Remote, Hybrid and Distributed Working is Much Easier with Next-Gen Tech

Written by Ash Richardson

20 years digital tech and strategy experience, including co-founding #team, Accenture, MP of Oyster Partners (now DigitasLBi) and ex-VC investing in technology startups. Unique skills on product strategy, design and offshoring.

More than a year into living with COVID-19 in our midst, remote or hybrid working has become the norm that employees worldwide have to deal with whether they like it or not.

One undisputed fact can be said about the state of remote or hybrid work in the future – it’s clear that employees will not be returning to the same situation they had been in during the pre-COVID-19 era. 

Dubbed by LinkedIn as the Great Reshuffle, this abrupt shift was unprecedented. 

A quick Google Image search of “remote work” will show several images of employees working behind a screen. The past 18 months have shown that remote or hybrid work has been essential for business continuity. 

A study from the Nature Human Behavior Journal showed that before the COVID-19 pandemic, at most 5% of Americans worked from home for more than three days per week. 

In contrast, it was estimated that by April 2020, as many as 37% of Americans were working from home (WFH) full-time. In just a few weeks, around a third of American workers shifted to remote work.

 

The Remote Work Disruption of 2020: Communication and Collaboration

The study from Nature Human Behavior showed 61,000 Microsoft employees suggest remote work is bad for communication between different teams. It analyzed the communication habits of the employees between December 2019 and June 2020, before and after the company went fully remote on March 5, 2020.

It’s also the first company-wide study that detailed the impact of the switch to remote work during the pandemic.

Microsoft’s shift to remote work showed that it hurt communication and collaboration among different business groups inside the company, threatening employee productivity, retention and long-term innovation.

The report noted that “Our results show that the shift to firm-wide remote work caused business groups within Microsoft to become less interconnected. It also reduced the number of ties bridging structural holes in the company’s informal collaboration network and caused individuals to spend less time collaborating with the bridging ties that remained.”

The Microsoft study only proved that the shift to remote or hybrid work arrangements has only aggravated workplace challenges such as siloed work. Working in silos means that teams and departments operate in a bubble where they work independently from other groups. 

Siloed work can harm companies if it’s left unchecked for the long term. Poor collaboration and lack of communication with work colleagues are said to be one of the main challenges of remote or hybrid work arrangements. 

 

So, is remote work really the problem?

Despite the screen exhaustion and the long-term effects of being stuck working at home, it can be argued that remote work has not really disrupted team communication per se. Employees still have their weekly huddles and zoom meetings.

However, the lateral and diagonal communication between different departments, team members and managers has stopped. Casual discussions across desks, over the water cooler, the pantry or during lunch breaks are gone.

As a result, individual teams are now communicating in their own siloed bubble, crafting their own strategies and tactics, and even creating their own micro-culture that obstructs the overall strategy and vision of the company.

Some companies have taken remote working to the next level with distributed working – where there is no office at all to be remote from. Sam Harris’ podcast interview with Matt Mullenweg dives deep on The New Future of Work.  Matt is the founder of Automattic, the company behind WordPress, WooCommerce and Tumblr, employing 1,200 people across 75 countries, without an office.

In an age when it’s necessary to innovate to recover from the current pandemic, and to prepare for future pandemics, Mr Mullenweg argues that distributed working is an effective and sustainable solution.  

Learn more about it here, including a deep dive on how to make distributed working successful: The New Future of Work, a Sam Harris Podcast Conversation with Matt Mullenweg on Distributed Working

 

How do we overcome the barriers of new working models?

As remote, hybrid or distributed work becomes a regular workplace arrangement for the future, employees realize that they need to communicate in new ways with other members of the organization to fulfill their roles successfully. In addition, advancements in technology have made it easier to streamline workplace communication and collaboration. 

To foster successful collaboration, regardless of the working model, business owners need to address these workplace-related concerns:

  • Maintain trust between workers, supervisors and leaders
  • Monitor tasks and projects by ensuring timely follow-ups
  • Create and sustain company culture, even among staff working in different time zones
  • Reduce technology issues by providing an inclusive work environment
  • Adopt workflows that will help increase collaboration that avoids silos between departments

 

Business owners need to prioritize workplace collaboration by finding ways to replicate spontaneous idea-sharing from employees and cross-team partnerships found in traditional office environments. With this in mind, embracing radical transparency is crucial for the future of remote, hybrid and distributed work models. 

 

Embracing radical transparency in the age of remote, hybrid and distributed work

Ray Dalio’s radical transparency encourages open conversation and thoughtful disagreement, the ability to exchange controversial ideas without causing problems. Remote work clearly strains the ability to exchange controversial ideas, as the dynamics of communication become two dimensional and digital. 

Radical transparency is actually not a new concept. It has only gained more attention over the past year since remote, hybrid and distributed work arrangements demand radical transparency. Humans instinctively trust each other when they communicate their intentions face to face. 

Distributed working also demands higher levels of trust and open communication among work colleagues, which are also one of the two main pillars of radical transparency.

