Future Work

Remote Work, Trust, and Productivity

Let's take a look at these best practices for hybrid and remote work models and take the first few steps to boost trust and productivity.

Welcome to
Future Work

Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.

Not a member yet? Join over 10,000 people-centric managers and subscribe here.

Rather listen? The spoken version will be available tomorrow on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

I read the entire internet so that you don't have to. Kind of like ChatGPT but focused on the future of work. I report back weekly and what's most relevant for you to know.

What struck me both in putting together this list and the abundant sharing of the thought leaders on it once we released it is that there is a highly positive community advocating for more choice and flexibility.

Moreover, new data we'll release soon shows that employee productivity and trust are higher than ever amongst hybrid and remote managers. So why is the media still reporting on flexibility as if it's the worst thing that could happen to companies?

After Musk's "working remote is morally wrong," it was Martha Stewart saying that "America will ‘go down the drain’ if people don’t return to office" and "Google to crack down on office attendance."

But Fortune editor Dr. Gleb Tsipursky wrote, "The forced return to the office is the definition of insanity," and I couldn't agree more.

It may seem easy for me to say since I'm both the worker and the boss, but I couldn't imagine sitting in an office again, 9 to 5, five days per week.

"Despite the overwhelming evidence that flexible hybrid work is more productive than forced in-office work for the same roles, top executives are stubbornly herding employees back to the office like lost sheep, expecting productivity to miraculously improve. This, my friends, is the very definition of insanity."

The "less productive myth" disproven

As I said before in my article "Measuring Productivity of Your Remote Workers," productivity is a tricky subject because... it's subjective.

Before we started working remotely, most companies didn't define nor track productivity, but somehow – it has fallen.

Of course, there are ways to measure productivity, including goal completion, time tracking, sprints and story points, and booking billable hours (flashback to my agency days). We just didn't.

Most productivity numbers are self-reported. And as ClickUp research highlighted, most people's definition of productive is "I feel like I accomplished something." That is probably not what management meant when they said: "Be more productive.

But.

Those companies with consistent productivity tracking before and after switching to hybrid and remote see the real story: productivity is the same or up.

Take Hubspot.

As a refresher, Hubspot lets its employee choose which working model they prefer: fully at home, hybrid, or fully in the office. Each model has its own perks, like a home office setup for remote employees and a dedicated desk for office-bound ones.

And it's paying off.

Hubspot shared with HR Brew that productivity has stayed the same even as the share of employees working from home has increased – now 60% of the company.

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Meaghan Williams, Manager of Hybrid Enablement and Operations at Hubspot, and her Culture Team "concluded that productivity had not declined in the new working model by looking at the performance of HubSpot’s sales teams and the average number of days with GitHub commits by engineering teams."

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Hubspot's annual question about how likely employees are to recommend the company as a great workplace is 14% higher for employees working fully at home.

“We don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all strategy for building a great culture, and our data shows that employees can be productive and engaged regardless of work preference,” – HubSpot VP of Culture and ESG Eimear Marrinan

Need more data? We got you. In upcoming FlexOS research, we asked hybrid and remote managers if and how productivity has changed from when they were in the office full-time.

A staggering 66% of managers reported experiencing improved performance levels, of which 48.5% said productivity has ‘significantly improved,’ dismantling the belief that physical presence is essential for optimal productivity.

With 31% of managers saying productivity has remained the same, only 2% saw a decrease in productivity versus the office.

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The survey also reveals high levels of trust in hybrid and remote work environments.

A remarkable 98% of managers expressed confidence in their teams' ability to deliver results on non-office days, debunking the notion that remote work breeds doubts about employee productivity.

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Managers’ trust is further supported by the fact that only 26% of hybrid and remote managers use time-tracking software, and 36% use productivity-tracking software, which is even lower when comparing fully remote managers versus hybrid managers.

What do these managers do instead? Be human: managers measure productivity primarily by completed work and regular team check-ins.

Driving Remote Productivity, Productively

How do we change our notion of productivity so that we can embrace hybrid and remote working models people want that have been proven to work?

