keep in mind that Spark Capital has backed up Stack Overflow, Upworthy, Slack, and Works.

Republished from Spark Capital’s blog, which was first published at johnmk.tumblr.com.

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