Let's Talk: Work from Anywhere
With Michelle Davies, VP of Operations at Wefarm
27th Sep 2021
What is the one benefit you’d like to highlight at Wefarm?
We are a remote-first company, so we’d love to highlight our ‘Work from Anywhere’ benefit.
What is it exactly?
Pre-2020 we used to have a London office and a Nairobi office, and we made the decision at the end of last year that we would not be going back to any offices. That fundamentally meant that people could work from anywhere and we would support them with relocation, whether that meant short or long term. The reality of that being primarily relocation to outside of a main city as opposed to a new country, but for a couple of people it’s meant moving or at least spending large amounts of time outside of, what we call, their “payroll country” (where they spend more than six months of the year).
When was it introduced?
December 2020 is when we officially made the move. We were effectively doing it before, with lockdowns and everything, but December is when we officially said we wouldn’t be returning to an office.
Why did Wefarm want to introduce this benefit?
Like every business we have evolved over the last 18 months, but it was really obvious to us that people were looking for that freedom and flexibility, and with a global team, it didn’t make sense for us to force everyone back to offices and create a two-tiered system in a hybrid model.
We’d otherwise have people who are closer to the office and go in most days, and then another group of people who are remote and who maybe feel a little out of the loop of things happening. All those conversations at the coffee machine add up.
It was important to us that we have all of our people on a level playing field and have access to the same opportunities. I mean, why wouldn’t you want that for your employees?
First and foremost though, it’s about letting people live their lives. For me, my family is in Canada and I haven't been for 2 years but I’m going to go and work from there for a few weeks, next month. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I felt like I needed to be in the London office every day. We want our people to put their personal lives at the same level as their work lives.
What was the cost implication?
Theoretically, nominal. We’re still figuring out some of the tax implications and things like, what happens if someone gets stuck overseas because of the ever-changing Covid rules. But we’re working with the team, evolving as we go and asking people to make the right choices.
The biggest cost for us was putting in an Employer of Record for anybody who is no longer based in the UK or Kenya, so that they could be employees elsewhere and there’s a monthly fee for that but it’s still better than leaving them as contractors, and the insecurity that comes with that for the individuals.
What was the reaction from your employees?
It was interesting because we talked a lot about it beforehand; we had a lot of consultations and asked our employees whether they want to go back to working in the office and how often, etc.. It was pretty obvious that being in the office wasn’t the preferred default, so it was a pretty easy conversation.
So, it wasn’t really a huge reveal because it seemed obvious and it felt like the right thing to do. What has happened more recently, as things have been opening up again, is people have been able to go and spend more time with family or travelling and working on a beach for a month, and that’s much more powerful. Now that they’re able to really apply the ‘work from anywhere’, I think the reaction has been a lot more noticeable, especially over the summer in the UK where restrictions are being lifted.
It’s an ever-evolving situation!
What positive repercussions have you seen since it was introduced?
It took a while for people to get used to it, because initially we couldn’t utilise the ‘work from anywhere’ aspect and it just meant working from home, at least in the beginning because the UK was still in lockdown in January, and Kenya has since gone back into one.
So initially the only effect was the security of knowing the future. But it didn’t instantly affect the day to day for people still working from home, but what we did see was the benefit of having additional time for our personal lives and spending time with family. Then, once restrictions began to lift, that meant people could live their lives, get out into the world and make time for themselves and the things they might not have been able to do had they been made to go back to the office.
We use Desana to supply coworking spaces in different cities, so for those who wish to spend a day with the team or just around other people instead of at home, they can. We have employees in Northern England and Scotland who will occasionally come down to London for a day or two. We’ve got people based in London who will go and work in Greece for a few weeks, and we love that. We love seeing our employees living their lives and blending their work life in a way that works for them.
It also means that people who have families can pick up their kids and do what they need to do. We have team members who have disabilities, some of which are invisible, and I know that it gives them the opportunity to manage their own lives and not being in an office all day long means they don’t need to ‘perform’ or mask their symptoms. Even though it’s not obvious to everyone, that’s also really important to us, that we’re providing a level of flexibility that means we’re able to be more inclusive as well.
Why does this benefit matter to your company and Wefarm employees?
Ultimately, it’s about us being inclusive and understanding. Work is a part of our lives but it’s not all of it. You don’t need to be in an office to do your software development job, I don’t even need to be in an office to do my People Ops & Legal/Finance job.
My background People and I’ve only met a handful of the team face to face, but I’m still good at my job and I still have relationships with my colleagues. I don’t need to be in a certain place or paying really expensive London rent for the privilege of doing that.
It’s also an inclusion and diversity thing for us. It is, by definition, exclusionary to force people to be within the M25 and commute every day, and that’s not what we’re about.
How has this benefit helped towards attracting new talent?
We’ve definitely had a lot of candidates who are really excited about the opportunity, both because of our mission and the flexibility. A lot of candidates seem to be in roles where they’re being made to go back to the office and they’re not thrilled about that.
Also, most people would agree that our lives have changed, our priorities have completely changed. People have realised how important things like their family and friends are in the last year. They want to move back home or to wherever makes them happy, but they want to be able to take their job with them. Very few companies offer that flexibility. We genuinely don’t care where our people work, whether it’s New Zealand, the UK, Kenya, or a remote island off of Denmark - all places we have team members right now! As long as you’re good at your job.
What advice would you give to another employer looking to offer this benefit?
Work with your team. The biggest thing for us was being honest and saying, “we don’t have all the answers”. The tax stuff is really complicated, it depends on the individual’s passport, their residency, etc.. It’s impossible to have all the answers, so you can’t do this with a blanket rule, you’ve got to be willing to work with individual employees to figure out solutions and make it work together.
Realising that one size doesn’t fit all.
As I mentioned previously, there’s a lot of effort that goes into it. We have coworking office solutions, we have work from anywhere solutions, we have a remote agency so that people can employ people globally. Different peoples' lives need different things, so it’s all about finding a solution that works for the majority but then working with everyone else on a case by case basis.
We’re still figuring it out as we go!