During the early days of the pandemic, organizations were in crisis mode as they shifted to remote work. There was no time to strategically plan the transition to the current work from home state. Almost a year later, teams are now more comfortable operating outside of the office. As organizations look to ‘what’s next’ for their post-pandemic workforce, it’s time to lay out a strategy for what your longer-term remote workforce could resemble.
Models of Remote Work
A successful remote (or partially remote) team doesn’t happen accidentally. Instead, a remote group thrives by intentionally and strategically planning using workforce modeling. There are many ways an organization can customize a virtual workforce. Featured here are the six primary remote work models to consider when deciding which workplace type will be most effective for your organization.
1) Fully Remote – Asynchronous
In a fully remote work model, an organization does not have an office. Staff might occasionally get together for meetups and retreats, but not at any permanent location. Everyone works remotely. This model has two variations, synchronous (meaning happening at the same time) and asynchronous (not happening at the same time), depending on where people are allowed to live while they work and the cadence of real-time communication.
At an asynchronous, fully remote organization, employees can live (conceivably) anywhere in the world; their communication and work is independent of time constraints. Their time zones don’t matter because the organization relies on asynchronous communication to keep work moving forward. Work could theoretically go on around the clock if employees live in multiple time zones around the world.
An asynchronous, fully remote model gives employees greater flexibility since they can work when and where they choose. For organizations with a global membership, this model allows you to provide member/customer services and programs around the clock. Employers can offer salaries based on an employee’s location, taking advantage of the lower costs of living in some locales.
While flexibility and around the clock coverage are two primary advantages of this model, policies and protocols need special attention to secure success. Managers need to ensure employees meet expectations as well as support and protect their time and personal boundaries.
2) Fully Remote – Synchronous
In a synchronous, fully remote organization, employees must operate within core working hours (e.g., 10 am to 2 pm ET) and usually (but not always) live in specific time zones.
The synchronous approach is more practical for timely communication, meeting scheduling, and member service if members live in the same time zones. While asynchronous communication will still be a pillar of collaboration, synchronous companies place a larger emphasis on real-time interaction.
A variant of the synchronous option is co-located remote. In this model, employees are fully remote, but they must work in the same geographic area, so in-person meetings are easier to arrange.
In the hybrid remote model, some employees work in the office almost all of the time, and some work remotely nearly all of the time. (Each group typically has a permanent location – either remote or in-office/onsite). Management may mandate where employees are to work or grant them the freedom to choose their desired workplace. Companies may choose to set boundaries around the extent of geographical spread or time zones in which their employees operate.
Thanks to the smaller office footprint required, the hybrid remote option reduces operational costs. However, you still must budget for home office equipment allowances and travel expenses for staff who come into the office for occasional meetings.
A big advantage of the hybrid remote model is the ability to recruit talent outside your area, which is especially helpful in competitive markets where specialized skills are in high demand. If your organization is considering a transition to fully remote work but is hesitant about taking such a drastic step, the hybrid model gives you an opportunity to experience a new way of working without going all in.
However, the most significant risk of this model rests with managers. If managers aren’t trained and prepared for managing a hybrid team, a cultural divide can quickly grow between employees working from home and those working in the office.
- Remote employees may feel isolated and out-of-the-loop because they find it challenging to build rapport and camaraderie with coworkers. They may not have the same access to people and information as to their in-person colleagues. Mangers must be extremely intentional to ensure they don’t fall victim to the “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” syndrome, which overlooks opportunities for their remote employees’ growth, assignments, transfers, and promotions – just as they do for the employees within close proximity.
- Office-based employees may envy the real (or believed) schedule flexibility of their remote teammates, work/life integration, and lack of commute. If the comparison game begins, employees in the office may become resentful and/or expect more from those working from home since they assume their remote colleagues have more time to work.
4) Partially Remote Work
In a partially remote organization, everyone (or almost everyone) works remotely a few days a week as directed by management. This could mean employees filter through the office in coordination with their teams or project groups (e.g., membership team in-office on M/W/F), or the cycle of office time could be individual to each employee.
Some partially remote organizations use the hoteling approach to their office space. Employees (or their managers) choose when they will work in the office and, in some cases, can reserve a workspace for those days or weeks.
When considering hybrid remote and partially remote workforce models, there are two primary types: remote-first and office-first. The majority of your employees and their time are allocated based on the one your organization chooses.
Because every employee is trained and comfortable with remote work, the partially remote model prepares employees for a possible or eventual fully remote future. This model also reduces operational costs related to the office. However, the budget still needs to be allocated for home office expenses.
5) Remote-First Work
In a hybrid, remote-first (or remote-biased) workplace, the majority of employees work remotely—that’s the norm. Only a few employees work in the office, for example, those who need daily access to special equipment or meeting rooms due to the nature of their job.
In a partial remote, remote-first environment, employees spend the majority of their time remote while coming in for occasional meetings or other operational needs.
6) Office-First Work
In an office-first workplace, most employees work from the office. Employers expect employees to spend most of their time onsite. However, they may be allowed to work remotely part of the time. This model is known by many names:
- Remote as an option
- Occasional work-from-home
- Office-based with remote flexibility
Usually, in an office-first workplace, a specific amount of time is allocated for working from home, perhaps one day a week or 16-24 hours a month. This model’s flexibility can be useful for reducing the need to use vacation or sick time when personal issues arise at home.
Another office-first option specifies one or more days a month when everyone works remotely. Remote work might also be allowed on a case-by-case basis. For example, even though working in the office is the norm, some employees were hired with the understanding that they could work remotely. (NOTE: that this type of arrangement can cause equity issues and/or resentment among staff. Carefully consider objective criteria when rewarding employees with this option. If you are unsure how to do this, we can help.)
Organizations using this model likely don’t intend to go remote but are providing this flexibility as a perk for employees. An office-first model offers the flexibility employees want to take care of personal issues and reduce their commuting burdens.
Several nuances and factors go into choosing the right workforce model for your unique company. If you are debating the future of remote work and are unsure what model is best for your organization, contact us. We can help you walk through different scenarios, consider policy and cost impacts, and develop a plan for the transition.