What We Mean When We Say “Remote Work” Matters
At Trelliswork we spend a lot of time talking about remote and hybrid work. Today I want to get into what those terms even mean. Because the difference between “We’re doing the same thing we’ve always done, but from home” and “We’re running our operations in a new way that embraces a distributed team” is night and day.
Let’s start with the data. As has been pointed out many times before, remote and hybrid employees are more productive. Study after study, and even actual performance monitoring data, has shown that remote workers are getting more done. And that’s before you factor in things like commute time. In fact, data shows that forced returns to the office last year may actually have driven a resulting downward trend in productivity.
And yet, given the continued debate on what a “future of work” even looks like, we clearly have a disconnect. On one hand, productivity is up. On the other, companies are continuing to try to pull their employees back into the office. So perhaps it’s not such a rosy story, but what accounts for this seemingly illogical behavior on the part of employers?
A good clue comes from Microsoft’s own “Future of Work” study. While that study once again found that productivity across Microsoft was up since the switch to remote and hybrid, it also found that “85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive.” Employees are more productive at scale, but in practice employers lack the confidence in this.
That same study referenced a significant insight into where this disconnect originates: Managers are more likely to define productivity as outcomes, and individual contributors are more likely to define productivity as output.
Companies have a choice. One move is to pull back to the old model. Outcomes were more productive before, outcomes are what matter, let’s return to how we did it before all of this. Plenty of companies will do this. They will have learned nothing and they will get left behind.
Some companies will see and grasp the opportunity. Again, more work is being done. For companies bold enough to actually harness it, that is a clear opportunity. There is a chance to turn more productive output into more productive outcomes. But it requires a new model.
First, is to simply get organized about how your company does hybrid work. This fundamentally starts at the team level. What matters to each individual is how you best connect and work with your key team members, every day. And every team, made up of different people, will have a different optimal way to work together. Allowing teams to have independence, autonomy, and ability to create their own working models is the only way to do this.
Second is to give managers the right tools to harness the productivity of hybrid teams into more productive outcomes. This means a tool built for the challenges of driving team collaboration and decision making, properly documenting and sharing those, creating space for daily prioritization and alignment, and building usable team documentation and operating norms that create more resilient, adaptable teams.
Our mission at Trelliswork is to build the right tool for managers to harness this new model, and to create space for their teams to turn increased engagement, alignment, and productivity into real outcomes.