Remote but not Distant (2022) explores the many facets of remote work and its impact on teams and individual employees. It delves into how technology, mindset, and leadership strategies can be used to create a more effective and human-centered remote-working environment, and provides practical tips and insights for managers and employees alike.
Leaders must accept that hybrid work is now a permanent situation – and use it to their company’s advantage. Consultant Gustavo Razzetti spells out what executives must do to gain the maximum advantage from a hybrid workforce. Some corporate leaders initially believed people would return to in-office work, resuming their pre-pandemic routines. These bosses didn’t understand how COVID changed their employees’ view of work. Before the pandemic, about 25% of employed Americans worked from home at least part of the time. Despite that, remote work had a negative connotation. Now, results prove that remote work boosts productivity, and the nature of work has changed. Razzetti explains how to make the most of this new world.
- Leaders must accept that the hybrid workspace has become a permanent feature.
- To use remote work optimally, reflect on your corporate culture.
- Many companies need to overhaul their in-office culture because it will not work in a hybrid workspace.
- Create a purposeful vision of the future.
- Foster employee engagement and belonging by stating each team’s purpose and goals.
- Design, not luck, produces effective collaboration.
- To assess your firm’s culture, examine the difference between leaders’ stated values and the behaviors the organization praises or punishes.
- Distributed teams can choose among six different modes of collaboration.
Introduction: Create a thriving remote-work culture
The pandemic has revolutionized the way we work, and it has proven that remote and hybrid working arrangements are not just possible, but actually beneficial for contemporary workers. This shift in the work paradigm has highlighted the fact that physical presence in the office is no longer a prerequisite for creating a robust workplace culture or feeling like a valued member of a team. In fact, if done right, workplace culture can reach far beyond superficial perks like free gym memberships or after-work drinks. All it takes is an environment that fosters strong work and accomplishment.
So if you’ve ever found yourself grappling with the blurred boundaries of work and home, or are wondering how to keep your team connected when everyone is miles apart, consider this Blink your roadmap. With the right steps, you’ll be able to create a significant workplace culture while also fully embracing remote work.
Change the way you think about work
The post-pandemic era provides an opportune moment for firms to reset their workplace culture and optimize their remote working environment. But to operate successfully, a hybrid workplace must adopt five key mindset shifts.
First, intentional design of the workplace culture is vital. This involves actively seeking input from employees and being open to experimentation. If something doesn’t work, it’s important to go back to the drawing board and make necessary adjustments. When employees are involved in the decision-making process, they feel valued and are more likely to contribute their unique perspectives.
Second, the focus should be on prioritizing impact over input. Long hours and excessive emails do not define a great employee. Instead, performance should be measured based on results achieved. Workers should be encouraged to showcase their accomplishments and demonstrate the value they bring to the organization, rather than how busy they appear.
Third, it is essential to forget traditional work-life boundaries. With remote working, employees should be allowed to embrace the messy reality of working from home. Interruptions from children or casual attire should be normalized and even encouraged. Recognizing and supporting employees’ personal lives helps create a healthy work-life balance and leads to higher job satisfaction and productivity.
Fourth, collaboration doesn’t have to be synchronous. In a hybrid workplace, it is important to acknowledge that everyone works according to their own timetables. This flexibility allows individuals to optimize their productivity and find their peak working hours. By promoting asynchronous collaboration, teams can effectively work together without the constraints of synchronized schedules.
And finally, decision-making should be delegated to teams to design their own hybrid-work policies. Empowering employees to have a say in how and where they work provides a sense of ownership and autonomy. This approach fosters a culture of trust, engagement, and adaptability within the organization.
So, now that we’ve covered all five key mindset shifts, let’s run through them again to make sure that you’ve got them. Remote workplaces should prioritize intentional workplace design, focus on impact rather than input, embrace the messy reality of remote work, promote asynchronous collaboration, and delegate decision-making to empower teams. By incorporating these mindsets, your workplace will thrive in an evolving work landscape and create a fulfilling and productive work experience.
