Permanent teleworking boosts talent drain risk: venture capital exec



“If you’re remote forever, you’re going to spend your life training people to find better paying jobs somewhere else.”

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Companies must find ways of limiting remote work or run the risk of losing their best and brightest employees to deep-pocketed technology giants, a leading Quebec venture capital investor says.

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As co-founder and partner at Montreal-based Inovia Capital, Chris Arsenault has played a role in the development of some of Quebec’s most successful tech startups over the last decade.

Created in 2007, Inovia made early-stage bets on e-commerce software provider Lightspeed Commerce Inc., healthcare software maker AlayaCare and flight-booking app Hopper, among others. It now oversees more than US$1.9 billion in assets.

“Remote working is an efficient way to enable value creation and product delivery, but you can’t let people be remote forever,” Arsenault, a 25-year investment veteran, said Thursday in an interview on the last day of the C2 Montreal conference. “If you’re remote forever, you’re going to spend your life training people to find better paying jobs somewhere else. Employers will need to oblige more human interaction.”

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That may prove difficult if companies decide to drastically shrink their office-space footprint and adopt a virtual model.

While hybrid work schedules are here to stay, “there is a balance to be found, and it’s unclear who will be able to manage that balancing act. This is top of mind for us,” Arsenault said. “People see an opportunity, but in fact it’s a trap. What are all of these tech companies doing by enabling remote working? They’re educating a market to be more individualistic and more autonomous. Therefore, if I’m Google, I just wait a year or two, look at who’s doing a great job with the remote work and hire them with much better conditions. Who can compete with that? The only thing Google needs to do is wait.”

Although many employers have managed to preserve or even improve productivity during the pandemic through technologies such as videoconferencing, Arsenault warns the lack of in-person interaction could still prove costly.

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“Video is like Instagram: You only see what I want you to see,” he said. “If you met somebody in person, maybe you’d realize that they were struggling or that they were thinking of leaving. Body language is a language, and we forget that video is not a conduit for that language. When you’re in person, there’s trust.”

Competition for tech industry employees has reached new heights in the last 18 months as companies in a wide range of sectors seek to modernize production processes, Arsenault and other venture capital insiders said during a panel discussion at C2 Thursday morning.

“Talent is definitely the No. 1 topic at board meetings and in due diligence for companies that we have,” Éléonore Jarry-Ferron, a Montreal-based investment associate at Brightspark Ventures, told conference attendees. “There’s been a talent shortage since tech started, but we’re now at completely new levels of shortage. We’re seeing that salaries are increasing drastically across the board in technology in different roles. Experienced people that have done it before in those roles are extremely rare, hard to find and very hard to poach.”

Technology “is not slowing down,” said Arsenault. “Every industry is adopting technology, therefore it has to hire digitally enabled people. That’s true for anything from farming to woodchopping, distribution, logistics or education. At the same time, the technology companies are growing and facing a big market pull. They need more talent as well. The talent shortage is broad-based.”

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