Unsettled | Future of Remote Work Report 2020
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The Future of remote work is here.
You can’t open up the Internet without seeing references to the world going remote. From viral memes to industry thought-leadership pieces, how-tos to nightmare tales, and everything in between, the world and its institutions are scrambling to catch up. The most fundamental organizing principle of our lives – work – which has for generations defined where we live, who we socialize with, how we manage our time, and more, has gone through the most accelerated transformation in history.
Throughout all of the questions, we had one of our own. We sat down (virtually, of course) to ask dozens of experts from around the wold one simple question:
“What is one thing that you think is being overlooked in today’s conversation around the future of remote work?”
We got an earful. Yet we can summarize the responses you will see below with the following: Underlying all the challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities in front of us, is a mindset of intentionality that must guide our future. While the rapid shift towards remote work may have “happened” to many of us, it is now up to us to take responsibility and be intentional about how we shape the future; of our companies, our teams, our work, and ultimately, our lives.
It’s not about the technologies or systems that we use. Re-thinking the future of remote work requires us to re-think the human processes behind the work. That starts with empathy; listening to, understanding, and processing the changes happening in our workforce today. Designing the systems around human needs first, and using the technology as an enabler for meaningful human interaction and culture design; not the other way around.
We must begin this journey of addressing the future of work with an intentional mindset of holding nothing sacred, of redefining how trust, culture, communications and systems are built. It starts with strong leadership and management, but also requires a collaborative and co-created approach to our individual and collective future of work.
If we do so, we face one of the greatest opportunities in the history of modern work to not only re-imagine how we can work better, but how we can live better.
From the practical to the philosophical, the tangible steps for individuals and companies to the wider impacts on society as a whole, here is what the experts have to say…
-The Unsettled Team
A BRIEF FORWARD…
“The Great Reset: On the Path Toward Optimized Work”
By Gary A. Bolles, Chair for the Future of Work, Singularity University
For many years now, people in a variety of work roles were already moving in fits and starts toward more Optimized Work. But the Great Reset of 2020 broke loose one of the traditional anchors of work context, forcing many into a global experiment in an unfettered workplace. The result: Wide-ranging distributed work that gave many people a taste of what some aspects of Optimized Work might be.
Think of it this way. Much of where, when, and how we work has ideal characteristics for each of us as workers, a set of optimized conditions under which we do our best work. And because organizations want workers to be as productive as possible, they also want work to be as optimized as possible (whether or not that’s what they’d call it). So suppose I waved a magic wand, and you could work at any given time in exactly the right workplace environment for those tasks. If you’re solving problems as a team, it might be in an in-person scrum. Ideating alone, perhaps you’d be out for a walk in a gorgeous setting. Designing, perhaps you’d be at home with a range of tools at your disposal.
And if you had a Star Trek transporter at your service, you could simply materialize in each of those locations based on your momentary work context.
Of course, that doesn’t happen.
We usually don’t have the flexibility, resources, or perhaps even the awareness to do our best work in the most appropriate setting. And because so much of work – especially information-centric work – has been traditionally performed in an office, we have simply defaulted to performing our work in the same location, whether or not that workplace is optimal for the work at hand. There are many reasons for this “default location” mindset, but the most important is trust – or, rather, the lack of it. One of the many outdated models we have inherited from the industrial era is what I call “management by surveillance,” the need for managers to continually observe workers to ensure work is performed as demanded.
Then along came a virus…
Now that many leaders, managers, supervisors, and team leads have been forced overnight into the world of distributed work, many have realized their teams and companies didn’t fall apart. A lot of work could continue. That doesn’t mean, of course, that working from home all day next to kids and pets is Optimized. And it temporarily forced the loss of serendipitous interactions like water-cooler conversations and hallway brainstorming. But it did break the mindset that the only productive work possible can be done in an office. And, hopefully, it also infused all concerned with the fundamental insight that we are all fully human, with lives that we don’t abandon simply because we walked into the corporate mother ship.
What is critical is that everyone involved – those who work, and those who guide others’ work – have a new mindset geared toward a continuous process of optimization. How can an increasing amount of the work we do be both more human-centric and more effective? How can we understand and embrace each person’s unique skills and optimal work context, and design for the flexibility that drives increased effectiveness and satisfaction? And how can all of this be done authentically in ways that ensure the organization can continue to deliver the best value to its stakeholders?
