“Success in a hybrid work environment requires employers to move beyond viewing remote or hybrid environments as a temporary or short-term strategy and to treat it as an opportunity.’”
– George Penn, VP at Gartner
This week, my inbox was brimming with all kinds of newsletters and press articles that essentially pronounced remote work dead, culminating with quoting the opinionated CEO of a renowned family-owned German company: „I won’t have home office. If someone can work at home, they are unimportant.“
The September Edition of the Scoop Flex Index seems to indicate otherwise, with 82% of Fortune 500 companies reporting some work location flexibility and approximately 20% of all US companies offering complete workplace flexibility.According to Stanford Economist and workplace researcher Nicolas Bloom, there is no impact on productivity but a benefit to employees comparable to an 8% pay increase.
In reality, remote work is nothing new. In the tech industry, it was a common practice decades ago. While running an EMEA product unit, I reported to a California-based VP; I had dev teams in Texas and California work for me while being based in Munich, and started the European sub of a Tech scaleup from my house in Bavaria, mainly interacting with teams in Israel and Toronto while reporting to a Canada-based CEO.
Hundreds of successful companies like WordPress-maker Automattic, workflow automation company Zapier, or 37Signals, best known for their project management software Basecamp, work 100% remotely and geographically dispersed even across continents and time zones.
Remote work gained traction in the broader context due to the pandemic. The tech talent shortage and the resulting buildup of technical units in India and other Asian countries exacerbate it.
Three significant factors define remote work: location independence or spread, asynchronicity due to time zones or flexible work hours, and virtual collaboration as a rule rather than an exception.
Hybrid models fundamentally fall into the same category as multiple of these factors apply to most hybrid teams at any time.
Our clients often inquire about particular management practices or requirements and success factors for remote work. My short answer usually is, „The same as for co-located teams, but you need to be even more consistent.“
A more detailed answer needs to look at four areas:
- Leadership and Decision Making
- Management and Mentoring
- Tools and Processes
- Human Factors
Leadership and Decision Making
Remote and asynchronous working modes, regardless of whether on a team or individual level, automatically lead to more autonomy and, potentially, insecurity. Therefore, remote work requires greater clarity regarding the Why and What.
More than co-located teams, remote teams benefit from formulating a clear purpose and a vision. Expectations regarding outcomes must also be spelled out clearly to enable effective decisions
In addition, decisions require more explicit justifications and context to be useful as guidance in similar or related circumstances.
Explicitly formulated (product) visions, North Star Metrics, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are management tools that support this.
Management & Mentoring
Limited synchronous time, in combination with greater autonomy, requires adaptation of the management approach.
Management interactions with remote teams and individuals should be built on trust and focus on impediment reduction, empowerment, and clarifying or adjusting guardrails where required,
Transparency can be improved with tools and processes, reducing the time for reporting and enabling a focus on problem-solving.
It takes extra effort to establish psychological safety with remote individuals or teams. Regular feedback, encouragement, appreciation, and – where warranted – public recognition help build it.
Encouraging remote mentoring relationships can additionally improve communication, trust building, and personal and professional growth while fostering intercultural awareness.
Tools and Processes
Remote work requires effective use of tools and processes to manage asynchronicity.
Agreeing on and enforcing „single sources of truth“ for every type of information. (E.g., Project progress: JIRA dashboard; OKRs: Quantive, …) improves overall transparency and productive use of shared time
Lean processes that take into account the particular situation improve productivity. Reducing and scheduling recurring meetings (Dailies, QBRs, etc.) to alternate between time zones helps level interactions, particularly in inherently hierarchical headquarters/local subsidiary contexts.
Remote companies balance leadership, processes, and tools with intentional humanity.
Creating a culture is not possible, but shared values can be designed. Businesses that have succeeded in implementing remote working have built strong and shared value systems that cover how they work with customers, respect and communication etiquette, transparency, workload, learning, and risk management.
A focus on effective onboarding ensures the successful integration of new remote staff while sharing these company values.
Successful remote companies often have annual or bi-annual multi-day retreats to strengthen bonds and collaborate on shared interests. Joint leisure activities, hackathons, and un-conference formats allow employees to share and develop ideas while mingling socially.
Many remote companies also encourage teams to meet in person when tackling particularly complex or dicey challenges.
As mentioned, many companies, including most of our clients, have adopted a hybrid work model, typically involving two or three days of in-office work. However, especially in the case of two office days, we have noticed a tendency to fit recurring meetings and reporting into these days, which can conflict with needs for ad hoc clarification of issues and using serendipitous encounters for creative problem-solving. This can hinder innovation, which is fostered by these types of encounters. For this reason, we suggest considering hybrid working models as remote and being very intentional about meetings and their modes.
There is much to be learned from pioneers of remote work like Basecamp and Zapier. For this reason, I have linked their best practices below.
Best Remote Work Management Practices (& Mistakes to Avoid)
Basecamp contends that the biggest challenge of managing remote teams is not employees…
Have a great rest of the weekend!
All the best,