We Got Remote Work All Wrong: Insights from “Running Remote 2024”

Running Remote 2024 challenged traditional views on remote work. The future of work is flexible, distributed, and human-centered.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
May 2, 2024
min read

Remote work may have become a mainstream topic only in the past few years, but the Running Remote conference has been going strong for seven years.

As founder Liam Martin shared in our interview, the conference began with “a bunch of tech nerds who really wanted to be able to build their companies remotely.”

Looking at this year's lineup, it’s clear how much progress has been made since. Headliners include Atlassian’s Annie Dean, Stanford WFH professor Nick Bloom, and flex guru Brian Elliott

I didn’t attend, but I spoke to over twenty people who did, including many of the presenters, to get an insight into what took place in Lisbon. 

Here are their insights. One thing is clear: we may be thinking about remote working completely wrong. (Heads up: this article is “Brian Elliott-heavy,” but I can’t help it that he’s brilliant!) 

4 Major Misconceptions about Remote Work

Traditional narratives around remote work that surged during the pandemic have been replaced with more nuanced thinking. 

With more hours of remote under their belt, most leaders now understand the topic better.

Initial reactions to remote work were based on necessity rather than strategic thinking, and how leaders are now correcting course.

1. It’s Not About Remote – It’s About Flexibility

Running Remote headliner and FlexOS top remote thinker Brian Elliott, previously a leader at BCG, Google, Slack, and Salesforce, noted that the term remote isn’t the right one to start with.

“Saying on stage at Running Remote that you're not a fan of the term remote isn't exactly a recipe for being invited back. There are real limits to remote work, along with some huge misconceptions.” – Brian Elliott.

Brian shared that it’s about being distributed, not just remote. While some companies may be fully remote, they are much more likely to be distributed.

In fact, as Brian additionally said: 

“Any company past minimum scale is distributed, and teams are way more distributed post-pandemic. We need to drive alignment, collaboration and performance when people are spread out over cities and timezones.” – Brian Elliott.

2. Flexible Models aren’t an Option – They Are a Necessity 

It’s also not like this discussion is about whether to be distributed or not.

Dave Cairns, another FlexOS Top 55 influencer, stressed that hybrid work models are less of an option and more of a strategic necessity. 

"Most companies HAVE to be hybrid—it’s not a choice… They can’t return to Office-First—it’s a major talent risk. And I don’t think any meaningful percentage of companies have returned to being fully in office.

Additionally, companies can’t just flip to virtual-first, like Dropbox. They weren’t poised to make the shift … only bleeding-edge software companies like them and Atlassian were. We are in a hybrid moment in the world."—Dave Cairns, Future of Work Strategist, Kadence. 

The data backs this up: 43% of hybrid and remote employees we surveyed last year would consider quitting if requested to be in-office full-time. 

This shows that flexibility in work arrangements has become a core operational strategy and a crucial element of a strong Employee Value Proposition.

In this context, multiple people I spoke to expressed how impressed they were by Annie Dean, the VP of Team Anywhere at Atlassian.

Annie presented data on why flexibility is a must, saying that “every company will shift from office-first to online-first.” 

This builds on previously released Atlassian research showing that seven in ten Fortune 500 CEOs who require in-person work say this rule has had no impact on productivity. This aligns with our findings that 98% of hybrid and remote managers say productivity has remained steady or improved. 

As Sodexo’s head of Strategy, Henrik Jarleskog, remarks:

“I was wowed by Annie Dean, Vice President Team Anywhere at Atlassian. They doubled the number of candidates per role, reached a 20% candidate acceptance rate, and decreased the attrition rate amongst women by 53%."
Without Team Anywhere, they would need to double their global Office Footprint and space. At the same time, she says that their offices are a fantastic amenity and that at least 80% of their +10.000 employees visit their offices every quarter.” – Henrik Jarleskog, Head of Strategy, Sodexo.

Deskpass’s Mike Larosa was one of the many other attendees who highlighted Annie’s presentation: 

“It was great to hear about Atlassian’s Team Anywhere program and the research and findings they’re doing. Taking cost savings from reducing office space and reinvesting in L&D. Also interesting to see real numbers presented on the true benefits that offsites have on team collaboration, job satisfaction and reducing turnover.” – Mike LaRosa, Sales & Business Development Leader, Deskpass

3. We Can’t Forget to Solve the When and How

While you may expect a remote work conference to focus on the ‘where,’ there was a refreshing perspective on the equally important When and How.

How we Work

Rosie, Sacha and the Enterprise Academy facilitators

Starting on “How” we work, BCG’s Rosie Sargeant, co-author of the recent “Joy at Work” research, told me that she was particularly enamored with Sacha Connor’s insight that “your meetings are a reflection of your culture.” 

