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Permanent remote workers enjoy flexibility but face challenges

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Employees of companies like Airbnb, Spotify and Block say their new remote policies are driving them to travel the world and connect with their families. But they also faced new challenges.

Top left clockwise: Helen Prowse and her son; Pascalin Cure; Devin Miller; Alexandra Lazarin. (Courtesy of Helen Prowse, Pascaline Cure, Devin Miller, and Alexandra Lazari)


When Erin Archuleta awoke, the sun had not yet risen in her 600-person town in Michigan. She listens to the chirping of birds and the occasional whistle of a train or the hum of a tractor. She’s drinking a hot cup of coffee on her porch overlooking the nearby pond and keeping an eye out for the deer roaming her 10-acre property.

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 as he needed to spend more time with his nearby family, he welcomed it on February 21.

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

Archuleta, head of global policy partnerships at Block, is one of the millions of employees allowed to work remotely as companies like Block, Twitter, Airbnb, and Slack. adopted permanent flexible work plans during the pandemic. Meanwhile, tech giants Apple and Google forced employees into the office part-time this year.

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

Remote workers say Enjoy connecting with nature, exploring the world and spending more time with family, remember that their perspective on work is forever changing. But it’s not always rosy: Some of them are time zone coordination of new lifestyles, a different approach to connecting with colleagues, slow internet connection, fear of in-person exposure, and international health and travel restriction.

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For Alexandra Lazarin, a senior travel designer at Airbnb Luxe, the company’s policy of working from anywhere has given her a life she never imagined. The 34-year-old Montreal resident has spent the past two years working in the jet set in Spain, Italy, Greece and his native Romania. Room He threw himself on a road bike, befriended enthusiasts.

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

Lazarin never dreamed of working outside of an office, but is now turning to the digital nomad life. Freedom has given her the chance to explore herself and shape her life around cycling and travel – albeit as she goes through ever-changing travel restrictions.

“I feel like I lived 10 lives in two years,” he said.

Alexandra Lazarin, travel designer for Airbnb Luxe, took advantage of her employer’s remote work policy to travel and bike around 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 farm two hours south of the company’s Sydney headquarters. He’s used to attending meetings and recording audio notes while walking on neighboring farms – he sometimes catches surprise snake encounters. He also met employees who rented the house together for weeks after work to barbecue, play the guitar, and sing.

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

For Cannon-Brookes, it seemed the most logical to let its employees work from anywhere. But he acknowledges that Atlassian needed a lot of refactoring to make the policy functional. He needed to adjust salaries by location, coordinate time slots so teams could work together, create moments for face-to-face interactions, and recruit in areas he hadn’t explored. While Atlassian’s social link still works, she says it now has a larger recruiting pool and happier employees. And many of them should be with their family.

“There are a lot of people sending 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 flew to New Zealand to be close to her family when the company established a flexible working policy. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Christina Bell/The Washington Post)

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

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

Spending quality time with family is common to many workers who have moved thanks to new job policies. Block’s Michael Francis and Airbnb’s Pascaline Cure say flexible working allows them to give their kids some of the experiences they value.

For the Bay Area resident Cure, that meant giving her two kids the chance to spend 10 months at a Tahiti school. There they spoke French and visited a lagoon to learn about coral restoration and birds and invasive species in a tropical forest. They have also visited their families in Europe and are planning a trip to Costa Rica. Cure said a few key challenges that set the family’s destinations were educational opportunities, fast internet connectivity, and good healthcare.

“I grew up international, so it’s an important part of who I am,” she said. I hope my kids take this with them for the rest of their lives.”

Who for Francis moved his family from San Francisco to the mountain town of Truckee in Northern California, this flexibility allowed his children to spend more time outdoors building igloos and homemade ski jumps.

“These are things I grew up with and never had the opportunity to live that way,” he said. “They sent me a picture of the bears at my neighbors’ house while my kids were going to school. It was a surprise.”

As a remote worker, she struggled to keep up with staff changes and had to adapt to managing peer relationships in a new way. But he says he can’t see a return to big city life.

Some workers were relieved by leaving their cities for nature. That was the case for Naomi Barnett of Spotify and Helen Prowse of Block. Barnett, Brooklyn from Northampton, Mass. He left for a house where they live in a community with their partners. While still living in fear of missing out on reunions at the Big Apple, they’re grateful for their welcoming queer and Jewish communities and calmer outdoor environment.

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

“Our nervous systems are more relaxed,” Barnett said. “We’re just breathing easier.”

Meanwhile, Prowse had moved his family from London to a farmhouse in rural Kent County, built in 1668. There, her dollars stretch further and she can swim in cold water for lunch, he said. While she loves change, she says she needs to put more effort into coaching younger employees as she can’t just look over her shoulders. He also needed to be more conscientious about closing the business at the end of the day.

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Devin Miller, of Yelp’s people operations division in Tempe, Arizona, says the constant shift to remote work has made room for a new ritual: occasionally working from a cabin in the mountainous town of Pinetop, Lakeside, Ariz. can watch a deer herd parade in the front yard and make a conference call from a swinging hammock, assuming the internet signal isn’t weak.

“It’s been a complete renewal for both of us,” she said, referring to her partner. “Being stuck in our house puts a lot of pressure on our relationship.”

Still getting used to the idea of ​​chainsaw pants, Archuleta says his vision for his future has changed forever.

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