This piece was originally published here on Reworked.
As we look to 2021, most companies are debating how they’re going to work in the future. They’re asking themselves: Are we a remote team now? Should we go back to the office? What many are starting to realize is that the cat is very much out of the bag — remote work is possible and even effective. And it means companies aren’t just going remote, they’re also starting to wonder how they can combine the benefits of working from home with the best parts of working from an office.
While it might seem like some companies can just return to normal, the fact that many companies are going remote represents a fundamental shift in the market. In order to compete for talent, who increasingly say that a hybrid set-up is their ideal, all companies will be forced to allow work from home or face the reality of losing talent to the companies that do.
And that begs the question, what does work look like when companies optimize for a hybrid model of working in an office and working remote? At Range, we work with some of the most innovative companies in technology, and here’s what we’re hearing about where companies are investing, and — spoiler — how the fabric of work is changing for the better.
If you aren’t listening to the tech news or chatting with HR teams, you might not have heard: many companies are ending their office leases and subletting their space. But, in a hybrid model, what does the ‘office’ look like?
For headquarters and big hubs, it likely means smaller offices with more of a coworking space set up than a traditional office space. Instead of having a dedicated desk, employees might have access to a desk just two or three days a week. (Limited access to the office may also be necessary to allow for social distancing between desks and teammates.) And in cities where a company doesn’t have an HQ, it might mean a stipend or membership in a local coworking space for the small set of employees in that city. This is what many distributed teams already do, and even enterprises follow this trend when opening offices in new locations.
What’s more, the office layouts will be optimized not just for individual work and meetings but for individual meetings, such as for video calls with coworkers who are working from home that day or are working across campus. I’m not going to bet on the return of the cubicle just yet, but this might signal a shift away from open floor plans, which have many other issues besides noise transfer.
Headquarter-centric models are done for. Future workplaces will be a constellation of small offices, each optimized for desk-sharing and remote-collaboration.
You can certainly imagine that the required equipment for an employee is no longer just a laptop. Now, it’s noise-canceling headphones, a webcam, laptop, and maybe a portable monitor or even a green screen.
If employees aren’t taking the bus to an office, they’ll likely start to ask the question “does it matter when I work?”
Many companies are already shifting away from the 9-5 workday, and hybrid companies are likely to accelerate this trend of windowed work. Just like companies with multiple time zones do today, companies will start to have designated cross-over hours or collaboration time. For example, a company based in San Francisco might say they expect everyone to be available 11-3 Pacific time for collaboration and meetings, but the rest of the day, you can work when you want.
Windowed work where teams have flexible hours paired with dedicated collaboration time will become the new norm for all teams, whether or not they’re in the same timezone or office.
What this naturally implies is that more communication will happen outside of meetings, requiring teams to invest in established working cadences and the right tools. Below we'll discuss how this shift will impact management styles, and in turn, make the entire organization more innovative and resilient.
Again, companies that empower this type of schedule have a big competitive advantage for hiring talent. Whether employees are parents, active athletes or night owls, they often work better with more flexible schedules. As they look for jobs, they will look out for forward-thinking companies that commit to and optimize for workday models that recognize that well-being and performance go hand-in-hand.
So if folks are working from different locations and at different times, what does it look (and feel) like to collaborate, plan or innovate with a team?
Companies like Shopify are leading the way in this conversation — talking about work as digital by default. What that means is that instead of optimizing conversations for in-person, companies will put digital communication first.
We know companies are already investing in video tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but now, we’ll start to see more and more HR teams establish default communication processes and systems. Processes like how to run an effective brainstorm meeting with in-person and video attendees, paired with the online whiteboarding tools to support it.
Digital-by-default requires companies to intentionally design how, when and where they communicate, leading to increased flexibility and improved communication overall.
Just like remote-only companies, they’ll invest more in wikis and knowledge bases to empower teammates to find their own answers to questions on their own time. They’ll start to prioritize asynchronous communication to allow for the windowed work, leading to fewer meetings (thank god) that are reserved for high-priority decisions or creative discussions.
They'll create new forms of random connections and serendipitous interactions. Instead of kitchen designs and stairways, apps like Donut or team game sessions will facilitate random interactions and strengthen personal connections. And this hits on a key point related to how tools themselves will evolve. Instead of focusing just on the work that needs to be done — code reviews or ticket resolution — tools will start to incorporate more human interactions, highlighting the people behind the work, not just the work itself.
What’s most exciting about these shifts for the future of work is how they change the fabric of our day-to-day collaboration.
When teams are working in different locations and at different times, it’s no longer possible to hold a 9-to-5, butts-in-seats mentality. Instead, companies will shift from looking at inputs like hours worked to outputs. So leaders will ask whether the project is on track instead of what time did you start work. This isn’t a new way of working. Many teams are already investing in supporting the individual, instead of micromanaging them. As more companies engage in hybrid models, they will also start to train leaders in this style of management, leading to a better experience for leaders and employees.
As companies shift to allow for asynchronous communication, they inherently become more inclusive, empowering different personality types and communication styles. The old ways of working often made it easy to leave some voices behind (or out entirely), but when the system is optimized for teammates to participate at different times and in different ways, that’s no longer an issue.
And so, the result of many of these changes is that work becomes fundamentally more humane.
It allows for parents to pick up their kids from school without missing a meeting. It means someone can take that personal development class on Mondays at 9 am without having to take time off work. And it allows us all to live where we want — in cities or not, near family (or not!).
As we look back on each of these predictions, note that they aren’t wild ideas pulled from our imagination. Rather, each one is already being practiced by one or more companies today. What is about to shift is that these innovative practices will become the norm because the secret is out — we can work from different locations and be effective.
Learn 5 ways to improve remote collaboration on your team in our next piece on remote work.