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The Globalization of Teams, with Matthew Wilson

Matthew Wilson, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Omnipresent, a company designed to make global online hiring seamless and slightly less daunting, recently met with Jonathan Westover on the HCI podcast, where they discussed the globalization of teams and the advantages and disadvantages of hiring globally and virtual work performed by distributed teams. The bottom line—global hiring is fast-growing and has significant implications for work design and the future of organizations and teams.

According to Wilson, one of the primary drivers impacting the growing change from office to online work is the pandemic, because of the “... forced behavioral change for lots and lots of people and lots and lots of businesses, lots of companies realized this works really well, everybody's still being as productive, if not more productive, than they were being when we were making them come in and commute every day.”


The main advantage to hiring globally online is the large talent pool you can choose from. Wilson argues, “You can hire the best person in the world for the job at hand, rather than the best person who happens to be available, who's in a 45 minutes commute radius”. Matthew mentions “... how important talent [is], how important teams [are], and how much of a competitive advantage you could get from building an amazing team.” Hiring online simply adds to giving you the upper-hand with the competition.


He also talked about how this switch to online or hybrid work has “promising sign[s] that [it] will be a net positive both for businesses but also for employees as well” with the “... workers even more [confident] to take plunge, to move to leave overcrowded, over expensive cities where they have a lower standard of living and being able to go out and work a fantastic job”, as well as employers having access to a larger range of talent with online and hybrid work.


Additionally, Wilson talked about how important it is to adapt to “... this rapidly changing world of work and the global and social landscape, [and that] we're going to have to learn how to adjust and adapt to this or we're going to lose out on the best talent”. Although “... there's still headroom for productivity growth with better technologies and tools as well,” there already are tools that are “able to lift the level of productivity of collaboration even higher than it is today, which, as we've seen, has matched what you can get in an office.”


You can listen to the full episode at innovativehumancapital.com/podcast, or anywhere you listen to your podcasts, just search “HCI Podcast”.


Read the full interview transcript below:


