Remote Works

The Future of Remote Work

Episode Summary

Let’s be honest: coping and adapting to the sudden shift to remote work has been a big challenge. But one thing is for sure, remote work is here to stay. People are now dividing their time between office and home, or going fully remote. Where do we go from here? In this episode, three experts will guide you into the future of work.

Episode Notes

Let’s be honest: coping and adapting to the sudden shift to remote work has been a big challenge. But one thing is for sure, remote work is here to stay. People are now dividing their time between office and home, or going fully remote. Where do we go from here? In this episode, three experts will guide you into the future of work.

Citrix has created a virtual series on remote work filled with research, tools, and best practices to guide, support, and enable the remote workforce. 

Laura Giurge is a postdoctoral researcher at the London Business School.  She is also part of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford and the Happier Workplaces and Societies Lab at Harvard Business School. Laura is a creative thinker and a behavioral scientist. She  works with non-profits and companies to find ways to improve workplace engagement, time management, employee well-being, and productivity.    

Kenneth Matos is Lead People Scientist at Culture Amp. He provides clients with actionable advice on collecting, understanding, and acting on employee feedback through evidence-based methodologies. 

Benjamin Pardo is Design Director at Knoll. He looks at the future of work from a design/space perspective, analyzing radical shifts in the workspace, discussing the state of today's office environments, and speculating on the potential challenges and transformations in the near future.  

Episode Transcription

Melanie Green (Host):

So, I found something interesting a couple of days ago, I was looking through my email for an old receipt and I found something else. My list of 2020 work goals. Let me read it to you. My 2020 work resolutions, date, January 10th, 2020. Yes. I was a little late getting those together, but I digress. Here's what I wrote. "Number one, make the early train so I can get to work before everyone else. Number two, dress for the position. I want to be promoted to. Number three, get an office with an actual door. Number four, go to the trade conference in San Francisco in the spring." So, no surprise. None of that happened, but actually that was okay.

Melanie Green (Host):

Instead of making the early train, I'm logging into work on the couch with my morning coffee, sometimes before anyone else. I am dressing for success. I'm all business on top and sweat pants down below. It's like second nature. Also, I now have an office with a door, it's called my bedroom closet. I'm sitting in here right now, surrounded by blankets, recording this. The acoustics are fabulous. I didn't make it to the trade conference, but I have met online with some of the people I was hoping to get together with, and as an added bonus, like so many others, I learned to bake sourdough bread with the San Francisco Sourdough Starter, of course. So, when you add it all up, I'd say working remotely has been pretty good. Here on Remote Works, we've been looking at the ups and downs of this massive and unexpected shift in how and where we work.

Melanie Green (Host):

You've invited us into your living rooms, guest rooms, kitchens, nurseries, and playrooms, and I've been sharing them with you stuffed in my closet. We've heard so many stories about how you're coping and adapting to the move out of the office. And let's be honest, it's been a big challenge, but one thing is for sure, remote work is here to stay. It's become much more a part of the lexicon of the world of work. While some are making their way back to their offices full-time, others are permanently dividing their time between office and home or going fully remote. So, many of us, including me, are wondering, where do we go from here? To answer that question we've invited three people to tell their stories of work and three experts to weigh in. I'm Melanie Green. You're listening to Remote Works an original podcast by Citrix. You've heard that expression, "Life is like a box of chocolates." Well, how about this?

Sky Fairchild-Waller:

As an analogy to my current work life, I consider going to the gym, sets and reps, you know that concept? So, you do a certain amount and then you go, and then you go. And what I've been doing is applying that structure to my life.

Melanie Green (Host):

Meet Sky Fairchild Waller, he works in commercial legal services in Toronto.

Sky Fairchild-Waller:

So, I'll do 30 minutes of my job, I'll do 30 minutes of being a home keeper and having to make sure I don't live in filth. I'll do 30 minutes of having a personal life and checking in with my friends and family. And then, that just happens and it keeps going until the work is done. That's not really luxuries that I'm necessarily afforded in a workplace. Although, I have to say, mine would certainly be flexible and permitting of it, but not half hour time-outs, every half hour. You know what I mean? I'd say that what I've had the opportunity to do is, with a fine tooth comb, figure out exactly what I need my day to look like if I'm going to accomplish everything that I intend to and maybe even more, that's how I've been thinking about it.

