Vermont Governor Phil Scott on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will grant individuals working remotely for an out-of-state organization up to $10,000 to move there, as part of a suite of initiatives to improve the environment for digital work in the Green Mountain State and attract more residents.
The grant program, slated to begin next year, will be open to any full-time employee of a business domiciled outside Vermont who primarily works remotely from home or a coworking space, and will offer such workers up to $5,000 per year up to a total of $10,000 over the life of the program. These funds can be used to cover a range of expenses associated with moving to Vermont and setting up a remote work presence there, including relocation costs, computer software and hardware, broadband Internet access, and membership in a coworking space. The bill provides enough funding to cover as many as hundreds of these grants over the coming years, depending on the size of each grant, which would represent a significant number of new residents for a state with just under 624,000 people.
The law also instructs several state agencies to identify infrastructure improvements to better enable workers and businesses to establish a remote presence in Vermont, and to encourage the growth of coworking spaces, remote work hubs, maker spaces, and similar innovative work spaces. The state will also examine the potential for developing public-private digital work sites that will be available to both state employees and remote workers in the private sector. Finally, the law instructs agencies to submit recommendations for ensuring that broadband access is available in the downtown areas of Vermont’s municipalities to support these types of remote work venues.
One reason why India has one of the lowest women’s workforce participation rates in the world is that Indian women at all levels of income and education are expected at some point to get married, have children, and turn their focus toward the home. Juggling a full-time family life and a full-time job often proves impossible, and women see their careers stagnate or even end after becoming mothers (i.e., the “motherhood penalty” they pay is even higher than it is for women in the US or Europe).
For Indian women professionals, one way to close this participation gap is to give them more opportunities to work flexibly, on their own schedules and outside a traditional office setting, so that mothers can handle their family responsibilities and remain active in the workforce. Women entrepreneurs in India have been developing services specifically geared toward these women, such as the online community and job search platform Sheroes.
Two entrepreneurs in Chennai, profiled by Sushma U N at Quartz on Wednesday, have taken the concept of a women’s professional networking space one step further. Earlier this year, Vandhana Ramanathan and Jinal Patel launched Wsquare, a women-only coworking space for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and remote workers:
Female entrepreneurs can do with this support. Today, just around 14% of all Indian businesses are run by women, and many female professionals still battle workplace-related issues that deter them from pursuing their careers. It’s this segment that Wsquare is targeting. In the last eight months, over 150 women have registered to use the co-working facility, around 80% of whom are entrepreneurs. The rest are students, researchers, freelance professionals, or remote employees of large companies.
The advent of the coworking space has been a boon to freelancers, startups, and nonprofit organizations, but last summer, the flexible workplace vendor WeWork revealed that its long-term strategy involved selling the coworking experience to major legacy corporations as well. On Wednesday, WeWork’s chief product officer David Fano and head of product research Joshua Emig announced that their company was working on a suite of “space as a service” offerings to help big companies revamp and better manage their existing office spaces, Fast Company’s Ruth Reader reports:
The new offerings would include everything from building out interiors to managing guests, booking conference rooms, coordinating events, analyzing office data on space usage, and providing a human community manager to instill WeWork philosophies. …
[Fano] says WeWork is only willing to architect and construct offices because it has design principles that play into how it manages office spaces. Additionally, he’s not looking to make money on overhauling other people’s workplaces. Rather, he and Emig see it as a way to give customers the cost savings that WeWork enjoys, because of its vendor relationships. The build-out also serves to entice businesses into its cultural management subscription as well as other possible uses for WeWork. As an example, Fano described how it whittled one Chicago business from three floors of office space down to two floors, while retaining the same number of employees. WeWork made up some of the square footage loss by giving the company desks inside of its own co-working network.
At Quartz, Alison Griswold points out that WeWork’s $17 billion valuation is “largely tied to WeWork’s ability to brand itself as more than just another property management firm”:
As the coworking market grows, we’ve seen vendors experiment with some quirky innovations, combining flexible workspaces with gyms or restaurants. But as they look to expand beyond their traditional client base of freelancers and startups and pitch their services to large organizations as well, coworking vendors may face greater demand for the kinds of structure and benefits employees tend to expect from a traditional office—such as the protections that come with a dedicated HR function.