Welcome to the Human Capital innovations Podcast. Thank you. Great to great talk. Great to be on here. It is a pleasure to be with you. You're joining us from the UK I'm south of Salt Lake City in Utah, and today we're going to be talking about a recent report out by your company titled The Globalization of Teams. I'm all about teams and organizational dynamics and helping organizations thrive through effective teams. So I'm super excited to explore this topic with you today. As we get started, I wanted to share Matthew's Bio with everybody. Matthew Wilson is an experienced entrepreneur and technologist. Prior to founding Omnipresence, he founded and ran an enterprise software business in the pharmaceutical industry and spent time as a software engineer and product manager. He holds a master's degree in theoretical and mathematical physics from the University of Oxford. He was named Forbes 30 under 30 in 2019. Oh, my goodness. Theoretical and mathematical physics is something I can't even wrap my head around, though. My wife is a mathematician, so I'll have to tell her that I interviewed you today. Wonderful. Great to have you. Anything else you would like to share with me or my audience by wave your background or personal context before we dive in? No, that's a pretty good overview. Thanks, John. Wonderful. All right, well, why don't we start by just talking a little bit about and framing up this report, The Globalization of Teams. Can you explain for me and my audience a little bit more about the context behind this report, how it came into being, and then we can start to dive into some of the key points and the implications. Sure. So probably a good place to start would be to talk a little bit about Ollie Present, the company that I co founded and I'm co CEO of, which commissioned the report. So prior to starting Omnipresent, I was running another business. And that business, I learned two important things. One was how important talent was, how important teams were, and how much of a competitive advantage you could get from building an amazing team. And the second was how work and business was moving online. You'd be selling an office and instead of going having a conversation with somebody across the room from you, you would send them a slack or send them an email. You're able to do business with people in different cities and all around the world for your desk, from behind your webcam. And those were two insights that led me to Don and found Omnipresent with my Cofounder three years ago. And at Omnipresent, we help other businesses expand internationally, build the best teams on Earth, hire the best people anywhere in the world. And over the last few years of running Omnipresent, helping companies build global teams as well as building our own global team of over 450 people around more than 50 countries around the world. We saw lots and lots of people talking about remote work versus hybrid work, whether you could be whether you're more productive working remotely or working hybrid or working in an office. But actually, what we saw less of were people talking about the benefits that came from companies hiring the best people anywhere in the world, being able to open up the talent pool globally. And likewise, the benefits for individuals to be able to get access to opportunities all over the world, to be able to get a job at a company from anywhere in the world, rather than just those companies that are local to where you are. And actually, as we went about building this business and helping companies day stay, we started to think there's going to be some pretty significant impacts on society more broadly as this change comes to be. Because the impact to businesses, to individuals and society is more than just, we can hire these people that we couldn't hire before, or we're going to work in a more remote environment. Actually, we'll have some pretty major implications on how we live, where we live, the type of work we do, and ultimately how productive, innovative we can be as a global society. Yeah, the geographical barriers break down once you can work remotely and virtually, right? Let me step back for a second and say that we've had virtual teams for a really long time. I mean, there have been people who telecommuted for a long time, and you've had whole organizations that have been completely virtual organizations for decades and have utilized these technologies to allow them to do that. But it hasn't been broadly utilized, it hasn't been white scale. So the difference we've seen over the last few years is because of the pandemic, people had to jump on and split the switch and do that even if they weren't comfortable with it. And so more and more of the labor market now is comfortable with the idea of virtual work, or at least hybrid work, and even crave the flexibility that comes with it. And so once you move into the space where you can have a virtual team, it really does break down the geographical barriers. No longer do you have to be within commuting distance of the headquarters or wherever the office might be, but you can be anywhere, literally anywhere in the world, as long as you have a good internet connection. As long as you can accommodate the time zones and the work schedules that need to be dealt with, you can work with anybody. And there are challenges to that. I've had lots of conversations with CEOs around their apprehension around virtual teams and their concerns about not having people together to collaborate in a physical office space and there's certainly some challenges on how to do that effectively. But the pros are huge. When you think about now being able to leverage a global labor market, talented people from anywhere across the globe, the flexibility that employees crave that now they can have, they can get their sprinter van and travel around the world and work wherever they happen to be parked that day. That's an extreme example, of course, but in everything in between, right? It just provides so much opportunity and flexibility for organizations. If they can figure out how to have these globalized teams that are as effective and collaborative and innovative as maybe their face to face versions had been previously. Yeah, I think what we saw was over the last 30, 40, 50 years, you've got kind of two things coming in that lay the groundwork for this. Right. So the digitization of knowledge work has been happening for a long time, gradually, gradually, gradually. And then the rise of things like