Melanie Green (Host):

Time management, that's definitely a skill I've had to refine over the last few months.

Laura Giurge:

I'm honestly not surprised at all to hear that Sky's work experience and even his quality, the quality of work has improved.

Melanie Green (Host):

That's Laura Giurge. Laura is a postdoctoral research associate at the London Business School. She studies time engagement and the future of work. Specifically, she looks at the decisions people make about the way they work and how that affects their happiness and wellbeing. She's pretty impressed with Sky's home office work-life balance.

Laura Giurge:

So, he mentioned that 30 minutes of doing one activity and then 30 minutes of another activity, and then switching to the next one until he's making sure that everything gets done. So, he didn't really use deep work or pro time or something like that, but really pro time stands for proactive time, which means being intentional with how you use your time and taking control over how you structure your time, which is really crucial, especially when we feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Melanie Green (Host):

For Laura, time management keeps stress levels down for remote workers. She also talks about the importance of a concept called digital wellness.

Laura Giurge:

I like this term. So, I think at the beginning of the pandemic, there was this tendency to do a lot of virtual chats, a lot of meetings, a lot more getting together online. And that actually ended up being more overwhelming for employees and undermining their wellbeing than if we wouldn't do that. And so, I guess I'm thinking of digital wellness as an intentional approach to how we use the digital tools that are at our disposal.

Melanie Green (Host):

Sky's enjoying the autonomy of working at home. He has control over his work environment and there aren't a lot of people around to distract him.

Sky Fairchild-Waller:

I also think that it's important to consider the kind of work and the experience of the work that you did, I did, before the pandemic and after. I genuinely think I'm better at my job when I have the opportunity to be as comfortable, and as inspired, and curious, and intellectually engaged as possible, perhaps not surprisingly, that takes place more often than not, in my home. It's not going to take place in a 200 year old building that I share with a hundred people.

Melanie Green (Host):

Though my studio apartment is in a hundred year old building, and most of my clothes are now hanging on my banister, I really get that. Not only am I comfortable, but I'm not as distracted.

Laura Giurge:

I think he's right in not one thing to go back to how things were because the previous working circumstances were not great for many, many employees around the world. I've heard one example of this in my conversations, where one company in the UK, where they took this opportunity as a way of rethinking how they work, and acknowledged that they're not going to go back to the way they used to work, but they're going to try to think about what things didn't work and what things did work, and how we can hear our employees about what they want, so that they can do their work.

Melanie Green (Host):

So, compromise in searching for nothing less than a new way to work may be the way forward, as managers look for effective ways to bring employees back to the office. And whether someone is working in an office or remotely, Laura says the focus should be on how to help people feel that they're in an environment where they can be productive.

Laura Giurge:

I think Sky's story is really illustrative of a lot of employees' stories, that they realize the opportunities and the fact that they can be productive when they're at home, let's call it this big experiment of working from home, that the pandemic has created. It's helping to address one of the biggest assumptions of remote work, which is this idea that productivity is measured in terms of numbers of hours spent at the office, or numbers of hours spent being connected to your work, whatever that is, email or other online chats, instead of looking at the employee's actual output. And I think, a better approach or a different mindset, is to look at remote work as a different way of working that has its own benefits, such as having time to think, having time to work without interruptions and getting to the core of the problems.

Laura Giurge:

And so, I think if you're trying to think of remote work as office work, but without being at the office, you're really missing out on the benefits of remote work. Going further with how can we rethink the office? I think there are two ways, we can look at the value of the office both as, a space to connect with your colleagues and that's it, and then consider remote working as, where you do your deep work or your pro-time work

Melanie Green (Host):

Pro-time, proactive time, taking control of how you structure the time in your day. That really did change things for me. For Laura, that's a key concept for managers to keep in mind as their teams move from the office into remote work.

Laura Giurge:

So, you're gifting them time to focus on organizational problems, and so, I think that's one way to make sure you get the most out of your people. I think it's really, really, really hard for managers, in a way. If you have been used to always see your employees working at the office and all of a sudden, you're not, it's very uncomfortable, but if you start from a mindset of experimentation and understanding that there are better ways, or experimenting with new ways of working, and seeing what works, then you're likely to get your employees to work better, but also be happier.

