Technically People
Technically People

Episode · 2 weeks ago

Xtreme Remote: Company Allows People to Work Anywhere Globally


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 the Blueground Nomad program.  

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 Dimitiris. “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 concept like Blueground’s Nomadism can be intimidating, like the need to set up a separate entity in each new location. But Dimitirs 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 Blueground for Digital Nomadism
  • 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 acommunity conversation by and for workplace futurist brought to you bythe tech recruitment platform built in the podcast features, insights fromleaders, thinkers and doers on the vanguard of building human centeredworkplaces of the future along the way you'll hear concepts thatwill stop you in your tracks, concepts that inspire you to ask yourself.What's the most future forward way to approach my people leadership, we allknow the future of work isn't waiting around. So, let's get on with the show, welcome to the show every one I am yourhost Tiffany Myers and I am happy to introduce our guest Dmitri Catuli isthe VP of people at blue ground. It's a real estate company and they offerflexible leases for fully furnished apartments across the globe. Now beforeOvid blue ground was already hybrid, it was already flexible and its teammembers were already globally distributed. So basically, it was thekind of place whose leaders did not need to see their employees in order totrust them. So when coved hit the transition to remote was easy,relatively speaking today, Dmitri's going to share how that inspired. Blueground to launch a really unique program that happens to align with oneof the company's values, which is the value of exploration, so welcome Dmitri thanks. So much fortaking the time to be here. Thank you for having me on time. I'm excitedabout this chat as so much as change in how people work and help people live inthe last eighteen months and we're making changes of blue ground andtrying new things that can help other companies as we use each other asguides through these times, and I'm just going to throw in here too thatyour receptivity to change stems. I'm certain a large part from the fact thatyou're a lifelong engineer, and as we continue this conversation, I thinklistels listeners will hear some of those engineering qualities and I'mthinking in terms of agility and disruption, which I think this. I thinkwhat you're doing is disruptive. So speaking of that disruption, let's talkabout your program so for Blue Ground Employees who qualify they can adoptwhat your company calls a digital, nomad lifestyle, so they can work fromanywhere around the world and they can do it for as long as they like. So canyou explain a little bit about how you came to that decision? How the PRONAMemerged, and also I you know- I've outlined that blue ground was alreadyflexible. So how does two thousand and twenty one differ from what you alreadyhad in place? As you mentioned, we we transition to remote. Quite sinlesslypractically happened overnight. We have four hundred a third employees acrossthree continents, and many of them were already in remote or in hybrid boneeven before covet. This gave us confidence to launch Lugra Normans,because we felt we were ready on comet here the problem quatities what we hadeen place and expands on the...

...flexibility we already offered prior toto the launch. We would have allowed someone to work from LE, let's sayBermuda, but it didn't come up often because people dreadin' really knowwhat kind of flexibility they had and they didn't know the terms about this.Now we have the guidelines in place. People know who can participate andwhat the terms are and what positions are eligible and they know how muchfreedom they have. So they also know by the way, how it affects theircompensation, so people feel more relaxed to go into the program andexplore yeah. You know- and I think the other thing that may have been the caseprior to launch- is that this kind of flexibility and choice just wasn't theexpectation among candidates and employees in the way that after a yearplus of working remote, it has become, and you know we can look to Bilton'sown research. This immense talent shortage means that companies need togive employees and candidates the kind of flexibility you're offering or theirown version of flexibility if they want to stay competitive, but but so far,there's hesitation and a little bit of misalignment. Fifty six percent ofcompanies are still hashing out their return to office plan. So again, thisis from a built on survey from two thousand and twenty one built in survey and among employees who have seen theircompanies plan. Twenty six percent are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied, so Ithink our listeners can really look to you and to blue ground as as aforerunner, but this is for you not just about thetech, talent shortage and the urgent need to fill tech rolls of the future.It's also about your culture. You built blue ground nomads on a foundation ofyour commitment to the idea of exploration, so elaborate a bit on thatyeah, so our co Alex has lapiche cofounded blue ground eight years agoafter he was traveling and exploring hand the world, as he was five years aconsultant and he went to twelve different cities. We have many peoplein the leadership team that have had similar experiences. So this is part ofour DNA is a company. We believe that humans are hard wired to explore, soalso many of our employees are avid travellers on explorers themselves.This is something we share in common, so they love travel and we found thementally believe that experience, different locations and cultures helpsignificantly to broaden one's perspective. Our beam feels the same.We we served the team few months ago and we founded seventy one percent ofthe team have already or will work from somewhere besides an office within twothousand and twenty one. So I actually asked my team two days ago how many ofthem have worked remotely in the last two months and sixty percent of themraise their hands. So this is something...