LinkedIn, social media, online job platforms, allowing people to connect and access opportunity online, those two things have been happening gradually, gradually, gradually over the last 20, 30, 40 years. But really, I think when the pandemic hit, there was this forced behavioral change for lots and lots of people and lots and lots of businesses, lots of companies realized this works really well, everybody's still being as productive, if not more productive, than they were being when we were making them come in and commute every day. And lots of employees, as you say, have had that taste realized they can work productively and don't want to go back. I think a lot of the conversation that we see is around are people more productive in an office or are people more productive working remotely or people more productive working in a hybrid model? But I think what businesses who are really taking advantage of this shift have realized is it's not just about the relative productivity gains, it's about fundamentally changing the talent pool that you can build your team from. And when you can hire the best person in the world for the job at hand, rather than the best person who happens to be available, who's in a 45 minutes commute, who you're competing with hundreds and hundreds of other businesses for. That is just a complete paradigm shift for businesses and can drive such an advantage. We've seen that ourselves with our own team. We've been remote since day one, but we've also been globally distributed since day one. So we're hiring people from all over the world. Our team is spread over more than 50 countries. I think we just went past 55 countries a few weeks ago. And the talent that we've been able to attract into our business because of that policy has been completely incomparable to what we'd have been able to attract. And if we would have had an office in London that everybody was working in every day I think the challenge, and this is why we found it only present is we think across 50 plus countries, even two or three countries, the administrative complexity that that can bring can be really high. The HR teams that are maybe experts in operating teams based in the US. Sorting out health care, sorting out the employment law, understanding how to run and manage payroll, understanding the tax implications, suddenly when you start to go international, that becomes just exponentially more complex the more countries that you operate across. And that's exactly why we set up Omnipresent. And what we do at Omnipresent is help deal with the complexity that that brings, really unlocking this ability to hire the best person anywhere in the world without just piling on a ton of complexity onto your business. Yeah. And there's no question. I mean, employment and labor law is complicated when you're just operating in one place, and then you just amplify that. Now you have people in a distributed team working all over the place, clearly that becomes complicated. And to have organizations and services that can help you to deal with that, I think it's going to be really important and help people who are still resistant to this idea of virtual work or distributed teams to lean more into that opportunity. I definitely know of many of those organizations that as soon as things open back up after COVID, they're like, all right, everyone back to the office. We don't want to deal with this anymore. And they just felt like it was a burden. And like, if we can ease the burden side of the equation, there are so many benefits that can come from it that I think we can leverage those benefits. But we do have to address the challenges and the complexities. Go ahead. I think one thing I find interesting is speaking to HR teams to execs that are the businesses that have adopted remote working, or at least maybe in one part of their business, they've adopted remote working, or they've done that more broadly, but still hire everybody within an hour's radius of an office or within one country. And I think those businesses are the ones that are missing out the most. They've already got the working practices in place to be able to do to take advantage of this kind of superpower, of being able to hire the best person in the world and then missing out on that. And really, they can get such a benefit without really changing too much from a working patterns perspective. Yeah. And you mentioned this really just like globalization, generally speaking, in the broadest sense of the term has transformed society in the interconnectedness of the globe. As we have more distributed teams and we talk about the globalization of teams, that is going to have societal implications, it's going to shift things. And of course, one of the most obvious elements of that is it will impact how, where and how people work. Right. And so for the longest time, as we've gone through the different waves of the Industrial revolution, people have swarmed to metropolitan areas, into big cities, and this has a potential to disrupt that kind of a trend. What do you see happening in terms of how people, how population centers exist and how that shifts over time as we move into the future and what that means for businesses? Yeah, I think it's got the potential to be really, really profound. As you say, we've seen huge changes in society and where people base themselves due to the Industrial revolution, due to globalization over the last 40, 50 years. And we believe that the next shift is going to come from the globalization of teams and of knowledge work. And you can already start to see this happening. So the first thing that we're seeing happening is as people are working more hybrid roles or more remote roles in big cities, there's less of a premium on being close to the city center. So you're seeing this flight from being close into the city center with a short commute to having more space, better standard of living, cheaper real estate outside of the city center. So you've seen this kind of hollowing out of cities as people have moved out of the city center into commuter towns or into the suburbs. The second phase is once people realize they can do this, starting to move outside of cities altogether. And there was a study that suggested that 5 million Americans had relocated because of remote work since 2020, and a further 19 million were planning to do so. But 40% of those 19 million would move more than 2 hours from their main workplace. I mean, that is a huge, huge number of people, a significant portion