Female office courtesy archival voice: 

When you work in an office, meeting the public, whether it's in-person or by telephone is an important part of your job, it can be pleasant, like this.

Melanie Green (Host):

Okay. So, Sky Fairchild-Waller can spend more time focusing on his work and has more control over his day, so far, so good. But what about fostering corporate culture or even creating a sense of culture with a brand new business? I want you to meet someone who's balancing remote work with the anxiety and exhilaration of running a new tech startup.

Eli Chamberlin:

My name is Eli Chamberlin, I'm the head of product and design at Reelgood. Reelgood is a streaming service aggregator. So, we take your Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime subscriptions, and all these different video on-demand services and we bundle them together into one searchable, browseable interface, so you don't have to switch between multiple apps on your smart TVs or on your mobile devices when you're looking for things to watch or where to watch them.

Melanie Green (Host):

What a great idea, a searchable interface that allows you to find and focus on what matters, you know what that sounds like? A digital workspace. But back to Reelgood, they're growing fast, they had just rented a new office space for their growing team when the pandemic hit.

Eli Chamberlin:

And one of the things that's been uniquely challenging for us is, we just went from, I think probably 16 people to just under 30 people, and over 30, if you include consultants and contractors and half of this team that we just added to has never met anyone in person. They've had to be onboarded via various Skype calls. It makes it harder to onboard people cross-functionally, I've found. How do you share with someone from sales on a 30 minute Zoom call, what product and design and engineering does at a company versus if we're all in the same office, they would just see how we work, experience how we work, go get lunch together and socialize together and really get a better understanding of how the whole organization works. Even if it's not necessarily directly related to their purview, I think there's some general knowledge that gets shared around an office environment, that you just don't get when you're remote.

Melanie Green (Host):

It's true. I've watched my company grow in the last few months and all those new faces in the video chat can get a bit confusing. I learned so much at my current job simply by observing my coworkers in action. It's one thing to build a remote work structure on a strong corporate foundation, but Eli is trying to motivate a team made up of a lot of new employees, doing new things, in a pressure cooker startup environment

Eli Chamberlin:

Because everything's so task-oriented, I think there's been a bit of a lamentation that work is starting to feel a bit like a treadmill because people are crushing through so many tasks, one after another, without that larger connection to the organization and that larger connection to a team, it can sometime make the work feel a little bit less meaningful because you don't have the people around you, driving you forward, you're not seeing the successes of other teams as clearly, you're not seeing a shared vision as clearly.

Melanie Green (Host):

Eli Chamberlain meet ...

Kenneth Matos:

I'm Kenneth Matos director of People Science at Culture Amp. My primary responsibility is to help our clients devise survey and employee feedback techniques that answer their key questions they have about what their employees need to be successful. And then, thinking about what actions they should be taking in order to achieve those goals.

Melanie Green (Host):

Kenneth Matos knows what Eli is going through. He's seen companies weather this before.

Kenneth Matos:

It can be really difficult for an organization to switch from having everyone the office and moving towards a fully remote dynamic. So, in the example of an organization that's grown really quickly and is trying to onboard people, they're really going to find that their managers need to be a lot more proactive, in not just sharing task, but also purpose. They really need to think about why are people doing things? How does it chain? And explain a lot more of that information, explicitly. Things that they used to allow people to absorb just from watching what was happening need to be said out loud. And that often requires leaders to take a moment, look back at what they're doing and really understand whether or not it makes sense. What purpose does it serve?

Melanie Green (Host):

Kenneth says that one of the mistakes companies can make when trying to make a successful shift to remote work is only focusing on tangible things, like having the right technology to work productively. But he says one of the biggest considerations is organizational structure, something that's harder to replicate outside of the office. And how to strike that balance, as a manager, when to connect and when to back off.

Kenneth Matos:

What begins to emerge over time is the realization that there's new norms of how you show respect. New norms of how you share information and who you're supposed to be contacting, when. Things that you didn't realize you were doing because they happened in tandem with the things you planned, start becoming more important. A great example would be, employees and managers not knowing how often to check in about the progress of work. So, many remote employees will say they feel micromanaged because their manager is calling them every day to say, "Where are things?" Where in reality, it takes about a week to do the stuff that they're doing.

