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Flexibility will be for everyone. It doesn't mean that full remote will be for everyone but more flexibility will become the standard.
Co-founder and Co-CEO of Jobgether
Arnaud lives between Marseille and Menorca. He has been passionate about Tech and the Web for 25 years. He started his career as a strategy consultant with Accenture and Capgemini Consulting Telecom & Media. After having managed the marketing of the classifieds activities of SoLocal, he joined Google France in 2009 to develop the marketing team before devoting himself, as CEO, to the launch of marketplaces for Rocket Internet/Jumia in Africa. In 2016, Arnaud joined Indeed as General Manager France where he established the brand and made the job search engine the leader in the French market.
Convinced of the need for tech players to contribute to the development of the economy, Arnaud has initiated several #tech4good digital awareness programs for the general public, students, and businesses, in partnership with public authorities and giants of tech such as Google, and Facebook. In 2019, he contributed to the Min. of Economy and Finance, to define the “talent” initiatives from which French Tech players benefit today before co-founding HRTech Jobgether.
Arnaud is a graduate of Sciences Po, Dauphine, and an MBA from the University of Ottawa.
What will life in the city centres of the world look like in the future with an increasing remote workforce? That is exactly what host Sandra is talking about with Arnaud Devigne, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Jobgether.
Arnaud has some very interesting thoughts and ideas about how remote and hybrid work will affect the downtowns and CBDs around the globe, and what companies and governments can do to reinvent these spaces.
They also talk about the change in company cultures and that throwing a pizza party is no longer enough to make employees come to the office.
Bloomberg: Why Downtown Won’t Die
Medium: Remote Work Is Here To Stay
With Arnaud Devigne, Co-founder of Jobgether
Sandra Redlich 01:21
All right, I see a lot of sunshine in the background. Or at least it looks very bright. Where are you joining us from today?
Arnaud Devigne 01:28
Well, actually, I'm a French guy, but I decided to move to a sunny place indeed, which is Menorca island in Balearics, Spain. So it's a beautiful location to work from.
Sandra Redlich 01:39
Cities and where we're living is exactly what we want to talk about today. Because we have an expert on this topic, and not just remote work, but also how it affects lives of employees, of people in general, and the cities that we live in. So today we want to explore how remote work affects cities, and the people that live in these cities, not just the remote employees themselves. So how does it affect the world we live in?
Arnaud Devigne 02:05
Actually, yeah, we tend to only focus on people's well being when we speak about remote work, and work from home or work from anywhere everywhere, which is a very important topic, of course. But we just start seeing some side effects on us, on our lives, on our societies, that are really, really massive. And one of them is definitely the impact on cities, on rural versus city zones, suburbs versus downtown, you know, all the kind of setup is being totally reinvented with this major shift from a world where we all used to work in an office downtown to a world where we decide basically where we want to work from. So one of two obvious high level consequences. The first one is what we considered as a business district in town tend to disappear purely as business district. It doesn't mean that they will just become ghost parts of the city, but they will become hybrid, they will become totally different. So they have to reinvent themselves. And the second one is really the movement of population themselves. So because we kind of, you know, rotated from a world where you had to go where machines were to produce things. And we replicated that actually to an economy of service. We did that for so many years. And now it's over. Now you can work from wherever you want. So you don't have to live close to the headquarter of your company. So we see a movement of people just relocating from the city centers to like not only the suburbs, but to a more remote zone, because we don't have to commute every day. So it's two major shifts in the end, two major changes.
Sandra Redlich 04:18
Those are major impacts that it can have on cities. Do we have any examples yet or can you think of any examples of cities that have adapted very well to this change? Or maybe also an example where that's still very much a work in progress?
