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Matt Spoke: Entrepreneurs are uniquely suited to working from home

Commentary

I’m sitting in my home office as I write this. In the other room, I can hear my two children and my wife. I’ll take a break from my computer in an hour or so to go do some parenting and offer my wife a break in her day and stay “on duty” until bedtime, at which point I’ll get back online to finish my day. We became parents early in the pandemic, and we both have entrepreneurial careers. We’re not like most families.

All that to say, we’ve been incredibly fortunate over the past two-and-a-half years to have the types of careers that provided us the flexibility to have children and be incredibly present in their early years, all while pushing ourselves with risky and ambitious professional lives. 

Of course, the flexibility we’ve enjoyed has become true for lots of families, whether or not entrepreneurs. The pandemic altered our reality in fundamental ways; maybe most significantly in our work. But now, as we get more comfortable leaving the darkest days of COVID behind us, society (and our economy) will have to reckon with what the relationship between people and work should be.

I won’t pretend to know how labour should adjust to the post-pandemic world, but I’ll try to provide some perspective based on my experience as an entrepreneur and as a CEO of a small company, and I’ll try to specifically answer the question of whether employees should be required to return to offices or stay remote indefinitely.

And before I lay out my thoughts, I’ll caveat this by saying that in-person human interaction in all contexts is incredibly important and competitively valuable to any company. For my company specifically, we find that encouraging teams to occasionally gather for social events and regularly bringing the whole company together for “off-site” retreats creates the social cohesion that we need to be productive and to have fun working together.

For context, I lead a team of 35 people, spread across the country but intimately connected to one another through our work. We primarily work remotely (we have a small office in Toronto that can be used optionally). I think this setup is working incredibly well for us, although I realize that I’m uniquely fortunate to have a team that I have complete confidence in and who I trust.

I can imagine other workplaces where this is not the case; where workplace relationships are loosely held, where some roles are menial in nature and easily glazed over in the grand scheme of a large company, and where people are primarily there for a paycheque and benefits.

So naturally, there is no prescription for what a “new normal” might look like across the board. But I do take from my own personal entrepreneurial experience that there are types of people and types of jobs that are well suited to thrive in completely autonomous work environments, and there are types that are not.

I generally like to think of entrepreneurship as a spectrum. On the one end is a person taking an enormous risk in the pursuit of an entrepreneurial idea. On the other end is a person who clocks in and out for a shift in a large company and who optimizes their career for stability and benefits.

Along the middle of that spectrum are many different kinds of people and jobs. In the context of my company, I like to think that we only hire entrepreneurs—or people very close to that first end of the spectrum. Every one of our employees is taking a risk working on an early-stage company that could fail. They’re all taking personal and professional risks by choosing not to work at a big bank or a big tech company.

This is frankly the number one thing we filter for in interviews. “Will you thrive in an environment of risk?” “Do you understand that your work directly impacts the probability of our success?”

So when considering how workplaces should adjust their work policies between remote work and offices, I think it’s important to roughly place people on that spectrum. An “entrepreneur” (or someone close to it) is likely to be hugely productive in any environment. Ultimately, their livelihood depends on it. Their contributions every day can be directly linked to the likelihood of the company succeeding or failing.

The moment that’s no longer true, I’d argue it’s worth considering a transition back to “normal” office work. 

There is likely some strong correlation between the size of the company and the more I’d think that this is true. 

Rogers or TD Bank would probably be well served to transition back to in-person work if they don’t want to harm their bottom line and competitiveness over the medium term. Although their employees will be the first to kick and scream, they ultimately take close to no risk along that entrepreneurial spectrum in their careers, and the quality of their work will slowly suffer the longer they spend away from a structured work environment.

On the other hand, for the class of talent that contributes to our most innovative and entrepreneurial companies, they should be given lots of latitude. This type of person already naturally thrives in an environment with less structure and more accountability. Remote work is simply that.

The less obvious cases will be companies with lots of talent somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Shopify and Apple come to mind. But I think there are mitigating factors that can allow for experimentation in different companies. 

In Shopify’s case, after their recent and significant layoffs,Shopify to lay off 10% of workforce after pandemic growth bet ‘didn’t pay off’: CEO https://globalnews.ca/news/9015970/shopify-layoffs-july-2022-pandemic/ the message was quite clear: employees are being trusted to contribute from home or be cut. 

Apple, on the other hand, is relying on the power of its brand as an employer to insist that employees adhere to its new mandatory office policies or look for a job elsewhere.Apple Sets Return-to-Office Deadline of Sept. 5 After Covid Delays https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-08-15/apple-sets-return-to-office-deadline-of-sept-5-after-delays

Ultimately, I think the market will eventually solve this problem. With employers finding that their work policies directly impact how competitive they are, they’ll have no choice but to adjust and the talent market will slowly shift back to normal work expectations.

Companies that are not well positioned to succeed with a fully autonomous “entrepreneurial” workforce, but who continue insisting on remote policies at the request of employees, will face the harsh reality of competition from someone being more pragmatic about the issue.

