Real Talk About the Modern Workplace: Limits, Opportunities, and Predictions for the Future
Ulistic CEO Stuart Crawford and CTECH CEO Carl Fransen sat down recently for the latest edition of their Calgary Tech Talk podcast. They discussed the modern workplace, whether it should be embraced, and where they see things going from here. Read on for a full recap of their in-depth conversation.
Discussing The Modern Workplace with Two Industry Pros from Calgary
Stuart Crawford and Carl Fransen have quite a professional history. Both of them got their start as tech-heads in Calgary, Alberta many moons ago. Since then, both have gone on to be titans of their respective industries. Fransen heads up CTECH, a multi-billion dollar IT firm based out of Calgary, while Crawford runs Ulistic, an award-winning digital marketing firm and lead-generating machine for managed IT service providers across the globe.
Years ago, the two professionals and former colleagues started the Calgary Tech Talk podcast where they made a habit of getting together to talk about the latest trends in business, IT, and marketing. While neither of them calls Calgary home base anymore, they recently got together again for the latest addition of Calgary Tech Talk to discuss the modern workplace.
Neither one of them hold back in chatting about the limits and opportunities of transitioning to a completely remote work environment and both offer some great insights and predictions about where they see the business and IT landscape going next.
The Modern Workplace: Making Cross-Border Business a Breeze
The modern workplace means business can happen anywhere now. These days, professionals in many industries can truly work from anywhere. And while the pandemic may have pushed this transition into overdrive, Fransen claims it was well on its way to happening even before mandatory on-site shutdowns.
“Listen, I’m working in Nanaimo, BC right now and I’m currently working with three other guys in all different places,” Fransen told Crawford. “We’ve been working on a Word document seamlessly. All of us can freely add content and photos anytime. We can all review and make edits simultaneously, and we can even leave comments for each other that get sent directly via email.”
The modern workplace is all about creating a virtual office where your team can be just as dynamic and productive as having your team together in one place. Crawford and Fransen agree that this new reality means professionals can work efficiently and effectively from wherever they happen to be. Even if they’re used to having their coworkers right down the hall, staying seamlessly connected has been made possible entirely online.
“It is pretty cool that you and I are on totally opposite ends of the continent right now and we’re able to do this podcast and talk tech and business together,” Crawford added.
“Exactly, no matter the weather or the distance between us, we can still collaborate and get work done.” Fransen agreed.
However, Crawford was quick to note that the modern workplace is going to look different for everyone and that he’s sometimes doubtful about the terminology that’s used to hype it up.
“Listen, I’m not so crazy about the terminology, because I think the “modern workplace” will look very different from one team and industry to another,” Crawford mentioned. “But don’t get me wrong, I understand why people are so hyped up about it. I mean, even in my own business, there are all these new and innovative ways for me to serve my clients with existing and up-and-coming technologies.”
“Exactly,” Fransen responded. “Truly, all it takes is that initial realization. That first time you go ‘…wait a minute… I can do that now? I can mobilize technology in that way? I never realized I could do that!’ That’s where our role comes in. Us IT geeks are here to say to our clients, ‘guess what guys, the window is now open and you can do that.’ Even better? We can help them position and optimize the technology to make it happen seamlessly.”
Crawford, who has a reputation as a marketing wizard was quick to agree. Not only because he’s helped countless IT MSP’s convince their clients that the transition to the modern workplace is worthwhile, but also because of his personal experience adapting his own business practices at Ulistic during a pandemic.
“Up until February before COVID got serious, I was travelling to consult with clients all the time,” Crawford noted. “If I were to make a conservative estimate, we’re talking $5000 a month in routine travel costs. Now I haven’t been on a plane since March 10th. This means during the lockdown Ulistic has saved upwards of $30,000 when you think of all the hotel and flight costs that have been eliminated.”
“It’s tricky though because that’s $30,000 that has exited the economy,” Fransen responded. “That’s money that wasn’t spent in the economy at hotels, on airlines, with taxis and Ubers, and restaurants. The pandemic really has presented different challenges and opportunities for different sectors and those industries have taken major hits.”
