Think bigger: Remote work as a technology and how to navigate it

Woman working on a laptop with her feet in a tropical outdoor terrace setting, thanks to the principles of remote work as a technology

 

#GoToGetsIT: This article is part of an ongoing series from GoTo’s thought leaders on the frontlines: Our Solutions Consultants deeply understand our customers’ unique challenges and connect the right solutions to meet their goals using GoTo technology. Here, they share their industry knowledge on what it takes to help businesses everywhere thrive in a remote or hybrid world.

According to a recent article published in the World Economic Forum, the next phase of remote work will be even more disruptive. A team of economists has conducted research on remote work since the start of the pandemic and, from the results, they predict that companies will discover new ways to work remotely and asynchronously, making flexible work more manageable than the version we know today.

The expectation is that the economic geography will change immensely with employees free to live wherever they want and having the option of whether to return to their hometowns or go to places where they can pursue their passions. For these economists and other future-of-work researchers, remote work is a general-purpose technology like electricity or the Internet. There is much more to this new technology than allowing two people to work together remotely. The future landscape of remote work will bring big changes in the ways companies work at all levels. Today, we are still in the early stages of this great transformation.

According to McLuhan's Media Laws, we can understand the effects of any technology created by humans by asking four questions.

  • Extends: What does this technology improve or enhance?
  • Obsolesces: What does it make obsolete or displace?
  • Reverses: What does it recover from what was lost?
  • Retrieves: What does it produce or become when pushed to the extreme?

We can apply these same principles to remote work

Let’s now layer those questions on working from anywhere as our media or subject, essentially treating remote work as a technology. According to Future of Work expert Harold Jarche, remote work extends individual work, makes the office obsolete, can reverse exploitative digitally connected factories, and reclaims the written word.

 

Tetrad diagram showing elements of Working from Anywhere as explained by Harold Jarche: Remote work extends individual work, makes the office obsolete, can reverse exploitative digitally connected factories, and reclaims the written word.

For more information about this model, visit www.jarche.com/2021/04/distributed-work.

The power of the written word

As Jarche points out, the most significant aspect of these laws is in the Retrieves quadrant. Why is the written word recovered and how does this change work?

When working with a remote and distributed team, you don't have frequent contact with your colleagues. You won't bump into each other very often and it is hard to have everyone on the same page. The ability to collaborate, create and solve problems together depends on how well they communicate. Sharing information, feedback, feelings, and updates is the minimum necessary to work together.

In a distributed team, most communication takes place in a written format. The main reason we don't spend hours communicating over the phone or in a video conference is that writing is much more efficient. Written communication is very useful as it makes the communication searchable, and easily findable.

When tasks are handed off to colleagues in other locations, and time zones, comprehensive documentation with the whole context is crucial. When new employees start working, they need the back story, and when veterans depart, they should leave knowledge behind.

Writing also forces us to formulate and organize our ideas in a better way. In research collected during the pandemic, Prodoscore found that the preferred tools for high performers were messaging and chat (in other words, the written word) over voice and video, which tend to be used by low performers employees.

The written word rules today’s work models

Prioritizing written communication is still something unnatural for most organizations, but in the post-pandemic world where all companies have migrated to some hybrid model, this is essential.

There are three basic types of hybrid work models today and all allow part of the team to be distributed remotely at any time:

1- Office-First

Employees are expected to spend most of their work time in the office. There are some flexibilities around working remotely but there are strict rules like specific days to work remotely and requests to work from home need to be approved by managers.

2 - Partly Remote/Hybrid

There are two different approaches here. In the first, the organization determines which departments can work remotely or hybrid, and which departments are expected to be fully in the office – the downside being that it creates an unequal workplace. Some people have a lot of freedom and flexibility while others have none.

The second approach expects employees to be on site most of the time, but they have flexibility to work remotely a few days each week and they can choose the days to work remotely. There are regular scheduled meetings where people must be in person at the office.

In either approach, you may have people who live farther away, or have children or other responsibilities and commitments that mean less in-office time. Care must be taken not to create two distinct classes of workers, those who work in person and those who are remote.

3 - Remote-First

In this model, remote work is the default mode for all employees. The company may retain office space for special occasions, such as events design and planning sessions, but all employees are expected to work remotely most of the time.

It offers freedom and great schedule flexibility but working mostly from the office is not an option. This could be a downside, especially for non-tech companies and those who prefer to work from the office because they lack a proper home office structure or for personal reasons.

The remote-first approach does not necessarily imply having all people working remotely, but that the workflow, the forms of communication and collaboration always take into account that there is someone on the team working remotely.

What a remote-first approach means:

  • All meetings have a link.
  • Important conversations must happen through a communication tool (Slack, Teams, Discord).
    • If they happen outside of the company tool, they must be propagated on one of these platforms. Every discussion is accessible to anyone, from strategic decisions to daily issues. Everyone can search for the information they are looking for.
  • Intentional onsite meetings are scheduled with activities that value connection.
  • Employees are trusted by companies to be able to decide where they go to work.

What a remote-first approach should not do:

  • Prevent face-to-face communication from taking place.
  • That’s fine as long as important conversations and decisions are propagated in the right channels.
  • Set 100% of all departments to automatically work remotely by default.
  • Be a fully virtual company.
  • For many, it is necessary and makes sense to have a local presence.

Making remote-first work, work

In any model it is necessary to work with rituals and processes that generate connection (despite not all being in one location), facilitate communication using appropriate tools, and adopt the culture of working out loud. Intentionally, we must try to have the same exchange of information that occurs naturally when people work face-to-face. Making the work more visible, the contribution grows in a two-way direction.

Some good remote work practices include:

  • Publish about the projects you are working on, the challenges faced and your learnings.
  • Post daily updates on chat communication channels.
  • Actively participate in meetings and share your thoughts.
  • Reserve time on every meeting for connection and sharing learning and updates.
  • Use only shared documents (Sharepoint, Google Docs) and their commenting features.

The concept of working from anywhere is just getting started, and it will continue to grow. It is important to develop new skills for the organization to make remote work efficient and promote all the benefits that technology allows.

GoTo powers remote work

GoTo knows a thing or two about powering remote-first work. Keep employees up and running and customers connected with GoTo’s remote IT and communication tools.

Check out similar posts...

  • What is flexible work? Remote and hybrid work are just the beginning.

    By Michael Belfiore
  • 4 flexible work trends, 1 technology solution

    By Joseph Walsh
  • IT service management for SMBs in a remote-first world

    By Chuck Leddy