From Crisis Response to New Standard: Optimizing Remote & Hybrid Workplans

Remote Work

The pandemic forced a sudden transformation of the way we work – compelling us all to reassess how and why we work the way we do. And in the wake of that reassessment, we have become more flexible, more technologically adept, and more empathetic to the needs of our workforce – all of which have bolstered the use of remote, and now hybrid, work. Today’s guest is Laurel Farrer, and she is a thought leader on the topic of remote work. She is the Founder and CEO of Distribute, a virtual organizational development think tank and consulting firm, and she is joining us today to talk about how companies can sustain and support the use of remote and hybrid models as part of the new way forward. Here, she explains:

  • The growth of remote work, both before and after the pandemic;
  • What it means to be a "location irrelevant organization";
  • The truth about hybrid work; and
  • How to draft a formal remote work policy!

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What Have We Learned About Remote Work?

  • Pre-pandemic, remote work was a growing trend.
    • Remote and hybrid work did not just emerge out of nowhere when the pandemic hit - teleworking and telecommuting has existed since the 1970s.
  • 2020 was expected to see an increase in remote work across the country (from about 3% of the workforce to 5% of the workforce), but obviously that was far underestimated due to the pandemic. 
    • The percentage of the workforce that adopted remote work jumped to over 70%.
    • Post-pandemic, that percentage is expected to hover around 40%.
  • Over the last 18 months, people have realized that remote work is not just a theory or a growing trend, it is a real option for productive work.
  • It has become a socioeconomic strategy and a corporate strategy that has enabled businesses to stay lean and to stay alive in a repressed economy that they maybe wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.
  • Remote work is now being taken much more seriously than ever before because society was thrust into it and proved that it can work.


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Leaders & Employees Adapting To Remote Work

  • Even prior to the pandemic, 86% of employees reported wanting to utilize a remote work strategy, and that number has not changed post-pandemic. 
    • Leaders now have less to fall back on when pushing against remote work because we have seen it work for an extended period of time.
  • While there have been plenty of positives to the shift, people have also realized that remote work can sometimes be even more stressful than working at the office. 
    • This is likely due to the social effects of the pandemic rather than work actually being more difficult.
    • As societal and social effects of the pandemic lessen, any of the struggles people have had will lessen, which in turn will lessen the perceived stresses of remote work.

The Permanence Of Remote Work

  • Ms. Farrer recently wrote an article for Forbes discussing the permanence of remote work and likened working from home in the early days of the pandemic as a bandage, meaning it was something implemented without a plan to stave off the “bleeding”.
  • According to her, what we have been experiencing throughout the pandemic is more or less a contingency plan - and that still applies today. 
    • The majority of workforces and organizations have changed where their people work, but have continued to operate as business as usual. That's not remote work - that’s workplace flexibility.
    • To optimize efficiency as distributed teams and enhance and strengthen connections as distributed teams, organizations must think as a location irrelevant organization, or a virtual organization.
    • There must be a different mindset when operating as a virtual company. Almost all aspects of the business will have to be adapted in some way, but if done correctly, these changes will make organizations more efficient, more versatile, and a better place to work for everyone. 

Drafting A Formal Remote Work Policy

  • As a remote work consultant, Ms. Farrer has discovered that the most common issues with remote work are not necessarily errors in infrastructure or in work models, but in a miscommunication of expectations between the employer and employees.
  • Most organizations did not have any kind of remote work policy when the pandemic hit - but now, there is a need to think very cohesively about what this means for teams.
  • A remote work policy should be a very broad conversation between employer and employee to identify how both parties need to participate in order to ensure their version of remote work is successful for everyone involved.
  • As an employer, important questions to consider are:
    • What tools will be provided to keep employees connected to the resources needed to do their job?
    • What hours do employees need to be online?
    • How will employers measure performance?
    • Are employees allowed to move out of state or out of the country?
    • How will employers ensure that remote workers will have the same opportunities to be promoted and that those promotions will occur at an equal rate to those of hybrid and on-site workers?
  • A remote work policy is a great way to consolidate all of those decisions and make sure that all parties mutually agree to those terms.
  • Everyone within the organization will have a say in this policy, so everyone should also be a part of drafting that policy - including legal, HR, operations, IT, finance, etc.

