MORE ATTENTION TO INDIVIDUALS IS THE KEY TO SUCCESSFUL Work from Anywhere (WFA): A few (non-legal) words on “talent on the cloud” and the WFA phenomenon

I am usually requested to express my opinion on cloud services and their legal aspects; but today I want to share some thoughts on “talent on the cloud” and the Work from Anywhere (WFA) phenomenon.  I will consciously refrain from letting my legal thoughts (e.g., in terms of privacy and cybersecurity) kick in (mindful of the fact that it’s still the weekend!). 

Reading the recently published Harvard Business Review article entitled “Our Work-from-Anywhere Future” by  Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, as the co-founder of an international law firm, I second the view of Rajesh Gopinathan  (CEO & MD at Tata Consultancy Services) that it is key that every project is staffed with professionals with the right skills, no matter where they are located (“talent on the cloud”) and that the concept of WFA helps in this respect. I also agree with what is reported in the article in terms of benefits for:

  • Individuals (e.g., the “freedom to live anywhere” where especially “Millennials […] seemed captivated by the idea that WFA would allow them to become ‘digital nomads’”, “for those in dual-career situations, it eases the pain of looking for two jobs in a single location”, better quality of life in terms of living closer to family members, necessary medical care, etc.), 
  • Organizations (e.g., the expansion of the “potential talent pool to include workers tied to a location far from that of the company”, possible reduction of costs related to fewer people in the office resulting in smaller space requirements and reduced real estate costs), 
  • Society (e.g., “revers[ing] the brain drain that often plagues emerging markets, small towns, and rural locations”); and the
  • Environment (diminishing commuting, especially by car and planes which are causes of significant pollution).

Synchronous interactions, however, will not always be possible and asynchronous communication may become the rule. In this respect, structured knowledge transfer is key. This will be even more necessary (especially from senior professionals/employees to more junior professionals/employees) and it could, for example, be reflected in the creation of standard legal documentation, which can then be customized to the necessary degree to suite clients’ needs, as well as in policies and procedures to be followed from the Administrative, HR, communication points of view. I agree with Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury that the example should come from management which should stimulate such practices and actively contribute to such structured knowledge transfer on a daily basis.

Surely social and professional isolation (disconnection from colleagues and the company itself) should be carefully addressed. I think it is very true that “[w]ithout in-person check-ins, managers may miss signs of growing burnout or team dysfunction. Even with videoconferencing that allows for reading body language and facial expressions, the concern is that virtual colleagues are less likely to become close friends because their face-to-face interactions are less frequent.”  This is especially true for people joining an organization that is already in a WFA phase (so having missed previous face-to-face contact with colleagues). In this respect, I disagree with the possibility to solve the issue by way of Virtual Reality platforms to create, for example, places for team members located world-wide to gather in avatar form. 

I truly think that the only way to address this issue is for organizations to organize regular face-to-face events (e.g., per quarter), flying all colleagues, or per working-teams, to a specific location (the place can change every time) to work and spend time together for a week or so. In this way, all employees will have the time to re-establish face-to-face interaction, discuss, laugh, argue, and joke together. Combined with virtual social events, such practices can address the issue of social and professional isolation, in my opinion, re-enforcing personal relationships and sound ‘camaraderie’ between colleagues. In this way, individuals can really enjoy the true benefits of WFA.

The bottom line is that companies will need to re-think the working relationship and with more organization, better communication, more discipline, a budget for regular temporary colocation events and, last but absolutely not the least, more attention to individuals, WFA can be the future –  a win-win revolution for the planet and all stakeholders.

It is true that – as already mentioned – management must set the example in terms of supporting synchronous and “asynchronous communication, brainstorming, and problem-solving; lead initiatives to codify knowledge online; encourage virtual socialization, team building, and mentoring; invest in and enforce data security; work with government stakeholders to ensure regulatory compliance”.

WFA will require organizations to grow and mature in terms of work-flow management and attention to the needs of individuals, but if this happens, I strongly believe that it will result in more freedom and satisfaction for all!

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