Border in a global tech economy

Imposing borders in a global tech economy: how the PR industry needs to change to support the next generation of tech-driven businesses

Three months into Brexit and the challenges of implementing the new trading rules and introducing UK-specific legislation are being widely felt by UK plc. Companies are still unclear as to how the new import/export rules will impact on them and their supply chain, they have concerns over continued employment of EU personnel and around compliance with new UK legislation and data privacy laws. But ultimately, the main issue is that in today’s digital economy, imposing constraints to tighten sovereignty and bolster autonomy are at odds with the needs of businesses. So how can we, as international communications and PR agencies support our global clients, or, indeed, clients with global ambitions?

The UK is not alone in seeking greater independence. In recent years, governments across the world have sought to create more insular nations and win over citizens who have associated the recent demise in living standards with the global financial crisis and reliance on ‘global government’.

The problem is that the measures being taken to reinforce national boundaries are diametrically opposed to the direction in which most major macro trends are currently going. The insistence of imposing these boundaries is clashing not just with international business operations and aspirations, but also with people, who wittingly or not, are today living their lives against an international backdrop and seeking apps, products and services with an international brand name. If you ask people across geographies to name the smartphone apps they use most frequently, the likes of Facebook, PayPal, Airbnb, Instagram, eBay and Netflix are likely to feature quite highly whether that person is from the UK, the US or Turkey.

We live in a world that is more globally aligned than many people realise. We have a global news agenda which has arguably been made more evident over the last 12 months than ever before; between the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, the global interest in Harry and Meghan’s decision to step down from royal duties and move to the US, the landing of Perseverance on Mars which was eagerly watched across nations – and last but not least, Covid 19.

The international media has served to bring us closer together as a global community – as countries and politicians have shared their combined mission to combat the virus through a continual flow of media updates and documentaries. And by media we also mean social media channels and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that have accelerated the dispersion of news, and which as communicators we actively engage with to reach wider audiences.

The forced lockdown has driven people to technology, including to online banking and social media at an unprecedented rate, out of both boredom and necessity. TikTok, the video sharing platform, grew by 75% between January and September last year and it was the #1 top app on iOS App Store globally. And why is it so popular? Because people are curious, and they like to see and share videos of other people doing interesting things and getting an insight into different cultures and seeing people from different parts of the world is part of this. A simple yet entertaining video can make its way around the globe virtually in minutes.

Indeed, by its very nature, technology does not respect boundaries. And the entrepreneurs behind the next generation of tech businesses want to be global businesses from day one. I recently interviewed Arik Shtilman, CEO at fintech-as-a-service platform, Rapyd for Tyto’s Without Borders podcast. Shtilman explained that his biggest regret in previous ventures was thinking ‘too small’. So, when he set up Rapyd, he set out to establish a global player from day one. And it has proved to be a key differentiator. Today the unicorn operates in more than 20 countries. It appeals to businesses that have global operations themselves and are looking for a service with global capabilities that ensures international compliance, saving them the headache of worrying about regulators in Indonesia or compliance issues in Mexico.

The rise of remote working

Another key trend that is adding weight to the rise of global enterprises is the phenomenon of remote working. Even before coronavirus hit, companies, such as ours, had already introduced location agnostic working models, allowing staff to move to areas outside of cities or even abroad to focus on redressing the balance to life outside of work.

Since the world started to work remotely in the wake of the Coronavirus, people have become accustomed to flexible working and increasingly want to choose where they are based. A recent survey by Remote found that 71% of tech workers would move overseas and work remotely if they could. Fortunately for them and as a direct consequence of this demand, the opportunities for people to live in one place and work in another have also rocketed and recruitment policies have changed drastically.

Another recent poll carried out by Management Today found that half of business leaders would now be more likely to consider hiring someone who was not within commuting distance. Companies are no longer confined to looking for the best local talent to fill their roles, they can now choose from the best national, and even international talent. Indeed, what has ensued is a global war on talent. Businesses are now battling for the best people to do the job – thinking innovatively and doing whatever it takes to retain staff and attract talent from new venues.

In fact, such is the demand for these borderless models of working that there are business opportunities to be gained by helping companies adapt and achieve this. One such business is Remote, an HR technology start-up. Its Co-Founder and CEO, Job van der Voort, set up the company with the specific aim of helping companies to hire people globally and align business to where talent lies because he could see that “the biggest challenge today is that talent is distributed – but opportunity isn’t”.

Adapting to the needs of new tech-led businesses

Today, despite the constraints put on them, tech-led businesses have both the desire and the opportunity to conquer the world or at least large sections of it. As communicators we need to understand and embrace these ambitions and remodel our own set ups and processes in order to support them. We need to be more agile and more efficient in order not to burden these often young and cash-tight businesses with multinational fee structures. We also need to be aware of where businesses are headed next and adapt our services and our models to be able to better accommodate their needs.

One of the best ways to get a picture of the future is to look at what companies on the cutting edge are doing. Tyto, for example, draws inspiration from the operating models of new and emerging tech companies and from industry analysis of how models are changing.

So how do you navigate this new world? Our view is that you need to look all around you before charting a ‘communications’ course. When we founded the company in 2017, we chose the name, Tyto – the genus name for barn owls – for this very reason: owls can turn their heads 270 degrees. For far too long communications agencies have been wearing blinkers, heavily relying on ‘all seeing’ central hubs in London or New York which then instruct regional teams to implement a localised approach. But how can these central teams be ‘all seeing’ when they are operating in silos? And how can the layers of hierarchy and inefficiencies – typically associated with a hub and spoke model – fit with the flat and agile structures of new, global, tech-led enterprises today?

We believe they can’t and that’s why we created our business around a new operating model that we call PRWithoutBorders™. Our multinational team works as one across regions without silos. It delivers many advantages, including around 25-30% more value compared to the traditional models but critically, it offers aspiring global companies the opportunity to scale into new markets and flex their PR to fit with their evolving ambitions. By offering a more fluid borderless way of supporting clients, we can accommodate their needs.

The gathering pace of borderless business presents an important step change. It offers a huge opportunity for us, our employees and our clients – but we need to recognise the hurdles ahead and act to fundamentally change the way we work if we are to truly meet the needs of the new generation of tech-led businesses.

Image ©Claudio Schwarz,