Designing the Future of Work

Posts tagged ‘global’

Global Mobile Workers in Color

faces of colorThe internet promised many things upon is inception. To democratize knowledge by sending information to the farthest cornors of the earth, to shed light on the evils and corruption of governments, and to break down the barriers of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. You could chat with people all over the world and they wouldn’t know your gender, your age, your race, whether you were fat or thin, tall or short. It was a golden era.

One would like to believe that for freelancers it still exists. Clients on Upwork, Guru, 99Designs  and are making their decisions based on a robust description of skills and past accomplishments. Certainly, their choices are based on rational facts, relevant statistics, valid assessments. Well, maybe not.

As the sharing economy evolved there was a drive to create a sense of instant trust. It led to the decline in online anonymity, which has introduced its own problems.

You’ll buy from an unknown retailer on Amazon because you can see the seller’s rating. On Amazon there are no photos, just facts. But, when you get to sites like Uber and Airbnb trust is created because you know up front the driver’s name and license plate, or you’ll rent someone’s private home because the host has a public identity, a woman in Los Angeles who loves to eat at the Jewish deli two blocks away. She looks perfectly nice in her profile photo.

We digital nomads of color face a different world when we travel the globe. Recent disclosures about bias on Airbnb reminded me that the world is far from fair and impartial. The bias that is attached to a face and a name can impact where a digital nomad can stay, and most importantly, opportunities for freelance work.

Airbnb While Black Podcast
Click here for a Transcript of airbnbwhileblack – How hidden bias shapes the sharing economy

In #AirbnbWhileBlack: How Hidden Bias Shapes The Sharing Economy, the experiment run by researchers Michael Luca and his colleagues Benjamin Edelman and Dan Svirsky at Harvard Business School was explored. They sent out 6,400 requests to real AirBnb hosts in five major American cities—Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington.

All the requests were exactly the same except for the names they gave their make-believe travelers. Some had African American-sounding names like Jamal or Tanisha and others had stereotypically white-sounding names like Meredith or Todd.

Hosts were less likely to accept guests with African American sounding names. Researchers found discrimination across the board: among cheap listings and expensive listings, in diverse neighborhoods and homogenous neighborhoods, and with new hosts as well as experienced hosts. They also found that black hosts were also less likely to accept requests from guests with African American-sounding names than with white-sounding ones.

The findings are in line with the degree of racial discrimination found in other studies about who gets taxi tips or job call-backs or good rates on classified ads. Similar results have turned up on eBay. Black Americans even have trouble getting email responses from government officials.

Names - CopyThe Airbnb experiment was modeled off a well-known study that found racial discrimination in the job market when they sent out resumés with black- and white-sounding names. The Airbnb study even used the same names: Tamika vs. Laurie, Darnell vs. Brad and more.

My partner and I noticed it immediately when we started using Airbnb with my profile. We changed to using her, she is White, and got much better results, internationally.

This unconscious discrimination isn’t harmless for either party. The researchers found that the discrimination was costly for hosts, a lesson that extends beyond Airbnb. Hosts who rejected a Black guest often never found a replacement customer for those same dates. As a result, the researchers calculated that individual instances of discrimination translated to forgoing about $65-$100 in revenue. Washington Post

To See the Full Report

What is Unconscious Bias?

It’s natural. It’s unintended. It can affect decisions. It can be mitigated.

Unconscious bias occurs when people favour others who look like them and/or share their values. For example, a person may be drawn to someone with a similar educational background, from the same area, or who is the same colour or ethnicity as them.

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offered a helpful description.

A manager who wasn’t successful at school may listen to, or be supportive of, an employee who left school without qualifications because, subconsciously, they are reminded of their younger self. The same can be true of a manager who is educated to degree level, favouring employees who have also been to university. This is known as affinity bias, because they feel an affinity with the person as they have similar life experiences.

And then there is the halo effect. This is where a positive trait is transferred onto a person without anything really being known about that person. For example, those who dress conservatively are often seen as more capable in an office environment, based purely on their attire. People notice behavior that reinforces the bias and ignore behavior that does not.