“Of course, but you know what, electricity killed the horse-and-buggy right?” Crawford asked. “The internet killed HMV and all the old records shops we used to go to. The reality is, people have to adapt, don’t they?”
Fransen was quick to agree. The reality is after COVID settles down, Fransen predicts we’re going to see a lot of corporations who require in-store foot traffic have to reimagine what their business model looks like.
Is In-Store Browsing, Shopping, and Customer Service On its Way Out?
“BBC recently did a story on this subway station in downtown Toronto,” Fransen explained. “It’s centrally located near a high-end shopping district and it funneled a lot of corporate foot-traffic for these shops. But since the pandemic, there are way fewer people taking the subway and walking through the shopping district to their high-paying jobs at downtown corporate high-rises.”
“This high-end Toronto shopping district is feeling that,” Fransen continued. “No one is walking through their shops anymore to browse and buy high-ticket items. Many of these high-end businesses are forced to ask themselves, I have the products they want and the services they need, but where are my customers? Where has the foot traffic gone?”
“Yes, and the critical question is, where is that traffic going Carl? And is it coming back anytime soon?” Crawford asked.
“Well, first of all, many people are staying at home and realizing they don’t need to go to the office at all,” Fransen explained. “Second, those who are still leaving home to go to the office are doing so way less frequently, and when they go, they’re focused on getting there and getting home. Many aren’t taking public transit or walking anymore. Most aren’t thinking to stop, browse, and shop in brick and mortar stores anymore.”
“That’s the real kicker here,” Crawford added. “Many of these stores are losing their traffic to online one-stop-shop giants like Amazon.”
“Yes exactly, it really is a shocking state of affairs,” Fransen said. “The fact of the matter is COVID really acted as a catalyst for a lot of people, and you were no different right Stuart? You realized you needed a new way of doing things and who did you call? The tech geeks like me! You called and asked what can we do here? How can we keep businesses going while travel is locked down and things have gone remote?”
“That’s the kind of initiative and adaptability organizations in all sectors are going to have to get comfortable with,” Crawford added.
“Exactly,” Fransen responded. “Listen, I’m no longer chained to the daily grind of having to drive to the office, there and back every single day. It’s just at the point where going through the motions of going to the office seems like a waste of time and capital. It’s expensive and unnecessary.”
“In fact, I challenged my staff about a month ago,” Fransen continued. “I went on LinkedIn and posted a photo of myself, the CEO, working from home – laying in my hammock with my laptop. I encouraged all my staff and colleagues to do the same and embrace the modern workplace. Guess what happened? They did it. They created their home office, they went to cafes and guess what? We saw no drop in productivity – our team stayed just as productive as they’d always been.”
“That’s a great transition to something we should talk about next,” Crawford claimed. “The kind of team it takes to run a modern workplace efficiently.”
The Modern Workplace is Great, But it Takes the Right Team
While both Crawford and Fransen see the immense potential that the modern workplace offers, they both agree that the transition to the modern workplace will take a lot of patience, adaptation, and most importantly the right people.
“Listen, the reality is the modern workplace will require the right people, won’t it?” Crawford asked. “I mean, in my experience, I know some people do thrive in the office environment and wouldn’t do as well working remotely.”
“Yeah that’s a great point,” Fransen agreed. “You know what, we recently let go of a really awesome tech with 25 years of experience. He was able to build infrastructure from the ground up – he really was a master of his craft. But it got to a point where I realized that I couldn’t really make use of his skill set anymore.”
“This is happening a lot,” Crawford added. “It’s going to become more and more common. The modern workplace requires team members that are ready to adapt their skillsets continually to meet changing realities.”
“Exactly, and he just wasn’t in a position to adapt to what CTECH needed in a service and support technician,” Fransen noted. “And that truly is no knock on him or his ability. This guy was really great at his job. But we sat him down, and he’s close to retirement, and he was pretty open about the fact that he needed a traditional office environment. He preferred to go at his regular pace and wasn’t really able to adapt to the changing business scene.”