Melanie Green (Host):

Kenneth says that in remote work, things can be tricky. Things that in the office are just second nature can sometimes be taken the wrong way when you're working remotely.

Kenneth Matos:

I think the other piece that people often forget is that we moralize things that people do. So, when the manager is checking in on you, you could interpret that as just the manager doing their job, or you could interpret that as the manager not trusting you. And so, that breach in interpretation is one of the things that, organizations that do remote work really well, put on the table and explain to one another, "What am I doing? Why am I doing it?"

Melanie Green (Host):

So, to make sure that remote work is successful, managers might need to worry less about hierarchy.

Kenneth Matos:

So, I do think there probably will be a lot more flattening, a lot more job enrichment, in the sense of people will need to be trusted to be able to make decisions and judgment about how to execute their work, because they're not going to have as easy a connection to managers or colleagues to be able to get feedback. Those who've managed in a physical office will need to develop new perspectives, new ways of interacting with people, comfort with technologies, which will probably evolve as companies realize that building technologies, that make this easier, is going to be a real importance and value bringer in the near future. There'll have to be some explicit conversations about, "What is the norm for this organization? And what should we expect managers to do as a minimum of social connection and listening to employees?" Managers will also have to have conversations about responsiveness expectations. So, when should employees respond to an email or some other communication? Is it 30 minutes? Is it an hour? Is it by the next business day? That will likely vary by message, how do employees know?

Melanie Green (Host):

It's a lot of heavy lifting to learn how to manage remote teams, but the potential payoff is huge, higher employee productivity and engagement.

Kenneth Matos:

So, there's a lot of power in being able to say, "Employees who want very different work environments can create their own environment." Be it play music, the music they want to hear, have their dogs nearby, stop and see their kids in the middle of the day, if that's physically viable from where they are.

Melanie Green (Host):

There are those who, like Sky, would happily make a switch to working fully remote. Not going to lie, I'm in the same boat.

Female office etiquette archival voice: 

One of the most important things, of course, was doing office work, during office hours.

Melanie Green (Host):

But a lot of us are likely looking at a hybrid model of work. Even a partial return to the office has many thinking about how the design of our workspaces could change. Claire O'Halloran is a fabric developer for a clothing company in Vancouver. Before the pandemic hit, Claire was going to work in her office building in downtown Vancouver, every day. Fabric developer, what an interesting job to take remote. But as much as Claire likes working from home, she would like to work for part of the week back in her office.

Claire O'Halloran:

I've enjoyed this working from home experience enough that I would like to keep it for maybe two days a week. I'd be more prepared next time and there would need to be some adjusting on both ends to make this a seamless transition. And I'm hoping that the workplace I return to will be more accommodating to this new-found flexibility.

Melanie Green (Host):

Ooh, I really like that as an option.

Claire O'Halloran:

The broader experience of this pandemic left me with some concerns about the workspace we're all to return to. I'm interested to see how we navigate communal workspaces like elevators, meeting rooms, kitchenettes. I'm a bit of a clean freak, not over the top by any stretch, but I'm eager to see if there will be sweeping changes on how we do things or just businesses normal.

Melanie Green (Host):

I'm curious to see what that looks like as well. Apart from changing the design of her office to make it safer post-pandemic, Claire's time working at home has given her insights about how she'd like her workspace to become more like her home space.

Claire O'Halloran:

I really do enjoy the social aspects of working in an open plan office, but this experience has made me realize that there are some core aspects that just don't work for me. The main one would be the openness and distraction that comes with this office layout. Everyone is on show. There's lots of conversations going on around you, and it can be very difficult to maintain focus and productivity. I also don't feel that they're very accommodating to the introverts among us. I feel I have been way more productive working from home. I have more control over the chaos around me and can direct my energy on the task at hand, and I'm not trying to block these distractions out, which is a skill I'm not very good at. There have been drawbacks to it, don't get me wrong. Of course, you miss out on the social aspects and connectivity of the work environment.

Melanie Green (Host):

As an introvert myself, I couldn't agree with this more.

