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The power of remote work: can it help displaced people find socio-economic stability?


18 Sep, 2022

How we work will shape where we live. 

Industrialisation brought the revolution in transport which generated opportunities for global trade and increased mobility. New information technologies enabled “trade in factories” which made it profitable to relocate factories to places where labour was cheapest. Today, the internet enables “trade in offices” where economic activities are increasingly evolving from the movement of physical goods to the movement of virtual information which carries a range of new opportunities and challenges.

Over 800 million people have been forced to flee their homes in the last 10 years according to UNHCR Refugee Agency. By 2050, this could reach as many as 1.2 billion people as predicted by the 2020 Ecological Threat Register. As a growing number of people are forced to flee their homes due to war, persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events of disruption to public order, can remote work help those displaced find socio-economic stability?

“If a large number of people can work from anywhere and do very valuable work, why not hire many of those people that are at danger or at risk of being displaced because of climate change, because of war?”

Phil Libin, Founder of All Turtles

Companies in the developed world hire globally with a focus on maximising profits by minimising production/ service costs. However, by widening the lens of remote work, increasing its adoption for all and understanding better what it is and who it can work for, remote work can offer new forms of organising labour – benefitting societies and corporations. Arguably, a significant cost exists in doing this and if it is not borne by the individuals or companies then it must be borne by governments and this may explain political resistance to ensuring adequate and decent integration into society of those displaced which limits a significant group of potential international labour. More practically, obstacles to virtual work and trade are more challenging to impose than the traditional physical alternative which many systems and processes are currently designed to support. Restructuring processes such as taxation, legal identification and flow of capital to be suitable for a more virtual world can quickly become a costly endeavour but it is necessary for a borderless and inclusive future of work.

Remote work presents an opportunity for change in the way we work and live - the opportunity to create more inclusion for all. There are valid concerns and questions that arise from the controversial practicalities of remote work. Should companies pay a standardised global pay rates based on skills rather than location? Where should remote workers/ digital nomads pay taxes? However, we must take a step forward in our view of remote work by challenging our approach to organising labour.