Work-from-Home Globalization

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A friend recently forwarded to me an essay by Aron Brand, who believes that companies were surprised by how positive the COVID-19-required work-from-home experience has been and will now incorporate the lesson into their businesses:

Buoyed by this surprisingly positive experience, most companies are now planning to permanently adopt remote work models for at least some of their staff. Going forward, we’re likely to see fewer massive HQ campuses, more smaller offices in diverse locations, less travel and much greater acceptance for working from home. To ensure business as usual in this new world, enterprises need solutions that enable fast and secure productivity from any location and device. …

Despite the hardships, the collaborative global efforts to overcome the pandemic and save the world’s economy have positive, long-term repercussions for the way we work. Dividing lines and borders have collapsed, resulting in a much flatter world. This new order — driven by remote work models — has created several benefits for the modern enterprise.

The word “borders” caught my friend’s eye, and the notion of “no borders” does wedge us into deeper debates that fall along ideological and partisan lines.

Of course, Brand is speaking in corporate terms, which gives opportunity for some distance before bringing in the political.  For large corporations, the world has been increasingly “borderless,” inasmuch as they could ship from anywhere to anywhere, communicating instantly.  Borders, in that sense, mostly mean paperwork and expense.  That’s “globalization.”

The change that a work-from-home revolution reflects is that globalization is now filtering down to individual capacity.  Just as, say, video processing software has democratized media-making, business process software is opening up new opportunities.

For relatively little money, a sole-proprietorship or independent consultant can access full suites of business software from companies in India and elsewhere.  Legal, engineering, and other consultants can be found the world ’round, or automated online in packaged apps.

In this context, the disappearance of borders essentially means that the benefits of globalization are not only available to giant corporations anymore.

But that has an echo in socio-politics, as well.  One of the benefits of globalization to corporations has been that executives could live in free and prosperous societies while taking advantage of the cheaper labor available in countries that were not so much of either.  On the level of individuals, work-from-home globalization means that one can work under one regime, but live under another.

A traditionalist, for example, could live in a very structured community, but his or her work could provide services within, and take wealth out of, a looser, more-free society.  That’s sort of what the Chinese communists have been doing on a massive scale, but it could also apply devout families in religious communities.

Of course, it goes the other way, too.  Those who prefer the perks of a loose society (e.g., Apple) can enjoy them while operating in more-rigid communities (again: China).  This means the liberal who provides services to an oppressive oligarchy, yes, but it also means charitable enterprises with reduced need for the hardship of on-the-ground missionary work.

The possibilities could theoretically fall in any permutation along the spectrum between.

This new world will bring its share of tension, to be sure.  People are still different, and borders still matter.  Those in some permutations will find other permutations intolerable for one reason or another, and if one permutation proves profitable while another struggles, the latter might lash out.

So, we’ll have to figure out the rules by which we cay move around in search of the right balance for ourselves.  The big question is whether those sorts of borders are essentially paperwork and expense or something more like the democratization of war.