The story most commonly shared to explain the impact of unconscious bias is the transformation of symphony orchestras. Some brilliant artist suddenly realized men were being favored over women, and that perhaps the best musicians were not on the stage. The leading symphony orchestras started auditioning musicians behind a screen. A simple curtain doubled the talent pool and transformed what orchestras look like, says Iris Bohnet, a behavioural economist and professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Dear Clients – What about Steve Jobs?

An example of how this works in the work world is highlighted by a study from the job site Indeed, which discovered that bosses who attended a top-ranked college preferred to hire employees who also graduated from a prestigious institution. Specifically, 37 percent of managers who said they went to a top school said they like to hire candidates from highly regarded universities. That compares to just 6 percent of managers who didn’t attend a top school.

On the flip side, 41 percent of managers who didn’t graduate from a top-ranked college said they consider candidates’ experience more important when making hiring decisions. Just 11 percent of managers who did attend a prestigious school said the same.

Despite their desire to bring in employees from highly regarded schools, most managers agree that going to a highly rated school doesn’t translate into being a top performer. Just 35 percent of all of the bosses surveyed said top performers generally come from top schools. Instead, the managers surveyed said the ability to work well with others, strategic thinking, and self-direction are much more indicative of high performance.

Here unconscious bias works against the interest of the client or employer.

What’s a Freelancer to Do?

One step some companies are taking when hiring? Stripping resumes of names and other identifying information and assigning numbers. So perhaps that is something that freelancer websites should explore. Perhaps it should be standard to select an avatar that reflects how we view ourselves and have a name like Upwork Rising Star #106.

How Does Race and Ethnicity Affect Digital Nomads?

Being different in a small pond - CopyAs I sit in the middle of Europe amid the emotionally inflamed dialog about immigration, being other and different in a new country resonates. When travel is part of your life, and sometimes part of your job, how does one cope?

While listening to a podcast about the current state of Venezuela I was confronted with my own unconscious bias. The host introduced her guest “back with Nicholas Casey, The New York Times Andes bureau chief, who’s based in Caracas, Venezuela and covers the region. He previously worked at The Wall Street Journal. He led the paper’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reported on the Arab Spring. He was also based in Mexico City for five years.”

And then the host asked:

I’m wondering if, in covering Latin American countries, as an African-American, if you’ve faced any kind of racism. Race is different in Latin America than it is in the United States. Are there any stereotypes that you have to confront? And how do racial issues compare, in the countries you’ve been in there, to the United States?

Casey was African American!

And, he had quite a bit to share on the topic, which I suggest you hear straight from him. Nicholas Casey Fresh Air Podcast


So Now That You Know What Are You Going To Do About It?

Change begins by just being aware that we have unconscious bias, because we all do. Focus on the positive behavior of people and not negative stereotypes. If you are an Airbnb host read the person’s review, and try to get past the name and the photo and the unconscious images that creates for you.

Another useful exercise is to imagine a positive contact with the group toward whom you may have a bias. Research has shown that simply visualizing a particular situation can create the same behavioral and psychological effects as actually experiencing it. For example, in tests, individuals who imagined a strong woman later showed less gender stereotyping than people who had imagined a vacation.

If you are an Airbnb user try  a browser plugin called Debias Yourself that Airbnb users can install in Chrome to scrape names and photos off of the home-rental site. (“That isn’t quite what Airbnb intended,” the researchers explain of their plugin, “but it’s your computer, and it’s your right to configure it as you see fit.”)

Google has committed to tackle this problem in their own workforce and shares the unconscious bias training they have developed online. It’s free, it’s painless, why not try it.

Rework with Google – Unbiasing

Google Bias Training on YouTube

If you want to test your on implicit bias, go straight to Project Implicit. Again it’s free; maybe not painless. Be Brave!

For realistic picture of what it means to Black in America, only one of the places I’ve experienced being Black, and after three years of international travel, by far the worst, take a look at When Whites Just Don’t Get It.

Fun fact discovered in my research. According to the U.S. census 90 percent of people with the last name Washington are black and 75 percent of those named Jefferson are black. Are founding fathers really got busy on their slave plantations.washington and jefferson



The Mother Ship

Recently two colleagues shared their tales of woe when they were forced to relocate to the Mothership of their companies. One had recently moved to a new company and the other had received a promotion to a global role.