...very common, and by working remotelyyou mean working remotely from a place that they don't do not call homecorrect, neither from the office now from home. We have. I have people on myteam that have worked abroad in the last couple of months ago, O work froman island in Greece or elsewhere. So there is an explorer piece in this thatlet our employees to connect with our product and culture and both are basedon this concept of exploration. We even incentify this we even provide discountto our apartments globally, so our employees have a way to leverage ourproduct as well. We talk so much about how companies all offer the same kindof perks and benefits, so they never really are differentiated by theirperks, but I would say for sure, a discount on an apartment somewhereacross the world would be very differentiating for you. So in any case,this is kind 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. Youcome up against the law. There are just so many tax and legal implications towhat you're doing from the need to set up a new legal entity, for instance,for every new location. So how are you cutting through that red tape? Yeah?It's a very big thing. I mean it's in the beginning: it's my boggling ingeneral. What I can share is that short term relocations are more morestraightforward than long term relocation, so for everybody that wantsto do something like that. This takes off a big part of the complexity. Nowwhat we do is that we review each case together with our in house legal andtax advisers, to understand the individual circumstances. So we lookfor possible solutions that are feasible for its case. Given our sizeand international footprint, we can handle the volume that comes with thisand so far practically we didn't have any cases where the solution was notpossible. At the same time, I have to admit that, due to the situation withcoved international moves are not that many and one part that is interestingthere and you mentioned setting up an identity in different countries. Youdon't always need to do that. You can also engage with her party serviceproviders and they can take care of creating a payroll in a country whereyou don't have presents, so you can work around this. So we didn't needthis so far, but we are already engage with them and we may need to use thisin the future, especially for complicated cases. I would say the bigpicture is overall our aproaches to be honest with our people. They come to us,they share their thinking and we explain the solution, space and theconstraints, and then we come up with a solution that makes sense for them andus together, yeah. You know, I think, that's really important context. I ambetting that I know that the legal implications are probably the firstthing that left to mind for our listeners in the HRAPP LE's space. So Iappreciate that even for companies that...

...are going to take a less robustapproach at a very good context, but no matter the company being honest andcollaborative with your employees about what is and isn't possible is anotherreally huge takeaway. So yeah then, can also add that in the beginning,embarking on this journey can feel scary and people sometimes get stuck onthinking of the infinite inire that create legal and tax repercussions. Butyou have to slice the elephant and you have to look at each case separately,understand with the experts the implications and then find the rightsolution, so I would say, being brave and bold and pay off here: Yeah, yeah,brain and bald and disruptive. So aside from this legal component, tell me someother advice: Non Tax, related advice that you'd give to companies who wantto offer some sort of version of your program sure. So I would say the firstthing is you have to think through what's possible, for you? U And what'sright for you as a company, so this is not something that all companies arefit to do. I would also advise any leader to an once t to something likethis to promote agility. This is all about flexibility and agility, we'revery fast adopting here, a blue ground as a culture. We change the way we workand we think quickly and we're comfortable with the fact that in sixmonths we may meet a different model that takes into account what asituation in the context at that point in time, that's fine. We will adjustthem so yeah demetre, your engineering chaps, are showing the agility is goingto be a company competency that will be necessary this year, two thousand andtwenty one, two thousand and twenty two, and who knows you know into infinityshifting gears. You had earlier mention compensation and I just think so manypeople leaders, you know this is a top of mind issue. So many companies aregrappling with how to handle compensation as remote allows companiesto hire from anywhere. How are you tackling compensation so before goinginto this, we bent pack around to see what others are doing and we found ourtwo schools on this topic. On one hand, he had the companies that pay based onthe ship code and, on the other hand, you have companies at say that my costwill be the same wherever you go and we decide to do something slightly between.So our mindset is that the cost of the company should not increase too muchover all. So we put a cap on the level of chains that we can have and when wedo that, we also take into account other elements like the employercontribution for country, so other things that increase the cost foroffering employer, and we give that in favor of the employee. So our mindsetis, we need to have a cab because we be able to forecast what's going to happen,but at the same time we maximize the benefit for the employee. I actuallyknow that a lot of companies are...