Sacha and Rosie facilitated the Enterprise Academy day at Running Remote alongside Kate North and Brian Elliott, and as Rosie shared for this newsletter:

“Many participants cited issues with collaboration and meeting fatigue. Sacha suggested framing meetings as a reflection of your company’s culture, which means they carry more weight. No company wants to be seen as slow-moving, indecisive and ineffective – and there is more of an imperative to e.g. prepare action-oriented agendas, follow up with useful summaries and next steps.”

This emphasis on attacking meetings, one of the biggest time-hogs and reasons people feel burned out at work, echoes my recent discussion with Atlassian’s head of research, Molly Sands

Atlassian research shows that 80% of employees want fewer meetings and that especially directors and up suffer from having to work at night and on weekends due to meetings. 

This is why our Lead with AI course emphasizes letting AI attend meetings to free up executives’ time for more meaningful work. 

Beyond AI, other technology also greatly affects how we work. 

From remote-friendly HRIS Software like Deel (built on top of their employer of record services) and Gusto to specialized solutions for running hybrid offices like hot desk booking software, companies now have the tools to facilitate these flexible working models and locations better than ever. 

When we Work

Besides where and how we work, when we work matters a lot. 

As our research indicates, 50% of all hybrid and remote employees believe that more flexible time to work can improve their remote or hybrid policy. Even people who almost always work in-office would like more flexibility in when to work (48%).

Brian Elliott shared that this continues to be one of his major insights following the conference:

“Time (still) matters more than place. Leaders focused on improving performance are teaching teams to blend daily in-sync time (ex., core collaboration hours 10am-2pm) with focus time.” – Brian Elliott.

We discussed similarly in our interview:

“The research showed super quickly that time matters more than place; giving people big blocks of focused time during the workweek in 2 to 3 hour chunks was a much bigger benefit to their productivity than location flexibility.” – Brian Elliott.

He also tied the ‘when’ back to the ‘how’:

Clearly, the two are tied because, by the way, if you force them to commute five days a week, you lose some of that, and so that led to a lot of things that we were doing internally around how do you give people focus time?” – Brian Elliott.

4. The Struggle is Real

Even years after the pandemic transformed most companies’ approach to work, managing remote teams remains a struggle. And that struggle is real, regardless of the size and type of company. 

Dajana Berisavljević Đakonović, Head of People at Toggl, told me that her biggest insight was that the challenges of remote work are more universal than she initially thought:

“Regardless of the size and maturity of a company, we all share fairly similar challenges when it comes to distributed work. As the whole world transitions toward different ways of working, new questions are constantly being opened and we need to look for answers all together.” – Dajana Berisavljević Đakonović, Head of People, Toggl.

She added that she learned from the conference that she and other people leaders need to continue learning from each other, emphasizing the continued value conferences like Running Remote deliver:

“There is no one size fits all and it is time for companies (and especially People leaders) to deconstruct their ways of doing things. We need to recreate the best practices for fair compensation, nurturing innovation, and relationship building. No one has done it this way before us which makes the whole process so scary and exciting at the same time.” – Dajana Berisavljević Đakonović

This shared struggle suggests substantial room for developing standardized remote work policies that address common challenges. 

But it also led me to wonder whether the conversations at the conference are too “inside baseball” with people preaching to the choir. Isn’t it (even) more important to reach HR and workplace leaders who haven’t ‘seen the light’ yet?

Brian’s point of view on this was clear and encouraging:

“A lot of people who don't attend do listen to people like me, Annie, Nick and so many others. They need help and advice, usually because what they're doing isn't working. We bring in the broader audience, including execs who are reluctant around remote, and to build something that's applicable to almost every company.”

And indeed, the posts from Brian and others may have already extended the key insights from the conference to an audience 20-fold the size.

Running Remote: The Bottom Line 

As I dissect the nuanced dialogues and debates that shaped the conference as shared by our insiders, it's clear that the journey toward a sustainable remote work model is complex, nuanced, but above all, necessary. 

Leaders at Running Remote are looking beyond the simple hybrid versus return-to-office debates, focusing instead on optimizing spaces and times for team needs, supporting continual investment in learning, and aligning around goals. 

The passion for the topic was palpable. As event MC and People & Culture Strategist Dethra U. Giles concluded:

“Since I was the emcee, I got to see everything from behind the scenes. What I appreciated from behind the stage is how every single speaker was nervous or concerned about sharing something that would enhance the audience. I noticed the passion in our community to help others know, learn, and grow as distributed workers.” – Dethra U. Giles.

We continue to need a strategic rethink on remote jobs

Companies should adapt to and actively redesign their work processes and policies to harness the full potential of flexible work, focusing on dynamic team needs and evolving business goals.

And, we need to continue listening to our people, for example with employee surveys, to understand what works and what doesn’t.

This will lead us to a happier future of work, which we all need and deserve.

Until next week (which is when, coincidentally, I will be fully remote for the first time in my life!),


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A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.