Interviews

Remote cooperation– how to make it effective?

Remote cooperation– how to make it effective?

We talk to Nadia Harris, founder of remoteworkadvocate.com and Remote School, about aspects related to remote, hybrid and asynchronous work, as well as ideas on increasing the effectiveness of online meetings.

Wiktor Doktór, Pro Progressio: What does global research say about remote and hybrid work?

Nadia Harris, Remote School: It's worth starting with the fact that remote and hybrid work is not a short-term trend or a completely new phenomenon. The pandemic turned out to be an accelerator that made both models remain within companies for good. It’s been quite a while now that we’ve been observing the development of the hub & spoke model, which means having a main office and "satellite offices" in different cities. In other words, distributed work models are among us longer than we may imagine.

When it comes to statistics related to remote and hybrid work, it is worth looking at Gallup's  research, which clearly shows that employees prefer flexible ways of working. According to the latest data from August 2022, 38% of people declare their willingness to work in a hybrid mode, and 18% fully remotely. In the same study, as many as 73% of the surveyed employees indicate that their company should rethink its organizational culture. Such data clearly shows that we still have a lot of work to do.

What characterizes hybrid work?

It is primarily intentionality, not just giving people a temporary permission to work from home. The essence of hybrid work is a combination of "remote-first" and office models, considering the real value of both. Organizations that function completely without an office can operate efficiently without physical presence of employees. This requires appropriate tools (both technology and processes) that will make such work effective. At the same time, when looking at office spaces, it’s worth focusing on why they are important to us. If we’re ready to redesign offices, it’s worth following the "user experience" approach, thanks to which they will support team cooperation, focus on building relationships, and respond to the real needs of the people.

  Moreover, there is no single, true model of hybrid work. Many companies have chosen the so called 3:2 approach (three days in the office and two at home), but there are also many organizations whose business specifics require more flexibility. I often work with such that have some positions in the office permanently (receptionists, administration staff or stationary customer service), some employees work in the above mentioned 3:2 mode, while the rest are completely remote (e.g. IT, marketing or HR). Hybrid work also isn’t rotational or shift work.

Can you give some good examples of hybrid organizations?

  One of them is certainly Microsoft and they have many resources on this topic. The company has created a guidebook for managers and employees, setting transparent cooperation rules and expectations.

  It's also worth looking at Dropbox, that enables employees to work remotely. Office spaces have been redesigned and are now called "studios". The goal of physical meetings is team collaboration rather than an obligation to be in the same place without a well-defined reason.

  An interesting example is also Klarna – employees can choose their place of work, according to personal preferences. Remote work within their country or state (within the United States) of employment is unlimited. It’s also possible to perform it abroad up to 20 days a year.

   In fact, most of the companies that have already implemented temporary work from abroad (“workation”) policies are already taking the first milestone to become more flexible. It’s worth checking them out.

Let's talk about rules. What is a "remote-first" model and a "hybrid" model? How are they different?

  Remote-first happens when work is performed 100% remotely, without an office. This does not harm productivity, on the contrary – it increases it. Such organizations include GitLab, Doist, Buffer, TopTal or recently Airbnb. The effectiveness of this model consists of several elements. These are properly mapped out processes and procedures including automation, work documentation, wisely implemented project management tools, asynchronous cooperation and communication, scalable forms of flexible hiring (employment contracts or sometimes contractors) and IT security. Thanks to this infrastructure, the team is equipped with the necessary tools that allow them to focus on achieving common goals without physical presence. This also includes reducing the number of virtual meetings.

A hybrid model is one that combines remote-first elements with an office. It’s worth noting that it’s not about an obligation to be partially in the office due to old habits with a conditional possibility to work from home. Hybrid work is an environment where the entire company or team can efficiently operate in a distributed model, whereas the office adds additional value. The retail industry is a good comparison. We can shop online thanks to e-commerce solutions, and yet we still visit physical stores. It’s all about individual preferences and needs, as well as an excellent "user experience".

In remote work, we also deal with asynchronous work. Tell us more about this approach.

  Asynchronous communication and collaboration mean that we don't have to work simultaneously or communicate only in real time. We can intentionally plan our cooperation, assign responsibilities to team members and set deadlines for providing information about the progress of the project, etc. Everything is planned so that the team finally achieves jointly set goals. Currently, in the digital era, modern technologies enable us to efficiently implement asynchronous cooperation. In my opinion, it’s crucial for any company, even an office-first one. This approach saves time, optimizes work, and allows us to better measure productivity. We avoid distractions, long hours spent in unnecessary meetings or dozens of pointless e-mails.

Finally, a question about optimization. Since we live in times of hybrid and online communication and dozens of meetings in the virtual world, how can we increase the effectiveness of remote meetings?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions. Remote work has exposed the problem of too many meetings, even stationary ones. It's just that when we were spending time in a conference room, we could also socialize. However, virtual meetings are all about intentionality and results. It’s worth trying to define core hours when meetings can be held so that they are not scattered throughout the day and systematically shorten their length. Let me also give you some practical tips.

First of all, we should always accept or decline invitations that are added to our calendars. If we don’t do it then let’s get honest about real life meetings. If someone invites us for coffee or dinner, will we say “OK, just wait for me – maybe I’ll be there and maybe I won’t”? Of course, this isn’t the case. So why do we do it online? Secondly, check your calendars and don’t send invites without making sure that someone can make it. Thirdly, let's introduce a few simple rules – a meeting only works if it has an agenda. Moreover, it should all be about active attendee participation. If it’s not, then asynchronous communication will be more appropriate. Finally, when arranging a meeting, let's start with the following statement: "This meeting will be successful if ...".

Thank you for such an inspiring conversation.

This article comes from magazine:
FOCUS ON Business #7 November-December (6/2022)

FOCUS ON Business #7 November-December (6/2022) Check the issue