...keeping some of that information prettyclose to the best. So I really appreciate your willingness to to shareabout that topic that I think, is keeping a lot of leaders up at night,so we have established. You have been in the hybrid game for a while so kindof pulling back. Can you dispel some of the myths that people may still haveabout working, remote or even hybrid sure? There are many things that weheard even internal in some cases, and we debated about that and then westarted looking into the fact so first thing that people say is thatproductivity and collaboration goes down. So in terms of productivity, weactually saw no drop in some cases, quite the contrary, with a productiveincrease, especially in functions that need to work in a very focused way likeengineering or even recruiting. So those cases we see frode go out now,collaboration could decrease in companies where most of the interactiontakes place in meeting rooms or on the water color. In our case, we use onsyces tools like slag for communication or G DOGS AND DST to exchange ten testidea. So in our case, actually that wasn't effective at all. Now manypeople also mentioned that you know it's important to build your internalnetwork and an Yow. This is a challenge I mean it truly is now we tackle thatfirst thing we do when someone joins our own boarding process, helps thosepeople connect across the company. So we have interactions with differentteams at different levels to make sure that they start building thoseconnections that are pretty important down the road and also we havetrainings that cut across geographies and across levels. So we kind of createthose this web of people, so they can build on that. Now. There's a twice 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 talk aboutcollaboration. We talk about productivity. Now productivity requiresmore ownership. When you are in the digital world, you don't have someoneclose to you. It also requires our leaders to have less control and workmore on inspiring the teams and Co creating targets with their teams. Sowe put weight on those skills and we try also to build a r ND platformaround that. So there's you know definitely a lot to unpack him. Whatyou just laid out, but I'd love to pull out that piece about helping peoplebuild networks across the organization. I've seen a ton of research that showsthat relationships with in teams stay strong in a remote world, but that cross functional connections andrelationships take a hit. So we get the Y right. That's just pretty obvious whyremote would create that disconnect cross functionally. But how are youtackling this yeah? A very important thing here is that we as a company wecollaborate in a very non hieratical way. So H, we encourage arting memberswhen they want to tackle an issue to...

...create teams with the right people andthat cuts across geographies, so countries and it also pats acrosshierachy across our or seniority levels, and this does not restrict people insilence, but gives them thether the freedom to get to no other people otherpeers across the organization, and this is something that we do every day. Wealso have a month of your hands and we use that as a platform to get to knowNew People. So what we do is that we have a different MC, that hostly theall hand and that doesn't so that the criterio selecting the MC is not basedon location or based on seniority it's based on who wants to do it and peoplearound the organization. So this also helps- and we also have, by the way healso different teams presenting in the old hands. So it gives exposure to manypeople and then makes them more familiar to the rest of theorganization. Yes, not even about creating just connections andrelationships that might be a side effect. What you're doing is givingvisibility for people. It's so important. If you want people to knowwho to go to for those non hierarchical collaborations that you mentioned, youknow that's going to be key. Who Do I go to definitely Tifuni in, and this issomething that didn't exist, pre covet, so our all hands was differentlydesigned for calling an. We had to adjust everything to give thisopportunity to people to get to know each other, because big part of theorganization joined during Covet, so we had to create a platform for thosepeople to get introduced and connect with the rest of the organization. Youknow when that's a perfect sage into into my next question, which is thistotally new possibility. That's cropping up on the horizon bet as wemove into this world that does offer people more choice, more flexibility.Some leaders could see in person employees as more committed as a result,those employees could be promoted faster and further and honestly, itbrings up all sorts of equity issues, and you know I want to share this termthat I recently learned about Brett Wells, who's, a people, analytic expertand also an upcoming guest on technically people. He coined a termfor this, which is offices. I think it's just perfectly captures thepotential phenomenon. Now Blue Ground has never valued facetime overperformance. Tell me how you think leaders can avoid the offices scenario.That's a great question and I can see why that can be a big issue, especiallyif you have like nine percent of the people in the office and ten percentworking remotely. Then it creates a different balance in dynamic, no matterhow you design, it is going to be tough for more people to enjoy the experienceas the people in the office right now with regards to offices, the idea ofobvious, I think, a big part of the...

