Hybrid, remote or office working – unfortunately there isn’t a one-size-fits all model

Written by Peter Olive, CEO and Founder, Vortex 6

The last two years have been eventful to say the least. But now as we get back to “normal” there are a whole raft of opinions and media debate on what type of working model is best.

I’m going to try and not repeat what others have written, but rather share my experience and outline what upsides and downsides there have been for my business, Vortex 6, and for me personally. We must all decide what works best for us and it’ll be different depending on our circumstances.

I could be considered “old school”, but I was never a fan of working from home. I always thought it would be hard to keep people focussed and resist the temptation to start late, finish early and have lots of breaks and long lunches and just generally get distracted during the day. Of course, that was never likely to be the case, but I was stuck in a paradigm that I couldn’t shift.

Fast forward two years and I have no desire to work in an office regularly again. We left our office in March 2020, terminated our lease and we have no plans to return; more importantly, our staff are completely happy with this decision. The pandemic forced my hand, and we haven’t looked back.

We were fortunate that we were already set up to be able to work from home. We left the office at 6.00pm on a Monday and were fully operational at 9.00am the following morning.

The greatest benefit I have seen for our team is that they gain two extra hours a day where they are not travelling, saving significant money, but more importantly they all have a much better work-life balance.

Before, we generally only employed people who lived within an hour of the office. In the space of the two years since we left the office environment, 50% of our team are now more than an hour away. One member of our team wanted to move to Italy, and we were able to accommodate his wish with no disruption to the business. Recruitment and retention have been made easier and organisations that force people back to the office may run the risk of attrition to organisations that don’t.

There is now an environment where we can meet face-to-face again, and we have all missed that social interaction. We are meeting customers in-person and we aim to meet some of our staff at least once a month where their location allows. As a management team we found it more difficult to have effective strategic conversations over video, so we meet as often as we can using on-demand rented offices.

Whilst WebEx, Teams and Zoom technology are wonderful communication tools, many of us have admittedly got video fatigue. As a result, I now only schedule 30-minute meetings as a rule. To enable this to be effective, no meetings take place without agendas, and all have recorded minutes; a basic rule we should all follow but it amazes me how many meetings don’t follow this protocol. We have become much more focussed in meetings as a result.

I put a suit on recently for the first time in four years for my son’s wedding. They seem to be a thing of the past in the IT industry and t-shirts are now the norm. This is not something I encourage when talking to clients – even via video call – and we do regularly remind our team that they would never turn up to a physical client meeting in one. We have a policy that asks our team to wear smart casual when talking to a client.

So, what should organisations watch out for when adopting a remote working, or hybrid working model? Here are some key aspects to think about:

  • Bringing people on board, especially if they are remote, is more of a challenge – pay for them to travel for their induction to enable them to meet the team and fully integrate into the organisation. It’s worth it.
  • There have been remarkably few barking dogs on calls, although watch out for cats appearing on camera.
  • Set clear measurable objectives for your team to keep them motivated and on-task.
  • Do not become a “Big Brother”, tracking keystrokes or micromanaging activities – it only matters that the team achieve the objectives you have set them.
  • In my experience, young people and those new to your industry get a lot from the social scene in an office – setting regular non-work events may help compensate for the lack of face-to-face interaction.
  • Most importantly, ask people how they are. It can be more difficult to identify if they are struggling when you can’t see the whites of their eyes.

Office or remote working? No right or wrong approach

There is plenty of debate on this and no right or wrong way of working. Office, hybrid or remote all have their positives and their downsides. What we all need to consider, as employees and employers, is what is going to help achieve those personal and business goals? What sort of environment and culture are you striving to operate in, and where might you be willing to compromise? Going to work certainly feels a lot more complex than it did 30 years ago, but hopefully that means we are all challenging the status quo, stepping outside of our comfort zones, and as a result finding our work that much more rewarding.

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