How to work in a hybrid world.
Learnings on how to write a remote policy.
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🎉 Happy Friday!
I am late again this week, but better late than never. Today we are dealing with remote work again.
I have not talked about it too much publicly in the last six months, so I thought it was time again.
As a consultant, I have spent more time on the topic and these are my thoughts after writing several policies and talking to and consulting with several organizations on the subject.
Let's get to it.
A year ago, when I made the video above, one of my main points was that no matter how you decide you will work, decide on it, and start working towards it right away. Like a year ago.
Based on the conversations in the various networks I participate in, it seems I Did a poor job on getting the word out. As restrictions are lifted in Sweden, people struggle to create hybrid work policies and to decide on how their organization will work.
So, it's time to revisit the topic of remote work, share the experiences we have gathered over the past year, and present examples of hybrid policies. Fasten your seatbelts.
Remote vs. office work
If I had any hair left, I'd be pulling my hair out on over the topic of remote vs. office. Fortunately, I have more patience than hair. So again, for everyone in the back; remote work is here to stay.
Some people still have the illusion that they can run a business while ignoring that, in the long run, the whole world is going to change. If not to a fully remote world, at least to a hybrid world.
There are tons of micro-surveys on this topic. You can argue about how valid they are, but they uniformly suggest that about 1 in 3 people would quit if they were forced to go back to the office.
If we assume this is true for a company with 100 employees, that will mean that about 30 employees will quit if you forced them back into the office.
So, potentially you need to backfill those and hire 30 new employees who are willing to work five days a week in the office.
Sounds high? Envoy conducted a survey that showed 61% of office workers say they would look for another job if they had to go back to working five days a week in the office.
Well-known and office-heavy companies like Google have had to revise their decision and move from office-centric to hybrid workplaces. What makes you think you can have your employees work 100% in the office?
We have gotten used to working flexible, and people put that at the top of their wish list when they change jobs.
You may be fine in the short term, but you are screwed in the long term if you do not offer that flexibility.
It's really that simple.
How to Write a Good Hybrid Policy.
Here is the thing. I have not seen a good policy yet.
You promised a good hybrid policy!
I did, so let me finish.
All good hybrid policies are fully remote policies with restrictions on how many days you can be fully remote.
In my world, there is no hybrid when it comes to how you structure the work.
You are either a company that allows its employees to work remotely or you are not.
Start with a full remote mentality, and you will most likely solve most of the other issues. If you start with a broad remote work policy, you can gradually narrow it down, such as which countries and time zones employees can work in. And also, how many days employees can or should work from the office.
Create routines, guardrails, and handrails for managers to hold onto when they assume their employees will be out of the office.
How many days in the office?
Once you have established a fully remote work policy, consider how often you'd like to see your employees in the office. Once a week? Twice a month? There's no wrong or right, but even I, a firm believer in remote work, think it's currently essential to get all your employees in the same office once in a while.
The main reason is that most managers and companies still cannot lead entirely remotely. While this is possible, it requires effort to educate and train most managers. Come to think of it, that would probably be worth a separate article.
I have talked to many business leaders about this issue over the past year, from large public organizations to small startups. Most of them want employees to be in the office 2-3 days. My counter-question is always, will you keep an eye on this and how will you do that? ~80% say no, and the rest are unclear on how they will keep track and what they will do when employees do not show up. So isn't that also pointing towards that it’s better to allow people to work fully remote? If we can't keep track and follow up on the 2-3 days, the policy will be toothless.
By default, it's easy to say that 2-3 days in the office is excellent, but think carefully about why you want to gather people and how often that's relevant.
At the beginning of the pandemic, there were a lot of references to a literature review that said it’s good for us to work 1-3 days a week in the office. That sounds reasonable and equates to 2-3 days a week in the office, right?
The only caveat I have here is that the study was conducted in 2017. And while there were undoubtedly companies working remotely in 2017, I am willing to bet my right kidney that remote work has taken an enormous leap forward in the last few years.
A few conclusions can be drawn from the study, especially in terms of isolation, both socially and professionally, and I’ll come back to that.
Back to the days. My suggestion would be that you specify how many days you want to see the person in the office in your policy. Is it once a month or more frequently? Also, explain *why* you are making this requirement.
More important than anything, make it clear what you expect of your employees. Uncertainty is your enemy here.
(And on a side note, do not make people come to the office just because you like being in the office).
How do you do it all?
This might be the easiest part for you. If you have worked remotely for the last two years, you have probably learned a lot. Use that knowledge now!
