Faces of HR

Remote Work Leads to a Global Workforce and Many Improvements

What happens when you are suddenly free to hire the talent that fits your needs from anywhere in the world? Not only do you build better teams, but certain factors lead to the leveling of the playing field and many improvements for employers and employees alike.

In this issue of “Faces of HR,” I speak with someone who knows a little something about the impact that the move to remote has had on the global workforce. Meet Miranda Zolot, General Counsel of Oyster, a global employment enablement platform.

You went through all the trouble to get a law degree, took the bar exam, and then ultimately decided on employment law. Was that your first pick?

It was, actually. When I was in law school, the employment laws were changing, so it was interesting. That’s when the Hooters’ cases and things started happening Sexual harassment was being defined, including the surrounding rules, how we could prosecute it, and how you can defend against it. Law is something that many people think about as static, but at that point, it was changing pretty significantly. It was very exciting.

It also ended up allowing me to have a lens into a bunch of other disciplines, because as an employment lawyer—for example—you go into a business and you say, okay, well, if you make widgets, how do you make widgets? Can you make widgets better? When you make widgets, does it create a safety hazard? It’s sort of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood-esque, in that you get a lens into all of these other industries. That’s interesting and engaging if you are going to have a law career.

Your company focuses on legal immigration services, is that correct?

Not exactly. What we do is we help hire remote employees around the world. We’re helping to hire talent where they are. The company was started pre-COVID, but it’s really come to full blossom right now because traditional companies that weren’t necessarily looking to hire remotely now have been forced into it.

We thought we’d only be working with tech companies or one office, but it turns out everyone now is considering remote work as a real vehicle for finding talent. That’s what we do. We hire the talent where they are, wherever it is in the world, and connect them to the employers.

Is that something that you were interested in before you took this job?

I have always been interested in travel and going places and have aspired to work remotely. For a little while, I had to stop being a lawyer because I couldn’t find a regular job. I was in Turkey with my spouse. I was the trailing spouse and wasn’t able to do my work. Certainly, mobility has always been an interest of mine.

I think it’s just great to empower the business, like at my prior employer. Now the focus is on helping people do what they love, helping companies be the best that can. That’s really exciting. We can help people where they are, find great jobs; it is satisfying and I’m hoping we will ultimately be able to move that needle a bit and make it easier to hire people around the world because it’s not easy. It’s really hard.

People have been talking about hiring remotely and hiring long distance for a long time, and now they must if they want to survive. It’s an interesting space to be in; even the way we hire has changed, now it’s all done over video chat.

It’s been interesting because I feel like we’ve been able to connect remotely in a way that was a lot harder when I was trying to commute to a real facility. I don’t know if it’s that Zoom calls are so much more personal because 6 months ago you and I would be on the telephone.

I love Zoom because it makes us be more authentic. It makes us be who we are. You are in my house, I’m in your house. We understand that family is a real living, breathing part of your life, my life, our workers, wives, etc.

I think it makes us more sympathetic to what people have going on in their lives, which makes you a better employer. I think it makes you a better coworker, for sure. I sort of loved that about the remote work. It makes us all more patient and grace-giving, I guess, to the folks that we’re working with.

Was there ever anything during your 20-year career that you thought would be bigger and it turned out not to be?

That’s a really interesting question. I would say that probably would be the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). It’s the American version of GDPR. What I would say is that it is a very painful law to comply with if you are a company that wasn’t prepared for it, but it is something that in retrospect it makes perfect sense. It is one of those things that we all should have been doing, and I think a lot of people were already doing it.

I would say probably more than that, it is remote working as a construct. I think people panicked when they realized they had to send their workforces home. I think there was an issue in a lot of environments where they didn’t have the hardware to send people home. There was a run on laptops and webcams and things like that.

I also would say many of the concerns haven’t been an issue. I think it’s the interruption to businesses, at least professional businesses, which has been minor. The transition to being able to communicate with people has been, like I said, I think it’s almost better. This has been a huge disruption for service industries and industries that are more in-person for professional services. I think it’s technically shockingly easy.

How about that, huh? All these companies out there saying, “Oh, we can’t go remote. It’ll never work.” Now they have had to, and it worked fine.

Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because it’s really about trust, right?

Yeah.

Whether you trust your colleagues to be where they say they will be, do what they say they’re doing; it’s that trust that you would hope was always there. I think in reality there were folks that just didn’t believe that you could be accountable when you were in your own home. That is disheartening, but it’s a really good transition that has come out of this and that you had to “trust,” you didn’t really have any other option.

I think it’s worked out well. I think people are happier because they’re better able to balance their home life with their work. I know many people act like that work/life balance thing is balance, but it isn’t, really. It’s more like overload, but you actually can have a little of balance when you take your 5-minute coffee break. 

For me personally, I can clean the dishes, or I can handle one of my kid’s concerns about school when we were still doing school. It makes everything move a little bit better. Not to mention, not commuting. I had a 45-minute commute and I love not being in the car for that time period.

Many of us just got a large slice of our lives back without commuting. Even a moderate commute like my old one, half an hour each way adds up to 5 hours every week of life I never get back. 