Benjamin Pardo:

So, Claire's point, associated with looking forward to coming back and being assured that she was safe and this sweeping clean change that she needed, was also supplemented by the fact that she liked being around other people, but she wanted to spend those two days at home in order to do her thinking work.

Melanie Green (Host):

Meet Benjamin Pardo. Benjamin spends a lot of time thinking about what the spaces people work in look like. He's the executive vice president of design at Knoll, that's a design firm in New York. While Benjamin acknowledges that the layout of workspaces will change to make people safer, companies don't need to go full hospital operating room level disinfection.

Benjamin Pardo:

In the same way that when people are first coming back, we're dealing with the psychology of safety, and comfort, and cleanliness and the perception of all of those things. Actually, once we have the normalcy that comes back to us, I don't really want to work in a doctor's office, right? I don't want that cold stainless steel, bright light type atmosphere.

Melanie Green (Host):

Benjamin thinks that once companies adjust their design of office space to ensure more safety for employees, there will be a demand for workspaces that more closely resemble the experience we had when we worked at home.

Benjamin Pardo:

I think that Claire is not alone in the desires that she has in order to find the capability to concentrate and the capability to socialize. So, how do we bring back the aspects of softness, residential quality? How do we find that balance backwards to be able to come back, and contemplate, and think, and not have those distractions? No matter what it is that we do, we need to collaborate. Clearly we need to find a more efficient way for people to have the capability for both heads down work, small group work, midsize group work and large group work. And the key factor is, is that right now we design to a static plan that does not change.

Benjamin Pardo:

I think it's just a reality, is that our mid-term planning will all be about, "How can things be done in a flexible fashion? How can I respond to change? How can I respond to shift and to departmental in numbers?" And so on and so forth. I will go further to say that some of these horrific predictions of the return of the cubicle at 175 centimeters or 70 some odd inches high, I find to be absolutely deplorable. To be contained in a box is something that I potentially would like to put off until I'm in the ground, rather than at the time when I'm supposed to be thinking, working, and providing and actually part of the bottom line of a corporate culture.

Melanie Green (Host):

Yes. So, in the office of the future, cubicles are out, collaboration spaces are here to stay. You might think that with concerns over safety, that open concept office is dead. Not according to Benjamin Pardo.

Benjamin Pardo:

The open plan concept is not dead, I think that it's a vital part of the vitality and the way in which offices work. Boundaries suck.

Melanie Green (Host):

So, as we move forward in designing the office of the future, Benjamin Pardo is saying, "Let's think outside the box, literally. Although, Benjamin doesn't see companies giving up completely on the open plan concept, he does see many possibilities for innovation of workspace in the post-pandemic office.

Benjamin Pardo:

Is there a more efficient way through a smaller footprint, multiple locations, in order to make it work for people to be at home and also in the office. And if that's planned for, I think that corporations not only get better work out of their employees, but they also gain in efficiencies of space planning, and potentially less square footage or shifted square footage to areas with less cost per square foot or square meter. And the other thing that this does that people like Claire need to think about is, I don't necessarily need to hire a person if I'm a corporation based in New York, in New York City. Understand that corporations will look at this in terms of the accommodation of employees, but they're also going to look at this from the bottom line, and those things need to be balanced.

Melanie Green (Host):

I've been wondering about this a lot, will companies expand where and how they hire, now that remote work is more viable? As Benjamin looks ahead to the way companies will redesign their space and where their employees will work, he sees opportunities for significant change.

Benjamin Pardo:

Things change on a daily basis and that is, in fact, the reactionary phase that we find ourselves in right now, we know that we'll reach a level of stasis in terms of getting to the next period and that's making do, as Claire said, going back to the clean office, but the real opportunity is gathering the information to move us forward and understanding all the knowledge that we've gained, and opportunities, and the moments that we savored. How do we continue to support those in the workplace of the future?

Melanie Green (Host):

What a great question, and a question is an excellent way to end this season of Remote Works because in this new world of remote work, we are all learning. There's still a lot of questions to be answered, but you know what? We're learning a lot along the way, and listening to the people on today's show, we just might be headed for a work environment that is more flexible, more productive and more human. That's it for this week. I'm Melanie Green. Remote Works is an original podcast by Citrix. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to listen. You can hear all seven episodes at citrix.com/remoteworks.