Arnaud Devigne 04:35
It's actually very much in progress, work in progress. We see this shift as only accelerated with COVID like two years ago. I'm not saying that there was no like weak signals before because the kind of move from desire to get closer to nature to have more space, etc. was already here before COVID, but COVID made it clear that it was just vital, it was just critical for human beings to get closer to nature, to have a nicer environment where you could live and work. And it also proved that we could do it, that it was technically feasible. And that it was not going against productivity, against the efficiency of the business. So this is why it truly accelerated for the past two years, and now we are entering a world where basically everyone can - not everyone, but let's say white collars, most white collars who have just a laptop as a production tool - in the end can decide where they live, and where they work basically, and they can align. But before that time, you basically chose a career, a job. And when you had that you had to adapt. You had to adapt your lifestyle, basically, to have a job. And it's now the other way around. First, you can say, Okay, I'm getting energized from being close to the sea, you know, this is my case, I need to, you know, to live in a place where I can see the horizon, be close to the sea. And then I can find a job that is compatible, that is aligned with the way I want to live. Five years ago, it was just totally impossible, because most of the places you wanted to live had no local jobs to offer, that were aligned with your skills, with maybe your expectations, your career you wanted to have. Now it became possible. And some cities you'll meet some, like we have some examples of cities who are already embracing not only cities, but also countries or bigger regions are already embracing this shift and supporting it. You may have heard of some like national campaigns from countries like Croatia, for instance, like Croatia, in Europe, which is nice country to live in. They made a big like advertising campaign to attract digital nomads, remote talent, and they see it as an opportunity, you know, to boost their economy and to become less dependent as well on mass tourism, which is not as healthy as having like remote workers in your country. You create a lot of, you know, activity for a local economy. So Croatia is a good example. But you know, I live in Spain and a very good example in Spain as well as in Canary Islands, Islas Canarias, for example, like Tenerife, are very proactive at inviting, welcoming and promoting remote work on their islands because we see it again as an opportunity to move away from non-sustainable economy dependence on mass tourism to an economy that will become like all year round dependent on remote workers, which have a much healthier consumption patterns and habits, you know, in terms of interacting with local people, etc. It provides much more value to the ecosystem. Definitely.
Sandra Redlich 08:33
Speaking of cities that are good at adapting, I might have a little anecdote from my own experience. Well, I mean, you can be the judge whether or not that's a good example. But I live in Melbourne and Melbourne is one of those cities that actually has a central business district, the CBD, and which was very much dead during COVID, because you know, all the businesses that are there are kind of relying on the people that work in the city to come and give them business. I'm talking about restaurants and cafes, and shops and that kind of stuff. And the government actually did a big campaign to kind of try to get people back into the CBD, and offering discounts and you'll get your money back if you come into the city like, you know, after hours. So not just for business lunches. I think a lot of people have taken to that. But obviously, that's not a long term solution. So what are other things that people or that cities could do to breach this little gap that's happening that's opening up from you know, they won't be getting the business from the people working around anymore, but there's still opportunities there. Like the example that you mentioned, attracting remote talents, maybe even thinking about opening up co-working spaces or more catering to this new workforce that is emerging. Do you have any ideas of what cities could do?
Arnaud Devigne 09:53
Yeah, exactly like your example you mentioned Melbourne. Let's say we have a similar one probably like very famous in Paris, where I used to work when I was younger actually, which is kind of now seen as hell. Which is, you know, it's a business district, but is not even in the city. It sounds like Paris, but it is only like skyscrapers, towers. There is only artificial life in it, you know, restaurants that were built, designed only to provide lunch for people who are working there. And then at 6pm, everything is dead, everyone, everything shuts down, and it becomes really a ghost town. So this is the example of CBDs that are, like really struggling to reinvent themselves, because everything was designed for just one purpose: People work, work work, then take a break, there was one Irish pub, let's say, for me, you know, at 5pm and that was it. So now, this summer, research shows what was CBDs only had 40% of occupancy. So we are not back to normal at all, it will last. It was not just COVID time, and now people will not get back to the office massively. Most people are either like full remote workers or work from home 2, 3, 4 days a week. So those cities that were massively like adapted to being full of workers during the day, are kind of half empty all the time. So it is a deeper transformation. It is not just giving coupons for people to come and buy from the shop, as you mentioned, that will not be enough to attract them. So the first thing you mentioned, which is of course one of the main lever, is to turn those office spaces that are not needed anymore into like hybrid co-working, co-living spaces, and you have lots of remote workers who also move from one region to the other, but cannot really or do not want to live in a standard apartment or house because they don't want to feel isolated. They want to be closer to a community and there is a great opportunity to open co-living along with co-working spaces in these districts. And then it will make it possible to bring life again to those neighborhoods, but life that is like, I would say it is sustainable from an economic perspective, which is not nine to five, but people who will work there a few hours a day from the cafe, from the co-working venue, will work from that co-living room or whatever and then in the evening, they will go to the restaurants as well. That will not have to commute to get back to the city center etc. Those business districts may have the opportunity to turn into more hybrid areas. You may have heard of remote ville, the concept of remote villes, remote cities are kind of popping up. It can be in distant neighborhoods from downtown like in the remote suburbs.
