Remote First Vs. Remote Friendly: A Pivotal Battle In Hybrid Work Models
The most significant decision that many organizations will have to make this year is how they will return to the office, if they ever will, or the hybrid work model they will implement. Right now, they are contending with the benefits of remote work that global workforces have enjoyed for the last 15 months.
People have loved the flexibility afforded by their new lifestyles. So much, that a new survey by Business Insider found 40% of workers would quit their jobs if they had to go back to their office space.
There are many variables managers and employees should consider before rushing back to the office, including if their building meets CDC guidelines for reopening. However, employers shouldn’t be making blanket hybrid model policies or guilt-tripping their workers to spend at least three days at the office.
There needs to be a data-backed consensus for what working methods are the most productive and beneficial for your current remote employees. The only way to do that is by evaluating which work models fit each team/department best and listening to what employees prefer.
What are the trends in return to office plans?
As the vaccines became available to almost all age groups in the U.S, people remained hesitant.
There were safety concerns of returning to office work and not knowing if all of your colleagues are vaccinated. Some people didn't want to go there when the hybrid office gets crowded in the middle of the week while wanting to spend Tuesday or Thursday there.
As a result, in a study conducted by Robin in March 2021 they found some interesting trends:
- The total number of employees working from the office increased by 2.5%.
- The average organization operates at 20% on any given business day.
- The employee bounce rate doubled from 6% in February to 13% in March.
- The U.S ranks 14th in return to office plans.
These numbers probably have increased now that we are in June, but an air of uncertainty exists, at least in the U.S.
While in places like Australia and New Zealand, which largely escaped the pandemic and were more aggressive in their lockdowns, offices operate at 50%-75% capacity.
The most common hybrid workplace model implemented is to have a 2-3 system where employees work remotely two days a week and spend the rest at the office. However, depending on your industry, company, and employee preferences, this might not be the best option.
The hybrid work models for organizations with a headquarters
Before you start considering the hybrid work model for your organization, you have to evaluate how your current processes are either working or failing.
These two things will help you figure that out:
- How many days do employees think they will need in the office to maintain high levels of company culture?
- Who are the influential team members who are vital to keeping the team together and what is their availability and preference for remote work?
- Who are the people that may be inhibiting healthy team collaboration and are they working on-site or from another location?
- Take into account each individual task, project, and idea that employees are working on. Are they being completed on time, dragging on, or constantly blocked?
- Find where all the information about that work is. Try to archive all the relevant conversations and files. How is that information connected to each unit of work?
- Talk to the people involved with each project, markdown who's responsible for what, and which people need to be kept in the loop.
Once you complete these steps, you will have a complete picture of how your employees think of remote work, who is holding your remote culture together, and who isn’t.
You will also understand how your team completes work, their productivity, and which processes function perfectly fine with remote work. You will also see which stand to benefit the most from being completed in the office.
You are building a map of your remote workers and how efficiently they are managing their workloads. When you understand your company through this lens, it is much easier to understand the hybrid work model that will benefit your organization.
Now let’s take a look at those models.
In this hybrid working model, your main office is the focal point of daily operations. Employees are required to be present most weeks with the ability to take 1-2 days remotely.
This model works best for small companies with only one or two office locations and the majority of the workforce located around them. After your analysis, choose this option if your employees overwhelmingly think they would benefit the most from being colocated. They will still have the flexibility to set their hours and WFH days.
Apple recently implemented this model for their employees starting in September. However, it seems they never consulted their employees about it because the majority do not agree with the model.
In this model, employees have the power to choose whether they want to work remotely or at the office.
This hybrid remote work model works best for medium to large-sized companies that want to give their workforce the flexibility to choose their preferred working method. If you find that some teams are completing projects at rapid speed remotely and others that have been struggling while at home, then this may be your best option.
The model makes the most sense for organizations with manufacturing forces that have to be on-site or executives that would benefit the most from in-person meetings.
However, if it isn’t implemented effectively, significant inequities and status-tiers can spring up. Managers will favor the on-site employees, and they stand the most to benefit from promotions.
Ford announced these measures back in March.
Remote-friendly Hybrid Model
In this model, you put boundaries on who can work remotely. For example, 25% of your workforce can elect to work from home because they aren’t local.
The rest of the organization has to be in the office the majority of the year and can schedule WFH days at their discretion.
This model would benefit most medium to large-sized SaaS companies. Companies like SmartRecruiters have main offices in San Francisco, Berlin, and Krakow and have a portion of the employee base working remotely.
It makes sense to attract top international talent and but the model can experience similar issues as the flex-first model. That is why SmartRecruiters would have monthly company-wide in-person meetings and events. Still, they have moved to a more remote-first model since the pandemic.
The Hybrid Menu Model
In this model, you get a bit of a mix of the previous three. Current employees and new hires choose from a list of options, whether full-remote, in-office, or flex.
This model is a unique offer to prospective talent. Still, it can result in office hierarchies and make onboarding a new employee very difficult. Depending on their choice and team, they will need to fly out to an office at least a couple of times a year. They might also have to work in an office of a different department.
Suppose there isn’t a consensus among employees on how to work and you are dedicated to investing in HR teams. In that case, take notes from Hubspot. In 2021, 70% of their roles are location agnostic, meaning that if the job just needs to be done in the same time zone. They also have a remote-first employee onboarding program.
Remote First vs. Remote Friendly
Remote Friendly organizations allow remote work to happen while remote first companies work remotely by default. Does that mean they do not have an office?
Not always. There might be a couple of workspaces that the company rents, but everything is practiced remotely, from communication to operations.
What does that mean?
In the remote friendly hybrid models, communication primarily takes place in-person at the office, with remote workers calling in only for a daily standup or meeting with their manager.
Remote first communication is all about documentation. Every meeting should have a transcript, conversations about work occur through a messaging app or project management tool. You have a frequency, cadence, and design of the communication. There is a balance between asynchronous work, virtual company meetings, and yearly company gatherings.
While remote friendly teams would invest in a dedicated in-person HR staff and in-person feedback, remote first emphasizes digital company handbooks. They also are dedicated to written and detailed feedback through monthly video calls with managers.
As many people are concerned about the inequities that can spring up with the return to the office, you can mitigate it by creating online development plans. These are thorough learning programs that are available to all employees.
You could create a lesson plan based on each skill set that is needed to advance through the ranks of a department. Plenty of distributed organizations like Gitlab practice this.
Most importantly, you trust and treat each of your workers equitably. You empower them to execute their projects.
Why all distributed teams should be remote-first
Distributed teams existed much earlier than the shift to remote work.
Rebecca hinds in her article "The 5 Hybrid and Remote Work Models for Your Business" gives a pretty good definition
“The first thing to understand is that teams who work together from two or more offices across the globe are distributed but not remote.”
What she means is that most distributed organizations don’t have a centralized headquarters and teams will work from different offices across time zones to complete projects.
It is more a form of working rather than working with a remote-first mindset. Many distributed teams lack the remote work tenants of documentation, asychronous communication or location independence.
Then you have Anthony Wing Kosner say in his article "The Crucial Difference Between Remote Work and Distributed Work":
"From a distributed work perspective, a company is just a collection of resources aligned on a common mission."
Many organizations have found themselves in a situation where they might be selling the expensive headquarters and opening up company outposts across the world. Others are returning to the office cautiously after having successfully survived a pandemic in a distributed/remote setting.
Why not continue having the organization be a collection of resources in the cloud and work from anywhere you choose.
The point is you have the opportunity to make a truly monumental change in the future of your organization or return to the status quo.
So why not weigh all the costs and benefits?
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