Crawford and Fransen went on to discuss that the modern workplace will look different for everyone, and the beauty of it is that businesses can choose to go fully remote or have a blend of both onsite and offsite operations – you’re not tied to any one business model. You just need to know how to find the right talent for the right positions.
“Recently we hired a new tech who is half the age of our old guy, with half the experience, and we’ve found he’s better suited to adapt to the new technologies and transition to the modern workplace we designed at CTECH,” Fransen noted.
“The truth is, I’m willing to hire talent from wherever the talent is,” Crawford continued. “If I found a guy who was a Facebook advertising wizard in Columbia, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire him as a remote employee. In fact, my top web development guy is in Latvia. I have designers in the Philippines. The distance doesn’t need to be an obstacle anymore – you can stay in touch with Skype, or Email, or Teams. You just have to be open to making it work.”
Really, what Crawford and Fransen realize is that once you open yourself up to embracing the modern workplace, there are really no geographic limits to recruiting and hiring talent anymore. Business leaders can hire anyone, from anywhere in the world to do a job effectively and just as good as someone in an onsite office. You can recruit, hire, train, and collaborate with remote employees across international and even continental borders.
“The fact is, I’ve found talented individuals who have been with our team forever,” Crawford continued. “Some of my remote employees are people I have never met face-to-face, but I have trustworthy, longstanding business relationships with these people because of my willingness to branch out and adapt to a changing business scene.”
The really interesting thing is, the benefits of these new kinds of working arrangements aren’t just for organizations and business leaders. The modern workplace is also changing the game for employees in all industries through what Fransen refers to as the re-ruralization of the economy, which is what he and Crawford chatted about next.
Liberating Employees: The Modern Workplace & Re-Ruralization of The Economy
The re-ruralization of the economy is premised on the fact that now, with the modern workplace opening up new opportunities, really talented individuals who live anywhere in the world can access a much bigger pool of job opportunities without having to relocate.
This means that people can be living in really small, rural towns with limited industry, but can be working for a great corporate company, making a great salary, while still taking advantage of a low cost of living and the small town experience.
“Stuart, you said you have a great employee in a small town on the East Coast of Canada,” Fransen said. “What’s great about the opportunity you’ve given him is that he can choose to stay with his family. He can get up and look at the ocean every day. He can have a big house in a quiet, peaceful place where he wants to live.”
“Think about people living in high-rise apartments and condominiums in crowded urban centers like Toronto,” Fransen continued. “These people are slowly realizing that they’re paying sometimes over a million dollars for small living spaces, crowded next to countless neighbours. The modern workplace is making it possible for these people to consider relocating to a lake house for the same price. A new place to call home where they can have more space to themselves, nicer views, and still work a great job.”
“Listen, Carl, you’re a little further in this process than me, but I’ll tell you, the more we talk about this, the more excited I am for the final 18 months to be up on my office lease,” Crawford said.
“Right? Imagine how liberating it will feel to eliminate the capital cost hanging over your head every month,” Fransen added. “You can stop paying a monthly payment to make someone else rich and still do the amazing work you do every day.”
“Yes, but unfortunately because I’m a Canadian business operating in the US, I still need a physical address,” Crawford noted. “But we still plan to downsize our office significantly as more and more of our employees begin adapting to remote work arrangements.”
“Exactly, and like we said, the modern workplace will look different for every organization,” Fransen said. “You could be saving 5-10 thousand dollars a month by eliminating or even downsizing your onsite operations. The true beauty lies in the increased flexibility and freedom the modern workplace offers, no matter what it might look like for a given organization.”
“In our case, CTECH is down to nothing but a P.O. box now,” Fransen continued. “We just don’t need an office anymore. Why would I choose to have a capital expense when I’ve worked to build a team that doesn’t need or wants to be chained to an office. I can have a leaner, meaner, more effective business with fewer expenses, and less maintenance involved. A year ago we would have called this a good and innovative business move, but at this point, it’s more than that. These days, the modern workplace really has become a no-brainer.”
Fransen and Crawford agree that it’s the people who are able to actualize this vision – the people who are ready to adapt, the people leaving the cities to chase business opportunities on their own terms – these will be the business leaders of the future.
