Are we remote? Are we hybrid? What does it all mean?

Are we remote? Are we hybrid? What does it all mean? Confused some people maybe with terminology flying around and arguments for and against each of them. Human nature is to be wary of change and therefore suddenly thrusting all this upon people is naturally going to make people nervous and uneasy. It’s all understandable. 

There is an obvious starting point. What does remote mean? Well there are varying degrees and different organisations have adopted slightly different versions. The most clear points are at each end – some organisations are very much strictly remote. That is all they are. People never meet in person or hold synchronous meetings. People work where they feel and when they feel. Conversely some organisations are strictly office.  No remote working is allowed. Now I can see some jobs that both of these work well with – either office full time or remote full time. My wife would have difficulty seeing patients on a hospital ward from home. 

In between these two extremes though it is varied and likely where most organisations will sit. If you simply take the “no-remote” world you can add simply changes like:

  • Pre-agreed remote time allowing some days outside of the office;
  • Some employees within a “no-remote” workframe are allowed to work remotely; and
  • Employees are allowed to work remotely some of the time.

And likewise moving down from a strictly remote approach, you can make tweaks to bring back a little:

  • Remote-first sees an organisation be optimised for remote work but occasional visits to an office allowed; and
  • Remote with strict working hours, a set time zone and fixed times of work.

The diversity of working now has reached a peak. Smack in the middle is hybrid working where an organisation will have a combination of fully remote, fully office (by choice) and everything in between. Ultimately technology allows people to work where they want. 

The challenge then is that it’s not just about deciding remote, office or hybrid. You need to think much broader – the only way to make the choice work is to think about equipment, culture and much much more. The space used needs to be the right design. The old office is no longer fit for a new way of working (well unless you are sticking to your guns and keeping it strictly office – good luck with that). Collaboration spaces are needed. The question of meetings is a big topic. That is not you need meetings all the time but you need to think about their purpose, what’s the agenda – agree up front, and particularly how and where will the meeting be conducted. 

Technology is a given. If you don’t have technology in place then good luck. The workplace set up is needed whether in the office or remote. Think about how you invest in the workspaces to ensure you maintain a productive workforce. 

Culture is key as well. During the lockdown there was a clear divide of senior leaders “in the country with the large gardens” as opposed to younger workers in small apartments working on their beds – I exaggerate but you get the idea. In the new ways of working for an organisation it needs to be consistent across all grades and levels. Policies should apply to all. Leaders need to set an example. They need to think about how they distribute messages and in a consistent manner. 

Above all, the organisation should learn to manage a distributed team. They may be all at home. All in the office. Or mostly likely spread in multiple locations. The starting point has got to be trust. If you don’t trust people then you’re never going to make it work. If trust is assumed then communication and support services are high on the list. There needs to be discipline – certainly I have found you need to really utilise your time so communication around purpose (whether a meeting or a document) allows focus in the right areas.   

Whatever your organisation chooses the underlying priority is your people. Your talent. Treat them fairly. Think about fostering a culture that promotes time away from work and a focus on mental health. We all need a recharge and a workload that is fair and even across our counterparts. Do not celebrate long working hours. Do not promote out of hours communication – sometimes yes it’s needed but it should be the exception not the norm. Portugal set the tone recently here of banning out of hours contact – but caution is needed as to what is out of hours these days? Encourage healthy lifestyle choices. Time away from a screen is key.

Think of life as one big experiment. Is there a right answer for an organisation. No. You need to see what works best for both the employees and the organisation and its stakeholders. If something doesn’t quite work then adapt it. You’ll find a solution in time. 

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