That’s the promise of more optimized work, for all concerned.
Even companies with remote-first philosophies struggle with the realities of global employment. It’s easy to hire domestic talent, but the world is full of amazing people who can help businesses grow. Too many companies allow legal obstacles to dissuade them from hiring a perfect candidate in a different country. What these companies don’t realize is that they have options that do not involve spending thousands of dollars and months of effort to open their own legal entities. By viewing work through a truly international lens, businesses can access a wider pool of global talent and provide their employees with the freedom and flexibility that remote work should provide.
Talent is embracing remote work to be physically closer to extended family, increase the amount of time spent with their family due to the lack of a commute, and increase the ability to afford a home to raise a family. I see family as the #1 driver of top talent embracing remote work. This is a good thing for society.
As a changemaker in Africa, I see a great opportunity to tap into highly skilled professionals and allies from all parts of the world.
We are going into a future where people will have a lot more control over their time – we no longer have to commute into work, our productivity is now measured on output rather than time spent “at work”, and this means that many more of us will have time to contribute to impactful projects and solve problems that we never knew even existed before.
We all have a bit more time to make a difference in the world should we want to.
The opportunity to close the gap between truly global collaboration. While we say remote work is distributed globally, the reality is that it’s not. Close collaboration is still reserved between the US & EU, while work between the US/EU & Asia is still transactional and cost-focused. At Venture L we intentionally incubated in Singapore to understand the disconnect. After many hours of lost sleep, we learned time zones are the biggest barrier, but the rise of asynchronous communication and in-document collaboration yield massive potential in closing the gap.
A critical focus on empathy is essential for success in this new environment. Interpersonal skills have been elevated in importance in recent years. However, each of us will do our best working remotely while coping with challenging and unpredictable conditions when we lean into our natural empathy skills. We can understand each other’s perspectives and experiences better, putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. Empathy improves relationships, communication, collaboration, conflict resolution, and more.
Something I believe that is being overlooked as the world goes remote is the mental health aspect of working from home. Isolation and loneliness can sometimes be inevitable byproducts of remote work, so it is important to have a system of regularly checking in with your team personally and professionally.
People are “using” technology, but not thinking of it as the enabler; people are key. Support is an additional “type” of communication and connection that needs to be more fully articulated and intentionally practiced when leading or working virtually. We may be seeing each other only from the neck up, but it’s more important than ever to connect “below the neck,” from the heart. This is easier now as we are forced to integrate the home and our personal lives more transparently into our work streams and team time.
Remote work opens up so many opportunities to people who might traditionally have been at a disadvantage. Maybe because of where they lived (e.g. too far away from the work location or not able to commute), maybe because they had to take care of family members (and thus couldn’t afford the commute) or because they just didn’t thrive in a face-to-face work culture (e.g. introverts, hyper-sensitives). So this remote work revolution is an opportunity to think talent sourcing and team composition different, opening jobs up to a much wider audience with diverse talent.
As digital recruiters, we have been preaching the importance of having a remote working infrastructure that gives companies the best of both worlds; access to talent, irrespective of geography, without compromising on culture and productivity.
Not surprisingly, this has been a perk of C-level executives over the decades with a significant number of execs having at least a part-time remote working arrangement of some sort. Individuals also need to be prepared and market themselves toward remote working. Behavioural changes will take time, however some areas we believe people need to focus on are cime management, communication, and leadership.
In the move to remote work, what is being overlooked is how to consider and find the balance between the needs of the organization or team, and the needs of the team members. Much is being said about how people are trying to work and live in new situations. These adjustments and the very diferent working challenges that come (from working and living completely alone and isolated all the way to trying to be a teacher, parent and productive team member – at the same time) are real and should be highlighted. But the work of the organization – that those team members serve – is important too. Many organizations are tipping the scale too far in either direction – and missing the healthy and needed balance. Leaders and organizations that find the flexibility, adaptability and resiliency to find the shifting balance in these needs will be the organizations that win both today and in the long-term.