Purpose is crucial – for firms and for teams
A compelling company and team purpose plays a crucial role in keeping your team connected, whether they’re working remotely or onsite. By creating a strong subculture within your team, you can avoid the pitfalls of siloing and maintain a sense of connection to the larger company. This shared purpose in turn helps foster a sense of belonging, and motivates individuals to work toward a common goal.
Finding the right balance between alignment and autonomy is key. Alignment ensures that team members feel they are part of a group working toward the same objective. It gives them a sense of direction and unity. On the other hand, autonomy allows individuals to feel a sense of ownership over their work, empowering them to make decisions and contribute their own unique perspectives.
During times of crisis, both the company purpose and the team purpose act as North Stars, guiding individuals and the organization through difficulties. A compelling purpose not only helps the company make ethical decisions – even if it means sacrificing short-term revenue – but also prioritizes the well-being and growth of employees. Additionally, it can have a positive impact on the community by driving social change and contributing to a greater purpose beyond profit.
It is important to remember that employees understand and interpret culture not through mission statements, but through the behaviors that are rewarded or punished in the organization. If a company claims to value experimentation but penalizes employees for making mistakes while trying something new, it sends mixed messages and undermines the culture. Similarly, a company cannot claim to be diverse or democratic if workers are punished for challenging executives. Consistency between stated values and actual behavior is crucial for creating a strong and healthy organizational culture.
By establishing a clear purpose, fostering alignment and autonomy, and ensuring consistency between stated values and actions, workers can feel connected to the larger company, weather crises, and contribute to positive change. Having a strong purpose acts as a guiding force, shaping decisions and cultivating a supportive and inclusive culture.
Cultivate psychological safety to achieve success
What’s the secret ingredient that powers high-performing teams? Psychological safety. Psychological safety fosters an environment in which team members feel comfortable expressing their authentic selves, experimenting, relying on others, and openly sharing their thoughts and ideas. Cultivating psychological safety becomes even more crucial when working remotely.
To establish psychological safety within a remote team, it is essential to create a sense of connection and welcome from the beginning. One way to achieve this is by starting Zoom meetings with a check-in round, allowing individuals to share their experiences and feelings. Actively considering perspectives different from your own and intentionally using your camera during meetings can help build a sense of engagement and inclusivity.
Open conversations should be encouraged, and everyone should be invited to participate. It is also important to provide space so that each team member can contribute, and to create an environment that is sensitive to different participation styles. Interruptions should not be tolerated, and decisions should not be made without consulting and including all relevant parties. Addressing problems and sensitive topics head-on instead of avoiding them is vital to maintaining trust and openness within the team.
Building a culture of innovation is another aspect of creating psychological safety. Mistakes should not be punished, but rather seen as learning opportunities. Low-pressure brainstorming exercises like silent brainstorming can be effective for generating ideas, and keeping brainstorming meetings small and manageable can enhance collaboration and creativity.
Providing good feedback is another important part of cultivating psychological safety. Feedback should be viewed as a gift rather than a punishment, and it should flow in all directions, not just from top to bottom. When giving feedback, it is beneficial to frame it in terms of future directions and improvements rather than dwelling on past problems. This approach promotes a growth mindset and encourages continuous learning and development within the team.
To recap, when working remotely, it becomes even more crucial to proactively create psychological safety within a team. This can be achieved by making team members feel connected and welcome, encouraging open conversations, building a culture of innovation, and providing great feedback.
Collaboration doesn’t have to be face-to-face to be effective
Optimal collaboration doesn’t have to be limited to in-person or face-to-face interactions. In fact, synchronous work, in which everyone is working and communicating in real time, may actually hinder our ability to be creative and collaborative effectively. This is where the power of asynchronous communication comes into play.
While synchronous communication, such as meetings and video calls, can help build rapport among team members, it often leaves little time for deep work, deep collaboration, and personal learning. By embracing asynchronous communication, individuals have the freedom to design their own days, allowing for better concentration and more thoughtful communication.