The Truth About Hybrid Work

  • Hybrid work is the highest risk/highest reward model that exists in the land of remote work.For this reason, hybrid work should also be addressed in your formal remote work policy.
  • The “sweet spot” of hybrid teams is when hybrid workers are working remotely about three to four times a week and are on-site one to two times a week. This is where the maximum level of engagement, creativity, and employee retention occurs.
  • However, hybrid work is so high risk because unless the company updates all of their methodologies, all of their workflows, all of their upskilling, all of their management methods, unless they start to think as a location irrelevant organization, it can become an imbalanced employee experience, affecting worker career development and can potentially become a massive liability for discrimination.
  • Location-irrelevant organizations, however, will enjoy all of the optimal statistics and benefits that hybrid work has to offer.

Implementing Task-Based Work Network Environments

  • Ms. Farrer wrote another article for Forbes titled 5 Tips to Optimize the Success of Your Return to Office Plan in which she discusses implementing task-based work network environments.
  • This concept touches on the “old way” of doing things in a work environment where supervisors would physically watch employees work to ensure that work was getting done. This is outdated and goes hand-in-hand with the physical workplace.
  • Now that remote work is so prevalent and virtual workforces are emerging globally, employers must learn to manage the productivity of employees differently.
    • Today’s virtual workforces, products, and processes, should not be supervised in the same way that a physical workforces, products or processes are.
  • There needs to be a more accurate measurement of true productivity - not just being in a certain place at a certain time, but regarding what is actually being produced or accomplished.
  • The entire concept of results-based tracking is to measure output or accomplishment beyond physical attendance.

The Importance Of Communication

  • In a virtual work environment, communication is key because not everyone runs on the same schedule.
    • In an office, everyone shares time and location, but virtually, the commonality everyone has is information.
    • The more that teams align on information, the more connected that team is as a group.
    • Productivity and knowledge management programs are essential for a successful virtual work environment because that information efficiency needs to be flawless.

Learning & Development In A Remote Work Environment

  • Soft skills - things like communication, accountability, and critical thinking - are truly what makes people successful in autonomous work environments.
  • This also means that in organizational models and processes, autonomy needs to be enabled. Employers cannot manage with micromanagement tendencies and habits.
  • The method in which learning and development processes are delivered is really up to the organizational culture.
  • At a minimum, organizations should make more space for the conversation that remote work is different.

Building & Maintaining Company Culture

  • Your organizational culture is determined by the unique experiences that people can only have when interacting with your organization. This includes outside people working with your organization and people working within your organization.
  • Organizations should identify ways of how they can create experiences, values, and activities that people can have when interacting virtually with an organization. Company values will shine through these experiences, and help showcase what your organization is all about.
  • A good virtual culture is the key to continuously attracting new talent to an organization.
  • Remote work is not one size fits all.
    • The experiences employees have working in one location irrelevant organization may be very different from doing the same at another company.

Virtual Retreats

  • Virtual retreats are truly a product of the pandemic.
  • Physical retreats have always been a great way to connect with coworkers and leadership, and virtual retreats can have that same effect if done correctly.
  • It is important that these retreats come directly from your company culture.
    • Employees should have input on the activities and it should end up being an experience that is fun for everyone involved.

Distribute Consulting

  • Ms. Farrer’s company, Distribute Consulting, employs numerous experts on remote work who have all been working to help build successful remote work environments for over a decade.
  • Distribute does a lot of socio-economic work where they help governments to understand how to leverage virtual jobs to solve larger problems like economic development, diversity, inclusion, and environmental sustainability.
  • They also help companies develop products for remote workers and shift marketing methods or product functionality to match the needs of hybrid and remote workers.
  • Overall, Distribute helps organizations identify how to break out of the mindset of being a physical company and start thinking in a location-irrelevant way as a virtual organization.

Laurel Farrer Background


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