Laurel Farrer, the Founder and CEO of Distribute Consulting, has spent the last 16 years helping organizations understand and implement remote work models. She is also a prominent thought leader (and Forbes contributor) on the future of work and remote work.
Farrer began her experience with remote work models through her multiple operational roles within companies, taking workforces fully remote. After that, she started consulting independently before founding Distribute Consulting.
“It was incredibly eye-opening for me as an operations' manager to see our overhead costs go down while our productivity and employee retention went up,” explains Farrer. “Workplace flexibility is a bridge to take us to fundamentally better ways of working. Work is something that we do, not somewhere we go.”
Laurel Farrer will be among the many workplace experts speaking at our The Hybrid Work Conference on October 3-5. Join us as we discuss the power of vibrant, flexible workplaces and how the best organizations are accounting for the human in hybrid.
1. Differentiating Hybrid Work from Remote Work
While hybrid and remote work are not the same, Farrer notes that “they are operated in the same way. In order for hybrid work to become successful and sustainable,” she says, “it can’t be remote versus hybrid work. When you focus just on location, that's what it becomes.”
Instead, says Farrer, you must operate as a fully distributed team with a location-agnostic philosophy. “You have to be completely virtual first,” she explains, “because that eliminates location as a factor in employee experience.”
2. Defining the Ongoing Role of the Office
We are always human beings who exist in a physical location, but being productive is not about needing to be in a certain place at a certain time. The question then becomes: how can we leverage certain places and certain times in order to optimize our productivity? Instead of being controlled by the location, we need to use location to our advantage.
Farrer believes that workplace flexibility requires us to ask “what types of tasks should we do in certain places in order to enhance results? If we have choice instead of control, how can we use that choice to our advantage? When should we go into the office and when should we work independently? How can we leverage different work environments to create different results?” That’s the conversation that needs to happen, at the individual, team, and organizational levels, and the office remains relevant to it.
3. Structuring Technology to Enable Flexible Work
Farrer strongly believes that “work from anywhere” has to be made scalable for the entire organization, not just for individuals who have access to enabling technologies or to the personal lifestyle (i.e., digital nomads) that makes it possible. “Technology has to be supportive of flexibility, but workflows, processes, and all company operations also need to become more digital,” she says.
When organizations combine a digital infrastructure with mobile technology, location becomes irrelevant. “Work then becomes something we do, not somewhere we go, and we don't have to be in a centralized location to access the equipment, software, information, and people we need to be productive,” says Farrer. That digital infrastructure allows entire organizations to become location independent.
4. Challenging Assumptions about Work
People have been conditioned for generations to share time and location with coworkers. But when we transfer to a virtual environment, suddenly we're not sharing time and location. As Farrer explains it, “there can be a sense of panic, with people worrying about how to build culture, how to align objectives, how to share results and stay aligned without sharing time and location.”
People need to instead consider what can be shared outside of time and location that truly facilitates meaningful, sustainable connection. “That could be sharing emotions, sharing goals, sharing information, sharing activities and experiences,” says Farrer, “and that's what's going to build a solid foundation for the organization, regardless of where people are sitting.”
5. Phasing Out Proximity-Based Supervision
A supervisor walking around an office can’t see everything that’s happening. People might be getting their Amazon shopping done, but not their work. Supervision has been a problem for a while, because of the incompatibility of digital processes and physical supervision.
“It makes much more sense to monitor virtual work in a virtual environment,” says Farrer. “We have productivity measurement systems that allow us to do that more effectively, regardless of location. So instead of proximity-based control and supervision, management [of WFA] should be based more upon emotional intelligence, support, empathy, encouragement, and motivation.”
6. Considering Cost-Savings with Hybrid Work
Communicating the benefits of hybrid work for organizations is critical. We're not going to see transformative, scalable change unless businesses truly understand what's in it for them, in terms of improved productivity, talent acquisition and retention, as well as cost-savings.
“We have to highlight how companies can save between $11,000 and $20,000 per employee per year from converting from physical to virtual. We have to shift the conversation from personal benefits to professional and organizational benefits. WFA offers organizations incredible agility and resiliency, as well as talent attraction and retention.”
For more insights on the world of hybrid work, register for The Hybrid Work Conference today. We'll be bringing together thought leaders across the country to explore workplace strategies in the modern office. We can't wait to see you!