It’s always good to steal with pride, and ConvertKit is probably my favorite company to take inspiration from in this area.
What I like about them is that they have clear expectations for their employees.
/.../ during the week, you focus on your work and support your team. If you need to take time off (for an hour or two) for a doctor's appointment or a family event, that's fine. Let your team and supervisor know in advance, so you do not leave your team confused or short-handed.
It's straightforward. That means it's very likely to be followed.
If you have been brave enough to read FullStack HR for a while, you know I am an Outcombased fan, and ConvertKit does not disappoint in that regard either.
We do not measure success in your role by the number of hours you put in. Find the balance that works best for you and discuss it with your team to make sure the schedule works. Focus on performance and effectiveness. That matters more than the number of hours you put in.
Link the outcome you want to achieve to your strategy and what you want to accomplish, break it down for the employee, and be close to them. (Not physically, but you know what I mean.) I know this is sometimes easier said than done, but practice makes perfect.
What about the social aspects?
One very relevant risk discussed in the context of the new era of hybrid or remote work is social and professional isolation. The first one is obvious: when we sit in front of the computer all day, some people feel lonely without physical interaction with other people.
That's human, of course, because we want to belong, and we want to have our crowd.
There are different ways to combat this. In general, it seems like we have done a good job of creating social, remote arenas during the pandemic. Zoom after work, check-ins, and Friday fika are common and regular events, and we need to keep them going. (And we should mix them with physical meetings over a beer, too).
And speaking of social, the best teams I know have some sort of morning routine. Not that they start the day with an after work, that would be irresponsible, but they have some kind of check-in. It does not have to be a meeting but rather a check-in via the digital tool of your choice. A quick note about what each employee will be doing during the day and where they are. Maybe a gif.
And one more important note: if you have employees who are seriously worried about feeling isolated and lonely because of the sitting home alone - make sure they are not working entirely remotely now when we’re back to normal.
Professional isolation, then? What is it?
One commonly pointed out topic is that remote work drives the feeling of missing the big picture and not having a purpose. I think we have all experienced that. "Why am I doing this? What purpose does it serve? Where am I heading?"
It's always been important for leaders to communicate and align their organization. Still, it's becoming more important when you no longer meet at the coffee machine.
Townhalls and regular larger meetings to talk about the big picture are likely to benefit any organization, whether remote or not. Make use of the time in these meetings to realign expectations and communicate your vision. (Over and over again, when you feel like a parrot, then your doing the right thing.)
So, we should never meet physically?
I did not say that, but I am trying to paint a picture of the overarching philosophy here which is once again, build for fully remote. But of course you should meet face to face! Regular face-to-face meetings with your team or department are certainly a good thing, but do they have to happen every week? Probably not.
Clearly define in your policies or rulebook how and when you, as a company, have face-to-face meetings. A good example of when an in-person meeting might be required is brainstorming on a new product or setting a strategy for an area. Essentially, have in-person meetings when the outcome is loosely defined.
(And for you remote lovers out there, it's 100% possible to do this remotely but requires a bit more effort and thought. A F2F meeting is a bit of a cheat in this case).
More good stuff to have in there.
Hey, a general title that I can put whatever I want under, great!
There is one significant advantage and disadvantage to working remotely. That is the fact that work can happen at any time. If I am working asynchronously, it does not matter if I do the work at 11am or 11pm, as long as it gets done. That's also a pitfall. It might be a good idea to establish a rule of thumb for when people can expect responses and when they usually communicate. Office hours are a good standard here. Written that in you policy.
If you have employees who work entirely remotely, be sure to include a section on travel and who gets paid for what and how often, etc. Unclarity is the enemy here.
It's also good to mention which countries employees may work from. If you have offices around the globe, it's easy. If you do not have that, you can use a tool like remote, and then it's also easy. (Unfortunately, I am not sponsored here, just a satisfied user).
Many companies are looking for vendors to help set up home offices for employees who work primarily from home. Two of the most popular vendors I know are Beleco and Nornorm in Europe.
So let’s summarize!
A good hybrid workplace policy consists of;
Where should you work from?
Which days do I work from where?
If you start with those headlines and fill out the blanks with your specific content, you probably have a very good start.
Need more inspiration?
Remote has tons of great stuff.
ConverKit we already talked about.
GitLab is great Basecamp is a bit special but still great
MadTech section about remote work Hotjar’s handbook is also great
Atlassians Team Playbook has great inspirations for getting teams together
That should get you going?
That’s it for me today.
(Pehw, a long one! My longest yet. Let me know in the comments what your thouhgts are around articles this long...)