But for now, I’m going to get back to work.

Sean Speer: Poilievre is the new CPC leader—what should his agenda look like now?

Commentary

This past weekend’s Conservative Party leadership convention brought a merciful end to the campaign which started in earnest back in February when the Conservative parliamentary caucus invoked the Reform Act to sack Erin O’Toole as the party’s leader. 

The Hub’s analysis and reporting of the leadership contest similarly kicked off then and continued through to the final announcement, including a weeks-long series on the intellectual and political factions that comprise modern Canadian conservatism, as well as David Frum’s invaluable advice for an incoming opposition leader

Our contribution was less about scoring the political ups-and-downs of the campaign—though there was some rank punditry—and more about focusing on Conservative Party’s philosophical and policy bearings in the current political moment. 

Poilievre’s decisive victory over the weekend is the culmination of the leadership campaign and The Hub’s recent focus on the intra-movement exercise. The main question now for the party’s new leader is about how he comes to define himself and priorities with a Canadian public that is far less familiar with him than the commentariat. As occasional Hub contributor Dan Robertson put it: “congratulations, that was the easy part.”

If his victory speech is any indication, Poilievre seems likely to play up his own personal story of social mobility and the need for public policy to strengthen the conditions for Canadians to climb the economic and social ladder. His message implicitly borrows from mid-twentieth century Australian prime minister Robert Menzies who famously spoke of the “the great and sober and dynamic middle class, the strivers, the planners, the ambitious ones.” 

As Poilievre similarly set out in his closing refrain: 

We will restore Canada’s promise—in a country, where it doesn’t matter who you love. Or if your name is Smith or Singh, Martin or Mohammad, Chang or Charles. A country where the dreamer, farmer, the worker, the entrepreneur, the survivor, the fighter, the ones who get knocked down but keep getting back up and keep going, can achieve their purpose. A country where the son of a teenage mother adopted by two teachers can dare to run for Prime Minister of Canada. 

This is, in my view, a positive development. I’ve previously written that social mobility ought to be the anchor of Canadian Conservative politics. Such a “cause-driven conservatism” can bring coherence to Conservative ideas and policies, unite the different factions of Canadian conservatism, and effectively contrast with the Trudeau government’s emphasis on inequality and redistribution. 

There’s evidence to back up the idea that the conditions for social mobility require attention. Although Canada’s record on social mobility is generally positive—we’re regularly in the upper tier of OECD countries—the mobility picture differs among places and groups, and new data suggests that overall social mobility is declining. As economist Charles Lammam recently explained in a Hub Dialogue, these trends are “reason enough for us to have the conversation about, ”what can policy do to foster greater mobility?”.

People are sensing it too. Polling tells us that more than six in 10 Canadians are pessimistic about the future of the next generation. A 2017 survey showed that nearly 70 percent anticipate that today’s children will be worse off than their parents.

This feeling that middle-class progress has stalled is, according to Ipsos Public Affairs CEO Darrell Bricker, driving a lot of the frustration that we’re seeing expressed in our politics including the recent Conservative leadership campaign. It manifests itself in thwarted aspirations about homeownership, growing concerns about job precarity and financial instability, and just a general sense that the country’s economic and social ladder has been pulled up out of reach from younger generations. 

A social mobility agenda is also more responsive to real public concerns than the Left’s narrow focus on inequality and redistribution. Research by leading psychologist Paul Bloom and his co-authors finds that most people are actually prepared to accept high levels of inequality—in fact, even higher levels than we currently have—if they are satisfied that the economic and social model is broadly fair. As they wrote in an accompanying Wall Street Journal op-ed

We think that many of these equality-obsessives are in the grips of a false consciousness. They fail to distinguish worries about inequality from worries about unfairness. They are confused about what they really want. Human beings, the research suggests, are not natural-born socialists, but we do care about justice.

This suggests therefore that the problem is less about unequal outcomes and more about a nagging sense that our meritocracy is still too closed off. It still matters too much who your parents are or where you live or how many educational credentials you have. Our egalitarianism is still too conditional. 

Poilievre, who was adopted from a teenage mom and then married a first-generation Venezuelan immigrant, is uniquely positioned to advance these issues. He personifies the “striver” that Menzies spoke about more than 80 years ago—especially relative to the prime minister who was born somewhere between third base and home plate.

The key though will be to translate this compelling message into an actual policy agenda. There’s insufficient word count here to outline it in great detail. But it will necessarily manifest itself across a wide number of policy areas including the economy, childcare and other family policies, housing, education, criminal justice, immigration, mental health and addiction, and so forth. It must also pay particular attention to the circumstances and challenges facing Canada’s Indigenous peoples for whom opportunity and advancement is still too often out-of-reach. 

The main point here is that the animating idea of restoring the “Canadian promise” can form the basis of a compelling message and an energetic yet conservative policy agenda. Poilievre and his team should dedicate themselves to such a political vision rooted in his own life experiences and directed to the strivers among us. It’s a definition of his policies, priorities and values that’s bound to find a large audience.