In the age of distributed work, companies are asking employees to trust their colleagues without getting the chance to meet them in person. That’s a big ask for some employees, especially for those who are newly hired. 

Simply put, radical transparency is needed for remote, hybrid and distributed work, for the simple reason that companies can no longer provide an actual face-to-face interaction, unlike the pre-pandemic days. With these new working models, employees have no choice but to trust that their colleagues will get their work done without meeting them in person and with minimum supervision. 

Read more here: Principles by Ray Dalio and Embracing Radical Transparency

 

How can technology make remote, hybrid & distributed work easier?

Radical transparency starts with leadership, a conscious paradigm shift to recognize its long-term value to the company. 

Business owners need to reconfigure all of their internal working channels – from their work processes to the tools and technologies that employees use while working remotely.

Social and work collaboration software such as Slack, Trello, Asana, MS Teams, etc., have been gaining traction over the past decade. While they seem convenient, these apps still lack structure, an org-wide UX and a strategic context. As such, these apps do not really answer the challenge of preventing siloed work within the company. They can also aggravate other work-related problems such as: 

  • The risk of adding more distractions and noise for employees
  • Lack of adoption by executives and senior managers

 

Radical transparency in itself should not be a goal, but rather a consequent by-product of effective workplace collaboration, that starts with leadership. 

To achieve real radical transparency at work, companies need Next-Gen collaboration tech that has been designed from the outset as an org-wide experience. Next-Gen technology delivers one connected workspace that will help employees with their day-to-day work, as well as the overall strategic context and its corresponding initiatives.

 

One Connected Workspace

Having one connected workspace aligns the entire company on the same strategies, priorities and plans. Employees can see how their daily tasks fit with the overall corporate strategy. Employees need context to be able to work remotely for the long term.

#stratapp’s connected workspace makes it easy for business owners and team leaders to deliver context that seamlessly connects the company’s overall strategy to daily work and collaboration. Context is the key for effective and sustainable remote, hybrid and distributed work.

 

Strategic Context

Imagine if radical transparency could sit within an easy to view strategic context:

  • Why is our organization here? (a la Simon Sinek)
  • What are we trying to achieve? (a la Prof Roger Martin)
  • How are we going to get there? (cascading strategy tree)
  • How are we going right now? (live collaboration at every level in the strategy tree)

This would allow every employee to embrace and contribute to what their CEO, executives and managers are trying to achieve.

 

Day-to-Day Context

Radical transparency makes it easy for employees to see how their daily work are part of the bigger picture: 

  • Who is working on what right now? How can I add value?
  • How is my team going?
  • What should I work on next to have the greatest impact?
  • How are each of these digital items connected?
  • This meeting
  • The task this meeting relates to
  • The workboard/project/initiative that task sits on
  • The strategic objective that workboard belongs to
  • The strategic goal above that objective
  • The overall why and direction that strategic goal is pointing at

 

Each of these day-to-day contexts is powered by #stratapp, creating an intuitive org-wide experience. 

 

#stratapp’s features for remote, hybrid and distributed work arrangements

 

Live Meeting Notes

#stratapp helps employees constantly stay in context with live meeting notes that lets participants stay on the same (digital) page. Employees can edit meeting room notes live together, share ideas within structured social, add files and links and capture actions. In one click, employees can see all actions from meetings and calls neatly displayed in the workspace to easily trace back their sources and context. 

Watch how #stratapp’s anonymous gavel work:

 

Social without Noise

#stratapp enables social collaboration that is naturally organized around work with context and structure. Employees can immediately see what they are looking for to help everyone on the team stay on track and be more productive. #stratapp also allows employees to tag their social posts into ten categories, so the team no longer filters through endless chat channels. 

 

#stratapp lets you embrace radical transparency in the age of remote work

#stratapp can help you achieve genuine org-wide collaboration across all levels, roles and generations. 

#stratapp will greatly improve your ability to sustain remote, hybrid or distributed working, in a way that is effective for both the company and the employees.

You can get started for free here: 15-Day free trial.

 

References:

A study of 61,000 Microsoft employees suggests remote work is bad for communication between different teams. (2021). Retrieved 25 October 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/remote-work-working-from-home-study-microsoft-meetings-2021-9

Goldstein, M. (2021). The Future of Remote Work and How Collaboration Is Evolving. Retrieved 25 October 2021, from https://www.coxblue.com/the-future-of-remote-work-and-how-collaboration-is-evolving/

Radical transparency vs. The water cooler. (n.d.). BizDev Dynamics. https://www.bizdevdynamics.com/post/radical-transparency-vs-the-water-cooler

 

Research Shows Remote Work Impedes Collaboration, But Is It Right?. (2021). Retrieved 25 October 2021, from https://www.reworked.co/digital-workplace/is-remote-working-really-impeding-collaboration-and-communication/

Yang, L., Holtz, D., Jaffe, S., Suri, S., Sinha, S., & Weston, J. et al. (2021). The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers. Nature Human Behaviour. doi: 10.1038/s41562-021-01196-4

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