Arnaud Devigne 13:49
That kind of cities where you can get access to anything basically less than 15 minutes walk, that is kind of the idea, so you can go to restaurants shopping, you can have co-living, co-working etc. It's mainly targeting remote workers and provide them with all the services they need. So what business districts can take the example of remote ville to reinvent themselves, but it's going to be a huge, huge challenge. Because they were not designed to be nice to live, you know, you see what I mean? In terms of just the way they were built. They were designed to be efficient, and just to spend the day. Even if all services get back to la Défense, and you can live there 24 hours a day - is it really where remote workers want to spend their life you know? It's still very, very gray, very dark and gloomy in the winter at night, you know, so yeah, there's no tree, there's no nature, etc. So it is usually one of the main driver for people to go remote, they want to get back to more nature, to more space, etc. So it means that huge cities need to make huge investments to turn those neighborhoods into nicer places to live and not just to work. You need to have like parks, maybe kindergartens, you know, you need to have everything for families as well, which is not the case today.
Sandra Redlich 15:43
So kind of turning central business districts into remote business districts?
Arnaud Devigne 15:48
Yes, exactly, that's definitely a way to go. And it really requires some massive investment in construction, as well. And maybe destruction. Maybe get rid of the less friendly towers where no one will want to go, you know, and replace them with nice parks. And that's probably the way to go. So it will take years and years and there is a risk, but some of them will not manage their transformation, I think, and will become ghost neighborhoods. This will happen for sure. Because especially we're entering a sort of period of instability from an economic perspective, access to credit investment is more difficult. So will all the cities be rich enough, you know, to manage this transition? I'm not sure, I think some of them will probably go through very difficult times, and also the businesses that are there, you know, the restaurants, and all the shops there they will probably suffer, some of them, they will shut down. And that's the opportunity for them, you know, to open somewhere else, where you have new clusters of people with purchasing power. You have lots of talents who are ready to spend their money and it may be 30 or 50 kilometers away from where they were based initially. So there's also lots of opportunities being created. And it's kind of the revenge of the tier two cities. You know, it's very interesting what's happening in terms of the center of gravity, you know, that went probably too far to downtown, big, like, downtown the past 20, 30 years. And now it's kind of the revenge of those cities. Everyone leaving and they became ghost cities fairly 40 years ago. A very good example in the US is Tulsa in Oklahoma. It has half a million inhabitants, it's the second biggest city in Oklahoma, but still not, you know, we're not talking about San Francisco, New York. Those cities were probably kind of very lagging behind in terms of economic growth. And now, they see remote as an opportunity to totally reinvent themselves, invest in a program to attract remote talents, and those cities that were a bit abandoned see this luxury shuffle as a big opportunity to develop again. And if you have look at Europe, it was the same, you know. Countries like France, or England are very good examples of hyper centralized countries, well, London, Paris, you know, everything's supposed to take place, and there was really not much happening in second tier cities with 50,000 inhabitants or 100,000 inhabitants etc. Now they become attractive again for talents, who can work remotely. They just have to create the right programs to facilitate relocation of talents, to make sure that we offer the right level of service. It starts with a good internet connection, of course, but it goes beyond that. Because there's co-living spaces, easier access to nature, to parks, having the right you know...