...solution is going back to theleadership and the behaviors that they role model organizations follow thesame behavior that they see from the top. If people say that whoever isclosest to the CEO or whoever is closer to the functional head, they getpromoted and they get opportunities. They're going to want to be clear thatthe CO or the function of head as soon as the CO says, I just care aboutperformance and behavior. I just care about the quality of the work. Peoplewill feel safe to work, flexibly, yeah and I think honestly, safety, just asit's a key to equity in general, is also going to be a key to combating thepossibility of of offics. So you had mentioned something just casually thatI'd love to explore a bit with you, which is that we may be moving from aworld that valued extra version into a world of introversion. Tell me your thoughts on that. I thinkthat the whole concept of rob around offices and the way that the corporateworld was design it favored without realizing the extroverts, the peoplethat were getting more energy from interacting with other people, and nowwhat is happening we moved into the introverted world. So now it's allabout how focus you can be, how much energy you get from working by yourself,but at the same time connecting with others in a different kind of way. So Ithink the challenge for all of us right now is to find the right balancebetween the two worlds. It shouldn't favor one or the other, but at the sametime it should make it easy to be yourself, and I should make it a levelplaying field for everybody yeah, particularly if we do make sureeveryone has the equitable experiences, whether they're in office or or at home,and I think what you're pointing to is just that some of the technology isgoing to make that easier and more possible that level playing field. TheSusan Cane wrote this book called quiet, the power of introverts in a world thatcan't stop talking, which I read with great interest as an introvert, but Inever felt like her promises came to fruition that you know we could flipthe script on how culture and companies value or position introverts, but itseems like it may be that this weird new world we're in is finally makingcompanies understand how much value an introvert can bring even in roles thatyou wouldn't expect like in very public leadership roles. So in any case, Ithink that's something that we will be washing over. I guess the next, whoknows one year five year, the next decade. I'd love to at this point, moveon to our two minute take away. So this is where you get the opportunity toreiterate stuff that you find yourself constantly telling people O and thatyou want leaders who are listening today to to walk away with super. Iwould love to to leave you with four...

...for thoughts. The first one is: Everycompany needs to decide what's best for them when it comes to remote or hybridor digital nomadism, it's not a one size. Its all solution, however,offering flexibility and giving those options to people will become tablestakes for recruiting and retaining talent. We see that every day. Whateverguideline we have that's the second thing it will change over time. We needto be flexible about how we were flexible. It's not about coping eachother policies, it's not about taking a best practice that we see inimplementing it. Now, it's about being a Gile and adopting regularly. Thethird thing is having a flexible remote work policy still allows employees tobe creative and collaborative. It is on the leadership to introduce new ways ofcommunication and work with employees to create the office culture of thefuture. And, lastly, we believe that flexibility and options lead toincrease motivation and happiness. An increasing employee will being is oneof the best indicators of long term success for an organization, so weshould lean in and look into that yeah. Some really helpful, take aways there.I also feel like, as a word person, I hear you say something like we need tobe flexible about how we are flexible and I instantly think you know whatthat is a motto for the future of work. So maybe we've created a new MEME hereI should say: you've created a new name here, but it's completely spot on. Theonly constant here is going to be changed so tell us. If our listenerswant to check in with you, how should they go about reaching you? Yeah linkthing is fine, but email is even better. So please, reach out to me be emailwith any questions. My email is Dmitri. Thought Saltos are the blue ground ofCOM. I have a feeling to me true that people are going to take advantage ofthat email. I think you've brought to light some fresh ideas for leaders tobring to their own return to work plans, whether they go as big and bold as youare, or they adapt to modify their own conditions. So listeners, I will remindyou to subscribe. All you need to do is visit technically people dot com whereyou'll find this episode and every other episode to subscribe and you'llnever miss one. So thank you to our guests and thank you to our listenerswill talk to you soon. Are you an employer of choice and do you want themost talented candidates to know it built in is accepting submissions forits annual best places to Work Awards the Program Honors Tech, company andPeco, above and beyond, for employees offering exception of perks, benefitsand company cultures, get noticed, get on the winners list. Now it's the firstplace in Toland professionals go to research employers when they're readyto make a move in this market. You can't afford to miss top Tollin, sodon't miss the deadline November. Twelfth Two Thousand and twenty onevisit employers stop built in Com best...

...places to work. You've been listening to technicallypeople, a community conversation about the future of work. If you want to hearmore cutting edge ideas about creating human center work, place subscribe onyour favorite podcast player and you'll never miss an episode and if you'reover the moon about what you've heard we'd be honored. If you took the timeto give us a five star review so signing off until we meet again in thefuture, to.

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