Work From Home Or Work From *Anywhere?*

The work world – along with almost ever other aspect of our lives – has changed dramatically in 2020. While many industries and job functions cannot be done remotely, those that can have switched to a new way of doing things. As COVID-19 vaccines come closer to being a reality, and organizations begin to plan for the “new normal,” questions arise as to what that new normal will look like.

“Work-from-home” (WFH) has been a practice adopted by organizations as far back as the 1970s, but in a new Harvard Business Review article, HBS Professor Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury suggests that the future is not “Work-from-home” – it’s “Work-from-anywhere” (WFA). Using this model, companies can save on real estate costs, hire and utilize talent globally, mitigate immigration issues, and experience productivity gains, while workers can enjoy geographic flexibility. And for employees, the WFA model can be very appealing – millennials in particular seem to relish the idea of being able to earn a steady income while having the freedom to live anywhere in the world; this works particularly well for couples in dual-career situations. But WFA also brings challenges, including how to communicate across time zones, share knowledge that isn’t yet codified, socialize virtually and prevent professional isolation, protect client data, and ensure productivity.

Prof. Choudhury goes on to suggest a number of best practices for organizations in (or considering) the WFA model:

  1. Asynchronous communication, brainstorming and problem-solving. The more spread out a team is, the harder it is to schedule meeting times (especially around the change to/from Daylight Savings Time, which varies around the world). Using asynchronous tools such as Slack, Discord, an intracompany portal, or even a shared Google document, can allow for communication in a timely and open manner. “One benefit to this approach is that employees are more likely to share early-stage ideas, plans, and documents and to welcome early feedback; the pressure to present polished work is less than it would be in more formal, synchronous team meetings. [One company studied] calls this process blameless problem-solving.”
  2. Transparency. Knowledge and resource-sharing needs to be exponentially increased in a WFA organization for it to be successful. While this may seem burdensome at first, it creates a trust in the organization, its leadership, and its employees that an employee needs to feel secure in their role.
  3. Socialization, camaraderie, and mentoring. WFA can feel isolating. To counteract that, many WFA organizations rely on technology to help facilitate virtual watercoolers and “planned randomized interactions,” whereby someone in the company schedules groups of employees to chat online. Some use AI and virtual reality tools to pair up remote colleagues for weekly chats. Prior to COVID-19, some WFA companies invested in hosting “offsites,” paying for travel and accommodations to bring all workers together for a few days with colleagues in person. While this may seem costly, the expenses are low in comparison to the ongoing overhead of large office spaces.

The piece also explores the topics of performance evaluation, compensation, and HR policies, all of which is worth looking at if your organization is (or is considering) the work-from-anywhere model.

So how might this be useful to your team as you go through your week?

This Week’s Tip:

Reflect on the three best practices outlined above from Prof. Choudhury’s article, and the steps you might take in your team to implement these, even if you intend to go back to a shared workspace when it is safe to do so:

  1. Asynchronous communication, brainstorming and problem-solving. How have you made use of asynchronous tools over the course of the pandemic? What has this provided above and beyond in-person meetings? How could you share your works-in-progress and encourage others to do the same?
  2. Transparency. What steps could you take to share knowledge and resources with your team? How could this support them? What requests could you make of others that would support you in your own work?
  3. Socialization, camaraderie, and mentoring. How has your team been socializing over the course of 2020? What kinds of processes could you put in place for planned or spontaneous community-building?

In each area, Building Bridges Leadership is equipped to support you in 2021 and beyond. Contact us to find out more.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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