To optimize an asynchronous approach, follow these simple steps. First, schedule as few meetings as possible. When meetings are necessary, keep them short, have a selective list of participants, and intentionally design them to be productive and focused.
Choosing the right communication tools is also key. Transparent, asynchronous tools like Slack can be more effective than traditional email. These platforms allow for real-time updates and easy collaboration, ensuring that important information is readily accessible to all team members.
Documentation is essential in asynchronous collaboration. All communications should be documented and easily accessible for future reference. This not only helps prevent misunderstandings but also allows team members to catch up on missed conversations or decisions.
It’s important to make synchronous collaboration accessible to everyone, including those who may not be able to participate in person. Offering online options for meetings and workshops, as well as recording key conversations, ensures that everyone has the opportunity to contribute and stay informed, regardless of their location or time zone.
By scheduling fewer meetings, using transparent communication tools, documenting all interactions, and providing online options for participation, your team can optimize its collaboration efforts. This approach allows for deep work, thoughtful communication, and inclusive participation, ultimately leading to more effective and significant collaboration in the remote work setting.
Lay the ground rules for your new hybrid work model
Feeling excited about embracing a hybrid or remote work model? You should! But remember – to really reap the rewards of remote work, you first need to lay a solid foundation.
First and foremost, it is essential to define the specific form of hybrid working that will be implemented. This could involve an office-first approach, in which employees primarily work from the office but have the flexibility to work from home occasionally. Alternatively, a fixed hybrid model may be adopted, in which certain categories of employees are allowed or expected to work remotely, while others are obligated to be physically present at the office. There is also the option of a partly remote arrangement, combined with fixed collaboration days when everyone is required to be in the office. Flexibility can be granted, allowing employees to decide for themselves when and whether they come into the office. Last, a remote-first approach can be chosen, in which the default mode of work is remote for all employees.
In addition to defining the hybrid-work model, establishing best practices is crucial. Encouraging employees to set their own start and finish times, as long as they meet their KPIs, promotes autonomy and work-life balance. It is important to clearly communicate expectations regarding collaboration, including when and how employees are expected to collaborate with one another. Setting acceptable time frames for responding to messages helps maintain efficient communication and prevents unnecessary delays. Compensation should be tied to effort rather than the physical location from which employees are working. The value of their contributions should be recognized, regardless of the cost of living where they are situated.
To streamline decision-making within the hybrid work setup, well-defined protocols should be in place. Empowering the team to make key decisions without requiring constant sign-off from management allows for a more agile and efficient workflow. For significant decisions that affect the entire team, a more democratic approach, such as conducting a vote, establishing a consensus, or seeking input from the entire team, can be adopted. This promotes inclusivity and ensures that diverse perspectives are considered.
To recap, defining the specific form of hybrid work your company will opt for, establishing best practices, and implementing effective decision-making protocols are critical steps on the road to creating a genuinely outstanding and welcoming remote work culture.
Leaders must accept that the hybrid workspace has become a permanent feature.
As pandemic work conditions eased in 2022, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced a policy change: Employees would work at Apple Park on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. He acted in the belief that Apple’s culture depends on one-on-one relationships. He didn’t expect any opposition, but 80 employees signed a letter stating they had maintained Apple’s reputation for quality while working remotely full time.
“Seize this unique chance: Consciously design a successful hybrid workplace that bridges the gap between what employees want and what leaders demand. ”
In the face of the pandemic, organizations turned to the “work-from-home model” out of necessity. However, their leaders did not change their thinking. Many senior corporate officials erroneously believed their employees had to work together in order for their companies’ cultures to reach their full potential.
To use remote work optimally, reflect on your corporate culture.
Culture provides an atmosphere that lets people work productively. It emerges from how people behave, think and feel.
Corporate cultures develop gradually. They can evolve by accident or by intent. A deliberately conceived culture should boost employee engagement and enhance a business’s performance and profitability.
“Every organization has a system that shapes the behavior of its employees. Increasing performance and innovation requires focusing on the forest rather than the trees.”
