Rethinking the fundamentals of remote and physical workplaces

Post-pandemic, businesses and employees alike are questioning the future of work and still coming to grips with the new flexibility, and challenges, that have arisen. Sarah Dunn explores why the approach should flexible and hybrid, with a digital-first mindset.

The pandemic has shown that work, which is what the office was intended for, is possible to do from somewhere else and at a greater scale than ever imagined. It’s an exciting future of work for us all, but it also comes with a new set of challenges. 

In recent weeks, concerns about an encroaching ‘always-on’ culture have intensified. Last month we learned of a ground-breaking deal for Victorian police officers to earn the legal ‘right to disconnect’. Pressure continues to mount from some of the country’s largest unions to establish a new working from home charter of rights where remote work must be voluntary and mandate a better work-life balance. 

At the same time, some major companies are advocating for a ‘remote-first’ future of work, where physical workplaces are replaced with fully virtual office spaces. Twitter and 17 other global companies have already announced that employees can work from home indefinitely. Spatial has even configured an office space entirely with virtual reality, featuring 3D-realistic avatars of employees and meeting rooms.

While the post-pandemic world of work continues to be hotly contested, it’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. It would be extremely difficult to create a regulated ‘right to disconnect’ that is flexible and able to accommodate all employers’ and employees’ personal needs. Similarly, an entirely distributed remote workforce would struggle to maintain a strong culture and sense of community in the long- term. 

A change of approach in the future of work is essential. Ensuring it continues in a balanced and productive way falls to business leaders to rethink the fundamentals of presence, proximity and the role of workplaces. It’s a rare opportunity to test, iterate and facilitate discussions with teams and individuals on flexible working policies and arrangements. 

Here are some ways to marry the benefits of remote working with the critical strengths of in-person work: 

Flexibility first 

Employees’ needs are always varied. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve conducted a series of surveys that have revealed vastly different circumstances for employees. Some employees have limited or no childcare and would prefer to work from home to manage household and family responsibilities. Other employees live alone and are eager to get back to the office to meet and connect with their colleagues.

To lead effectively in a hybrid environment, leaders must empower their different teams to define how, when and where they work best, while providing as much flexibility for individuals as possible. For companies that organise work into projects or activities like Adobe, it’s particularly important to establish project schedules and deliverables around new work arrangements, so everyone is equally supported and understands their role and responsibilities, for team cohesiveness and effectiveness. 

It also means setting clear guidelines to ensure overwork is not normalised when working remotely. For example, each month we enforce a ‘Global Day Off’ where every employee is encouraged to switch off and use the time to recharge and relax – whether that’s doing personal errands, taking the kids to the park or watching Netflix. It’s critical that leaders drive these initiatives to promote better work-life balance.  

Emphasise inclusion 

Leaders and managers must also be aware of the different dynamics and biases of hybrid working. For example, in-person meetings can often be somewhat challenging to those not physically in the room – there is often distracting side chatter and it can be hard for individuals to actively contribute. To help people to feel connected and create a sense of community, it’s important to rethink physical and virtual experiences. 

Currently, at Adobe, all team meetings take place online to everyone is able to participate and collaborate. In addition, most of our large team meetings are recorded so that employees have the freedom to work asynchronously, particularly parents who do the school run and prefer to work after-hours; watching the recordings of the meetings in their own time. This helps to cultivate an inclusive work environment for all.  

Double down on digital 

Establishing digital workflows as the norm, from meetings and documentation to knowledge-sharing and career development, also helps to build flexibility and equity in the new hybrid work environment. Teams across our organisation are encouraged to use cloud collaboration tools and digitally document all decisions and changes, to ensure better coordination and communication across the remote employee footprint. 

In addition to providing equal access to resources, training and support through digital performance reviews, evaluations and onboarding, companies can also encourage the use of workflow tools to support employee wellbeing and flexibility. This could include using features like transparent scheduling in calendars, automatic reminders on office hours or delayed email deliveries to set clear work-life boundaries.

Achieving a flexible, hybrid and digital-first workplace is not only a worthwhile goal for businesses – but an imperative to achieve improved employee health and wellbeing, and long-term productivity and success.  

 

Sarah Dunn is Head of Employee Experience at Adobe Asia Pacific.

Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash.