Technically People
Technically People

Episode · 2 months ago

Xtreme Remote: Company Allows People to Work Anywhere Globally

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In today’s episode of Technically People, Dimitris Psaltoulis, VP of People at Blueground, dives into the company’s work-from-anywhere initiative known as Blueground Nomads. 

When most of us think “remote,” it’s likely to conjure up images of kitchen tables turned workstations. But Blueground, a real estate company that offers customers flexible leases on fully furnished apartments across the world, gives remote new meaning. 

Employees can work from anywhere around the globe, for as long or as little as they like. The company even incentives it: Employees get discounted Blueground apartments across the world. 

 

The program is not only a way to deliver the flexibility employees demand. It aligns with the company’s employer brand, one of whose values is “exploration.”

“As a company, we believe that humans are hardwired to explore,” says Dimitris. “Many of our employees are avid travelers and explorers themselves. This is something we share in common with our customers. We fundamentally believe that the experience of different locations and cultures help significantly to broaden one's perspective.”  

Dimitris concedes the tax and legal ramifications of a program like Blueground Nomads can be intimidating, like the need to set up a separate entity in each new location. But Dimitris says it’s not as onerous as it seems. He offers a few solutions you may not have considered. 

Episode Highlights:

  • Remote fosters productivity, not the reverse
  • How being globally distributed before Covid prepared the company to launch Blueground Nomads
  • Handling compensation for work-from-anywhere employees
  • Ways to cut through legal and tax red tape 
  • The importance of exploration for employee engagement and innovation 

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Welcome to technically people, a communityconversation by and for workplace futurists brought to you by the tech recruitment platform builtin. The podcast features insights from leaders, thinkers and doers on the vanguard buildinghuman centered workplaces of the future. Along the way, you'll hear conceptsthat will stop you in your tracks, concepts that inspire you to ask yourself, what's the most futureforward way to approach my people leadership? We all knowthe future of work isn't waiting around, so let's get on with the show. Welcome to the show everyone. I am your host, Tiffany Myers,and I am happy to introduce our guest. Dmitri Sartulis, is the VP ofpeople at Blue Ground. It's a real estate company and they offer flexibleleases for fully furnished apartments across the globe. Now, before Covid, blue groundwas already hybrid, it was already flexible and it's team members were alreadyglobally distributed. So basically it was the kind of place whose leaders did notneed to see their employees in order to trust them. So when covid hit, the transition to remote was easy, relatively speaking. Today, Dmitri's goingto share how that inspired blue ground to launch a really unique program that happensto Aligne with one of the company's values, which is the value of exploration.So welcome, Dmitri. Thanks so much for taking the time to behere. Thank you for having me on me. I'm excited about this chatas so much has change in how people work and how people live in thelast eight in months and we're making changes of blueground and trying new things thatcan help other companies as we use each other as guides through these times.And I'm just going to throw in here too, that your receptivity to changestems, I'm certain, a large part from the fact that you're a lifelongengineer, and as we continue this conversation, I think listeners, listeners, willhear some of those engineering qualities, and I'm thinking in terms of agilityand disruption, which I think this I think what you're doing is disruptive.So, speaking of that disruption, let's talk about your program. So forblueground employees who qualify, they can adopt what your company calls a digital nomadlifestyle, so they can work from anywhere around the world and they can doit for as long as they've like. So can you explain a little bitabout how you came to that decision, how the program emerged and also,I you know, I've outlined the blueground was already flexible. So how doestwo thousand and twenty one differ from what you already had in place? Asyou mentioned, we we transitions remote quite seamlessly. Practically happened overnight. Wehave four hundred thirty employees across three continents and many of them were already remoteor in hybrid more even before called it. This gave us confidence to launch blueground nomads because we felt we were ready when covid hit. The programqualifies what we had in place and expands...

