By Donncha Carroll

In part one of this article series, we marveled at the incredible speed at which companies pivoted to a remote working model. Most businesses made this shift out of necessity and have been more successful in making the transition than they ever could have imagined. Productivity and efficiency gains are widely reported as businesses show no material impact on operations or work quality. There are many stories of higher levels of employee engagement, better leveraging of technology for collaboration, automation of transactional work, lowering investments in physical infrastructure and enhancements in the employee value proposition through more flexible working arrangements.

Companies also recognize that while there are clear advantages to this new marriage of work and home, there are also risks with business implications that are emerging or not yet well known. Are employees motivated to perform during a crisis but find the lack of human interaction counterproductive and making it difficult to sustain the level and quality of their contributions? Are team collaboration and relationship building, essential to ideation and culture, being undermined? How can we effectively onboard new team members? How would we know and what data would we use to validate our conclusions?

In our first article, we posed three central questions companies should answer as they consider making remote work a more permanent way of working.

In this article, we will explore in more detail the first question: “What essential work can we accomplish efficiently and effectively in a remote model?”

What work is best suited to a remote model?

This question is best answered by setting aside the existing operating model. Viewing what work needs to be completed as a whole and without consideration of current roles, structures and work processes is important because what may have made sense in the past may not make sense going forward. We believe there are two important considerations related to how well work can be performed in a remote model. The first consideration speaks to the level and extent of interaction between team members required to perform the work and to perform it well. Exploring this dimension provides some visibility to the dynamic nature of the work and its dependence on human collaboration and engagement to achieve optimal results.

The second consideration focuses on whether important interactions are planned or ad hoc. Planned interactions can more easily be organized remotely. They often follow a consistent cadence, engage the same or similar group of resources, follow a similar agenda, etc. Ad hoc or unplanned interactions are random, happen by accident. When the information exchanged through these interactions is crucial to performance, it can be almost impossible to orchestrate remotely. While technology will continue to improve how we collaborate in a remote environment,there is no real replacement for grabbing lunch with a colleague, running into a random group over drinks, or unplanned banter in the lunch room — all interactions that can lead to an important insight or advancement. In the diagram below, we present some examples of how different types of work might be viewed through this lens.

Work in the top left of the visual should generally remain “on campus” while work to the right and bottom are good candidates for a remote work or hybrid model that combines the best of in-office and remote working to achieve the right balance. As we pointed out in first article, employees that work remotely will still want and benefit from in person interactions and this is something a hybrid model can offer by providing benefits from both. Determining the specific approach for a hybrid model should feature as part of implementation phase.

How should we align our operating model to support remote work?

Work that moves to a remote model (full or hybrid) will require an updated operating model to fully support its execution. Simply put, operating model in this context refers to the people, process and technology that together enable the effective and efficient execution of work.

Parting thoughts

As we gain more experience and insight from working remotely and as many companies seriously consider this approach as a permanent way of working, most will need to adopt a hybrid model. Some work will return to campus, some work will stay remote but most work can and should align with a combination of office and home. Critical to making the transition successfully will be understanding the nature of the work, what is required to perform it well and aligning the operating model to support its effective execution.

In our next article, we will explore the second of our three central questions: “How will working from home impact our culture and employee value proposition?” As always, we would appreciate hearing your comments, perspectives and experiences as your business adjusts to a new way of working.

To discuss a remote working model tailored to your business, contact us today.

Please visit our first article in this series, From Work to Home…and Back Again?

For further insights on how organizations are managing the challenges of this moment, see How Safe, Smart, and Strong Leaders Can (Re)Build Agile Organizations and Resilient Organizations in Uncertain Times.

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