Rarely is the location of the Mothership a desirable option, either because the location quite frankly sucks, or the existence of the Mothership has made property prices astronomical. In both cases, these were technology companies that should have known better. Why would you force people to uproot their lives when technology allows people, and the global world we live in requires people, to work from anywhere.

“Teleconferencing and other advances in communications technology make it easier to split up a workforce among several locations”

GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt in GE is huge, but its future headquarters will be anything but..

I have had my own tumultuous experiences with location dependent management.

While working at a technology law firm’s Palo Alto office (literally on Stanford’s campus) I was forced to commute on three of the busiest freeways in the area. Exhausted by the stress of it, I asked my partner (who by the way, although right down the hall, only came into my office once a week) if I could start working from our San Francisco office. He responded, “I don’t believe in telecommuting.” This was doubly ironic because our clients rarely came into our offices. All of our work, including deal closings, was done online or on the phone.

Later I worked for a biotechnology company that was obsessed with facetime. People spent at least an hour a day on shuttles going from building to building for meetings. When a senior leader, who had been performing brilliantly, failed to uproot his family and move to San Francisco within the deadline he’d been given the company let him go. “Seriously?” I asked, incredulous. I didn’t last there long  either.

Basecamp founder David Heinemeier Hansson, a hero of remote workers, made fun of Reddit’s 2014 decision to force remote workers to relocate to the pricey San Francisco Bay area or face termination.

Basecamp Tweet

Employees Don’t Want to Move

According to a survey done by the Worldwide ERC there are many reasons employees are reluctant to relocate:

  • 91% say it is because of slowed real estate appreciation and depressed housing market in old location
  • 86% say their old location is in negative equity
  • 28% say they and their family are resistant to the move
  • 28% blame high housing cost in the new location
  • 20% say their spouse is reluctant to leave their job
  • 17% cite the high cost of living in the new location
  • 13% say the new location is undesirable

There are far more Cons than Pros to forced relocation to the Mothership. Let’s take a look.


  • Build Trust – facetime allows you to build trust more quickly.

    Apple 2 Campus

    Future Apple Mothership

  • Spontaneous Innovation – co-location increases the likelihood that you will have impromptu meetings with partners and stakeholders

(think Steve Jobs’ circular building design – he was obsessed with this concept and moved the bathrooms as far away as possible to make employees walk about).


  • Productivity Loss – most corporate headquarters have multiple buildings and massive campuses which means that increasing facetime requires significant shuttle time. You’ll get to know the van drivers by name. A massive loss of productivity.
  • Lower Engagement – the reality of two career couples and the impact of employees having to uproot children makes this requirement especially painful. Engagement has to take a hit here.
  • Expensive and Complicated – relocation is complicated and expensive, especially if companies are in a place where the location of several Motherships has priced common folk out of the market. Examples, Seattle/Redman, San Francisco Bay area, Boston, New York.
  • Lost Opportunity to Build Critical Skill – your senior leaders are managing people all over the globe. Why do they need to do that from home office? Everyone needs to learn how to use technology to lead, manage and collaborate.
  • Limits Your Talent Pool – the company limits its options because the high performing talent may not want to relocate. See statistics cited above.

Teach the Global Mobile Way

There are lots of resources to improve the way you work remotely. I’ve shared several in this blog and here is one more from my buddies at Hubstaff. So, don’t move your leaders – upskill them and the rest of your team to be prepared for the Global Mobile Workforce.

How to Run a Remote Meeting




No Place Like Home


It’s natural that I would take stock of my time in Seattle on the day of my departure. It’s been an impactful trip. I am glad my reintroduction to the United States was in a city I didn’t know well. I could say hello to my country with a fresh perspective. With the same sense of wonder I greet each new city in my travels.

For Digital Nomads a sense of home is always a challenge or at least a peculiar idea. Home in any traditional sense, the country of your birth, is often a storage space or friend’s and families basements and garages. It is always a conversation, at least in our heads, where is the place we should plant every last possession we own. Each city you visit is answering that question. Is it the place you want to get nest like in the old days. So, when I touched down on the land of my birth it was a test of belongingness.

