The Telecommunity: Interview with Job van der Voort on the Future of Remote Work

“There is so much talent available everywhere. If you can easily access that, or at least make it easy to hire those people, it saves you a lot of work.”
Job van der Voort, CEO and Co-founder of Remote

Job van der Voort is the CEO and co-founder of Remote, which helps companies of all sizes hire workers from anywhere. His journey into the remote workspace began when he served as the VP of Product for GitLab, one of the largest fully-remote companies in the world. Over his five years with GitLab, van der Voort helped it grow from just five employees to 450, with a workforce that stretched across 45 countries. Throughout, GitLab maintained a total of zero physical offices.

“Up until then, my life had been moving between countries and locations just to do the kind of work I wanted to do,” van der Voort says. “Remote work made my life significantly easier. It also allowed me to just move around and be in places where I wanted to be or needed to be, where previously it was quite a big burden or quite a large cost.”

Learning From Experience: The Benefits of Telecommuting

In a corporate sense, van der Voort found that the fully-remote nature of GitLab had several quantifiable benefits. The globally distributed workforce would, under the constraint of different time zones and asynchronous schedules, fully document its processes, which led to less miscommunication and further transparency.

Employees were also less likely to have their productivity measured in the hours that they were physically present on the job; instead, they were measured by the merit of their output. And the ability to hire talent from all across the globe naturally improved the quality of the employees working for the company.

But working for a fully-remote company also had personal benefits. It allowed van der Voort to more easily live with his wife, who is from Portugal (van der Voort is from the Netherlands). And in July of 2018, when his wife was hospitalized, he was able to be by his wife’s side and tend to his newborn daughter without impacting his position at work.

Combined with the benefits that remote work brought to the business side of the equation, van der Voort saw this as the future of employment: working wherever and whenever one wanted. To make that future possible for as many people as possible, he co-founded Remote in 2019.

A Spotlight on Remote: Making International Talent More Accessible to Companies

“We make it easier to hire people in other countries,” van der Voort says. “If, as a company, you hire ten people in ten different countries, the only way to actually offer this is to set up a business in each of those countries, which is an incredibly hard thing to do. What we do at Remote is we solve that for you. For every country in which we’re active, anyone can work for any employer anywhere on the planet.”

By the end of the year, Remote will have local entities across 30 countries that can take care of employee benefits, payroll, and taxes, thus reducing intermediaries and ensuring compliance. That’s a significant reach for a company that only served its first customer seven months ago. In November, Remote announced that it’d raised $35 million in Series A funding, with the aim of expanding to a total of 70 countries by the end of 2021. And, true to their mission, Remote is, itself, a fully-remote venture, with no physical offices for its staff.

“There is so much talent available everywhere,” van der Voort says. “If you can easily access that, or at least make it easy to hire those people, it saves you a lot of work.”

Companies hiring employees through Remote have found the process to be even easier than hiring workers in the traditional manner. And while the Covid-19 pandemic has forced practically every business to revise down its most ambitious targets for the year, it’s also had the benefit of exposing more of the global workforce to the practice of working remotely.

“I think in the future most people and most organizations will be working remotely at least part of the time,” van der Voort says. “I wouldn’t necessarily say full-time, but organizations will be forced to always work as if they are working remotely, to make it possible for anyone to not show up at the office on any given day. I think that’s where it’s headed.”

But old habits die hard, and sometimes with good reason. Physical offices, for all their constraints, still provide many unquantifiable benefits to their workers. Unplanned interactions between an office’s employees—in the hallways, outside the meeting room, standing in the elevator—can quickly coalesce into the sort of ideas and relationships that hold a business together and facilitate collaboration. In a remote setting, those natural and unplanned interactions can be lost.

“As a remote organization, you have to purposefully find ways to replace those interactions by organizing calls or activities outside of the context of work, and forcing people essentially to talk to each other about things other than the actual work that they’re doing,” van der Voort says. “If you don’t do this, your organization can still function, and I know of organizations that do function that way, but people will feel less connected with each other. And ultimately it’s the connection between people that keeps them together.”

This month, Remote launched Remote Talks, an ongoing video interview series that highlights the biggest names in remote work and global employment. It’s one of the many ways in which today’s remote workers, both at Remote and elsewhere, are building the future definition of work.

“I think there’s going to be a point where it’s not clear anymore what it means to work remotely,” van der Voort says. “You might work from a coworking space, or you might work from a location of your choosing. You might work together with some colleagues, or maybe not. It’s going to be blurred. I don’t think offices will cease to exist, but I also don’t think everyone will be working 9:00 to 5:00 from the same place anymore.”

Remote’s 2020 Global Workforce Revolution Report surveyed over 1,500 respondents in IT divisions of small- and medium-sized businesses in the US and the UK to learn more about the challenges and opportunities they experienced in transitioning to remote work. Two-thirds said they planned to increase remote work and flexible work options. Meanwhile, 81 percent of respondents said they would move if they could do so without affecting their work prospects. As more companies and employees make the switch, the definition of work itself will evolve.

“This has the potential to bring opportunities to everybody,” van der Voort says. “Previously, if you wanted to earn well, you had to move to a particular location where your prospective employer was. So if you worked in tech, you had to move to the Bay Area, because that’s where you got the jobs. But that’s changing quickly. I see people all over the world now working for the best companies and earning as much as anywhere else. That is ultimately what we hope to achieve with our business, and I think that’s one of the greatest wins of remote work.”

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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