Distributed Teams & The Future World of Work

The world of work has changed and businesses around the world are beginning to reduce their office footprint. Are we ready for the distributed model?

The world of work has changed, it always does.

Businesses around the world are beginning to reduce their office footprint. A Grant Thornton Report in the UK of companies making revenues between £15million and £1billion showed that 74% anticipate decreasing their office footprint by up to a quarter. 12% of those surveyed expect to reduce their space by up to half.

The future of work was always going to move to a distributed model. The pandemic brought about a seismic shift that has rapidly changed the way we work. We are no longer imagining what it is like to work remotely, contemplating the impact on productivity or wondering what it will be like to work with teams we don’t see in person. We are living in that future now.

The Future, Now.

The shift towards this hybrid, distributed working model, is not going away. In recent surveys, 20% of people have said that they don’t want to return to an office ever, with 72% of people preferring a hybrid approach where they will split their time between working in an office and working wherever they choose.

There is an urgent need to plan for this model of working today.

Technology has a significant role in ensuring that working in a distributed environment is as efficient as possible. Through the pandemic, we have seen some fantastic developments that understand people need to socialise and interact with one another.

WeTransfer implemented an entirely virtual office for their teams after closing offices to help fight the Coronavirus spread. This virtual space looks like something like a Minecraft world, with every team member having their own avatar they can use to wander the halls, hang out by the coffee machine and even wait impatiently for a meeting room to open up.

Gordon Willoughby, CEO of WeTransfer, said "the platform helps provide social experiences of office life in the way that Zoom calls and Slack have replaced desk-side chats.”

Technology only plays one part of the overall puzzle. In fact, with these great technologies come problems that you won’t have encountered before. Zoom fatigue has led to meeting participation and attention dwindling. It is never a surprise when some of your meeting attendees don’t switch on their video, and you can hear the faint pitter-patter of keyboards as emails are written.

This technological fatigue is so bad that Citibank’s CEO has mandated ‘Zoom free Fridays' to ease what has become the relentless pandemic workday.

The blurring lines between home and work, surrounded by technology that never shuts off, is taking a toll on our well-being.

Adapt to your technology, start working asynchronously.

In our rush to adapt and survive, many businesses have forgotten they must also adapt to thrive.

Technology has helped business processes carry on being productive, but technology isn’t enough to maintain productivity alone. We must remember that a proper balance of productivity only comes when our people’s well-being is balanced.

Many businesses have continued to work in a traditional 9 to 5 way, with teams and business units working together in synchrony. But when your people are all distributed, this can negatively impact your teams’ well-being and productivity.

Asynchronous environments play to your people’s strengths. Some may be night owls, preferring to work later at night and sleep a little longer in the morning. It gives your people agency to decide how they will spend their time, giving them the freedom to prioritise their family, friends and own health. All of which leads to better well-being which creates vastly improved productivity.

What can we change today?

First, think about how you are interacting with your teams. Have you been scheduling more meetings to make sure you have enough ‘face-time’ with everyone?

Meetings have always been the cornerstone of effective collaboration, and effective collaboration underpins all businesses success.

But more meetings can be a mistake. It takes time away from your team to undertake their work, leading to stress and ‘Zoom fatigue'.

Human cues are more challenging and sometimes impossible to pick up when viewing faces on a postcard-sized image on a screen. The connections and shared energies of working together in the same environment can’t easily be replicated; rather than attempting to recreate in-person meetings, we need to adapt our thinking and working practices to have more effective meetings.

Ask yourself if this meeting has to happen together? Often the answer will be yes, particularly if there is something urgent that needs to be solved quickly. But not all of your meetings will need to happen together. They can be asynchronous.

Rather than bringing everyone together to talk about a problem, you can provide context to your teams. Inviting them to go away and, in their own time, come up with their solutions and ideas.

The first thing you will notice is the ideas and suggestions that come to you will be vastly different from those you get on a video call.

Your people will have had more time to reflect and put thought into the problem. They will be free to give more thought to their ideas and potential solutions rather than being led by you in a meeting.

You will also empower the voices you rarely hear from in a meeting. Those introverted team members will suddenly find a space where they can share their voice without fear, giving them a sense of belonging and reminding them of their purpose.

As leaders, we need to provide the conditions to bring the best versions of our people to work and keep them motivated. The best way to do this in a hybrid or distributed team is to allow your people to take responsibility for their roles and how they choose to show up to work every day.

This significant change towards an asynchronous working environment is a great starting point toward creating the future of work today.