...on the flexibility we already offered.Prior to to the launch, we would have allowed someone to work from thelet's say, Bermuda, but they didn't come up often because people did reallydidn't really know what kind of flexibility they had and they didn't know the termsabout this. Now we have the guidelines in place. People know who canparticipate and what the terms are and what positions are eligible and they know howmuch freedom they have. So they also know, by the way, howit affects their compensation. So people feel more relaxed to go into the programand explore yeah, you know, and I think the other thing that mayhave been the case prior to launch is that this kind of flexibility and choicejust wasn't the expectation among candidates and employees in the way that, after ayear plus of working remote, it has become. And you know, wecan look to Builtin's own research. This immense talent shortage means that companies needto give employees in candidates the kind of flexibility you're offering or their own versionof flexibility if they want to stay competitive. But so far there's hesitation and alittle bit of misalignment. Fifty six percent of companies are still hashing outtheir return to office plan. So again, this is from a built in survey, from a two thousand and twenty one built in survey, and amongemployees who have seen their companies plan, twenty six percent are dissatisfied or verydissatisfied. So I think our listeners can really look to you and to Bluegroundas as a forerunner. But this is for you, not just about thetach talent shortage and and the urgent need to fill tach roles in the future. It's also about your culture. You built blue ground nomads on a foundationof your commitment to the idea of exploration. So elaborate a bit on that.Yeah, so our CEO, Alexandzilaf, the he co found in blueground eightyyears ago after he was traveling and exploring around the world as he wasfive years a consultant, and he went to twelve different cities. We havemany people in the leadership team that they have had similar experiences. So thisis part of our DNA as a company. We believe that humans are hard wireto explore. So also many of our employees are avid travelers, unexplorersthemselves. This is something we share in common. So they love travel andwe found a meddly believe that experienced different locations and cultures help significantly to broadand one's perspective. Our beam feels the same. We we serve the teamfew months ago and we found that seventy one percent of the team have alreadyor will work from somewhere besides the office within two thousand and twenty one.So I actually asked my team two days ago how many of them have workedremotely in the last two months, and...

...sixty percent of them raise their hands. So this is something very common. And by working remotely, you meanworking remotely from a place that they do do not call home? Correct,neither from the office nor from home. We have, I have people onmy team that have worked abroad in the last couple of months, that Iworked from an island in Greece or elsewhere. So there is an explorer piece inthese that let's our employees to connect with our product and culture, andboth are based on this concept of exploration. We even incentiviy this. We evenprovide discounts to our apartments globally, so our employees have a way toleverage our product as well. We talk so much about how companies all offerthe same kind of perks and benefits, so they never really are differentiated bytheir perks, but I would say for sure discount on an apartment somewhere acrossthe world would be very differentiating for you. So in any case, this iskind of where the rubber meets the road, because all of this soundslike utopia as far as I'm concerned, but then, cold splash of water, you come up against the law. There are just so many tax andlegal implications to what you're doing, from the need to set up a newlegal entity, for instance, for every new locations. How are you cuttingthrough that right tape? Yeah, it's a very big thing and it's inthe beginning. It's mind boggling. In general, what I can share isthat short term relocations are more more straightforward than long term relocation. So foreverybody that wants to do something like that, this takes off big part of thecomplexity. Now what we do is that we review each case together withour inhouse legal and tax advisors to understand the individual circumstances. So we lookfor possible solutions that are feasible for each case. Given our size and internationalfootprint, we can handle the volume that comes with this and so far,pranctically, we didn't have any cases where the solution was not possible. Atthe same time, I have to admit that, due to the situation withcovid international moves are not that many and one part that is interesting there,and you mentioned setting up an identity in different countries. You don't always needto do that. You can also engage with their party service providers and theycan take care of creating a payroll in a country where you don't have presents, so you can work around this. So we didn't need this so far, but we are already engaging with them and we may need to use thisin the future, especially for complicated cases. I would say the big picture is, overall our approach is to be honest with our people. They cometo us, they share their thinking and we explain the solution space and theconst trains and then we come up with a solution that makes sense for them. On us together. Yeah, you know, I think that's really important. Contacts. I am betting. I know that the legal implications are probablythe first thing that left to mind for our listeners in the HR and people'sspace. So I appreciate that, even for four companies that are going totake a less robust approach at a very...

...good context, but no matter thatcompany, being honest and collaborative with your employees about what is and isn't possibleis another really huge takeaway. So yeah, and then can also add that inthe beginning embarking on this journey can feel scary and people sometimes get stuckin thinking of the infinite scenarios that create legal and tax repercussions, but youhave to slice the elephant and you have to look at each case separately andunderstand what the experts the implications and then find the right solution. So Iwould say being brave and bold can pay off here. Yeah, yeah,brave and bold and disruptive. So, aside from this legal component, tellme some other advice, non tax related, advice that you'd give to companies whowant to offer some sort of version of your program sure. So Iwould say the first thing is you have to think through what's possible for youand what's drive for you as a company. So this is not something that allcompanies are fit to do. I would also advise any leader to towthat wants to do something like this to promote agility. This is all aboutflexibility and agility. We're very fast adopting here at blue ground. As aculture, we change the way we work and we think quickly and we're comfortablewith the fact that in six months we may need a different model that takesinto account what's the situation in the context at that point in time. That'sfine, we will adjust to that. So yeah, dmitrier engineering chaps orshowing the agility is going to be a company competency that will be necessary thisyear, two thousand and twenty one, two thousand and twenty two, andwho knows, you know, into infinity shifting gears. You had earlier mentionedcompensation and I just think so many people, leaders, you know, this isa top of mind issue. So many companies are grappling with how tohandle compensation. As remote allows companies to hire from anywhere. How are youtackling compensation? So before going into this, we bench back around to see whatothers are doing and we found that are two schools on this topic.On one hand you have the companies that pay based on the SIP code andon the other hand you have companies that say that my cost will be thesame wherever you go, and we decide to do something slidling between. Soour mindset is that the cost the company should not increase too much overall.So we put a cap on the level of change that we can have.When we do that, we also take into account other elements like the employercontribution per country, so other things that increase the cost for a for employerand we give that in favor of the employee. So our mindset is weneed to have a cap because we be able to forecast what's going to happenbut at the same time we maximize the benefit for the employee. I actuallyknow that a lot of companies are keeping some of that information pretty close tothe vast so I really appreciate your willingness...