If your company’s culture is not working in the wake of the pandemic, don’t expect to find a one-time fix. Your organization must work on its culture continually over time.
Culture and strategy don’t compete. They are components of a larger whole. Even if you have a vibrant culture that boosts your operations, you still need a proper strategy.
Many companies need to overhaul their in-office culture because it will not work in a hybrid workspace.
Before the pandemic, about 25% of Americans with jobs worked from home at least part of the time. Some 50% of workers had schedules that allowed a degree of flexibility and enabled some work-from-home periods.
Despite that track record, management regarded remote work negatively. Companies’ experiences with remote working during COVID – which changed the nature of work – made it clear that those earlier, negative impressions lacked justification.
Remote work boosted productivity and increased employee satisfaction. Many employees still enjoy the malleability of hybrid working conditions. They benefit from the ease of working from home and, with a hybrid schedule, they still get to enjoy the camaraderie of the office.Yet, many businesses are insisting their employees return to the office full time.
“Digging your heels in, going back to the office and pretending the pandemic never happened is a mistake. And trying to take in-office cultures and practices and copy-paste them into a half-remote/half-in-office experience can backfire.”
These organizations will find that merging old office practices into a hybrid framework isn’t effective. Instead, executives should re-examine all elements of their existing cultures. They need to experiment and adapt to make sure they don’t create dual cultures – one for employees in the office and the other for those in remote locations.
Companies need to move from letting culture evolve accidentally to designing their cultures with deliberation and intent. Prior to COVID, organizations rewarded people who worked late in the office and appeared very busy, sending many emails and always being around. Instead, firms must reward people who achieve their targets – rather than judging employees by how many meetings they attend or how many hours they stay at their desks.
Culturally, most people believe that work and life operate separately, and they often find it hard to balance the two. People may find that important goals are easier to achieve in a hybrid situation. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, for example, says harmony between his work and his personal life has been extremely important to his happiness and success.
Create a purposeful vision of the future.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that civilization begins when people help others in times of difficulty. Her characterization of civilization underlines a facet of life that people often forget: the goodness of human nature. People want more than a job. They want to affect the world beyond their business roles.
Conventional wisdom suggests that companies succeed when they have good leaders, good products and good technology. But the organizations that lead their industries are the ones that forge a “shared future” with their employees. They foster cultures that promote collaboration and alignment. A shared future keeps employees in sync, no matter where they work.
“Now, as companies increasingly move to hybrid work, a clear purpose becomes more vital than ever, serving as a kind of North Star that keeps employees aligned in the service of a shared future, regardless of how distant they are from each other.”
Employees in such companies protect and guide each other because they share common goals. They recognize they can achieve their aims only if they work together. By contrast, most companies don’t explore their purpose. Instead, they focus on targets or activities.
Businesses with shared purposes do well in times of uncertainty and crisis. Clarity of purpose becomes even more necessary as organizations move toward hybrid work, because it enables employees to collaborate to achieve a common goal, without regard to geographical location.
As you outline your company’s purpose, don’t muddle it with your mission and vision statements. A mission statement describes what a business does. A vision statement delineates what a company would like to be in the future.
Often, companies make their vision statements egoistic and bombastic. They fill them with self-praising phrases like “best in class.” By contrast, a purpose statement clarifies how a company intends to serve others. For example, Tesla defines its purpose as “accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
A company’s purpose is much more than its motto. A genuine purpose requires a business to be authentic and to have a sense of commitment. It acts as a compass that enables people to find their bearings, especially in difficult times. Purpose provides a reason why your employees want to work jointly to achieve your objectives. Many companies issue purpose statements, but do not live by them. An organization’s actions define its purpose, not its words. But during the pandemic, leaders had to make a critical choice. Should they remain committed to their purpose and values – or cling to staying solvent?
Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price, for example, had to make the uncomfortable choice of going bankrupt or laying off 20% of the company’s employees. He presented the problem to his staff, and asked for solutions. They decided together that all employees would accept a salary reduction, factoring in individual needs. As a result, the company didn’t lay anyone off, and it avoided bankruptcy.
