In the last few months, many employers have decided that it’s time to “take a stand” on remote work. In the red corner, we have organizations like Tesla demanding that employees return to the office or be fired. In the blue, organizations like Twitter (ah the irony) loudly proclaiming that employees can work from anywhere forever. Somewhere in the middle are organizations like JP Morgan Chase, who started somewhere close to Elon, only to backtrack when employees threatened to revolt.
Regardless of whether it is good for them or not (and there is legitimate debate about that), when you ask employees if they want the option to work out of the office, majority say “YES”. It turns out that if you give people a taste of freedom (in this case in terms of choosing how and where they work) they prefer that to control. Who would have thought it?
For two years we’ve been asking employers a simple question – “How do you feel about your employees working out of the office?” The question IS simple, but often the answer is anything but simple. As a sample, here are some of the more interesting answers we’ve received….
“It’s the best thing we’ve ever done”
“It’s the WORST thing we ever did”
“It’s creating stronger teams”
“It’s tearing teams apart”
“I think it’s terrible, but if I bring my employees back they will all quit”
“I think my employees are always slacking off, but I still have to pay them”and perhaps most commonly
“I just don’t know what to do about it”
It varies by industry, At BillionMinds they are seeing fewer than 20% of employers fully embracing a hybrid work policy that includes out of office for anyone that wants it and who’s job allows it, forever. Many more are sitting on the sidelines, perhaps until the power dynamic shifts between employer and employee again and they can pull employees back in without penalty.
That might work temporarily, but it’s probably pretty foolish to make a medium term bet against history and human nature. If you don’t offer me the chance to work from anywhere, I’ll find an employer who does, and guess what, I won’t even have to move house to do it!
So, if you are an employer it’s probably time to go beyond gut instinct, and start thinking about how to implement a hybrid workplace policy that works for your organization today and will work going forward. But how do you get started?
We recommend it starts with what a Space and Time Profile – an audit of your current environment to determine which roles are tightly coupled to a traditional work structure across the dimensions space and time.
The Space Dimension
In your workplace, how many roles MUST be tied to location?
According to BillionMinds.com it can be 3 dimensions: 1. If you work in a factory, its likely that there is some equipment you interact with which would look awkward at best in your dining room. It just wont’ work. 2. even when a role can be done remotely, there may be good business reasons for it to need certain types of role in a physical workplace. It’s possible to have bookstores that are entirely online, but an independent bookstore with a cool location and nice couches is likely to do much better fending off competition from Amazon than an online clone. 3. This third role what´s causing it to be in office is culture. Like call centers. In most cases it is cheaper and more efficient to run virtual call centers, but many organizations still have physical ones, just because they always have!
The Time Dimension
In your workplace, how many roles MUST be done at a certain time?
If you are a software company offering technical support during certain hours, working outside those hours doesn’t really make any sense. If you are a Radio presenter on a live show, you probably need to be on time..Again there are also business reasons why working something approximating fixed hours makes sense. For example, if a large part of your work requires real time collaboration with others you need to be working at the same time as your collaborators.
There are potentially many roles where the only reason time constraints are observed is culture or policy. For example you may individual software developers that COULD work any time, but who are encouraged to abide by traditional office hours.
Creating an Organizational Profile
Once you have evaluated your organization across space and time, you are now in a position to create your “Space and Time Profile”, based on these two different dimensions in your organization.
Business Profile 1 – The Nomad
To illustrate this, consider two different types of organization (in this case categorized by percentage of employees in each category). The first category, we’ll call “The Nomad”. This organization has a large proportion of its employees who are not tied to the work environment at all, by either time OR place. The organization therefore has a high degree of flexibility in terms of its hybrid work policy.
Business Profile 2 – The Settler
The second category, which we will call “The Settler” has far more employees who for business reasons, or logistical reasons are tied through either time or place. This organization probably needs a different set of policies that will work for them, most likely centered around meeting the needs of those employees.
The organizational profile we described above helps you take the emotion out of WHAT is possible, but making changes requires a detailed assessment of the current culture and what kind of change will work best. For example that just because 80% of your workforce may want to work out of the office, losing the other 20% could be devastating to your business. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that the desire to work in or out of the office is strongly influenced by how many of your colleagues are doing the same.
As you do this, you should consider what your business currently needs, what it will need in the future, the preferences of people who currently work for you, and the preferences of people who COULD be working for you in the future.
Skill and Trust – The Missing Link
If you give employees the practical skills they need to work from anywhere with excellence, and then trust them to do so – the vast majority respond in ways that benefit the business – with improved individual and team performance, reduced ethical violations and better business results.
The Space and Time profile – A new hybrid workplace model for employers. (2022, August 3). BillionMinds. https://billionminds.com/the-space-and-time-profile-a-new-hybrid-workplace-model-for-employers/Learn More