It has been a wonderful adventure. I’ve explored the city just enough to want to come back. I’ve had brilliant surprises like running into a SWA friend at a coffeehouse in the city. I’d gone there to write and had forgotten my converter for my now Czech laptop charger and it was just about to die. I was lamenting how I would entertain myself for three hours, before I could head to Oyster Happy Hour at Flying Fish. And then, a miracle. A friend walked by, looked about, our eyes met and we screamed. “Ray?” “Robin?” We were both incredulous to see each other in a Seattle coffeehouse. He was in town for a wedding and I was in town for work.

Robin and Ray Take Over Seattle

We spent three delightful hours learning about each other’s lives. It felt like kismet and karma and a plain good time. Ray was my people. Someone who loves travel as much as I do and integrates it in his life in powerfully creative ways. Ray is a dancer who uses his body as an instrument, and treats it well so that he can dance all across the world. Ray shared the amazing video he had made in cities like Paris and we talked about the travel show he is born to do. You can see his brilliant work @ Ray Takes Over the World

I’ve enjoyed the city. It surprised me with its beauty. Seattle is a town begging the sun to come and doing it justice when it arrives. The city is filled with balconies, rooftop gardens and restaurants with outdoor seating. Seatlites are prepared to celebrate the sun. I shared several sunny days while nesting in this city. Every outdoor deck was filled with smiling citizens. And, I saw Seatlites tuck under when the rain came. Umbrellas optional. There are plenty of fun and funky places to shelter, so it’s not so bad.

Two Tech Cities on the Bay

Seattle has been an amusing opportunity to see another city built by tech, whether it was internet or aerospace. And, the one thing Silicon Valley and Seattle have in common is traffic. So, I’ve enjoyed Seattle. At the same time, I have felt good about moving on. Two minutes on any news channel in my 700+ channels of nothing to watch, the reminder of how things have become dark in America settled my thoughts on exploring other pastures. I packed all the goodies that I could only get here in my suitcase (astonished it all fit) to head back to the city I’ve fallen in love with. That’s the life of Digital Nomads, we can love many cities. We enjoy each one for its unique beauty, tastes, and entertainment.


Wisdom and Experience – The Secret Weapon in the Talent Wars

Unfilled job openings

We continue to hear about companies struggling to fill open positions.

It’s true there is a skills gap in the marketplace. But, I don’t think that explains the whole story. The pervasiveness of technology has escalated the pace of change in every aspect of our lives, including the world of work. The result is multiple areas of dysfunction. I’ve already explored the outdated thinking that workers must be located at home office in Global Mobile Workers – A Solution to the Talent Gap. Now, I want to explore yet another piece of obsolete thinking.

The Youth Obsession is Unsustainable

All of the Founders that I heard speak about talent at Web Summit focused primarily on one demographic – Millennials. In tech these days, people in their 20’s are worshiped.

“Young people are just smarter,” Mark Zuckerberg infamously said back in 2007.

Global Demographics

Besides being fundamentally untrue, it ignores the demographics of the labor force. There simply aren’t enough Millennials to staff the current workforce.


Even more importantly, the workforce demographics reflect the consumer demographics. Ignoring roughly a third of the workforce is simply bad business.

Yet, tech companies are doing just that. Everyone is competing for the same talent segment. The trend towards workers becoming obsolete in their 50’s is simply unsustainable.


The result of this thinking is a large pool of extremely experienced, out-of-work people in one of the hottest job markets in the world.

The bias in favor of younger workers begins with the job posting. Ads for “recent grads” or “digital natives” telegraphs that seasoned professionals need not apply. When you move on to the interview stage the code word is “overqualified.”

Over 50 is Where It’s At

Companies are missing the boat on this one. Contrary to popular belief, workplace vitality peaks around age 57, according to an Israeli researcher’s study.

“Workers’ vitality fuels the success of the organization, and the fact that professional vitality is preserved and actually rises well into one’s 50s indicates that organizations investing in this aspect of the workplace will be able to benefit from productive workers for many years.”

Companies often overlook the wealth of knowledge, experience and skills that equips seasoned workers to contribute. These workers have cHold age against youcrucial business relationships and industry contacts that cannot be recorded in a manual. And, life experience is critical in understanding how to implement and execute on new innovations and products. This type of wisdom comes from hard-learned lessons that often comes from living and learning through mistakes.