When you draft a purpose statement, clarify how your business influences the world and benefits others. In difficult times, your purpose will help you maneuver through stormy seas.
Foster employee engagement and belonging by stating each team’s purpose and goals.
Companies that structure themselves for hybrid or remote work need to help their employees remain “engaged, connected and aligned.” Teams within a company align with its culture and often develop their own subcultures. Employees who bond strongly with their teams engage more fully with one another. People like belonging to a “tribe,” and the smaller the group, the greater the loyalty they feel toward it. A team’s purpose adds fuel to fulfilling the organization’s overall goals. It also enables team members to understand how their actions contribute to the company.
“When we experience a sense of belonging, our body activates ‘happy hormones,’ like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, that promote happiness, pleasure and even love. This increases trust, connection and collaboration.”
Your corporate purpose should clarify what you consider essential for teams whose members are scattered in hybrid and remote settings. To draft a team purpose statement, create a one-line sentence that describes what your team produces 0r delivers. Choose your most important stakeholder – then, figure out that stakeholder’s challenges and what help you can provide in overcoming those obstacles. Your team’s purpose should add to (and never conflict with) your organization’s aims.
New Zealand’s indigenous Maoris use the term “Whakapapa” to express the idea that each person forms a link in an unbreakable chain. Everyone in the chain shares a “sacred identity and culture,” and has a sense of belonging.
Human beings, as social animals, thrive when they think they belong. Leaders often discount how much employees feel the need to affiliate. For organizations to succeed, leaders must go beyond recognizing their employees’ ability to perform. They must respect their employees’ need to feel connection. This becomes even more vital when employees work in remote locations or come into the office only part of the time.
When an organization promotes an atmosphere of psychological safety, it enables open and frank discussions and innovation. It can prevent dissension by encouraging feedback and discussion among colleagues.
Design, not luck, produces effective collaboration.
Business leaders have long touted collaboration as boosting organizational innovation and productivity, but they have offered little evidence to support this contention. To the contrary, a “meta-analytic review” of more than 800 teams revealed that individuals have a greater probability of coming up with new ideas when they do not collaborate – such as during the work-at-home hours of a hybrid schedule.
In the past, conventional wisdom suggested that collaboration required people to work “synchronously,” with the entire team doing things simultaneously. Examples include brainstorming, evaluating evidence or making decisions. Organizations with this mind-set almost drowned in online meetings and in the expectation that employees would be available outside their regular working hours. Effective collaboration brings people together around a future they all work to achieve.
To assess your firm’s culture, examine the difference between leaders’ stated values and the behaviors the organization praises or punishes.
A crisis reveals a company’s culture. Leaders’ choices under pressure show their clarity and consistency in supporting their organization’s purpose. Toward the end of 2019, Glassdoor suggested that during the next decade, organizations will prioritize their cultures.
Marc Eugenio, a customer of US Bank, faced a problem on Christmas Eve. He had no money in his account, and no gas in his car. Although he had made a deposit several hours earlier, the bank still hadn’t credited it to his account. Eugenio spoke to customer service, and a representative who felt sympathy for his plight said she would give him $20 of her own money for gas. Emily James, a senior official at the bank, got approval from her supervisor, and took her lunch break to meet Eugenio and give him the money. Rather than recognizing her customer service and generosity, US Bank fired James and her manager. James had broken its rule that call center employees should not meet customers.
Unfortunately, many companies behave in ways that contradict the values they espouse.
Distributed teams can choose among six different modes of collaboration.
Recognize several distinct types of work, and motivate employees to shift from one kind of collaboration to another. Distinctive collaborations exist, including “chat, converse, co-create, huddle, show and tell, and warm-up/cool-down.” Individuals working alone also use various work modes, including “process and respond, create and contemplate.”
“The hybrid workplace has made it more critical than ever to intentionally identify the different types of work, encouraging people to switch from one to another as needed. Most collaboration models, however, remain office-centric.”