I want to talk about goofing off. Here’s how I look at it. Everyone goofs off at work sometimes because it isn’t human nature to work for 8 hours straight. You got to have breaks. The best companies understand that in a healthy way. The worst companies think of it as you stealing time.

Every employee will goof off at some point. Breaks are required for you to refocus on your work, and when you are forced to stare at a screen pretending to work, it’s not very good. At home, you can have high-quality breaks that lead you to high-quality work.

You’re almost incentivized at home to get work done quicker. I think it’s more efficient because you see the finish line; you see where you want to be. I found that I want to get my stuff done and kind of get through it quicker. 

And like I said, it’s easier to take a break. If I want to take a break and do yoga, I know that; or take a break and run around the block. It’s a much better break to your point. Then, standing next to the coffeepot or the water, just wasting time.

I think this is something that’s been very difficult for some leaders to understand when it comes to human issues, it’s a lot easier for them to understand when it comes to financial issues. 

But that’s where the great HR partner comes in, right? Because they can quantify the cost of unwanted attrition and turnover. Or unhappy employees; they cost so much because they’re calling in sick or they’re using illness benefits instead of wellness benefits and all of those sorts of things. It is harder to quantify. I think that unfortunately, prior to COVID, people thought of it as a softer sort of cost, but it’s not. I mean, it’s an actual cost and when people are happy, they produce better results.

I think that one of the silver linings of this whole situation is that you’re forced to confront that maybe there are other ways, maybe there are better ways. Maybe wellness is as important as illness avoidance or managing illness because that’s also something that has changed.

Now, all of a sudden people understand mental health is a real concern, providing benefits to make sure that people are mentally OK in addition to being physically OK. I think that that’s another one of those issues and this is kind of pushed to the forefront and normalized. In extreme situations, some of these things get kind of accelerated and I think that’s also one of them.

Was there ever a moment in your career where a piece of legislation got passed, that was a huge relief for you? 

What I would say is no. What I will tell you is what I wish would happen.

What has happened is that, for lack of federal guidance and leadership, we have had a proliferation of state and local laws. Those state levels are doing great things. They’re increasing the minimum wage, they are protecting groups that had previously been marginalized, and they are making sure that we’re all safe where we work.

The problem is that there are over 200 of those laws that are currently active and have to be constantly monitored. That makes it harder for everyone involved; harder to know what your rights are, harder to know what you should, and shouldn’t make doing as an employer. I think that it would be great, like we talked about it at the top of this conversation, if we had some more federal guidance on general employment protection.

That’s tough obviously because we are a democracy and a Republic. We have state rights. I think that all of that is wonderful.

But from a worker standpoint, an employer standpoint, and from someone who really cares about making people be able to do what they well, it would be wonderful if we had some aligned clarity on what is OK and what is not OK. I think that that would make everyone feel safer. It would make them, to our point earlier, become more mobile. 

We have some folks who may stay in one state versus another because they are protected from discrimination where they might not be in another place. I would love it if we had an American standard of protection and discrimination rights, and standard wage rights. That would be great and would go a long way towards making our businesses competitive.

Right now, I’m in a space where I get to see what the rest of the world does, and it’s different. Frankly, it’s good news for folks around the world that want to be hired by great companies because they’re out there and it’s going to be getting easier and easier to find those employers that are looking for you and to connect and be satisfied at work as well as at home, wherever you are.

Parental leave is one of those things that other countries seem to have a much better grip on.

It’s really fascinating. The different leaves that countries have, particularly they distinguish between parental leave, maternity leave, or paternity leave. It’s even separate from what our family medical leave is by acknowledging that you’re a parent. We know that there will be things that you have to cover and you’re not sick. We know you need not take your sick leave, but we know that you can’t be here, so we will provide that leave.

What I will tell you is I’m hopeful that because we are becoming more connected, companies will hire more globally, and it will require them to meet the standards of these other countries. That rising tide will lift all boats. America’s forward on a lot of things, and we’re a bit behind on other things. I hope that through this more connected sort of global employment environment, that more and more U.S. companies will come to see that these entitlements are beneficial.

They keep their employees happy. They keep them well; they keep them engaged. Indeed, the best employers already do that. They’re already trying to find the best way to do that within the confines of their business model and frankly, their budgets. 

That’s where those amazing HR partners come in. Those are the people that make the magic happen for those companies and make sure that the leaders understand it. Those leaders pick amazing HR people well for those roles. But I hope that we will see an increased understanding of what a healthy work environment can be.

That is not always what we traditionally thought it was. It’s certainly not necessarily a brick and mortar building, where everyone’s sitting at desks in a line. I think we moved away from that, and maybe it’s not a bullpen where no one has a desk.

People are experimenting and trying to work remotely is the next big experiment for us. I think we’re all going to be pleased with the results. I think the challenge is going to be how to connect folks when they are together, but apart.

I’m looking forward to seeing what new technological innovations we have, what new social tools we have, to bring people together like that. Certainly, though, those HR directors will work hard to make that happen. I know that a lot of them already are, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes next.