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Assessing Remote Employee Experiences for Hybrid-Remote Work-Settings

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Employers and employees have begun to prepare for their return to the office. One of the options is a hybrid-remote work setting which aims to support individual preferences when it comes to where, when, and how to work. According to Kaleem Clarkson, assessing your remote employee experience can help to make decisions on workplace flexibility policies.

Kaleem Clarkson, chief operating officer of Blend Me, Inc, spoke about hybrid-remote work settings at QCon Plus May 2021.

Hybrid-remote work is probably one of the most common phrases used in 2021, but it is also one of the most unclear definitions we have due to its numerous variations, Clarkson said. The definitions are centered around a centralized workplace and the number of times you are working onsite during a five-day workweek:

Let’s start with the most flexible end of the spectrum. A fully-distributed / all-remote company has no centralized workplace. Employees work from wherever they are the most comfortable and productive. On the other end of the spectrum, the least flexible of rtemote / telework models is telecommuting. Telecommute employees are required to commute to a centralized workplace a majority of the workweek where business is done is onsite.

In the middle of the spectrum for remote / telework models lies hybrid-remote, as Clarkson explained:

We define hybrid-remote companies as having a centralized workplace which some employees commute to, while others work remotely.

That definition seems quite simple, but is very complicated when breaking down the different options you have within, Clarkson mentioned. You could have all employees going into the office one or two times a week; another option is where some employees are required to work onsite while others are fully remote; or another option is where the office is available for employees to come and go as they please.

Organizations should aim to deal with individual preferences when it comes to where, when, and, how to work, as Clarkson suggested:

The most important thing is to collect as much data by assessing your remote employee experience thoroughly with both quantitative and qualitative data sets. Then through a transparent and collaborative process between leadership and employees, you can then design different models that apply to multiple scenarios.

For some of the individuals who do not fit within one of those flexibility models, leadership should handle each situation individually with as much empathy as possible. If the final decision is made that this person must utilize one of the models and it does not fit their situation, then help the employee look for another opportunity outside of the department or the company if necessary.

InfoQ interviewed Kaleem Clarkson about hybrid-remote work settings.

InfoQ: What challenges do you see in organizations that are returning to the office in a hybrid-remote setting?

Kaleem Clarkson: The biggest challenges we are seeing are defining what hybrid-remote means to the organization and allocating enough resources to ensure that the implementation of hybrid-remote programs runs smoothly.

My main concern for employees is that many organizations will start by offering hybrid-remote options without any established metrics or plans to improve, and will require everyone to return to the office after a failed attempt at hybrid-remote.

For Blend Me, we believe the spirit of a hybrid-remote work model is remote-first: the concept that an organization should act with a remote-first mentality to ensure everyone has a similar employee experience. In a situation where all employees are required to go into the office three or more days per week, aka the majority of the work week, then you are just implementing a telecommuting option where the mentality and centralized workplace is still brick and mortar.

InfoQ: What underlies these challenges? What are the deeper problems that you have seen surfacing during the pandemic?

Clarkson: It all boils down to trust and control. We are seeing so many CEO’s declaring their employees must return to work but without any real evidence to support their statements. The pandemic forced leadership to trust and release control over their employees so that quick innovations could be made to keep their business running. Now that there is light at the end of the tunnel, we are seeing that trust erode due to the desire to regain control.

InfoQ: What have we learned from working remotely that we should not forget?

Clarkson: A/B test your remote employee experience before making a final decision on your workplace flexibility policies. At Blend Me, we have created what we are calling The Remote Employee Experience (TREE) Assessment (sign-up required to do the assessment).

What we have found is that people’s workplace flexibility preferences change based on various life factors. In March of 2020 right when the pandemic began, the spirit around remote work was very positive; everyone enjoyed their newly found time with their family and their ability to avoid that dreadful commute. Then a month later the honeymoon period was over, and the attitudes around remote work drastically changed. Between virtual school, sharing living spaces with family, and not being able to connect with people outside of family, many people’s views changed with regards to the desire to work remotely, even for the people who had been working remotely years before the pandemic.

All of this to say that it is not fair to assess the employee experience during a pandemic, so we advise organizations to try and A/B test their employees’ workplace flexibility preferences to gain a better perception of employee preferences before making a final decision on their policies.

InfoQ: What do you expect that the future will bring for hybrid-remote work?

Clarkson: In my opinion, hybrid-remote is just a bridge to something much bigger. The control of our time is something that we have lost for generations and now that people have regained control of their work-life integration, people are going to start making career choices around their ability to keep that control.

This year we have seen more resignations from jobs than ever before, so much that many are naming 2021 as The Great Resignation. Now that the competition for the best talent has instantly become global, companies are going to be forced to start offering fully-distributed / all-remote positions, and hybrid-remote is just the beginning.

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