...to to share about that topic that, I think, is keeping a lot of leaders up at night. Sowe have established you have been in a hybrid game for a while. Sokind of pulling back, can you dispel some of the myths that people maystill have about working remote or even hybrid? Sure, there are many things thatwe heard, even internally in some cases, and we debated about thatand then we started looking into the fact. So first thing that people say isthat productivity and collaboration goes down. So in terms of productivity, weactually saw no drop. In some cases, quite the contrary, we saw productivethey increase, especially in functions that need to work in a very focusedway, like engineering or even recruiting. So in those cases we see forthe could go up. Now collaboration could decrease in companies where most of theinteraction takes place in meeting rooms or around the water cool there. In ourcase we use and sickerms tools like slack for communication or G Dogs and Gseats to exchange the test ideas. In our case, actually that wasn't affectedat all. Now many people also mentioned that you know, it's important tobuild your internal network. And Yeah, this is a challenge. I meanit truly is. Now we tackled that. First thing we do when someone joinsour own boarding process helps those people connect across the company. So wehave interactions with different teams at different levels to make sure that they start buildingthose connections that are pretty important down the road, and also we have trainingsthat cut across geographies and across levels. So we kind of create those thisweb of people so they can build on that. Now there's a twist tothis, because the skills you need in a physical office are not exactly thesame as the skills you need in the digital world. So we talked aboutcollaboration. We talking about productivity. Now productivity requires more ownership when you arein the digital world you don't have someone close to you. It also requiresour leaders to have less control and work more on inspiring the teams and Cocreating targets with their teams. So we put weight on those skills and wetry also to build our led platform around that. So there's, you know, definitely a lot to unpack him what you just laid out at I'd loveto that. That piece about helping people build networks across the organization. I'veseen a ton of research that shows the relationships within teams stay strong in aremote world but that cross functional connections and relationships take a hit. So weget the why right. That's it's pretty obvious why remote would create that disconnectcross functionally. But how are you tackling this? Yeah, a very importantthing here is that we as a company, we collaborate in a very non hierarchicalway. So we encouraged them,...

...our team members, when they wantto tackle an issue, to create teams with the right people, and thatcuts across geographies, so countries, and also cuts across hierarchy, across ourseniority levels. In this does not restrict people in silos, but it givesthem the freedom to get to know other people, other peers, across theorganization, and this is something that we do every day. We also havea monthly old hands and we use that as a platform to get to knowNew People. So what we do is that we have a different mce thathosts the the old hands and that doesn't so that the criteria for selecting theMC is not based on location or based on seniority. It's based on whowants to do it and people around the organization. So this also helps,and we also, by the way, also different teams presenting in the oldhands. So it gives exposure to many people and they makes them more familiarto the rest of the organization. Yeah, it's not even about creating just connectionsand relationships. That might be a side effect. What you're doing isgiving visibility for people. It's so important if you want people to know whoto go to for those non hierarchical collaborations that you mentioned. You know that'sgoing to be key. Who Do I go to? Definitely defunny and,and this is something that they didn't exist precalled it. So are all handswas differently designed. Free calling, and we had to adjust everything to givethis opportunity to people to get to know each other, because big part ofthe organization joined during covide. So we had to create a platform for thosepeople to get introduced and connect with the rest of the organization. You knowwhat the superfect segue into into my next question, which is this totally newpossibility that's crapping up on the horizon that as we move into this world thatdoes offer people more choice, more flexibilities, some leaders could see in person employeesas more committed. As a result, those employees could be promoted faster andfurther and honestly, it brings up all sorts of equity issues. Andyou know, I want to share this term that I recently learned about BrettWells, who's a people analytics expert and also an upcoming guest on Techno nicklypeople. He coined a term for this, which is officism. I think it'sjust perfectly captures the potential phenomenon. Now, blue ground has never valuedfacetime over performance. Tell me how you think leaders can avoid the officism scenario? That's a great question and I can see why that can be a bigissue, especially if you have like nine percent of the people in the officeand ten percent working remotely. Then it creates a different balance and dynamic.Now, mother, how you design it's going to be done for more peopleto enjoy the experience as the people in the office right now. With regardsto officism, the idea of office is...

