Working Across Borders: How COVID-19 Shattered The Confines of Physical Locations and Work

For many global employees, work has traditionally been a physical location upheld by norms around attendance, communication, and collaboration. Over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, as swathes of global office workers transitioned from physical to remote work attendance, many attitudes around work have evolved.   

From reigning in an out of control “always on” culture to prioritizing workplace flexibility, employees are exploring new ways of managing work. As organizations pay special attention to hybrid and remote-first hiring, it has become clear that our collective understanding of where work can take place is changing, too. 

Distributed work before the pandemic 

Though COVID-19 significantly increased the number of people working from home on a regular basis, remote work has been on the rise for years

Improved infrastructure and work management innovations have enabled digital nomads to travel while working or connecting with teams from decentralized office locations. 

Remote-first organizations are hardly a COVID-era phenomenon, either. Companies like Hubstaff, Doist, and Zapier have been remote-first pioneers for years, highlighting the cost and talent acquisition benefits of distributed hiring.  

“We can hire people wherever we want to. We don't have to compete for Bay Area talent, and instead, we get to hire the best people all over the world,” wrote Zapier co-founder Wade Foster back in 2020. “Not only does it increase the size of the applicant pool, but it adds a layer of diversity into the company.”

The steady rise in remote work has also made the modern workplace more accessible overall, allowing workers with varying needs and backgrounds to access opportunities they might otherwise have missed out on just a few years ago.

The structures that make distributed work possible have been a long time coming. However, if 2020 taught businesses and their employees anything, it’s that “making it work” could also mean “making it work remotely.”

How COVID-19 May Shatter The Confines of Physical Locations and Work | Wrike
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Reconsidering work and where it happens 

“Effectiveness can’t be measured by the number of hours people spend in an office,” Spotify wrote in an announcement for their distributed-first work policy, Work From Anywhere. “Instead, giving people the freedom to choose where they work will boost effectiveness.”

In February 2021, Spotify outlined their decision to allow employees to choose “whether they’d prefer to work mostly at home or in the office — as well as their geographic location.”

Spotify’s WFA policy is by no means the “norm” for enterprise or even the company’s industry peers. Still, it does underscore the idea that work potential and effectiveness are not tied to a physical location.

Employees know this, too. Many have spent the last year doing jobs they were previously told could only be done in an office. Now that tools like Slack, Zoom, and Wrike have empowered digital workspaces, organizations are adapting their approach to hiring in an environment where workplace flexibility (geographic and otherwise) is a top priority for jobseekers. 

Distributed hiring

LinkedIn data offers additional insight into how organizations are approaching remote and distributed hiring. 

As of May 2021, the career networking site said that the percentage of paid “remote work” job listings on their platform was up by 457% from the previous year. The industries that saw the greatest percentage of remote work growth, according to their data, include media and communications, IT, and corporate services.

Presumably, these jobs won’t just disappear once the pandemic is over, signalling a shift in how companies are thinking about talent acquisition over the next few years.

In one survey of US-based HR professionals, one-quarter of respondents said they’d be willing to hire fully remote workers anywhere in the country (up from 3% pre-pandemic), with 7% saying they’d even hire globally for open roles (up from 2% pre-pandemic). 

Even as global vaccine rollouts see more and more office workers returning to in-person and hybrid attendance, the last year has certainly tested the strict geographical limitations of the pre-pandemic office.

Looking beyond local 

As with any complex conversation about the ever-evolving workplace, there’s much to consider beyond changing attitudes. COVID-19 may have impacted the way we think about where work gets done, but experts warn about the tax implications of an increasingly remote workforce.

Even Zapier’s Wade Foster calls this the “compliance and regulatory elephants in the room,” noting that hiring, payroll, and taxes for teams in multiple jurisdictions can be a huge undertaking.   

Still, we are witnessing a real-time evolution in how organizations and employees view work and where it happens. Gradually, many are moving away from the idea that you have to travel each day to a physical location to achieve work goals or connect with colleagues. 

By revisiting ideas about strict in-office attendance and creating more remote opportunities, organizations can access a wider talent pool of workers and increase opportunities for diverse and more inclusive hiring. 

Building the workplace of the future with collaborative work management

The tools we use to meet objectives, collaborate with co-workers, and manage tasks are more important than ever. 

Wrike’s collaborative work management features empower an increasingly hybrid and dispersed workforce to manage tasks, collaborate in a flexible environment, and build systems and workflows that reflect how they achieve their goals.

Learn more about how Wrike helps teams adapt to the evolution of work by creating digital hubs for innovation and enabling work management from anywhere. Try a free two-week trial and discover why 20,000+ teams trust Wrike.

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