I previously shared seven ways we can improve (the idea of) productivity:

  1. Redefine productivity. Embrace Jaime Teevan's concept of micro-productivity and focus on the final outcome rather than traditional work hours.
  2. Set clear desired outcomes. Shifting away from subjective measurements and focusing on assessing individual effectiveness, aligning team goals with company objectives, clearly defining performance expectations and metrics, and effectively communicating them to the team.
  3. Check-in regularly. Prioritize regular check-ins, starting with a weekly meeting to set priorities and followed by daily check-ins to address challenges and offer assistance, utilizing tools like Lexi Daily as a streamlined alternative to status calls or stand-ups.
  4. Focus on the Mission, Vision, and Culture. Go beyond transactional goals and prioritize continuously messaging the company's mission, vision, and culture while considering new metrics like "time well spent" and implementing initiatives such as Core Value awards, mission-focused Total Rewards, leadership talks, training, icebreakers, and more to foster employee engagement and connection beyond daily work.
  5. Limit Meetings. Be cautious with meetings, taking inspiration from Shopify's example of eliminating recurring meetings of more than three people, and instead, implement the F.A.I.R. framework (Format, Agenda, Invitee List, and Report) to ensure meetings are efficient and time-effective.
  6. Provide the right places to be productive. Offer flexible workplace options beyond home or office, empowering employees to choose their preferred work location for increased happiness, data gathering, and optimization.
  7. Prioritize onboarding. Engage new hires immediately, set clear expectations, foster strong employee-manager relationships, and provide an onboarding buddy to ensure a positive and supported transition into the company.

What are companies doing to master hybrid and remote?

In her terrific article, "For companies sticking with remote work, the rules for success are becoming clear," Rachel Curry shares several great examples of how innovative companies have mastered the switch to hybrid and remote.

Atlassian emphasizes the use of collaborative tools to enhance remote meetings and decision-making. They allow anyone involved in a meeting to comment on shared documents before the event, increasing employee visibility and efficiency. Atlassian's collaborative tool, Confluence, enables decisions to be made in about 12 minutes, saving valuable time and allowing employees to focus on what's important.

“We don’t need to be victimized by these 30-minute slots that fill us up three weeks in advance and prevent us from focusing on what’s important. We can give people time back,” Annie Dean, Vice President of Team Anywhere at Atlassian (and one of our 55 Thought Leaders to Follow.)

For more lessons from Atlassian, read Annie's fantastic guide, "Well-executed distributed work makes for happier, more productive teams."

As an open-source software firm, GitLab has been "office-less" for over a decade. They have excelled in remote work by prioritizing rigorous documentation from the beginning. GitLab has codified its remote work best practices in a book that can be downloaded. Their early adoption of remote work and commitment to effective documentation has contributed to their success.

Upwork, a freelancing platform, has transitioned to a remote work model over the past three years. They focus on providing visibility and accountability to employees. Managers have access to operating plans and strategic documents, working closely with individual employees to coordinate quarterly goals and directives. Each employee is responsible for inputting performance data, ensuring personal accountability and visibility.

Business credit card and finance company Brex embraces a distributed work model and trusts its employees to choose their own collaboration and project management technology. They empower their employees to use the best tools for them and their teams. Brex aims to partner with the software offerings preferred by workers across the organization, fostering flexibility and productivity.

These case studies highlight how different companies have succeeded in hybrid remote work through various strategies such as collaborative technology, effective documentation, personal visibility, and flexibility.

But, You Don't Have to Be Perfect

Perfect is the enemy of progress; nowhere is this more true than in workplace models. Companies may feel deterred from switching to hybrid and remote because there is too much to figure out.

Recent research from Phil Kirschner and his team at McKinsey & Company should be encouraging. As they report, "Even some of the most forward-thinking companies are leaving performance improvements and more efficient real estate spending on the table.

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However, as the researchers note, "Despite how difficult it can be to focus on the 12 practices described in the survey, we believe that the upsides, which include potential real estate savings and improved employee satisfaction and performance, are worth the effort."

So let's take a look at these best practices for hybrid and remote work models and at least take the first few steps.

Have a great rest of your week,

Daan

Welcome to
Future Work

Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.

Not a member yet? Join over 10,000 people-centric managers and subscribe here.

Rather listen? The spoken version will be available tomorrow on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

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