On the other hand, some coworking programs in the New York City area are now offering something most US employers don’t: namely, child care. Last month, Ronda Kaysen at the New York Times Real Estate blog took a look at how these programs were trying to combine flexible workspaces with child care arrangements for independent working parents:
At the Workaround, members pay $150 a month for about 15 hours a week of desk time at Rough Draft, a Williamsburg co-working space. (The program rents four desks a month from the co-working company and divides the hours among its members.) Members also participate in a babysitting swap, earning babysitting credits for the hours spent watching one another’s children. …
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In the traditional workplace, particularly in the US, employees have long depended on their employers to provide certain safety nets such as employer-sponsored health insurance, unemployment insurance, and retirement savings plans. As freelancers, independent contractors, and other forms of contingent labor make up more and more of the workforce, this transformation is raising some important questions about where working adults will turn for these protections in the future.
We’ve discussed this issue previously in terms of benefits like health care and retirement, but there’s another, more basic form of security for which employees rely on their employers, which speaks to the fundamental role of HR as a protector of employees. Over at Quartz, Jillian Richardson explains how she tried and failed to get the owner of a co-working space she was using to take action when she was sexually harassed at work:
Later, I went on the space’s website and discovered the company—which operates in Soho and costs $250 per month to use—had no official sexual harassment policy, or anything resembling an HR department for that matter. Co-working spaces routinely claim to be at the forefront of the modern workplace—and I’ve previously written about some of their many positive qualities. But while replacing traditional offices may offer greater flexibility and opportunities to collaborate outside your specific field, they also offer few of the same protections associated with the traditional model. …
As the market for coworking space continues to grow, the flexible workspace provider WeWork has been courting large corporations to sell them a workplace solution more commonly associated with startups and freelancers. At the same time, however, a group of former WeWork executives are working on a project to disrupt that market by upending their former employer’s business model, Sarah Kessler reports at Fast Company:
WeWork’s basic business model is simple: The company rents large chunks of office space, breaks up that space into tiny offices and communal work spaces, sprinkles in good design and community features, and then subleases it to tenants at a huge mark-up. Landlords could make more money if they skipped the lease with WeWork and directly subleased to tenants, but typically, they don’t want to deal with all of the hassle involved in running a coworking space. “At the end of the day, it’s enormously human-labor intensive and operationally intensive,” says Bryan Woo, the director of acquisitions at real estate developer Young Woo. “[It’s like saying to a landlord], ‘Why don’t you operate the hotel?’”
The former WeWork employees’ new company, which does not yet have a name, removes some of this hassle by offering what Mark Kennedy, a partner on the project who has a background in private equity and real estate, has called “coworking in a box.” …
A new survey from FlexJobs finds that “only 7 percent of workers say the office, during traditional work hours, is their location of choice for optimum productivity on work-related projects”:
More than half (51 percent) of people reported that their home is their preferred place to work. 8 percent said they would choose a coffee shop, coworking space, library, or other place besides the office and another 8 percent would choose the office but only outside regular hours. 26 percent go to the office during regular hours to complete important work only because it’s not an option to go elsewhere.
According to FlexJobs’ survey, 65 percent of workers think they would be more productive telecommuting than working in a traditional workplace. The top reasons people are, or would be, more productive working at home versus the office include fewer interruptions from colleagues (76 percent), fewer distractions (75 percent), and less frequent meetings (69 percent). It’s estimated that up to six hours a day are lost on work interruptions, wasting 28 billion hours a year. Other reasons people prefer their home office include a reduction in office politics (68 percent), reduced stress from commuting (67 percent), and a more comfortable office environment (51 percent).
As a job search site for telecommuting opportunities, FlexJobs of course has an interest in promoting work from home, so these findings should be taken with as much salt as any other vendor survey. Nonetheless, they jibe with what we know about how employees increasingly value flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance. Our own latest preferences research (which CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can read here) finds that employees value increased emphasis on work-life benefits nearly as much as a pay raise. Flexible work-styles are often associated with increased happiness, engagement, and productivity. One recent study found that call center employees in China who worked from home four days a week performed better and were less likely to quit.