The one thing being overlooked is understanding what remote work actual entails. It’s not just “doing what we were doing in the past, but in a remote setting”. For us to succeed at remote work, we need to start thinking remote first. And that’s something a lot of companies still have not grasped. It’s about setting new expectations around clarity, communication, and connection, because there are things you miss out of in remote work. We have to be deliberate, intentional, and strategic about how we stay engaged as human beings when we’re not in the same place. How do we work effectively and make up for the lack of non-verbal cues? How do we stay on top of things when we’re collaborating asynchronously? We can’t go back to the way things used to be. We need to reimagine work in its entirety, to make remote work work for all of us.
Many companies are overlooking the importance of having a strong company culture and operating system that is centered around clear expectations, goals and trust. When you go remote, your culture doesn’t just magically course correct. It comes with you.
Understanding the inner-workings of how you’re going to translate what your team is *used to* in the office (connections, project management, tools) to their own choice environment, while keeping your teams aligned, is really important and should be thought about thoroughly and corrected *before* making the decision to become a remote-first company.
The essence of the future of work is a shift in power relationships between employer and employer. People working in technology don’t sell their time or labour, but their skills, experience and creativity. Autonomy here is key, and a culture of trust. And this goes way beyond remote. A true autonomous culture requires full flexibility in time, presence and they way people work. Companies need to work on autonomy to be succesful as a tech company. Being remote is just a consequence (like happiness!).
As a remote work advocate, while I am glad to see the world finally understanding the benefits of remote work, I am not so enthusiastic about this very rapid switch to a remote model that so many organizations (small and big, worldwide) have decided to implement.
The remote organizational set up requires us to have the right technology, mindset, a new and different approach to work and productivity. We need a new way to communicate synchronously and asynchronously, and, above all, leadership teams that are ready to take on the challenges that come with working remotely: loneliness, lack of connection, communication, overwork, and career growth.
When in the office, teams often rely on face-to-face communication. Managers are used to getting the message across immediately. However, with remote work, this may not be the case. Flexible schedules, time zone differences, and cultural diversity means people may not be able to respond immediately. Managers and teams alike need to be sensitized and trained for asynchronous communication.
Companies that have remote work in their DNA are doing well, but the ones that have recently moved to remote work are overlooking their responsibilities towards their team members. Most companies do not realize that they need to make a change in the way they work, the way they communicate, and how they treat their team members. Some of these companies are just sending people home and keeping all the processes and tools as they had in the past. They will soon find lack of motivation, cracks in the company culture, misunderstandings and employee turn-over will go up the roof. Companies must reevaluate and adapt their communication channels, the structures of their meetings, their processes, and tools in order to have a happy, sustainable and scalable remote team.
The one thing we are overlooking regarding the future of work is that it involves inner work. For me, the future of work means that we are developing organisational models where the decisions are made wherever there is the most competence. That means many employees have to grow up and mature psychologically in order to feel safe and are able to host enough complexity in order to make forceful decisions.
As companies are transitioning into remote work, they first need to consider and clearly define what remote work exactly means within their team or organization. Here is my definition of remote work: Remote work means you have the freedom and the flexibility to work from a place where you feel the happiest & productive — whether that’s a co-working space, a cafe, or a home office. The decision should be yours to make.
When transitioning to remote work, the importance of change management can not be overestimated. Intentionally investing time and attention into relevant training, software accounts, project management methods, risk analysis, and self-management habits will make or break the success of both individuals and organizations.
When the visible trust building elements fall away in a remote work set up, we are challenged to create trust within the smallest unit of organizations, the relationship of people. The further we are physically apart, the more time we need to spend on creating and nourishing our relationship with ourselves, with our co-workers and as a team.
The higher the level of uncertainty, the more we distribute power and increase autonomy, the more time we need to invest in relationship building and on increasing clarity and visibility in order to allow for real ownership. I believe this can only happen through one conversation at a time, through compassionate listening, asking more questions and constantly opening ourselves up to the reality, experience, hopes and challenges of our team members.
The foundation to any great remote work experience are the tools and equipment you work on top of: The physical setup at home. Companies should be responsible for ensuring every single member of their team is as safe, comfortable, and productive at home as they would be in an office. Many companies will neglect this – their workers will develop back, neck, and repetitive strain injuries – and they will be held liable for the result. As companies redistribute office space to workers home, benefitting from the resulting reduction in what they spend on an office, they use some of these savings to get their team setup. As it stands, the office cost 10X more ($22k a year) to provide a worker with the space, software, and equipment a worker needs than to provide the best remote work experience on the planet to a worker at home ($2k a year).
