The different “kinds” of remote: finding the right fit your business

Covid-19 has turned our world upside down and has forced us to make changes in the way we work.  Xx% of office-based staff worked remotely during the peak of Covid, and businesses estimated that x% would continue to do so – in one way or another – after the crisis.

If you’re an office based business reviewing your real estate strategy and questioning whether and how you should make the transition to incorporating remote work permanently into your business, read this guide to help find the right level of remote for your business.

The different kinds of remote work and identifying which one is right for you:

    1. Fully remote

This business has no offices or headquarters, all employees operate entirely remotely and may do so from multiple geographies and time-zones – although they may still come together on an adhoc or scheduled basis, either as groups within the business, or the entire organization, or both.  Sometimes also called distributed, since a benefit of fully remote companies is that employees can be across the globe.

Pros:

  • No real estate office overheads
  • Ability to recruit from a global pool of talent
  • Timezones can work in your favour, particularly if serving a global market

Cons and challenges

  • Important to establish, nurture and embed a strong company culture and ethos which permeates every level of the organization
  • Businesses that set up as fully remote often have it somewhat easier than those which transition – transitioning requires very deliberate, intentional and systematic approach, and fundamental shifts in communication styles and performance management
  • Vital to hire the right employees, who have the aptitude and motivation for remote work
  • The business focus has to be firmly fixed on output to succeed at a fully remote level and communication and connection have to be deliberately and continually cultivated to avoid isolation and disenfranchisement.

2. Hybrid-remote

Hybrid remote employees can work both from home and from the office. The exact approach varies considerably – some businesses have remote employees across the globe, who may – on a regular or ad hoc basis – come together in pockets, at regional offices or in community workspaces.  Other businesses maintain a HQ and have a core of employees local to their office, but also employ workers further afield who may only occasionally, or never, come to the HQ (this approach is sometimes also called the HQ centric remote model).  Other businesses rotate their staff schedules so that each employee is in-office and remote for a portion of time. This approach has become more popular with Covid reducing the quantity of people allowed in a building at a time, and may continue for that reason – and also because those using this approach may reduce their office footprint to reduce costs.

Pros:

  • Potential for reduced real estate office space and therefore costs
  • Wider access to talent pool

Cons and challenges:

  • The danger with hybrid-remote is it can offer the best and worst of both models. Remote employees working in hybrid-remote organizations speak of two tiers of employee – those in the office, and those who are remote. They can feel overlooked for career opportunities, heard but not seen
  • Hybrid remote companies have often ended up that way by accident rather than design – and as a result they’ve simply continued as they were, but with some staff working remotely. This is often fine in small companies, where everyone knows each other, but bigger businesses and those taking on new employees or with a number of inexperienced employees can discover they haven’t set up and documented their processes sufficiently for someone who isn’t in the office, to understand the business and how to perform their job effectively.
  • Hybrid models that require employees to attend a HQ on a scheduled basis reduce their talent-pool, by only being able to recruit those within a commutable distance (albeit a broader commute time than if they were fully in-office). It also restricts employees who were considering moving away from the HQ location, potentially impacting retention.
  • Remote workers in hybrid businesses can feel more isolated than fully-remote employees, because they’re not “all in the same boat” and can also feel additional pressure to “prove themselves”, thereby damaging their work-life balance by compensating with additional hours
  • Meanwhile, their in-office counter-parts can feel jealous of their perceived flexibility, particularly if the remote/in-office split is based on roles rather than geographies
  • The issues outlined above can give rise to a secondary set of outcomes – employees serious about their career can feel the need to be seen and can end up in the office more than when the business was just “remote friendly”, but feeling resentful for it.
  • Communication and collaboration can suffer because meetings may be a combination of in-person and video-conferencing, which can make it more difficult to balance input.
  • If the hybrid-remote model is based on rotating staff in the office, creating schedules that work for employer and employee and allow cross-fertilisation across teams but also for teams to be together can be challenging

3. Remote friendly

These businesses have recognised the need to accommodate remote and flexible working but are not able, or prepared to do so entirely.  Again, different approaches exist – some allow line managers to agree the degree of remote work within their teams, others have a standard one-day a week remote pattern – or even create a specified remote day, and package it as an employee benefit.

Pros

  • Being remote-friendly will increasingly become an expected norm, rather than a negotiated benefit. Remote-friendly companies will have a competitive advantage in recruitment and retention

Cons and challenges:

  • Depending on the degree of flexibility, challenges can be as per a hybrid model above – remote-friendly businesses can be restricted to a more localised talent pool, can suffer resentments if different roles are treated differently, struggle with two tiers of employee emerging and can suffer from disrupted communication and collaboration, particularly if remote-work patterns are adhoc rather than scheduled.

4. Traditionally in-office

Some businesses are, and intend to remain, fully in-office. They may, at present, due to Covid-enforced shelter in place mandates, have staff working from home, but they want to bring everyone back as soon as possible.  The media has reported on many vocal CEOs who have expressed their urgency to be back in the office.

Pros:

  • Offices have worked for generations for a reason – bringing people together can spark creativity, innovation, productivity. It can be helpful in creating a strong culture and sense of belonging.
  • It provides dedicated, functioning, comfortable workspaces thereby removing some of the disruption involved in working remotely and has dedicated meeting space to bring people – and ideas – together.

Cons:

  • For many businesses, on-site is an essential part of their operation – for example, manufacturing, retail, medical. However, for office-workers, the exclusively in-office model will increasingly diminish.
  • Whilst many employees enjoy coming into the office, there is a growing number who want and need the freedoms that remote brings. Many many businesses will continue to operate from offices, very successfully – but few (that could facilitate remote) will succeed in removing a degree of flexibility toward remote work, without damaging their recruitment and retention rates.
  • Exclusively in-office is outdated and all businesses competing for talent will need to have some kind of remote-friendly stance to remain competitive.

Hopefully this list will help create some clarity on which approach is right for you.  But as you can see from the fact the list of cons, on each choice, is longer than the list of pros – it’s not a straightforward decision to make!  Subscribe to our newsletter to stay uptodate with remote work news and developments and to get helpful hints, tips, insights and remote work reports.

 

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