Sandra Redlich 19:45
Infrastructure and I guess transport, connectivity to, you know, other places.
Arnaud Devigne 19:51
Cyling paths, things like that. Activities, outdoor activities, indoor activities. Like leisure etc. and culture, of course, which was usually a pain point, because most cities were usually dependent on the big ones in terms of culture, in terms of activities like that. And some of them underinvested those past years on this cultural dimension, etc. So they need to probably put some money on the table and to be creative as well to diversify their offer to citizens.
Sandra Redlich 20:30
We talked about this growing remote workforce, and that the power is kind of shifting into their direction, slowly, but surely. That also comes with some negative aspects, there's not just positives, as it always is. There's always two sides to the story. What are some of the potentially negative side effects that this major shift to remote work on such a big global scale can have on cities?
Arnaud Devigne 20:59
Yeah, definitely, we cannot paint it as just a positive trend. It's mainly positive, but some industries, some players will struggle and there will be side effects. The first one is really the players. The companies were relying on this kind of commuting world, you know, where talents were basically taking the train, one hour every morning and one hour every afternoon. So the most obvious one, you know, is a public transport company, who saw a massive drop, massive decline in their usage and revenue. So basically, you know, it depends on countries and locations, but more or less like, half of commuting, like more than one hour commuting has disappeared. And it's being replaced by some people taking the train for two, three hours, but only once a week, you know, to go and spend one day at the headquarter at the office and spend the rest of the week in their village in the countryside or in a smaller city with their families, and well they have their new life basically. So it's big and it's hard of course, for such companies, transportation companies to reinvent themselves because there are the infrastructures, you know, and railways etc, you cannot move, you cannot be flexible overnight to change that. So that' the most obvious one. Then we mentioned as well, all the economy of CBDs that were only relying on workers during the day. All of those restaurants, you know, who are closed in the evening and only work at lunchtime, you know. They cannot operate the same way or they are going to disappear. So, they can reinvent themselves if the district becomes more like hybrid in terms of usage. They can start opening during the evening, they can get connected to some food delivery platforms and they can broaden you know, the market in a way and not just be dependent on the people who are physically at the place where they are based, so they can reinvent themselves. Then we see also some negative effects on real estate, on prices. Basically most big cities downtowns were extremely expensive. And in most cities, suburbs were cheaper and people could get like a nice home in a suburb for a decent price - except some very posh neighborhoods in cities etc. But it was more or less the trend. And now it's a bit the other way around, where you see the prices in downtown tend to be flat now in most big cities in the world you know. And they have moved like plus 5% over the past two to three years. Whereas prices in suburbs, in nice suburbs with nature etc. have totally like skyrocketed: plus 30-40% or even doubled in some areas, you know. And of course this trend is an issue because there is a demand, there is a movement etc. but the demand is so sudden. It was so fast, you know, this change of expectation from workers because finally they could work where they wanted to live, basically, but it created a huge, huge, huge demand and prices for real estate become a problem. So this is going to have some negative aspects we can see.
