In a work-from-anywhere world, how far will workers go remotely?

America’s workforce has always migrated, moving where jobs took them – traditionally, away from small towns and into big cities. Today, as more and more workplaces embrace remote working and allow people to live wherever they want, the landscape of work and life is about to undergo a sea change and history, says Prithwiraj Choudhury, a professor at Harvard Business School.

Additionally, the normalization of virtual work that began with the COVID-19 pandemic is creating significant benefits for local economies, enabling countries and regions to attract talent, reverse the brain drain from the suburbs, and redefining demographics in many places, says Choudhury, the Lumry family associate professor at HBS.

In The Changing Geography of Work: Priorities for Policy Makers, recently published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Choudhury discusses the benefits of the “work from anywhere” movement for businesses and workers.

“There has been a brain drain from small towns to large urban clusters, but I don’t think we’ve seen the spatial redistribution that we could potentially see due to working from anywhere,” Choudhury says.

When employees can’t travel for a job

Choudhury emphasizes the pain points that arise when business demands and personal autonomy collide: employees often cannot travel for an in-person position due to a spouse’s career, immigration issues or cost-of-living restrictions that make some places unaffordable.

These “geographical mobility frictions,” as he calls them, could be resolved through a work-from-anywhere approach. To be clear, it doesn’t necessarily mean working from home in your loungewear 20 minutes from the office just to avoid the 5 p.m. commute. Work from anywhere focuses more on choosing to settle in a desired geographic location while maintaining employment elsewhere – the best of both worlds for many people.

“I see working from anywhere as a politics that allows the individual to control their personal geography. And I think that’s why I’m so excited about it,” Choudhury says.

Businesses, not just communities, win

While this setup has obvious benefits for employees, it also benefits companies: when employees can work from anywhere, they tend to show greater loyalty to the company, he says, perhaps imbued with a sense of independence and respect. His research at the United States Patent Office reveals that people who are allowed to work from anywhere experience 4.4% higher productivity.

The pandemic has made this arrangement more widespread, as leading organizations such as Airbnb, Facebook and Twitter have adopted the approach, with significant gains for employers, including the ability to launch a wider hiring network, points out Choudhury.

“There has been a recent report that the diversity of [Twitter’s] the workforce has increased due to working from anywhere. If a company allows you to work from anywhere, you can hire from anywhere,” he says. “You are no longer forced to hire on the local job market in the city where you have an office. And, thanks to this, you can hire a more diverse workforce.

In the United States, this setup creates tax complexities, such as if an employee collects a paycheck in one state but lives in another. It also raises salary issues; some work-from-anywhere companies adjust compensation to reflect the local cost of living, while others do not.

Help work from anywhere succeed

Despite these frictions, the movement is gaining momentum. Choudhury outlined three ways governments and employers can support the shift to work from anywhere.

1. Issue digital nomad visas to attract a global workforce.

Digital nomad visas allow tourists to work legally in a foreign country, creating a boon for regions trying to attract remote workers and for companies looking to attract talent, especially at a time when many companies struggle to fill vacancies.

“I think digital nomads are probably more likely to be millennials, early career workers who want to travel the world and work, or empty nests,” Choudhury says.

Several countries, including Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Mexico, Norway and Spain have issued these visas to attract workers, usually for six months to a year. In fact, notes Choudhury, Canada and other countries have developed immigration policies to retain talent for the longer term. He estimates that digital nomads currently number in the thousands.

Chile is also a pioneer in this policy. Over the past decade, the country has nurtured entrepreneurs through Start-Up Chile, which offers qualified entrepreneurs a one-year visa and $40,000 in equity-free grants. In return, entrepreneurs must participate in the Chilean economy. So far, the program has attracted over 2,000 startups from 88 countries.

2. Adopt legislation to protect the rights of remote workers.

In Portugal, new legislation protects remote workers by prohibiting employers from contacting employees after hours or monitoring their work remotely. Choudhury thinks this is particularly helpful for working parents who need to draw clear boundaries between their professional and personal lives, or who might need to switch between work and childcare depending on the needs of the family. daytime.

“Portuguese legislation makes it easier for people, men and women, to switch to work from anywhere mode if you have a child, no questions asked,” he says. “Creating laws that protect the rights and well-being of remote employees can further promote the movement of labor from anywhere.”

3. Encourage people to move to less publicized areas.

Not everyone wants to take on a massive mortgage or pay exorbitant rent to live in an expensive city. Tulsa, Oklahoma actually pays workers to relocate for at least a year through its Tulsa Remote program, offering incentives such as $10,000 cash, coworking space, help finding a housing and community building events. So far, the city has attracted nearly 2,000 people.

“This is a great opportunity for small towns across Central America, and frankly around the world, to attract talent and revitalize those towns by attracting remote workers,” Choudhury said, highlighting similar programs. in Kansas, Vermont and West Virginia.

Significantly, Choudhury thinks it’s not just money that attracts Tulsa workers; it’s the buzz around the program and the quality of life benefits it generates. Because Tulsa is generally affordable, workers have more disposable income to throw back into the economy. And without having to commute to work, people also have more free time to participate in the community. In doing so, they transform the culture of the region and potentially increase its desirability, he says.

“There was an African-American gentleman who moved from the Bronx, New York, to Tulsa. He’s a remote worker, and in his spare time he’s also the high school debate coach,” says Choudhury. “This is the first time the high school has had an African American debate coach. It’s a win-win for workers and the community. I expect many cities to try something similar.”

Ultimately, says Choudhury, employees, businesses and local economies reap rewards by enabling people to live and work where they want.

“It probably makes workers happier and more productive, and helps their communities and organizations,” he says.

Feedback or ideas to share? Email the Working Knowledge team at [email protected]

Image: iStockphoto/anyaberkut

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