Apr 7, 2022
We welcome Laurel Farrer to the
podcast, to talk about how to lay down the foundations to provide
an equitable experience for our employees, in a hybrid setup. The
conversation was inspired by Laurel’s article
10 Habits to Ensure Equality in
Your Hybrid Team.
But before we get into the
content of the article, we hear from Laurel about her aspirations
for the adoption of remote work. In her LinkedIn profile, she says
that she “leverages the power of workplace flexibility to impact
business operations and socioeconomics.” She named her company
“Distribute Consultancy” – they’re not just talking about working
with people who are physically distributed, but they also champion
the opportunity to distribute wealth and opportunity. Enabling
remote work is about changing the way we work, and changing the
world at an economic level.
Laurel reminds us that the kind of work that happened during the pandemic, was not “remote work”, it was a contingency plan. This has led to controversy about whether this has helped or hindered socioeconomics.
How does “hybrid” fit into this? Laurel’s research shows that the number of workforce requests from those who want to work remotely and want workplace flexibility has not increased since before the pandemic. What has changed is their negotiation power, having shown that it’s possible to work productively even when you’re away from the office.
This can lead employers to feel
pressured into offering flexible working, and offering this from a
point of fear, they will be resentful. Whereas if they truly
understand the benefits, like more efficient outputs, it can be a
great option for everyone.
Let’s get to Laurel’s article now and discuss the habits she mentions, under different themes.
Management resistance is the first barrier to success in adopting remote work. There is a danger of people being seen as more committed just because they choose to work from the office and this can lead to proximity bias, where those closer to you are perceived as more valuable.
In order to be successful as a hybrid team, we need to operate as a remote team. We need to stop talking about “location”, it shouldn’t be a factor in how your work is recognised. The more we can employ the principles of “virtual first”, the more successful we’ll be. The office can be seen as a tool, somewhere else where we can get the work done.
It’s not always the remote workers who feel left out. Laurel quotes Lara Owen, talking about the “coffee vs pants debate”, where each type of workforce thinks the other side is better off.
One of the conversations that is currently missing is why people need to come into the office and when, even if they’re being given a choice of when to do so. Team members start to make decisions on where to work from, depending on personal life factors (e.g. having to pick up a child at a certain time), rather than thinking about what tasks and conversations are best had where. These conversations create a new type of value for the office, and the different environments.
Blending workspaces: designing consisten workplaces
We’ve been working in offices for a very long while and so there are aspects of the workplace we take for granted, like health and safety regulations which also make us more productive.
If we shift from the carefully curated environment of the office to our home, (or a noisy coffee shop) we run the risk of being less productive. So as we are talking about having a choice of workspaces, organisations need to make sure that people working away from the office can still be safe, connected and access the resources they need to do their work.
At the same time, office spaces need to be comfortable for people too, which is tricky as different people are comfortable in different environments. (e.g. Pilar is always cold in offices with aircon!) Some people might prefer to work from home, even if they miss the social connection, because they’re more comfortable than in the office, so what changes can we make in the office so that it becomes a place where people want to work from? This is also a conversation worth having with employees.
In an office, one of the greatest channels of communication is implicit communication and observation. We can make small changes, so that remote workers don’t feel left out of the hybrid experience. Having more explicit announcements and communicating in public channels rather than direct messages (e.g. in Slack) and paying attention to how we’re using the technology, rather than what technology we’re using.
We need to be more deliberate about how we communicate, and pull back on its spontaneous nature, so it’s difficult, and it’s easy to resist it. However, what feels natural after many years of working in the same way, was at some point also intentional. In a way, we are creating our new “organic” way of working. We can still be emotional in our interactions, and facilitate empathetic leadership, but it requires intention.
We are innovating in the ways we communicate and collaborate. And just because we used to do things in one way (e.g. monitor presence rather than output) doesn’t mean that they were the right ways of doing them. Something for change advocates to hang onto.
We are different in many ways, more than we’ve been used to thinking about. How we like to communicate, what tech we prefer, where we like to work from. Maybe before they weren’t relevant, or that visible… eg many people are now asking themselves how to engage introverts in online meetings, whereas they’d never considered how this was being addressed in the in-person version…
How can you design your rituals, communication practices etc to be as inclusive as possible? Global and standardised tools, including asynchronous communication, etc. We can let go of some of the systems and ways of working that might have held certain people back.
Diversity needs to be turned into inclusion, by making sure different types of people are being recognised. When we talk about flexibility rather than “remote” or “hybrid” we can also look at the flexibility possible in jobs where location-independence is not an option. Schedule flexibility, access to the same digital tools and documentation as remote workers, etc are being explored by manufacturing companies worried about creating a gap between the different types of employees. Then we start to look at true equality.
To wrap up, Laurel shares her thoughts and experiences on how remote work is being adopted by large organisations. Her company Distribute helps organisations explore high levels of flexibility, through helping to evaluate their tools, write handbooks and policies, create training programmes etc. Key to making the change scalable is how success is measured. By being clear in our success metrics, we can evaluate whether hybrid work works.