Arnaud Devigne 25:26
Of course we mentioned more economic aspect, but also some more psychological aspect. For most workers, it means also to have less density of relationships, because the beauty of the hyper centralized working is that you create a network of friends at your companies, you know, at the office. Everyone goes to the same, pubs, bars after work, etc. You create a nice multicultural mix. And it's kind of interesting as well, you know, now you have people who may live in sort of bubbles. So it will be a fragmentation of the spaces, and we will recreate very integrated bubbles with all these services everywhere in the territory. And there is a risk, of course, that we become more and more dependent of the small bubble and we don't open up to different kinds of people who bring different perspectives, different experiences, etc. So that's always a risk, you know, of recreating communities actually. We are about to see this movement of moving from massivied cities, to the rise of micro hyper local communities, and there is a psychological, you know, risk of that, you know. You tend to live in a closed environment. So, it's too early to measure that, but it's something that we definitely have to be careful about. I'm a big advocate, you know, of not being all the way, like, full speed to just one model that is very extreme. And so probably sometimes you need to escape your bubble, you know. My case is a good example, you know, I live on an island, and it's probably one, it's one of the small islands of the Mediterranean Sea, you know, Menorca. In the winter I can tell you that you have the feeling you're part of a community. If you take your car, you go somewhere, everyone will see you and the day after, you will have some people say Oh, I know yesterday at 7pm, you went to get groceries because I saw your car, you know. And when you come from - I spent all my life in Paris, you know - when you come from the city where you are anonymous, then you understand as well the risk and the impact of living in these kind of bubbles, where everyone knows each other, etc. Sometimes it has a beauty as well, it has some positive aspects as well as the kind of anonymous life in a big city where you meet new people every day, etc. So you need to escape. So in my case, you know, I need to from time to time, I need to go out of the island and to feel the big city, you know, and the excitement of becoming anonymous again.
Sandra Redlich 29:02
Yeah, it sounds like the solution here would be to try to be as flexible and as open as possible in this new evolving state of work that we're in. Is that something that you with your company Jobgether do to help people with and support people with?
Arnaud Devigne 29:21
Yeah, definitely. Well, the purpose of Jobgether is to make it possible for every talent in the world to find a job that is aligned with their lifestyle, basically. So we did lots of research and realize that people understood the value of remote and flexible work in general because remote is by far the most important dimension of flexibility, but it's not only remote, so flexible hours, unlimited PTO, ability to work, you know, whenever you want, wherever you want, and with what conditions you decide. Which can be combining two jobs, which can be being a freelancer, if you don't want to be an employee, etc. So many people realize the powers, the potential of this new possibility, but they cannot get access to those opportunities, to the jobs just because the old job ecosystem has been designed in a way for a world where the location was the most important and not the location of the individuals, the location of the company. So you go to a job site, you have to search, okay, this job? Where? The city, you know. Wherever the company is based, and everything was designed that way. So, we decided to offer the first job search engine where talents could find all the remote jobs in one click, and have all the details of the flex conditions for each job. Because second thing we realize is that, you know, you will see very often some job listings, job offers mentioning remote possible, you know. Remote compatible and period, you know. No more details, what does it mean? You know, from one company to another, or from one manager to the other, being remote friendly can have lots of different meanings. It can go from, yeah, you can work from home one day a week, but you have to be connected nonstop, online nonstop to you can be a digital nomad, and basically do your life, we don't care where you work in the world, you know, we are flexible in terms of contracting. We work with some platforms like Oyster, Deel, to change your contract if you change location, etc. So it can go from nothing to being like extremely flexible. So at Jobgether, we built a company as a freemode company, as we say, like fully flexible, we have talent all over the world. And we have the possibility to relocate just like this. And yeah, we are totally flexible. And we see lots of people now, more than 70% now, have talents who want this level of flexibility, you know, but they cannot find it online. It's very fragmented, you know, the offers are very fragmented. And as I mentioned before, the level of detail, the information is not clear. It's not enough on the job listing. So we aggregate all the jobs, we put them on one platform, you know, all the flexible, remote jobs, and we add all the missing information. So we go with a mix of machine learning and human work as well, we're gonna find the missing pieces, the missing information to make sure that the flex conditions, the remote policy is extremely clear in the job description.
Sandra Redlich 33:17
You've already described that there is, in your opinion, not just one way, not one truth of you know, 100% remote for everyone. There's still people that enjoy going to the office, there's positive aspects about the socialness, that you mentioned, as well. And there's lots of different meanings behind the word remote and hybrid models and so forth. So what will the future in your opinion, obviously, we can't look into a crystal ball and know what it's going to happen in five to 10 years. But you know, if you could create a little wish list, what will cities look like in the future?