While going remote has many advantages and opens new opportunities, we should keep in mind that it also comes with challenges. The shift to working remotely may come naturally to some, yet for many it is challenging, and new ways of working have to be learned. We should pay close attention to these differences and work towards a successful integration of remote work frameworks into a productive and sustainable future.
III. WORK + LIFE INTEGRATION & TRANSFORMATIONS…
Jump to: IV. In The Bigger Picture…
The great remote migration offers the tremendous potential for communities to be reinvigorated. When tens of millions of people optimize their lives for living rather than a commutable distance to an office, they’ll be free to serve neighbors and communities that matter to them. The collective reclaiming of commutes and repurposing of time has the potential to create an unprecedented amount of positive societal change.
The future of work is really about the future of life. Historically, we built our lives around our jobs, and now we have the opportunity to create a future where we build our jobs around our lives. And as our lives become less and less tied to the city in which our job exists, we’re going to see some significant migration shifts. Leaders should start working today to ensure their city is the type of place these workers want to call home tomorrow. That means focusing on developing an inclusive community that prioritizes livability for all.
Right now, we have the biggest opportunity we’ve ever encountered to redistribute the population, focus on happiness and community, and at the same time work on projects that are meaningful.
Remote work should be used as a tool to repopulate the rural areas, decentralizing work from the cities and with that building strong local communities, essential to human happiness. By decentralizing the population, reducing travel to and from the office, and creating strong local communities, problems like loneliness, stress, high real estate prices, and little time for personal development or sport could be solved. Happy people also produce more and create better humans.
Professional careers in a remote world come with opportunities and responsibilities. On the one hand, opportunity to redesign not only the way we work, but the way we live. Think to yourself: what kind of life do you want to live? How could you live a life more aligned with your values? You can now chase that life. Learn to unlearn old habits inherited from the industrial revolution and make the most of technology by taking full accountability of where and how you live.
On the other hand, responsibility to make yourself indispensable in an evermore automated world. Be proactive in your learning and development path, apply your talent in those areas where we will continue to outperform computers: our humanity. Create beauty in everything you do, make art, forge deep human connections, care.
There is no “future of work” waiting for us to discover. We are the creators of such “future of work”. Let´s forge our humanity, train our soft skills and redirect the “future of work” towards a place aligned to the world we want to live in, a place that lifts the human spirit.
I think we need to address something important, and that’s working as if you’ll have a future.
For the first few months, the focus was on moving heaven and earth to get work done regardless of the fact we were at home. The plan was to keep fingers in the dams until we went back to work as normal. Now we are getting tired, dispirited, and it’s clear things aren’t going back to normal. But people are so focused on the work right now, they are burning out, or simply going through the motions, perhaps disengaging or losing hope.
We need to treat our careers like careers. Network, stay in touch with people inside your company, build your connections outside of work, take advantage of training and webinars. Because even if things went back to the way they were, you had bigger dreams than that. It’s what kept you going and motivated you. We might not know what the future will look like, but one thing we can be sure of: there will be a future, and you want to be part of making it happen in a way that is good for you.
Taking your job remote is the easy part of adopting a remote lifestyle. Sustaining a remote career is the challenge. Finding a new job, feeling at home at a new company remotely and building your network requires unique skills and a supportive ecosystem that is just being developed. It can be a lonely endeavor without at least the right support network. Community is what we need most right now.
The future of work is when everything is back to normal (or close to it) and your job stays remote. And the key success factor for that future is co-working with non colleagues, where you will have themed co-working spaces literally everywhere.
This will be possible because we are already reaching the critical mass of millions of remote workers around the world allowing the community to mature.”
The thing that’s being overlooked is how difficult it is to set work-life boundaries. The beautiful thing about remote work is that YOU get to decide when and where you do your best work, and if you get this right, you can also carve out time during the week to do other tasks that don’t include your job, as well as spending more time with friends and family. Unfortunately, creating your own schedule and work space isn’t always as easy as it sounds when everything is happening in the same place. You have to get the work-life balance right and that means setting clear boundaries for yourself and others.
There is a lot of stress and anxiety when people are adjusting to new work schedules and kids are out of school. With everyone’s focus on protecting their physical well-being during the pandemic, mental health is often neglected. It’s really important that we don’t put our mental health on a backburner. The mind and body are very much connected!
