Adopt a remote-first mentality: lessons for companies switching to hybrid working models
What working model will your company adopt post-pandemic? With the gradual reopening of the economy on the horizon, it’s a question occupying virtual boardrooms across the globe.
At FYXER, we’ve experimented with multiple hybrid working models since 2015: from predominantly office-based to fully-remote. Each model has challenged our assumptions and disproven some previously-held beliefs, ultimately leading to a model that works best for our culture.
Louise Ware and I have together written this summary based on a private Q&A we hosted in March 2021. We’ll be hosting a few more of these across the year. Please feel free to reach out to both of us if you’d like to join.
Our hybrid working journey
Working from anywhere has always been FYXER’s long-term plan. As a company that delivers remote executive support, remote working was not only ingrained in our culture from the outset, but from a business perspective it would enable us to attract exceptional and diverse talent that was not London-centric.
However, back in 2015, the idea of working from anywhere was in its infancy with apps like Zoom and Slack far from household names. We therefore started off with four days in the office, one day at home. As the company grew, we moved to various hybrid models, such as setting a minimum number of office days per week (and giving staff the choice when to come in) as well as different teams working from the office on varying days. We eventually moved to one company day per week in a coworking space, but even this ‘remote-leaning’ hybrid model did not give us the full benefits of remote working (e.g. we were still limited to hiring those within a reasonable commute of London).
After consultation with the whole FYXER team on working preferences, company processes and future direction, we finally moved fully-remote in August 2019. While our journey is not over, given the current interest in hybrid models, we wanted to share the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
- Employees don’t miss the office, they miss interaction
Face-to-face time with colleagues, building relationships and sharing stories is a bigger draw than coffee machines, ergonomic chairs and desktop monitors. Pre-pandemic, our staff enjoyed the social aspects of an office, but not the office itself with even once-weekly commutes associated with increased costs (travel fares and care cover), a worse work-life balance and, surprisingly, lower productivity due to the noise and frequent distractions. When given the choice of working from anywhere (not the enforced working from home (WFH) we’re experiencing now), most preferred not commuting to the office.
2. Hybrid models fuel inequality of opportunity
Flexible working can advantage some employees over others. For example, employees that live close to the office and do not have care duties can come to the office more often, benefiting from increased exposure to managers and better information access. Any perception of bias or unfair opportunities can adversely impact company culture and cohesion, but these can be easily avoided if everyone has the same working model. In other words, we found everyone got the same access to information and opportunities when working fully-remote.
3. Managers over-communicate in a split office system
Asking colleagues to work from the office on various days of the week is administratively time-consuming and leads to inefficiencies. Whether it’s communicating updated company protocols, hosting meetings or delivering company-wide announcements, a split office system either results in managers repeating themselves or one group benefiting from information over another (see above). We found that setting up comms platforms and processes that work remotely (and training all staff how to use them) was crucial for any model that involved some staff working out of the office.
4. Regular face-to-face engagement was not needed
Moving to one weekly office day, we initially provided budgets for teams to come together at coworking spaces to connect, meet and socialise while also hosting monthly socials. However, employees noted that monthly engagement was too frequent and they were just as engaged without organised social activities when given the ability to work from anywhere. Meanwhile, we also assumed that employees and clients would value face-to-face meetings once per month, but carrying out qualitative surveys and feedback found that both employees and clients didn’t feel regular face-to-face interaction was necessary. In short, always check assumptions and make data-led decisions.
5. Adopt a remote-first mentality
Overall, our journey has shown us that there is no one size fits all model. For FYXER, the diversity, talent access and productivity benefits of remote working far outweighs the loss of face-to-face connection with colleagues and clients, but that doesn’t mean working from anywhere is right for every company. However, all companies considering a hybrid model should adopt a remote-first mentality. To boost employee satisfaction and business efficiency, remote working should be front of mind when considering new processes, operations and communications channels. In other words, remote working capabilities should be the default method not the afterthought.
A huge thank you to our COO Louise Ware for leading the journey, challenging us to ask why and showing us what is possible.