Arnaud Devigne 33:54
Not everyone's gonna go full remote. The consensus right now is that probably 25%, 22-25% of jobs will be full remote in 2025 in the next two, three years, basically. So we are still talking about 75% of workers who will have like a sort of hybrid model. So we are just moving away from the "there is one way to work" you know, we are moving away from this pattern that was generated from the industrial age and to something that is much more diversified in terms of ways of combining workplace and place where you live etc. So one thing is sure is that flexibility will grow. Flexibility will be for everyone. It doesn't mean that full remote will be for everyone but more flexibility will become the standard. So the kind of nine to five every day same place, etc, will probably totally disappear. I don't see many companies imposing that to the employees in five years, if it's not a technical necessity, you know, if it's not, because you have to be placed wherever there is a, let's say, you have a laboratory, you have some infrastructure that require people to come, but otherwise we will not be present. But then hybridation of the cities will make it possible to have a spectrum of possibilities where everyone can basically decide the way they want to organize is well, we can say lifestyle and work style, you know, works in a way how I feel more productive, more comfortable to work. So, some people will decide to live 30 minutes away from downtown, because they want to be closer to nature, they will be okay to commute to a city because we still want to engage with our people. They don't want to live in a bubble as we mentioned. So they will probably take the train once or twice a week to a co-working space, you know, in the city center, and then the rest of the time, they will stay around. It doesn't mean we will spend three days a week working from home. We will go away, we will go to some cafes, maybe we will join colleagues or friends who do not work far and then we'll create together sort of mini hyperlocal co-working. A collective. It's popping up everywhere, right now all over Europe. You know, in French, we call it a collective. A group of people who basically want to share some infrastructures, some facilities and just have social interactions at the local level. And we love this kind of collective popping up. And it will not be like a rigid community - you belong to one and you cannot, you know, escape. People will join many tribes. In the end, we can talk about tribes, and you don't belong to just one, you can join a group one day and then you will turn over, etc. Then comes a very big question, which is what about the corporate culture? The culture of the company? Can the company still impose the culture in such an environment where everything is so fragmented with people or freedom and it's a big challenge for managers, and this is one of the main reasons right now why many managers don't want to give so much flexibility to employees and they try, you know, all these movements of let's get back to the office, etc. And the main reason why that is always pushed is culture. We're gonna lose our culture, you know, and people tend to think that culture is something you can impose top down.
Arnaud Devigne 38:12
That's not the way it works, this is fake, this is bullshit, you know, this is pretending we have a culture because we do the pizza party, you know. I read an interesting article in Fortune, yesterday, it was about people pushing hard saying 'Hey guys, we have some free pizzas and free snacks or whatever, come back to the office' you know, this is very artificial. It will not make people come back to the office if you push them with this kind of tiny material incentive. So the culture can be a culture of of mixing as well. Different experiences, etc. It doesn't have to be so rigid. The top down perspective. So is you know, this kind of extremely strong culture, corporate culture, dead? Honestly, this is a question I have. I believe in companies tomorrow, everything will be more blurred in terms of culture. And in the real world, it is the same. We enter a world where everything is blurred, you know, everything is a gray zone. Private life, work life, you know, everything is a continuum. It's not binary. It's not. You don't have that separation and with a risk involved. You don't have any more... It's very hard to maintain some full disconnection when you work remotely, when you move from one place to here, whether you want to work from a cafe. So you're enjoying your cafe and etc. And still your laptop is open, you work, you receive notifications on your smartphone, etc. So it's very blurred and cities will just reflect the end of this binary world with a clear separation.
Sandra Redlich 40:09
Well, it's a fascinating topic. And I'm sure there's plenty more that we could talk about and that we will have to talk about in the future, because this is developing and evolving as we speak. I want to thank you for now for taking the time to discuss this with us and to shed some light on the developments that you've experienced and that we can all see around us.
Arnaud Devigne 40:29
Thank you so much, Sandra. Really enjoyed the discussion.
Sandra Redlich 40:34
Thank you again. And yeah, enjoy the rest of your day.
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