Can Remote Work Help Solve Societal Challenges?
In this interview for Growrk we covered the most important aspect of remote work’s impact on society in 2022.
Lavinia Iosub is the Managing Partner of Livit International, a support ecosystem for entrepreneurs, startups, and remote workers who build exciting tech/digital businesses. She is also the founder of the Remote Skills Academy, an education platform for Indonesians who want to learn to work remotely, and a founding member of the Remote-First Institute.
Regarding remote work, Livit helps companies build successful remote teams as well as recruit for remote jobs. In building their culture, Lavinia focuses on fostering intrapreneurship, clarity & feedback, alignment, trust & human connection, as well as quality remote, hybrid, and in-office work “infrastructure” (tools, systems, equipment).
1. When you recommend a remote work policy to companies, what are the most important things they should consider?
I would say the number one thing companies who transition to remote work have to consider is that remote work is NOT the same as working from the office, but from home (or a different space). Copying the office in a remote environment is the most frequent mistake I see, including spending most of the day in meetings, etc. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work.
Successful, intentional remote work is a fully different setup, that requires different leadership/management skills, often different tools & systems, definitely different policies, and overall a different mindset. If you built your company in a co-located setup, it is not a natural transition – it needs to be well-thought-out and well-implemented – unless you want to end up like Yahoo! during Marrissa Meyer’s time when they went remote and then quickly decided “it didn’t work” and reverted to the office.
I wrote here a long article that discussed the main mistakes remote-forced companies make, as well as how to avoid them, and I’m happy to chat more with anyone who might be wondering about it.
2. In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits of having a distributed workforce as a company?
- Unlimited/global talent pools for any skillset you’re looking for & a diverse workforce, which has many advantages
- Reduced overheads (e.g. office expenses)
- Higher retention levels (especially when done right) – an example would be someone from our company who has had to move 3 times over the last years due to family reasons. Instead of her looking for a job each time, and us needing to replace her, we were able to simply continue working together. This is of course just an aspect of retention which pre-dated the pandemic. Post-pandemic, many people will simply quit if forced back into the office.
3. We notice that you care deeply about giving back to the local communities as a digital nomad. And we researched that Livit launched the Remote Skills Academy to give opportunities to the locals in Bali to step into the future of work. Why is it important to you to give back to the local community?
Part of the whole idea of being a digital nomad/location-independent professional, of exploring the world and exposing yourself to different cultures and mindsets is becoming a more aware, well-rounded individual (at least for me). So it’s only natural that one would want to give back to the local community hosting them.
I started RSA to address the huge gap in opportunities, pay, and so on between those who can work online and those who cannot. In a place like Bali, that gap is often very visible, and for me, frustrating.
4. What impact have you seen from programs such as the Remote Skills Academy?
We started small, with one 20 people cohort. We’re now at 500+ alumni and a tribe of 100+ trainers, mentors, and contributors.
That’s 500+ young people all equipped with skills that help them level up their careers, and ultimately, lives and communities. There is also so much to gain from creating learning communities that transcend cultures, classes, or levels of previous education or experience.
5. In that sense, do you think that remote work can help solve societal problems?
Yes, definitely. For example, remote work can be an important equalizer. In the future of work, for many employers, it will matter less and less where you were born, what passport you hold, and where you went to school. What does matter and will matter more and more, is “can you get the work done well and on time”. So inequality is one problem that gets addressed when remote work becomes more prevalent, and in many ways, that’s what we’re looking to do with the Remote Skills Academy.
6. We’ve recently seen that in the U.S., remote work was helping to ease inflation because employers were paying lower wages to their distributed employees. In this case, employees would accept slightly lower pay in exchange for working from home. Although these scenarios are not optimal, what are your thoughts on remote work as a strategy to reduce inflation or other financial stressors for the economy?
Well, that’s a way of looking at it but you don’t have to pay people lower wages to save money if they are working remotely. You’re already saving a ton on overheads like office space & associated services, and transportation to business meetings (e.g. air tickets).
Remote work can also help decrease gentrification in certain areas. As remote work grows, the traditional drawcard of urban living quickly fades.
If we’re speaking of the US, I saw a stat that shows more than 11% of American households plan to move to smaller and cheaper locations, while 66% of professionals in technology, finance, and other fields would consider leaving San Francisco if they could permanently work from home.
7. In terms of sustainability, do you think remote work provides any long-term eco-benefits for the planet?
It can. I’d say this depends on how people will approach remote work life. Does remote work reduce pollution and traffic in large cities when large amounts of knowledge workers no longer have to all get to and back from work every day? Yes, absolutely. But if all those people start traveling all over the globe and getting on planes every other week, perhaps it doesn’t stack up positively.
Another important aspect here is that people who work remotely also often take the chance to work from a different city/region/country, where they tend to get a wider understanding of other parts of the world, including ecological matters, and hopefully get more actively involved in solving them.
So overall, I’d say remote work could have a positive impact overall, with a few “ifs”.
8. As countries start to look for digital nomads to invest in local communities by giving them nomad visas, would you say that’s a good strategy to help with decentralization?
Yes. I know many nomads who would be very happy to be more “legal” and be able to contribute more to the local communities hosting them. And I believe that the future of nation-states includes a fierce fight over talented, wealthy (or on their way to being so), sovereign individuals, who can take their brains and laptops anywhere. There are already 20+ countries offering remote work/nomad visas, and this is just the beginning. The states that get a head start on it (like Estonia did many years ago) will derive massive wins from this.
In terms of decentralization and gentrification, I think digital nomadism can work both ways: it can help decrease gentrification back home, but can potentially create short-term issues (alongside opportunities) for the local community when a certain destination becomes very popular. These can all be tackled, but it’s something to think about.
9. Can you be a digital nomad and have a positive impact on the environment?
There isn’t one blanket answer here but I believe you can if you are thoughtful. A few aspects here:
- The CO2 emissions of the flights most of us nomads take to get places to have a strongly negative impact on the environment.
- But if you are mindful of your choices and especially if you are what we call a slowmad, traveling or moving to a new place less frequently and making informed choices in terms of what you consume, etc, your impact can be positive.
10. We noticed that you’ve lived in Bali for some time now and you could possibly call it your second home. What would you say is the major reason that made you stay there? Is there a special connection you feel towards the island and the culture?
I am usually in Bali 6-8 months a year, so yes, Bali is my main residence. I spend the other months in Europe or traveling to other places. Bali is a wonderful place to live in and I feel very connected to the local culture, the people, and the island. It’s a place that has something for everyone: wonderful people, fascinating traditions, jungle/beaches/mountains/rice paddies, water sports, cultural events, parties, networking, and social events – whatever it is you’re looking for, it can be found here. It’s also a place that attracts some of the world’s most innovative people – for shorter or for longer.
There’s always someone interesting to meet or something to do. So much that one needs to practice a bit of JOMO (the joy of missing out).
11. If you had to move, would you settle somewhere else? Where and why?
I’m originally from Romania so I would probably move somewhere in Transylvania. Such a beautiful part of the world (don’t tell anyone, it’s nicer without mass tourism :P), it’s home and offers lots of opportunities of all kinds.