“Listen, I can take on other IT firms that are 10 times my size precisely because they have a massive amount of overhead expenses and I’ve eliminated for my business,” Fransen said. “The more business leaders open themselves up to seeing the opportunities and freedom that come from adapting to the modern workplace, the better they’ll position themselves for the future.”
“That prompts my last question, Carl,” Crawford noted. “With so many businesses leaving onsite operations behind, how does your company – a managed IT provider – continue to support business clients who aren’t in operating an office anymore?”
Managed IT in the Age of the Modern Workplace
Fransen was ready and eager to discuss Crawford’s final question: what does the modern workplace mean for the managed IT service space? If customers are no longer in an on-site office, what service and support can manage IT providers offer? How do MSPs adapt to their clients’ transition to the modern workplace?
“The truth is, the transition has been quite seamless,” Fransen says. “We have unprecedented remote access to all the corporate systems we work with and the majority of the work we do is not on physical devices anymore. We project out with Windows Virtual Desktop to their phones. They plug their phone into a pair of monitors and they’re set up to work.”
“So you’re predicting the landscape is really going to switch from on-premise solutions to all VDI technologies and other more flexible IT solutions like that?” Crawford asked.
“Exactly, and we’re already seeing it happen in really big ways,” Fransen said. “I was lucky enough to be invited to the Microsoft Executive Briefing Centre and The Microsoft CTO was pretty upfront in telling me that they plan to phase out Windows 10. It’s not their north star anymore.”
“That makes sense,” Crawford agreed. “Teams is clearly their new north star and it’s designed specifically for virtual operations.”
“Yes exactly,” Fransen continued. “Microsoft is taking a new approach. They’re striving to be completely agnostic. Users could have a Mac, an Android, an IOS, or a Windows device, and Microsoft Teams will just work seamlessly, no matter the device. That means the amount of corporate desktops businesses will need is minimal. Employees will be able to rely on a basic Chromebook or even a smartphone to run apps with major processing power, like AutoCAD.”
“This really is the way of the future,” Fransen continued. “No more workstations – high-power devices will be the new hardware for business. Internet speeds will need to adjust, and there will be other adjustments to be made, but this is already happening in many places.”
So what are the key takeaways from Fransen’s discussion with Crawford? The biggest one is that there is a lot of exciting stuff going on when it comes to the intersection of business and technology – and the evolution isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The modern workplace is opening up countless doors for employees and businesses alike and both Carl and Stuart recommend embracing the freedom and opportunity that are bubbling up everywhere.
“I don’t know about you Carl, but there’s so much exciting stuff going on I’m almost looking forward to retirement,” Crawford joked. “We can watch all the new guys ride the waves of the transition. But when I think about it, there’s not a lot of young guys starting IT companies from my estimation.”
“Well, you may be right, because they’re embedded in the new technology, while we’re adapting to it,” Fransen responded. “Maybe the young guns will be the next big business threat in our space – maybe they know something we don’t.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Crawford concluded. “We’ll store that away as a conversation for next time.”
Even though they’re not in South West Calgary anymore, Stuart and Carl still meet up regularly for the Calgary Tech Talk podcast. No matter where in the world they may be casting from, be sure to stay tuned to hear more about all things business and IT from these innovative industry pros.
Have questions about the modern workplace and how to make it work for your organization? Reach out to the team of innovative IT pros from CTECH anytime at (403) 457-1478, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at www.ctechgroup.ca to chat with a live agent and book a consultation.
My passion is to make my mark on the world in a positive and lasting way. I want to set an example for my son that his father can compete with integrity in today’s world, be very successful, and leave the world a better place for him.
Combining my technical/business-based education with a long career steadily progressing up the corporate ladder, I decided to build a company that held true to my values. So, I founded and designed the next generation of IT support firm: CTECH Consulting Group Inc. We are a completely automated, cloud-based IT company designed to compete against any other IT firm without the overhead. We promote a lifestyle to all our staff where they can work anywhere, at any time, access any information on any device that is relevant to their job, and collaborate with anyone they want to.