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5 Key Takeaways from the World’s Largest Remote Work Conference

Jun 1 2021

VergeSense’s Head of Workplace Transformation Nellie Hayat was invited to be part of Running Remote’s conference this year with a panel of expert leaders composed of Tracy Hawkins, VP of Real Estate & Workplace and Remote Experience at Twitter, and Paul Mckinlay, VP of Communications & Remote Working at Cimpress & Vistaprint. From tackling complex questions like “How do you build a remote workforce?” to “Redesigning the workspace for the future,” they came together to discuss and share insights about the transformation of the workplace. 

Here are her 5 key takeaways.

1. Be deliberate about the purpose of the office 

The ability to work remotely is no longer a privilege but a requirement for most businesses. In a post-pandemic world, a productive hybrid workplace is a competitive advantage for enterprises.

Paul reported that very early in the pandemic, the CEO of Cimpress & Vistaprint, came to him with the ambitious challenge of shifting the entire company of tens of thousands of employees around the world from office-centric to remote-first. The company was previously under a traditional model with a strong presenteeism culture. Realizing how important this shift was, Paul pushed to create new roles to specifically focus on the transition from a traditional to distributed workplace, and foster the evolution of the new work structure. Defining what remote-first means internally, what is the purpose of the office, and how to collaborate were his top 3 priorities. 

2. Take an Employee-Centric Approach to Designing the Hybrid Workplace 

In the future of work, there is an ambiguity around the term hybrid and what that means for employees. How often are employees expected to come to the office? Will they be penalized if they decide to work from home most of the time? What is the new norm regarding business travels? The key to a successful hybrid company is clarity! Companies will have to expand and build a path for all the choices they provide employees (working from home, from the office, from a co-working space, from a different timezone, etc) and provide equity through the different paths. The goal is to create various pathways for every individual and team to be successful. Remember inclusion and diversity are key ingredients to long-term success. That goes for diversity of locations and inclusion of the various ways of working.

Tracy started documenting the expectations for “how we work'' at Twitter and is finding that employees can work better when they have access to the information and know what is the etiquette for collaborating, using the office, meeting their team, and sharing information. In 2019, Twitter leadership moved the Workplace & Real Estate team from under the CFO to under the People teams to create a cohesive workplace experience and make the employee experience a true competitive advantage rather than an expensive line item. Tracy added the word “remote” to her title in 2019 to be more inclusive to the increase of remote employees within Twitter and lead the change that will ultimately create the most inclusive work culture possible. 

3. The Office Isn’t Dead 

Internal surveys at Twitter revealed that the majority of Twitter employees are missing the office and interacting with their colleagues in person. 

This is in line with findings from VergeSense’s 2021 Workplace Impact Report. We surveyed over 1,000 enterprise leaders and overwhelmingly, we found that there is no substitute for being in the office: 84% of surveyed enterprises plan to return to the office and of those, 65% will return in Q3. Most surveyed enterprises are actually growing (or maintaining) their current real estate footprint and diversifying into new office locations and types of leasing arrangements to accommodate a more distributed workforce.

We know that the office must evolve as we navigate and transition into the new ways of working. Different surveys show that employees have been able to work from home and want to keep the flexibility to do so but also want to use the office for different activities that they can’t execute well at home: collaboration, socialization, focus work, brainstorming, etc. The challenge for corporations is to align their offices with these constantly evolving needs and to rapidly upgrade their workplace design for the new workflow. 

Here at Verge Sense we provide data that connects the human experience with company success and office design. Vergesense analytics provides the data to make important decisions about how your employees are using the office and what spaces should be repurposed to maximize collaboration and efficiency. Insights from our pre and post-COVID office use report shows that pre-COVID, workplaces were too heavily focused on individual work, with companies allocating more than 60% of their floor plan to desk areas. However, during COVID, employees have been visiting the office to collaborate and gather with team members, a trend we expect to grow in the future. As we all make the transition to hybrid working, data will be key to understanding how to build workplaces that foster innovation, community, collaboration and culture. 

4. Be more transparent and clear in your messages to employees

A clear definition of remote, hybrid, dynamic, distributed is missing and yet each term carries an emotional weight that influences how employees feel about their employers. Workplace leaders must be more intentional with their words and have a thorough plan for how to transition employees to a new working model. Paul said that clearly: we needed to better define what remote and distributed mean to us at Cimpress to get the buy-in from all stakeholders. Paul went so far as to suggest banning “return to work” from all communications as it denies all the hard work that employees performed during the pandemic. 

As companies guide their workforce through these new changes, we can not let buzzwords limit our capacity of creating a truly inclusive culture where productivity is measured by results rather than number of tasks and hours completed. Companies need to have a strong communication plan as part of their change management strategy

5. Workplace Transformation is a Journey

A year ago, COVID created a major inflection point in the workplace transformation journey. The current return to office movement and growth in hybrid working is creating another inflection point. Leading employers like Twitter and Cimpress/Vistaprint recognize that the journey is ongoing and will require constant evolution.Tracy and Paul both shared the sentiment that the journey is only beginning. 

As companies transition to the new way of working, the key to success is establishing open communication channels, listening to feedback and continuing to iterate and improve. Leading enterprises must gather data points on how employees are interacting in the digital space and with the built world in order to redefine how physical offices can help the success of their companies. 

Companies should continue to deploy internal tools and technology to continue surveying, gathering data, asking complex questions and improving along the way. 

Final Thoughts

Now is the time for companies to take a proactive, data-driven approach to workplace transformation. By making intentional, employee-centric workplace strategy decisions now, enterprises can achieve a sustainable long-term competitive advantage.

Reach out for a private consultation with a VergeSenes representative to learn more about a workplace analytics platform can help you embark on your workplace transformation journey today.

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