Hybrid Wins and the Dream of the Digital Nomad

It has been 4+ years since COVID-19 befell our lives.  For almost all of us this was the biggest infringement on our freedoms and way of life ever.  Many lost their jobs, and some lost their businesses – it was truly an awful time.

For some of us lucky folks, we kept our jobs by working from home trying to isolate from others while we continued to work with them.  The rise of Zoom and Teams as tools to let us ‘see’ each other ‘in-person’ was phenomenal. 

As vaccine mandates, masks, and extreme social distancing recede, some employers want to go back to the old days of having everyone come into the office five days a week.  At the same time, some workers don’t want to go back at all, instead preferring just to continue five days a week at home.  I have been amazed to watch this showdown between CEOs and the minions beneath them.  Is anyone talking?  Is anyone being honest about their motivations?


After careful study, we were unable to determine if our productivity went up or down at ASI – except for me – I got lost sitting alone at home until I realized that there were others sitting at home alone that would be happy to chat for half an hour to break up the other eight to ten staring at a screen.

What should really matter for those of us that can work remote is the question of where are we most productive?  Some of us at ASI much prefer the in-office experience five days a week to separate work and home.  Others prefer five days at the home office as it allows flexibility managing ‘real life’ and getting work done in-between. 

That said, most of us, including me, have adopted the hybrid solution.  A full day of work and meetings including discussions with co-workers…into the office we go.  A day broken up with a doctor’s appointment or a car repair and quiet work on the priority list…work from home.  No week is the same and the day or two at home is never the same day.  All of this works for us, and my sense is that everyone has actually used the WFH/in-office split to increase productivity – I know it is true for me as I am much more focused on what I need to do when I am in the office and when I am home, and I don’t waste time at either desk.

But as I observe the battle between the command center generals and the proletariat, I can’t help but feel for both sides.  I know that the bosses are seeing a decline in productivity for some workers and the fact that online shopping is going strong during work hours tells you something.  That shouldn’t surprise us – if someone has a job that they don’t love, working for a company about which they are not passionate – then of course not having a watchful eye over the shoulder breeds a lack of focus.  But we also know that some workers are equally or more productive at home – and their quality of life is through the roof with the elimination of the commute (don’t even start me on what is happening on the Gardiner Expressway right now).

Final Answer

The answer here isn’t to mandate five days in-office or demand five-days at home.  The answer is a discussion around productivity, teamwork, mentoring, and culture.  On behalf of the shareholders, I asked Jason if we should abandon our offices and move to a fully remote workplace as our leases expired.  He instantly rejected the proposal as harmful to our culture and our productivity.  I like to save money as much as the next guy – but I immediately accepted his vision for the future of ASI, which I expect will last beyond my working years. 

The point to this story is that there is more to a business than productively getting today’s work done.  There are intangible culture and mentoring outcomes that are created when we get together in-person.  So, my conclusion is that for most organizations, wanting people to show up in-person from time-to-time is a reasonable ask.  But the point is also that people don’t need to be in all five days to build a culture or develop the next generation – driving into work to sit alone at your desk in front of a screen is likely a wasted commute.

So – how to bridge the divide?  Leaders need to better define the outcomes that they wish to see and trust workers to deliver.  This may mean moving a little more towards a ‘results’ mindset and away from an ‘hours of effort’ mindset.  Workers need to join the conversation making sure the boss understands how you can be productive at home and how much you value not commuting every day.  Employers need to help employees understand the value of being in the office at least some days.

Winners & Winners

Once employers get their minds around new ways to manage and new ways to measure productivity – I can’t see any losers in this new world:

  • The environment wins if we commute less;
  • Our pocketbooks win if we commute less;
  • We save commute time and stress which for many is the biggest negative of the work day;
  • Employers can search a wider geography for workers if they can be fully remote; and
  • Employees can live in a lower cost cities and towns if they are fully remote;

The Digital Nomad

This last point – fully remote from anywhere – fascinates me.  Currently employment and tax rules make it hard for employers to let workers officially work anywhere in the world.  You need a home base from which to be paid and from which payroll taxes are deducted.

What has me convinced this “work-from-anywhere” will be a way of life for an increasing number of people in future generations?  Well, my oldest son has the travel bug (something I never had).  He left home in February with an uncertain but likely September return date.  In April of last year, he was in Europe, this year is South America.  He ‘volunteers’ while travelling to reduce costs and in some countries $1,000 USD goes a long way.  Eventually he will land back here in Canada to make some money to fund the next round.  But what if he could make money AND travel simply by having a laptop in hand?

For a long time now, workers have taken work with them on vacation and just chugged along online as if nothing about their ‘workplace’ had changed.  So how far does this extend?  I can’t say – but countries around the world are welcoming these ‘work while we travel’ warriors and in my mind home countries are going to have to get their minds around the necessary employment and tax rules to facilitate this lifestyle.

I know many young people get a steady diet of negative news about their prospects.  To me, looking back at a world without cell phones and the internet – I think their future is incredibly exciting.  The established workers today are trying to push for change in the work-from-home deal.  I expect the newcomers will demand an even more flexible deal.

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