Evona has offered employees the flexibility to work remotely since the space recruiting startup was founded in Bristol, England, in 2018.
The policy was a departure from strict management in the founders’ previous jobs. Plus, they thought it would give them a competitive advantage.
“We were a startup and we needed to attract the talent against the big boys,” said Evona co-founder Tom Kelly. “So, we said, ‘If you want to work from a beach in Spain, you have that flexibility.'”
In 2018, remote work was not the norm for jobs outside of the tech sector. Space companies employed remote software engineers and data analysts, but most people reported to offices, labs, factories, or facilities designed to safeguard classified information.
“It took a catalyst like a global pandemic to demonstrate across many different job functions and industries that it was possible to work remotely and do it productively,” said Justus Kilian, founder of Space Capital and Space Talent. “That experiment has shown that many jobs, not all, but many jobs can operate remotely.”
Now, there are many remote jobs in the space sector. Only 14 percent of the companies Evona works with require candidates to be on-site for more than three days a week for sales and operations jobs. For software and technology roles, 26 percent of companies expect employees to spend most of the week on site. Hardware and infrastructure work still requires people to show up in person for 92 percent of the companies Evona supports.
“Even roles that require the employee to be on site most of the week are now increasingly offering some level of flexibility and autonomy to their staff,” said Adele Fox, Evona’s director of marketing.
“Very few seem to require their employees to be on site 100 percent of the work week, even when working with specialized tools.”
Some space company leaders are embracing the trend toward remote work. Others warn against it. In any case, the pandemic has changed the calculation of current and future employees.
After working from home for months or even years during the pandemic, some people realize how much they enjoy working with colleagues, while others now balk at the idea of traveling or following rigid work schedules.
Employers need to understand “this remote work shift” and figure out how to stay competitive, Killian said.
Earth imaging company Satellogic had a globally distributed workforce before the pandemic, allowing it to quickly shift to remote operations.
Remote operations “help increase the talent pool,” said Emiliano Kargieman, CEO and co-founder of Satellogic. Satellogic employees still work side by side building satellites, and the company has kept the offices because “not everyone has a quiet room in the house where they can work,” Kargieman said.
Istvan Lorinc, co-founder and president of Morpheus Space, is not a fan of remote work.
“That was a solution to a state of emergency and not a permanent good thing,” Lorinc said. “Imagine how much experience and knowledge is not being transferred because of remote work. Over time, if this continues, the quality of the work will decline.”
Most companies have a mix of remote and on-site work.
Since Novawurks was founded in 2011, people who needed to work outside the office have done so. “Of course, when they need to touch the hardware, they go in,” said Talbot Jaeger, founder and CTO of Novawurks.
Bill Crandall, vice president of business development for Novawurks, added, “We’ve had people want to move and we told them, ‘Don’t give up. We’ll send a spaceship building block with you.’”
AAC Clyde Space is doing more work remotely than before the pandemic.
“Of course we have eight satellites in the clean room and someone has to build them,” said Luis Gomes, CEO of AAC Clyde Space. “Some tasks have to be done at the facility. You cannot hire a civil engineer from South America to work remotely. Design Engineer? Yes. And we have done it.”
Raytheon Intelligence & Space has embraced three different working styles: remote, hybrid, and on-site.
Remote work can be done anywhere in the United States. Hybrid jobs require employees to spend 50 percent of their time on company premises. Jobs in which employees spend 100 percent of their time on site are often related to government classified work.
“The hardware that is being built, especially the classified hardware, for the most part is an on-site activity,” said Matt Magana, vice president of Raytheon Space Systems. “So, there’s a lot of classified development work. We’ve done a lot to separate classified and unclassified to allow us to build a more flexible workforce because I can’t ask someone to walk into a classified area and sit there for eight hours a day, seven days a week. The environment has changed now.”
Space industry recruiters have front row seats to changes in space employment.
Early in the pandemic, many satellite and rocket manufacturers, as well as suppliers, were designated as critical infrastructure.
“That forced companies to differentiate between who needs to be on-premises and who provides some kind of support and can work remotely,” Kilian said. “I think we’re going to see a continuation of that. It’s hard to compete in a world where people have seen the benefits of working from home and not having to travel. Removing that is very challenging.”
Fox agrees. “What we constantly hear from candidates is because they’ve been working remotely, because they can see that their work-life balance is better, that’s what they’re demanding,” Fox said. “Companies that tell them they’re 100 percent percent on site will have a hard time competing in a market where there aren’t enough qualified people to fill the roles we have in space as it is.”
Evona encourages space companies to offer flexibility to workers where possible.
Jobs that require people to work on-site can “dramatically shorten prime hours and allow people to start later,” Kelly said. “If you allow people to take their children to school and pick their children up from school, I can promise that you will get 100 times more from those people because you are supporting them and you are supporting their families.”
For employers who worry that people offsite aren’t as productive, Kelly has seen the opposite.
“As long as you hire the right people with the right motivations and let them work their way, the results skyrocket,” Kelly said. “We are conveying this message as much as we can to our customers. There is certainly still a resistance, but it is much better since the pandemic.”
Flexible work policies have helped Evona retain workers, Kelly said. The company has an annual staff turnover rate of six per cent, compared to the UK recruitment industry average of around 40 per cent.
Despite the trend toward remote work, many employers prefer to interact with employees face-to-face.
“We don’t have a problem with remote work, but we love getting together,” said Jaeger. “We have a lot of fun together.”
Also, there are times when remote work is not advantageous.
Leaders of early-stage startups, for example, often work closely together.
“There is a lot of value in being close to your co-founders,” Kilian said. “You can make decisions very quickly [and] be very action oriented.
Even late-stage companies are planning retreats and other ways to bring employees together.
After a couple of years of extensive remote operations, Satellogic is now “trying to push in the opposite direction and bring employees together physically as much as we can,” Kargieman said. “Obviously, there’s a part of being in person, in the same room that just can’t be completely replaced by remote work.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of SpaceNews magazine.