The assumption that older workers will cost more is also outdated thinking. Because of changes in how companies compensate their employees, with pay being tied more closely to performance than to tenure, older workers do not cost significantly more than their younger colleagues. In fact, older workers tend to be more engaged than younger workers, which contributes directly to a company’s bottom line. Disrupting The Way We Think About Older Workers

With the cost of unplanned turnovers running between $7,400 and $31,400 per employee, depending on the industry, greater stability translates into bottom-line security for companies with a higher census of mature workers.

Where’s the Demand for Talented 50+ Workers?

The stereotype that seasoned workers are inflexible and resistant to change or acquiring new technical skills is unproven, and in my experience just wrong. When given the chance, the majority of them want to embrace new technology and new skills.

Entrepreneurship Isn’t Just for the Young

Bloomberg Beta in a study on patterns of business founders identified that 38% of founders were actually over 40. A study, funded by the Kauffman Foundation, found that the typical successful founder was 40 years old, with at least 6-10 years of industry experience. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are more than 50 as under 25. More experienced leaders tend to have deeper networks, know-how managing teams, and better business savvy and skills for delivering on the vision.

Fill the Gap with Talent That Get’s It

So talent hunters. Don’t be scared off by a two-page CV, with lots of capability. Don’t assume that seasoned talent is more interested in the salary than the opportunity to make a difference.

The Intern Experience Never gets old

REMEMBER – Global Mobile Workers De Facto Get Technology – We’ve Made a Lifestyle Of It.


They Got MeI noticed the other day when I powered up that before Microsoft will let me type in my password, which I have tried multiple times unsuccessfully to make it stop asking for, before it will let me in it starts the wifi – wants to be connected to the MotherShip.  It is all becoming just too creepy.  My phone just updated all the Google apps like gmail and calendar.  When I launched them again they had reached out in cyberspace to tell me as much as possible about everyone I’m in cyber contact with, and in photos.  Photos that came from who knows where from who knows when.  Who am I not in cyber contact with?  With whom is my relationship strictly analog.  I’m even in email contact with my 80-year-old cousins.  And now that I’ve left the land of my birth it’s the only way for me to be in contact with the vast majority of my life.  THEY GOT ME.


Narrator:  It wasn’t until 20__ they became suspicious of their machines.

When You Redefine Home

No Place Like HomeAs the summer settles into fall I am beginning to realize I am redefining home.  I have had coffee and pivo with other expats to gain a sense of the road ahead.  I’m jarred a bit by the references to a transient life.  I’m not sure it’s what I’m looking for.  Do I want to take on the mantle of Digital Nomad, an interesting group than comes in and out of Prague or do I want to become one of the expats who perks up when they add up the years in Prague; five, seven, twelve.  They smile with a look of still checking this place out, but so far it’s good.

I am struck by how much time I spend pretending to not be an America and how much time I spend pretending America is not considered the greatest nation on Earth.  The mix of admiration and resentment I experience in Prague is received with both frustration and agreement.  There are things my country dominates in and much to be ashamed of.  And, from a distant shore it is easier to see what there is to be proud of.

But, I can’t give up my American digital privileges.  I can’t give up American television, watch hours of it through VPNs.  I even made sure the VPN said we were in America when I reloaded ITunes.  The privileges of being an American push my Blackness to the background.  In Prague as a Black woman with dreadlocks I am perceived as interesting, not threatening.  I wonder about the experience of the Africans here, is it different?  I wonder about the migration history of Africans, many Nigerians, in the Czech Republic.  Is it good or bad?  All I know is I felt none of the weight of it on my shoulders.  And relationships in Europe are largely defined by migration history.  How did you get here? Did we invite you?  Are you contributing anything beyond crime and difficulty?