I think a big part of thesolution is going back to the leadership and the behaviors that they roll. Modelorganizations follow the same behavior that they see from the top. If people seethat whoever is closest to the CEO or whoever is closer to the functional head, they get promoted and they get opportunities, they're going to want to be clearedthe the CEO or the function of yet now, as soon as theCEO says, I just care about performance and behavior. I just care aboutthe quality of the work. People will feel safe to work flexibly. Yeah, and I think honestly safety, just as it's a key to equity ingeneral, is also going to be a key to combating the possibility of officism. So you had mentioned something just casually that I'd love to explore a bitwith you, which is that we may be moving from a world that valuedextra version into a world of introversion. Tell me your thoughts on that.I think that the whole concept of all around offices and the way that theCorporate World War was designed, its favored without realizing the extroverts, the peoplethat were getting more energy from interacting with other people. And now what ishappening? We moved into the introverted world. So now it's all about how focusedyou can be. How much energy do you get from working by yourselfbut at the same time connecting with others in a different kind of way?So I think the challenge for all of us right now is to find theright balance between the two worlds. It shouldn't favor one or the other,but at the same time it should make it easy to be yourself and itshould make it a level of plane field for everybody. Yeah, particularly ifwe do make sure everyone has the equitable experiences, whether they're in office oror at home. And I think what you're pointing to is just that someof the technology is going to make that easier and more possible, that levelplaying field. The Susan Kane wrote this book called quiet, the power ofintroverts in a world that can't stop talking, which I read with great interest asan introvert, but I never felt like her promises came to fruition.That, you know, we had flipped the script on how culture and companiesvalue or position introverts. But it seems like it may be that this weirdnew world were in is finally making companies understand how much value and introvert canbring, even in roles that you wouldn't expect, like in very public leadershiproles. So, in any case, I think that's something that we willbe watching over there, I guess the next who knows, one year,five year, the next decade? I'd love to at this point move onto our two minute takeaway. So this is where you get the opportunity toreiterate stuff that you find yourself constantly telling people and that you want leaders whoare listening today to walk away with Super I would love to leave you withfor thoughts. The first one is every...

...company needs to decide what's best forthem when it comes to remote or hybrid or digital normalism. It's not theone size fits all solution. However. Offering flexibility and giving those options topeople will becomes table sticks for recruiting and retaining talent. We see that everyday, whatever guideline you have. That's the second thing. It will changeover time. We need to be flexible about how we were flexible. It'snot about coping each other policies. It's not about taking a best practice thatwe see in implementing now. It's about being agile and adapting regularly. Thethird thing is having a flexible remote work policy still allows employees to be created. On collaborative it is on the leadership to introduce new ways of communication andwork with employees to create the office culture of the future. And lastly,we believe that flexibility and options lead to increase motivation and happiness and increasing employeewill. Being is one of the best indicators of long term success for anorganization. So we should leaning and look into them. Yeah, some reallyhelpful takeaways there. I also feel like, as a word person, I hearyou say something like we need to be flexible, about how we areflexible and I instantly think, you know what, that is a motto forthe future of work. So maybe we've created a new meme here. Ishould say you've created a new meme here, but it's completely spot on. Theonly constant here is going to be changed. So tell us. Ifour listeners want to check in with you, how should I go about reaching you? Yeah, linkedin is fine, but email is even better. Soplease reach out to me the email with any questions. My email is Dmitri. Thought salt tool is at the blue groundcom I have a feeling, Dmitri, the people are going to take advantage of that email. I think you'vebrought two lights and fresh ideas for leaders to bring to their own return towork plans, whether they go as big and bold as you are or theyadapt to modify their own conditions. So, listeners, I will remind you tosubscribe. All you need to do is visit technically people dotcomm where you'llfind this episode in every other episode, and to subscribe and you'll never missone. So thank you to our guests and thank you to our listeners.Will Talk to you soon. Are you an employer of choice and do youwant the most talented candidates to know it? Built in is accepting submissions for itsannual best places to work awards. The program honors tech companies that goabove and beyond for employees, offering exceptional perks, benefits and company cultures.Get noticed get on the winners list now. It's the first place in Deland professionalsgo to research employers when they're ready to make a move, and thismarket you can't afford to miss top talent, so don't miss the deadline. Novembertwelve. Two Thousand and twenty one visit employers stop built incomlas best placesto work. You've been listening to technically...

...people, a community conversation about thefuture of work. If you want to hear more cutting edge ideas about creatinghumans inter work places, subscribe on your favorite podcast player and you'll never missan episode. And if you're over the moon about what you've heard, we'dbe honored if you took the time to give us a five star review.So signing up until we meet again in the future.

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