Nineveh Madsen spoke to CIO Dive from a coffee shop in Salt Lake City. That's not because OpenVPN is based there, but because she is.
Madsen is the vice president of marketing and public relations of OpenVPN, a global company, but she and her team are located across Utah, Oregon, California and New Mexico.
"It's a different ballgame because we employ," Madsen said. "So we have to be flexible in our workforce because the talent is spread everywhere."
Madsen is one of 70% of employees who work remotely at least once a week, according to the International Workplace Group. The company also found 53% of employees work remotely for half a week or more, and 11% work remotely full time.
Remote workforces have flourished. Advances in video conferencing and messaging have allowed remote workforces to flourish. Employers' ability to find talent wherever it's located is becoming a necessity in a tight employment market.
"This war for talent is intense. You can't depend solely on one geographic location anymore if you want to scale," Amy Chang, senior vice president of the collaboration technology group at Cisco, told CIO Dive in an interview. "It's almost become a necessity since there's so much constraint in the marketplace."
Messaging has grown up since AIM
The technology of employees messaging each other has come a long way since AOL Instant Messenger debuted in 1997.
Slack has 10 million active daily users with multiple production and collaboratoion uses.
Madsen, for example, has a watercooler channel, where every Friday she posts a question, or adds quizzes, for employees to answer if they so choose. It helps employees know a bit about each other for when they do meet in person, which happens at least once a quarter, she said.
Messaging means that co-workers are present throughout the workday as they would be in an office, Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs, told CIO Dive in an interview.
"I think it's a critical component to maintain community, not only with employees that are remote but people within your own office," he said. About 90% of what was previously sent via email "now sits within a messaging platform."
Video conference expands beyond a face on a screen
As much as Weishaupt said his company uses Slack as a messaging tool for remote workforce, he still sees videoconferencing as important to keeping workers engaged.
Messaging "lacks a certain amount of context and a certain amount of connection that video brings in," he said. "The new generation who grew up in video is going to require it. It gives you that extra edge."
Better conferencing technology has made remote work more doable.
"A phone call only goes so far. It just doesn't give you the same level of interaction as when you have that face-to-face aspect," Weishaupt said. That was what prompted the creation of Owl Labs, which provides video conferencing on a split screen, with a more realistic view than two people trying to talk into one camera at the same time.
In the last five years, videoconferencing technology has improved, said Chang, to the point that on a video call, someone's head is the same size as it would be if the person were in the room.
But, Chang added, she sees the technology moving in the next 12 to 24 months. "I should be able to see every nuance or facial expression you have. I should hear inflections in your voice," Change said.
Objects in the background, like a dog barking or children calling for a parent will be blurred, she said. The goal is to get workers comfortable with always being connected by video in the same way that chat tools are always on during work.
"It gets to the point where people do start to psychologically feel more comfortable with an always on video culture," she said.
Expanding the talent pool
In 2017, IBM made a splash by recalling its remote workers, which was supposed to strike a blow to the concept of working from anywhere, but Chang says that hasn't happened, especially since talented workers are so in demand.
"You have to go where you find the talent," she said, and "figure out ways to incorporate that talent and make them feel fully included in the team environment."
Remote work is also letting employers tap into workers who would otherwise not be able to come into an office, as is the case for parents who step back from the workforce to raise children.
Madsen recently hired a part-time worker she met at a conference, a woman who had a master's degree in technical writing who had taken time off from work to be a stay-at-home mom.
"My brain's going 'wait why aren't you in the workforce?'" Allowing her to work remotely let her rejoin the workforce and be home with her children while they're still school aged, Madsen said.
"The problem we're seeing in the gender pay gap is women take themselves out of the workforce. When you don't work for five to 10 years, then you try to re-enter and compete with men and women that have stayed in," she said.