Upwork’s Stephane Kasriel on Fixing the American Dream – Distributed with Matt Mullenweg

Check out the Distributed Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “The cube farm is the modern version of the assembly line…except none of the work that you do in the cube farm actually has to be done in the cube farm”
  • Nowadays, more and more work can be done from anywhere in the world, outside the hours of 9-5
    • “In most office environments, jobs that need to be done onsite are the exception, not the rule”
  • The advantages of remote work:
    • The talent pool is expanded
      • Instead of being forced to only hire people who live (or are willing to live) in a certain area – you can hire anyone
    • It’s easier for companies to pay for part-time/by the task talent
    • Workers have more flexibility – they can work when they want/where they want (allowing them to better leverage their income)
    • There’s no commute 
    • Remote workers tend to be more productive
  • But know:
    • “One thing that doesn’t work is if people in the office think they’re more important than people outside the office”
    • “The thing that doesn’t work is if 99.99% of your workforce is sitting in the office and 0.1% of your workforce is remote”

Intro

  • This is a new podcast from Matt Mullenweg dedicated to exploring the future of work
  • Stephane Kasriel (@skasriel) is the CEO of Upwork
    • Upwork has helped pioneer the future of distributed (remote) work
    • They’re not only a distributed company – they’re in the business of distributed work
  • “I believe that distributed work is the future of work” – Matt
    • “It’s not just good for business, it’s good for our world. We can reduce commute times, improve work-life balance, and open up to the global work force.”

UpWork

  • About 1500 people work at the company (400 directly for the company and 1100 freelancers)
  • They have offices in Chicago, Mountain View and San Francisco
  • Upwork is now a public company
  • “The labor market is one of the biggest markets in the world…The current state of the labor market is pretty broken for many people. We think we can be a driving force in creating a better future.”
  • This year Upwork plans to do $1.7 billion in business

Work is Broken

  • Why?
    • If you live in San Francisco and are highly skilled, you have access to amazing opportunities working for some of the best companies in the world
    • BUT
      • Rent in San Francisco is rising at 7%/year
      • Young grads, when they move to the Bay Area, spend ~70% of their disposable income on rent (for a lousy apartment with roommates)
        • This is 2x the rate of other areas
        • (A fact Stephane brings up – There have been more billionaires coming from real estate than tech in the Bay Area)
    • There are plenty of cheaper/better places to live, but there are just no jobs

Some Background

  • During the industrial revolution people had to move from the farms to the assembly lines because the machines had to be run between the hours of 9 AM – 5 PM
  • In the 1950s, we saw the rise of knowledge/office work
    • “The cube farm is the modern version of the assembly line…except none of the work that you do in the cube farm actually has to be done in the cube farm”
  • Nowadays, more and more work can be done from anywhere in the world, outside the hours of 9-5
  • “The myth of the American Dream…the idea that if you’re highly skilled and working hard you should be able to be successful, it increasingly depends on where you are born, where you live, how much wealth your parents have, and whether or not you’re able to go to college….I think this American Dream is broken”

The Answer? – Remote Work

  • The Advantages:
    • The talent pool is expanded
      • Instead of being forced to only hire people who live (or are willing to live) in a certain area – you can hire anyone
      • The U.S. is only ~5% of the global population
    • It’s easier for companies to pay for part-time/by the task talent
    • Workers have more flexibility – they can work when they want/where they want (allowing them to better leverage their income)
    • There’s no commute 
      • Cities were never designed for the level of density they have today
    • More jobs are created in areas they might not otherwise be (if your employee is paid well and lives in the middle of Idaho, the discretionary income they spend will stimulate the local economy)

Why does Upwork even have offices for their employees?

  • ~150 employees work in their Mountain View office
    • The average commute is ~45 minute each way
  • Some people just really like having somewhere to go work 
    • Upwork cares about employee satisfaction and is thus willing to pay for the office space

What investments does Upwork make in employee productivity and happiness?

  • They make their offices as remote-friendly as possible
    • “One thing that doesn’t work is if people in the office think they’re more important than people outside the office”
    • They spend frivolously on video conferencing/audio equipment
      • As a side note, Stephan recommends always having the video on as it’s important to incorporate body language into conversations (people are also more likely to multitask when they’re not on video)

How should companies go about incorporating remote work?

  • Don’t try to force it if people aren’t on board – it just won’t work
  • Start by allowing well-established people, who know the company inside and out + who are excited about embracing change, to work remotely
    • Your first remote employee shouldn’t be so remote they don’t know anybody in the company
  • “The thing that doesn’t work is if 99.99% of your workforce is sitting in the office and 0.1% of your workforce is remote”

Which jobs NEED to be onsite?

  • Upwork’s Mountain View office receptionist is remote (she greets you on a virtual display as soon as you walk in)
    • A side benefit of this – each receptionist can cover more than one building entrance AND multiple office sites
  • Stephane advises people to really challenge the notion of which jobs can’t be remote – ask “Why?” 5 times
    • “In most office environments, jobs that need to be done on site are the exception, not the rule”

Remote Employee Productivity

  • “Productivity for remote people is probably at least as high and probably even higher than people in the office”
    • Why? 
      • They experience fewer interruptions
      • There’s no commute
      • Less burn out
  • Can’t people just interrupt you on something like Slack?
    • Sure – but these messages are much easier to ignore than someone coming up to your cubicle

The Moral Reason for Remote Work

  • 42% of freelancers have a physical or mental disability
  • Right now the labor participation rate (the percentage of adults between the ages of 18-~50 who are employed) is 60%
    • So many, many people just can’t participate in the traditional job market the way it’s defined

Let’s Finish Off With Some Stats

  • Of Upwork’s first 50 remote engineers they hired 15 years ago, 12 are still at the company – this is very rare, especially in the Bay Area
  • Fast forwarding 20 years, what percentage of jobs does Stephane think will be distributed?
    • “In the jobs that can be distributed, it will be the majority”
  • Millennial managers are much more likely to leverage freelancers and allow remote work compared to baby boomers (and the baby boomers are fast exiting the workforce)
    • (The oldest millennials are 38 now)

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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