Being in a European country as an American, where immigration is a constant news item, I see the issues through a different lens.  Here I have no former slaves, or Latino immigrants or Native American victims I feel need to be addressed.  Here the history has a migration story of Jews and Gypsies.  Like Black people who became African American the dominant culture has a strong resistance to call Gypsies what they have asked to be called, the Roma, and I haven’t met enough Roma to tell if they care.  In America the title colored fell hard, but fell, to a stumble of awkward words that often meant the same thing.  The emotion behind the title Jew may or may not have changed at all.  I will leave that to my Jewish friends to comment.  Czechs have rugged opinions of the Germans, Russians and Ukrainians, naturally.  And a gentler, yet segregating opinion of Poles and Slovaks.  Most, from both sides, seem to understand the delicate history and work around it, when possible.

So, I believe there is room for me here to settle now that the Country’s authorities have granted me time to live for a bit, and so I ask myself how long is enough.  What kind of Digital Nomad am I.

Home Is Where TheIs

There are three categories of Digital Nomads.  There is the Road Warrior.  Six month stints in one location, often based on weather conditions.  The Lifestyle Tester, hanging out in an international location looking for the right place to nest.  The Lifer who has found a home away from home and is building a brand where they stand.  They often eventually marry a local, integrate themselves into local culture, and potentially become citizens.

road warrior

Road Warrior  

Several people I’ve met in Prague fit this category.  They are working a backpacker trail through Southeast Asia or Europe and drop into Prague to network with the vibrant start-up community and take a minute’s rest from the road.  Like Mike and Regina, who’ve come in and out of Prague on several occasions promoting their Courageously Free lifestyle which they explain on their website.  Or Colin Wright who allows readers of his blog to vote on his next destination.

I’ve done the Road Warrior.  Desperately seeking out internet connections in remote locations.  While fun and adventurous, it is not a steady diet that I crave.  So, I find myself a Lifestyle Tester.  Assessing how long I can spend apart from the people I left a continent away.  Will SKYPE and Google Voice be enough to keep me from missing the one’s I love too much to love the one’s I’m with?

Lifestyle Tester

Some of the Digital Nomads I have met work for global companies that allow them to live anywhere within reason.  They tell stories of storage boxes in their last known location and feeling like everything is an adventure, and no stay is guaranteed for the long-term.  There are an important segment, as was pointed out by me when I was befriending an American Expat.  “Are you really staying because I get tired of making friends and having them leave?”  Makes sense.  Hadn’t thought of that, or being that person, but I can get how frustrating that would be.  I am one who needs meaningful social interaction.  I have been quite busy building up a friendship base and thinking about what is acceptable critical mass to sustain a happy social life.

The Lifer

Olivier is a Lifer.  He doesn’t pretend he has plans to return to France.  He is determined to make his way here in Prague.  As a Brand Creative Lead he has joined the startup movement here in Prague to make something happen in his adopted home.  He knows everyone and is known by everyone, a solid part of a community of fellow expats from around the globe.

So what type of Digital Nomad am I?  Well, so far a Happy One. for Digital Nomads

Best Places to be One

Lessons Learned

Global nomads passing through Prague

What you wish you knew before moving to Prague








Sad Face with a tearWe’ve all been there before. They look perfect on paper. All the things you are looking for in a relationship. Almost too good to be true. You spend some time together and its good, but the flaws start to show. Suddenly you are in the middle of a freak show. The relationship is nothing like you’d imagined. And when you bring it to their attention, when you ask them to change and make things right they dump you. They won’t answer your calls, your emails, your Tweets.

Well, that’s what happened to me. I was dumped. I’ve been so depressed about it I haven’t been able to even look at my blog. It was too painful of a reminder of my Taichi’s flaws and our troubled relationship.

ASUS sloganMy brief social media campaign got little reaction. Ironically the only communication I got was from ASUS Middle East – they promised if I stopped tweeting they would refer my complaint to the proper parties. Still waiting to hear about that. They I got a response from my Facebook campaign. They referred me to the fixer.  Still hoping he will be the one to restore my faith in ASUS, their promise of perfection and the sexy card that came with my Taichi promising VIP service.

Do I give up?  Do I just live with an expensive piece of equipment that forces me to turn off Windows Updates and live with the bugs in Windows 8? How can I get justice here? Help me dear readers, what should I do to get ASUS to listen to my simple request to trade in this bad dream for a functioning ASUS laptop? Please share your comments and suggestions.


They only know me when they need me

%d bloggers like this: