Permanent remote workers appreciate flexibility, but face complications

Employees of companies such as Airbnb, Spotify and Block say their new remote policies have led them to travel the world and connect with family. But they also faced new challenges.

Clockwise from top left: Helen Prowse and her son;  Pascaline Cure;  Devin Miller;  Alexandra Lazarin.
Clockwise from top left: Helen Prowse and her son; Pascaline Cure; Devin Miller; Alexandra Lazarin. (Courtesy of Helen Prowse, Pascaline Cure, Devin Miller and Alexandra Lazari)

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When Erin Archuleta wakes up, the sun has not yet risen in her 600-year-old Michigan town. She listens to birdsong and the occasional whistle of a train or the hum of a tractor. She enjoys a hot cup of coffee from her porch that overlooks the nearby pond, keeping her eyes peeled for deer roaming her 10 acres of land.

It’s a big change from the pre-pandemic hustle and bustle of living above the sushi restaurant she and her husband owned in San Francisco. But it’s the one she welcomed in February 2021, because she was able to spend more time with her neighboring family.

“Last weekend, I squeezed some leaves and put them in the window of my grandfather’s house. These precious moments are what keep me [here].”

Archuleta, who heads global policy partnerships at Block, is among millions of workers allowed to work remotely as companies including Block, Twitter, Airbnb and Slack. adopted permanent flexible work plans during the pandemic. Meanwhile, tech giants Apple and Google have mandated part-time office workers this year.

At the end of September, 21.6 million people in the United States worked remotely for five days, while 32.3 million worked in the office at least one day, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Remote workers say they like to connect with nature, explore the world and spend more time with their family, noting that their outlook on work has changed forever. But it’s not always rosy: some say their new lifestyles have introduced complications such as coordinating time zones, a different approach to connecting with colleagues, slow internet connectivity, fear of missing out in person and sorting out international healthcare and travel restrictions.

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For Alexandra Lazarin, senior travel designer at Airbnb Luxe, the company’s work-from-anywhere policy has given her a life she never dreamed of. The 34-year-old Montrealer has spent the past two years traveling through Spain, Italy, Greece and her homeland, Romania. She is too gets into road cycling, befriends enthusiasts.

“Sometimes it’s hard to identify with a particular country,” she said. “I feel like the world is my home.”

Lazarin never imagined working outside of an office, but now she gravitates towards life as a digital nomad. The freedom allowed him to discover himself and shape his life around cycling and travel, while wading through ever-changing travel restrictions.

“I feel like I’ve lived 10 lives in two years,” she said.

Alexandra Lazarin, travel designer for Airbnb Luxe, took advantage of her employer’s remote working policy to travel and cycle in Italy, Spain and the Canary Islands. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Alexandra Lazarin/The Washington Post)

Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder and co-CEO of Australian software company Atlassian, has moved to a farmhouse two hours south of the company’s headquarters in Sydney. He got used to taking meetings and recording voice memos while wandering around nearby farms, occasionally capturing his surprise encounters with snakes. He also met employees who rented a house together for weeks so they could barbecue, play guitar and sing together after work.

“We decided that … no one should come back to an office,” he said. “It took the pressure off.”

For Cannon-Brookes, allowing its employees to work from anywhere made the most sense. But he admits that Atlassian had to do a lot of retooling to make the policy work. He had to adjust salaries based on location, coordinate time zones so teams could work together, create moments of in-person interactions, and recruit in areas he hadn’t explored. While the social connection still works, Atlassian now has a larger hiring pool and happier employees, he says. And many have been able to be with family.

“There are a number of people who have sent beautiful, tearful messages, especially older employees who have worked for a while and realized how unusual this is,” he said.

Atlassian developer Christina Bell was based in Sydney but moved back to New Zealand to be close to her family when the company created a flexible working policy. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Christina Bell/The Washington Post)

Atlassian software developer Christina Bell, 27, says the change has allowed her to keep her job to spend time with her grandmother, who was diagnosed with cancer in his native New Zealand.

“We went to the beach, did puzzles together, we spent quality time,” she said of her grandmother, who was an early supporter of her interests in engineering. “In a good turn of events, my grandmother is in remission, and she is still with us a year and a half later. I make the most of our time.

Quality family time is a common thread among many workers who have relocated thanks to new work policies. Block’s Michael Francis and Airbnb’s Pascaline Cure say flexible working has allowed them to give their children some of the experiences they have cherished.

For Bay Area resident Cure, that meant giving her two children the chance to spend 10 months in a school in Tahiti. There they spoke French and learned about coral restoration by visiting a lagoon and birds and invasive species in a rainforest. They have also visited family in Europe and are planning a trip to Costa Rica. Cure said a few key challenges driving family destinations are educational opportunities, fast internet connectivity and good health care.

“I grew up internationally, so it’s a big part of who I am,” she said. I hope my children will take it with them for the rest of their lives.

For Francis, who moved his family from San Francisco to the northern California mountain town of Truckee, the flexibility allowed his children to spend more time outdoors building igloos and doing ski jumps home.

“These are things I did growing up, and they never had the opportunity to live that way,” he said. “My children sent me pictures of bears at my neighbors’ house when they were going to school. It was a surprise.

As a telecommuter, he struggled to keep up with personnel changes and had to adapt to managing his collegiate relationships in a new way. But he says he didn’t see the return to life in the big cities.

Some workers have found relief by leaving their cities for nature. This was the case for Spotify’s Naomi Barnett and Block’s Helen Prowse. Barnett moved from Brooklyn to Northampton, Mass., where they and their partner live in a cohousing community. Although they still experience the fear of missing meetings in the Big Apple, they are grateful for their welcoming queer and Jewish community and quieter outdoor environment.

Spotify editor Naomi Barnett and their partner left Brooklyn with their dog Alvin when the audio streaming company made its remote work option permanent. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Naomi Barnett/The Washington Post)

“Our nervous systems are just more relaxed,” Barnett said. “We just breathe easier.”

Prowse, meanwhile, has moved her family from London to a country farmhouse in Kent County built in 1668. There her dollars stretch farther and she can bathe in cold water during lunch, a- she declared. Although she likes the change, she says she’s had to try harder to train junior staff members because she can’t just peek over their shoulders. She also had to be more conscientious about stopping work at the end of the day.

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Tempe, Ariz., resident Devin Miller, who works in Yelp’s human operations department, says the permanent shift to remote working has given way to a new ritual: working occasionally from a cabin in the mountain town of Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona. There, he can watch a herd of elk parade through the front yard and take a conference call from a swinging hammock — assuming his internet signal isn’t weak.

“It’s a total refresher for both of us,” he said, referring to his partner. “Being stuck in our house put a lot of strain on our relationship.”

Archuleta, who is still getting used to the idea of ​​owning chainsaw pants, says her view of her future has changed forever.

“I was in the heart of SF restaurants,” she said. “Now that I’m here, I don’t think I could ever change.”

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