15 July 2021
2020 saw the huge majority of the world’s knowledge workers go full-remote. And even if many are back in the office now (in some capacity), remote work is here to stay.
In the same vein as remote work, but taking a slightly different angle on it, is the ‘Work from Anywhere’ movement.
It’s a topic a recent guest on our podcast has been studying for many years.
“Work from Anywhere” as a business strategy
Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, was studying the growing Work from Anywhere (WFA) movement long before the Covid-19 pandemic forced many more of us into virtual work.
In fact, he’s the world’s leading academic voice on this subject, and an evangelist for the possibilities it opens for employees and organizations.
He says that more and more organizations are adopting Work from Anywhere as a business strategy, one that not only reduces real estate costs but also boosts employee engagement and productivity. He acknowledges that there are challenges to creating and maintaining all-remote workforces but outlines research-based best practices for overcoming them.
Keep reading for a preview of some of the WFA insights Raj shared with us during our interview with him!
The benefits for organizations of Work-from Anywhere
When it comes to working from anywhere, the model offers notable benefits to companies and their employees. Here are a few that Raj shared with us:
Hire from anywhere
Organizations are no longer constrained to the labor market of the location of their offices. Organizations can hire and use talent globally while mitigating immigration issues.
A more inclusive workforce
“The second benefit of Work-from-Anywhere,” notes Raj, “is that it creates a more inclusive workforce for women and for people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities cannot move to large cities, like New York for example, [due to the lack of accessible public transportation and housing].”
This issue is eliminated altogether if they can work from the comfort of their own home, anywhere in the world.
Gains in productivity
Another benefit is, of course, productivity gain—because when employees eliminate commutes, they report better work-life balance, and thus are more productive at work.
A 2015 study by Nicholas Bloom and coauthors found that when employees opted in to WFH policies, their productivity increased by 13%.
Work-From-Anywhere and the impact on communication and knowledge sharing
When workers are distributed, synchronous communication naturally becomes more difficult. WFA organizations must therefore get comfortable with asynchronous communication and knowledge sharing.
Keep a handbook
“Organizations must set up a commonly shared transparent handbook. Think about it as the company’s own Wikipedia where knowledge is documented in real time and this knowledge would be about all the relevant knowledge that individuals need to work specifically,” says Raj.
Keep it simple.
Your handbook should answer practical questions, like: How do I find an expense report?
“There has to be an answer in this common handbook and those answers need to be updated. This has to be done in real-time because when I’m working from anywhere, I can’t just walk into my colleague’s cubicle, tap their shoulders and ask them my question.
“So the answers need to be written down and someone needs to be accountable for every page of the handbook and they need to be evaluated on the quality of knowledge of the handbook through their KPIs,” shares Raj.
Less zoom, more writing
The second solution to communication is we need to drastically reduce our zoom meetings.
It’s safe to say that people are increasingly exhausted by the number of virtual calls since the pandemic hit. Essentially what we’ve done is just moved the conference room and whiteboard model of meetings online, without adapting it to our new context.
Logistically, this cannot work for WFA model.
People are living in different time zones and may find themselves working crazy hours just to attend these meetings –which really could have just been an email, right?
And the reality is these meetings don’t produce the best ideas because, just like in a conference room with the whiteboards, everyone is thinking on their feet.
People need time. Time to digest information and give thoughtful answers.
By embracing asynchronous work, using tools as simple as a shared google doc, then everyone brainstorm, digest information at their own pace and contribute their well-thought-out ideas.
? More reading.
? More writing
? Less zooming.
Hybrid work vs full remote
“There are different shades of hybrid. There’s good hybrid and there’s terrible hybrid.
“Terrible hybrid is when when you fail to sync your at-office days with your teammates,” notes Raj.
(You know, all those Outlook notifications you ignore, telling you who’s coming in and when?)
If you go into the office on Mondays and Tuesdays, but Joe, who you’re working on a project with, only comes in Thursdays and Fridays, you’ll never see each other.
So what’s the point of coming in?
So what does a successful hybrid work model look like?
Well, according to Raj, it comes down to these three elements:
The first principle of good hybrid is there has to be uniformity. Decide when your team’s “[physical] office day” is, and make it a point that everyone has to be there.
The second principle of good hybrid is everyone has to work remote first.
Even on the days when you show up at the office, your default behavior, and assumption of everyone else, should be that of a remote worker. Just because you’re in the office that day, doesn’t mean everyone else is.
This means all calls need to be remote inclusive. You need to keep up (in real-time) your knowledge-sharing handbook. Work continues to be asynchronous.
Do this and you have the recipe for a successful hybrid work model.
Hybrid should work with WFA
Lastly, the hybrid model should not take away the flexibility of working from anywhere.
If a company makes it mandatory to come into the office 3 days a week and allows you to work from home the other two days, then you can’t really Work from Anywhere, can you?
“One alternative solution for companies who are not quite ready to go 100% WFA,” says Raj, “is to allow employees to work 3 weeks from home, from anywhere in the world. Then, on the fourth week, require them to fly into wherever the office is and work there.”