Written by Steve Rio | Published by the Vancouver Sun

March 05, 2018

Steve Rio: Designing a New Approach to Work

We are entering an exciting era as the so-called “future of work” unfolds in real time. While artificial intelligence and automation capture the majority of headlines, a quiet revolution is taking place in homes, coworking spaces and coffee shops across the planet. Young people are starting careers independently, working with multiple companies, often while travelling or working on their own startups. A growing group of Gen-Xers are trading in their corporate jobs for the flexibility of remote contract work, often to spend more time with children or simply to leave big city centres for smaller communities where the cost of living is reasonable.

Technology is enabling this transformation, but broader conditions are driving it. There is more volatility in the world than perhaps ever before, and diminishing trust in our institutions. Gone are the corporate pension plans and with them, the blind loyalty of workers. As the world amalgamates into a global economy, systems within it are simultaneously fragmenting and needing to be rebuilt from scratch.

So while as CEO of Briteweb, I’m looking at both automation and AI, the thing I’m focused on most is my people and the way we think about work.

There are great opportunities in this emerging era of work. For workers, there is a new level of mobility and opportunity enabled by technology and platforms to access work globally. There is the flexibility to better integrate work and lifestyle. For companies, there is the ability to avoid the talent scarcity in expensive city centres, and the opportunity to source specialized skill sets for particular challenges on-demand. Organizations can scale in a way that is nimble and responsive to increased rates of disruption.

There are also significant challenges for both workers and companies. Workers must continuously upgrade their skills and knowledge and get comfortable with constant change and transitions. Older generations or marginalized individuals without access to technology, face a growing opportunity gap that must be addressed. Companies must rethink their value proposition to a workforce that is now empowered to come and go as they please. While it’s now possible to source talent globally, team cohesion can be illusive. Culture, purpose and clarity of mission, all critical to worker well-being and productivity, are more challenging with a remote and distributed workforce. Just ask IBM, a remote work pioneer, now struggling to find direction, and calling back 40 per cent of their workforce that has been remote for over 30 years.

No doubt there is great risk and reward, but more so, there is a once in a century opportunity. This is a time when we can reinvent our approach to work entirely, creating more long-term value for our workforce, organizations and the communities they serve.

Briteweb has been innovating tirelessly in this space for multiple years, testing and iterating a model that is now remote and distributed, blending 100 full time and freelance team members in 25 cities around the world. Our goal is to be the most flexible and inclusive company in the world to work for, where people can work where they want, when they want and contribute varying amounts of time depending on their lifestyles.

We see our model as a community as much as a workplace, where like-minded people can find purpose, social connection and ongoing learning and advancement while contributing value to our clients and our bottom line. So far, it’s working; we have a far higher retention rate than the industry average, even when you include the 80 per cent of our workforce that is freelance. (I should mention, I am well known for my views opposing the idea of retention in the first place.)

There are no perfect solutions in times when things are changing as fast as they are today. The most important thing is that we remain nimble and creative and see this moment for the opportunity it truly is: a chance to make work better for everyone involved.

Steve Rio is the CEO and Founder of Briteweb, a social impact consultancy focused on non-profits, foundations and social enterprises.

This op-ed series is a supporting part of SFU Public Square’s 2018 Community Summit: Brave New Work, running February 26 — March 7. 

This article was originally published on the Vancouver Sun on March 5, 2018.