Gensler Architecture suggested a simpler model of “focus, collaboration, learning and socialization.” But whichever hybrid model you pursue, base it on the “gains,” not the “pains,” of working remotely.
The post-pandemic era presents an opportunity for firms to reset their workplace culture and optimize their remote working environments. To transition successfully to a hybrid workplace, firms should focus on designing their workplace culture intentionally, prioritizing impact over input, forgetting traditional work-life boundaries, embracing asynchronous collaboration, and delegating decision-making to empower teams. By implementing these steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating a noteworthy workplace culture while also fully embracing remote work.
About the Author
Gustavo Razzetti is CEO of Fearless Culture, a workplace culture consulting firm.
Management, Leadership, Corporate Culture
“Remote, Not Distant” by Gustavo Razzetti is a comprehensive guide that explores the challenges and opportunities of building a thriving company culture in the context of a hybrid workplace. Razzetti draws on his extensive experience in organizational development and leadership to provide practical insights and strategies for businesses navigating the shift towards remote and hybrid work models. The book is structured around key principles and actionable advice, making it a valuable resource for leaders, managers, and employees seeking to adapt to the evolving workplace landscape.
The book opens by highlighting the fundamental shift in work dynamics accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing acceptance of remote work. Razzetti emphasizes that a successful hybrid workplace culture goes beyond merely accommodating remote work—it requires a fundamental redesign of the company’s culture, values, and processes.
Razzetti introduces the concept of the “Remote, Not Distant” culture, which focuses on connecting and engaging remote and on-site employees while fostering trust and collaboration. He underscores the importance of clear communication, shared values, and inclusive practices as the foundation for this culture.
Throughout the book, Razzetti addresses several critical aspects of creating a thriving hybrid workplace culture, including:
- Leadership in a Hybrid World: Razzetti discusses the changing role of leaders in remote and hybrid settings, emphasizing the need for adaptability, empathy, and trust-building. He offers practical advice for leaders to lead by example and create a culture of accountability.
- Building Trust: Trust is a central theme in the book, and Razzetti provides actionable strategies for fostering trust among team members and addressing common trust challenges in remote work environments.
- Communication: Effective communication is crucial in remote and hybrid work settings. Razzetti explores the various communication tools and techniques that can enhance collaboration and ensure that everyone feels connected.
- Inclusivity and Belonging: The book delves into the importance of creating an inclusive environment where every employee feels a sense of belonging, regardless of their location or work arrangement. Razzetti offers insights into combating feelings of isolation and exclusion.
- Performance Management: Razzetti addresses performance management and measurement in the hybrid workplace, emphasizing outcomes over hours worked and the importance of setting clear expectations.
- Team Dynamics: The book covers strategies for building and maintaining effective teams in remote and hybrid settings, including virtual team-building activities and techniques to strengthen team cohesion.
- Adapting to Change: Razzetti acknowledges that the hybrid workplace is continually evolving, and he encourages organizations to remain adaptable and open to change, using feedback and data to refine their approach.
“Remote, Not Distant” is an essential read for any organization looking to adapt to the new era of work. Gustavo Razzetti provides a well-structured and actionable guide for designing a company culture that thrives in a hybrid workplace. His emphasis on trust, communication, and inclusivity as the cornerstones of a successful remote work culture is spot on.
One of the book’s strengths is its practicality. Razzetti offers numerous real-world examples and actionable strategies that leaders and employees can implement immediately. He tackles the challenges of remote work head-on and provides solutions that are both insightful and achievable.
The book’s tone is approachable and relatable, making it accessible to a wide range of readers, from executives to individual contributors. Razzetti’s writing style is clear and concise, avoiding jargon and assumptions, which adds to its overall appeal.
In summary, “Remote, Not Distant” is a must-read for anyone interested in optimizing their organization’s remote and hybrid work culture. It provides a roadmap for building a culture of trust, collaboration, and inclusion, ensuring that companies can thrive in the evolving workplace landscape.