29 Aug 2022 by Andrew Spicer
If, like me, you've recently travelled internationally for the first time since the borders reopened, you’ll no doubt have greeted the experience with a mix of trepidation and excitement.
The world is clearly back in business, the airports crowded with holidaymakers and businesspeople eager for new experiences and face-to-face contact with family, friends and colleagues.
But some parts of the globe have been quicker to drop Covid restrictions than others. I wore a face mask for the Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Los Angeles. But boarding the Virgin Atlantic flight from Los Angeles to London, I was surprised to see no one wearing masks. The air hostess informed me that there was no requirement to.
I hope we can glean useful insights from how each country dealt with the crisis of Covid-19 so we can standardise our responses where appropriate when the next pandemic arrives.
A multinational workforce
With the borders open again, many migrants who work in our tech sector are returning to their homeland for the first time in over two years. New Zealand’s tech industry already employs 114,000 people, according to Immigration New Zealand, with a need for 4 - 5,000 new digital technology professionals each year to meet the demands of our growing digital economy.
As a nation, we currently rely heavily on skilled migrants to fill that pipeline. In 2019, 3,683 immigrants were granted visas for IT occupations, accounting for over 80% of new digital technology jobs created.
Realtech has a truly international workforce, hailing from the UK, India, Germany, South Africa, Malaysia, parts of South America and elsewhere (even including some Kiwis). We have workers currently based in their home countries that are in the process of securing visas to come and work with us here in Aotearoa.
That diversity is a real strength of Realtech, bringing extensive experience, fresh ideas, perspectives and cultures to our workplace. Given the multinational makeup of our staff, we’ve also developed an approach to taking leave that gives Realtech employees a large degree of flexibility when it comes to visiting home.
Instead of AL - annual leave, at Realtech we talk about ‘alternative location’. Travelling to Mumbai, Cape Town or Berlin from New Zealand involves multiple flights. Given the distances involved, it doesn’t make sense to head away for less than three weeks. But three weeks is the majority of an employee’s annual leave balance.
So, while we don’t expect anyone to want to take a hybrid type holiday, what we do at Realtech is agree with a staff member who wants to return home for an extended period, to take some leave, but also agree on some work days from their alternative location. I did this recently myself when I returned to the UK to visit my elderly parents for the first time in over four years.
I was away for three weeks in total, and worked for six days during that period, tidying up some end-of-month financial affairs, taking some video meetings with clients in New Zealand and Australia and dealing with some legal queries on a contract.
It meant I was able to get some important business done and avoid dealing with a stack of urgent queries on my return home. I also got to spend quality time with my parents. For days on end, I didn’t even touch my computer and enjoyed the warm weather enveloping the country.
It’s about trust
A colleague did something similar, returning to Germany for seven weeks in total, but working for around three weeks during that time. It’s really important that our staff have time to completely down tools and unwind. Our staff love the flexibility it allows them to reconnect with their families while remote working for a portion of the time away.
We don’t audit our staff to see exactly how many days of work they put in while on the other side of the world. We trust them to manage and account for their time effectively.
With the fast-tracking of visas for skilled migrants now underway, new arrivals are turning up once again to bolster the ranks of our tech workforce. We need to give them a warm welcome and support them to settle into their new home.
Let’s be flexible
But we also need to give them more flexibility to reconnect with their family and their homeland on a regular basis, which is important for everyone’s wellbeing. If the pandemic taught us anything, it's that life is fragile. We need to spend as much time as possible with the people we love.
For our colleagues who have come from afar to work alongside us, we need to give them the ability to do that by offering flexible working arrangements that overcome the tyranny of distance.
I’m always eager to connect and discuss experiences with peers, customers and partners. Connect with me on LinkedIn to start the conversation.