IV. IN THE BIGGER PICTURE…
The future of remote work is based on authenticity. To be successful you have to stand out in a 100 percent authentic way. We all are so influenced by all the data which is bombarding us daily through the internet, that we forget to be ourselves. We only try to copy others. This is a big mistake and no one really talks about. Being successful just became a million times harder when working remotely and competing against the whole world. So you have to be a million times better than everyone out there. And this only works by being 100 percent authentic.
A workplace cannot go remote overnight. Sure, it’s physically possible but a reset of this magnitude requires training, guidance and a commitment to reskilling if we are to replicate the success and execution that we associated with a traditional office. You have to remember, many of us have had a career of lifelong learning in a fluid workplace model, like an office, which has been developed largely by trial and error.
But let’s say people can flawlessly go remote overnight. The next hurdle is law and they change at a glacial pace. Laws just simply cannot be adapted for this situation. There’s health and safety, immigration laws, supervision and control, data security and rest periods. Naturally, the legislation for all of these areas in a remote environment needs careful reflection.
We need due diligence of what we have in place and where we want to go. Then we need to test and demonstrate the numerous platforms available against the variables that this new world of work presents before we settle into an approach that makes business and people sense. Like most things in life, it’s an evolution, not a revolution.
In 2020, most of us have been forced to work from home. But remote work isn’t the best fit for everyone. Some of us miss the office-based interactions. Others never want to go back. One key takeaway is that quality remote work is more than simply working from home. We know that employees don’t need ping pong tables or beer fridges at work, for instance, when working remotely. Dear companies, please offer trust, not toys!
The rate at which high-speed network connections, AR/VR, AI, robotics, 3D printing, autonomous transport, the decentralisation of power generation, food and material production and much more will change the world beyond all recognition. Much of the remote work we talk about now will fall to AI and automation. Where jobs for humans still exist, there will be a massive expansion in the physical and creative ones that can be done remotely, or where the physical production is done within a small radius of home, rather than in large centralised locations.
It has become almost a cliche to note that 10, 3, 5 (pick your favorite time frame) years of human digital adoption has happened in a matter of months due to Covid. While the shift to “virtualness” was already in process wherever people had a to a smart device, hundreds of millions of people only recently have had a new comfort in buying, selling, using mobile money, having access to credit, taking classes, seeking medical advice and more at their finger tips. While it is astounding that over 2/3 of humanity now has a super computer in our pockets, the number one aspect being overlooked is that literally billions of us still have no access. We have talked for decades about a “digital divide” and some worthy souls have done amazing work towards bridging this. But rarely is it a genuine priority of our societies, businesses and government. For a new century collectively we need to make this a central priority, declare access a human right, and focus on the requisite skills these amazing days are unleashing and require.
There are many things we’re overlooking — or simply don’t have a crystal ball for — but one that I find particularly interesting is the rise of digital nomad visas. What if, 10 years from now, the norm is for countries worldwide to offer digital nomad visas (DNVs) that offer anyone who qualifies the ability to live in a country for a year or two? Four countries — Estonia, Georgia, Barbados and Bermuda — currently offer some form of DNV, and other countries are scrambling to get on board.
At the moment this is mostly about recovering tourism dollars. But over time, Digital Nomad Visas could become truly transformational — not only for tourism, but for education, cultural exchange and lifelong learning. It’s easy to miss this trend, given so much uncertainty and flux in the world. But I’ve always found it’s more important to pay attention to what’s emerging on the periphery: it may seem fringe today, then all of a sudden you wake up and it’s gone mainstream.
Remote work is not just about being remote. Let’s consider the whole forest rather than one tree: The driving theme is resilience by way of flexibility and decentralisation. We often likened 20th century organizations to machines. The organizations of the 21st century are adaptive social organisms.
Remote work extends far beyond the boundaries of the screen. We are sensomotoric beings – physical environments still matter a lot. They need more attention. We haven’t even started to fuse the remote-first virtual layers of our companies with our physical environments at home, in co-working spaces, offices, and on the road. There’s lots of opportunity in the hybrid operating systems we need for that.
Lastly, one thing to remember is that not all work is knowledge and office work. Far from that. What about the rest of the working world?
This report was produced by Unsettled. To get in touch for more information, or use of the information above, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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