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Let’s not kid ourselves: Remote working is not going away, nor should it. Ever. Progressive and people-centric companies have been enabling a “work from anywhere” philosophy for years. I recently had the opportunity to connect with Jennifer Christie, CHRO of Twitter about Twitter’s journey from #LoveWhereYouWork to #LoveWhereverYouWork – which is more than a hashtag, but instead an important mantra in shifting to ultimately flexible working.

According to a recent study conducted by Dice, a technology recruiting firm, 22 per cent of workers would prefer to work remotely all of the time (an additional 71 per cent said they would prefer to work remotely some of the time), and 17 per cent of workers would take a 10 per cent or larger decrease in pay to work remotely. In a similar vein, according to Jennifer, recent pulse surveys at Twitter revealed the percentage of workers wanting to work from the office full-time dropped significantly from March to April, and the number of employees stating a preference to work remotely full-time has skyrocketed.

This pandemic has proven that much of the work that was considered “office work,” meaning only achievable in a physical corporate office building, is more than doable remotely. It has also made us realize that the increasingly affordable, practical and scalable collaboration technologies we’ve had at our disposal have gone under-utilized for years. Why, then, would companies be chomping at the bit to return to a new normal that sends everyone back to the office “once this is over”? The point is, “this” may very well not be “over” for a very long time. We need to shift our collective mindset to embrace maximum flexibility both for organizations and individuals, to ensure we continue to operate with agility and pivot with each curveball thrown our way, not just in current pandemic times but in perpetuity.

Here are some principles to shift our mindset:

  1. Work is not a place. Companies should evaluate their workplace strategies, including but not limited to physical office space as an enabler of work. The office then becomes an option for where work can get done, depending on desired results and the type of work needed to achieve them. In Twitter’s case, the move to more flexible working was initiated in 2018, as they realized they were missing out on key talent unwilling to relocate and located outside of their core location. To equip leaders to more seamlessly tap into a broader talent pool, they set up a cross-functional team that considers all aspects of remote working (employment law, tax, business entity, etc.).
  2. Most employees want to perform. As we shift to a “work from anywhere” culture, it is counterproductive to micro-manage people. This wasn’t an effective management approach in the office and it is even less so now. (It’s also demoralizing.) Instead, leaders need to take the time to articulate objectives and desired outcomes, as often as necessary for employees to know what success looks like, and then trust and empower them to perform. For example, Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company, relies on a “Tight-Loose-Tight” philosophy to accelerate performance: Tight on goals, loose on how to get things done and tight on follow-up and accountability. For long-term sustainability of this “new” way of working, we will need to adopt new norms, based on empowerment and trust, and address performance issues swiftly as they arise.
  3. Cultures need to evolve. Many leaders are grappling with how to preserve culture when their work force is decentralized. At a recent online HR Exchange Roundtable, Jody Thompson, CEO of CultureRx, challenged whether our current workplace cultures, many of which reward hours and face time instead of output and outcomes, actually should be preserved in the modern era. Instead, we need corporate cultures to evolve – first by crystallizing the company’s purpose, and then by articulating the behaviours required to produce results that help achieve that purpose.

The aforementioned shift at Twitter is a salient example of a culture evolution aligned with organizational purpose. #LoveWhereYouWork had been a powerful culture symbol for years, originating from a tragic yet touching story that exemplified its people-centric culture: A terminally ill employee expressed her gratitude for a quilt gifted by her colleagues by tweeting #LoveWhereYouWork. When she tragically passed, the tweet went viral around the company – and became a prominent symbol of solidarity and colleague support. In March 2020, Twitter publicly announced that “Tweeps” (or Twitter employees) can work remotely indefinitely, if they so choose. Twitter didn’t want to lose the important cultural anchor of being a people-centric organization, and adopted the hashtag #LoveWhereverYouWork as a rallying cry, uniting Tweeps across the globe regardless of location. This example illustrates how a strong culture that is deliberately evolved and that is aligned with organizational purpose is not diluted through work force decentralization, but rather, strengthened.

This purpose-driven culture is critical in driving toward any organization’s north star in good times and, more importantly, in difficult ones.

Naomi Titleman Colla is founder of Collaborativity Inc., a Toronto-based consultancy focused on driving progressive talent strategy in this new world of work. She is also a co-founder of future foHRward, a Josh Bersin Academy Partner.

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