of the American population. And as the remote work job market deepens, this gives knowledge workers even more confidence to take plunge, to move to leave overcrowded, overexpensive cities where they have a lower standard of living and being able to go out and work a fantastic job, but also live life in the way they want to as well. The third phase of that, we think, is then the globalization of this. So it's not just people moving within a country, it's employers realizing that if jobs can be done remotely, they can recruit for that job anywhere in the world, they can hire the best person in the world for that job. And that will have some pretty profound impacts as well, both the benefit that that will bring to businesses being able to have the world's top talent in their teams. To be able to do that, to be able to build a diverse team with people from all around the world and all the benefits that we know and have time and time again being proven from having diversity of thought in teams, but also for workers themselves. They will be on one hand, have access to the whole world of opportunity. On the other hand, we'll be competing in a global talent market and that brings tremendous opportunity, but also some potential for challenge as well. I think what we have seen so far within the tech ecosystem, which has been the ecosystem that has pre adopted remote work the fastest and the deepest of any sector, is that wages haven't dropped as you might expect them to do as companies get access to a broader pool of talent. But actually for the top roles, wages have stayed the same, but it's just been that there's a larger talent pool that are able to go and compete for those wages. So that's a promising sign that this will be a net positive both for the businesses but also for employees as well. Yeah, and that's how I see it too. I really do think that overall this is going to be a net positive for organizations. Despite the handwriting that continues to happen amongst some leaders and organizations. It's just out of their comfort zone. So they really want people to come back. They don't know how to lead if people aren't there and they can't walk around and see people with butts and seats. I get that and I understand there's a learning curve there and I understand it's going to be hard, especially for people who came up in their career in a completely different environment. They've risen in their career and they've been leaders in a completely different environment. I understand that discomfort, but just like everything else that's changing in this rapidly changing world of work and the global and social landscape, we're going to have to learn how to adjust and adapt to this or we're going to lose out on the best talent. Yeah, and I think we did a study in August and surveyed 500 US. Business leaders and despite the kind of loud minority shouting about a return to the office, actually 94% of US. Businesses that we surveyed were planning to adopt a remote or hybrid model in the next twelve months. That's about one and a half million businesses across the US. And that is just a change that it's out of the bag and that's definitely the direction that things are going in. And when you look at employee surveys as well, they're equally strong. And actually I'm really excited for the next few years in terms of the technologies that are going to be built to support that type of working as well. Because actually we think about the stack that we use today. I mean, we're talking today over zoom zoom was a technology that existed prior to the mass adoption of remote working. Well, I think the next generation of tools that are going to come in are going to be really, really exciting and be able to lift the level of productivity of collaboration even higher than it is today, which, as we've seen, has matched what you can get in an office. So I think there's still headroom for productivity growth with better technologies and tools as well, not to mention all the benefits that we spoke about around the ability to build those global teams. Yeah, absolutely. And of course, because there's going to be new technologies emerging or being refined and enhanced. This is an evolutionary process. Like, we're at the early stages of widespread adoption of virtual work and distributed teams. We've had 100 years of working in an office figuring out how best to work in that environment. And we've had, as you say, it's been going on for a while. But really, with any kind of mass adoption, it's been two years, and that's not very long to develop new tools and technologies, new frameworks for working, new organizational models. And I think with the volume of people and businesses working like this, the pace of change I think we'll see over the next few years is going to be pretty exciting. Yeah, I agree. Wonderful. Well, Matthew, we've just scratched the service here. I know there's a whole lot more we could dig into, but I also note the time, and I need to let you go here in just a minute. So before we wrap things up for today, I wanted to give you a chance to share with the audience how they can connect with you, find out more about your work and your team, where they can find this report, and then give us a final word on the topic for today. Sure. So you can find us@omnipresent.com. And just a reminder for what we do here at Omnipresent is we help companies that want to take advantage of hiring the best people in the world do that. We take care of all of the complex administration when it comes to hiring abroad. How do you employ people? How do you pay people? How do you manage employee benefits when you've got people in different countries with different expectations and different norms and really make it simple for businesses to build the best teams on Earth? As I said, we're omnipresent.com the report that we've talked about. Actually, it's a pretty lengthy report. I think it's super interesting. It was written by an economist and journalist called Lawrence H. Knight, who used to work for the BBC. It's a fascinating report. You can find that@omnipresent.com as well, as well as learn more about what we do and the other content we put out as well. Wonderful. Thank you, Matthew. It's truly been a pleasure. I encourage my audience to reach out and get connected. And as always, I hope everyone can stay healthy and safe. They can find meaning and purpose at work each and every day, and I hope you all have a great week.

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