The Future of Work is Remote (and Hybrid): An Update for 2023

The remote work genie is out of the bottle. With tens of millions having experienced the benefits of working from home, it will be difficult for companies to mandate a complete return to physical offices. Employees expect and demand location flexibility in positions where it’s possible.

Hybrid models will become the norm. Most companies will allow a mix of remote and in-office work, with the balance depending on role type and individual needs. Management will continue shifting from measuring time to measuring output.

The Numbers:

– According to Gallup’s 2022 survey, 45% of full-time U.S. employees now work remotely all or part of the time.

– A Gartner survey found 74% of company leaders plan to shift at least 5% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions post-pandemic. 

– Per a 2022 McKinsey study, over 90% of organisations will be combining remote and on-site working post-pandemic.

Tech innovations will increasingly smooth collaboration. Virtual reality, augmented reality, hologram meetings and other emerging technologies will keep improving remote collaboration. VR spaces like Meta Horizon Workrooms give a sense of togetherness.  Virtual reality and augmented reality tools are rapidly evolving, providing new ways for distributed teams to interact and simulate in-person meetings. VR spaces like Meta’s Horizon Workrooms allow users to join meetings as avatars in a shared virtual environment. Participants can see each others’ avatars, collaborate on virtual whiteboards, and get visual cues that improve communication like eye contact. VR meetings generate greater feelings of presence and togetherness compared to standard video conferences.

Augmented reality adds digital elements to the physical environment. AR glasses or goggles let remote co-workers appear side-by-side in a video call – making it seem like they’re in the same room. Hologram meeting technologies like PORTL take this a step further, allowing life-size holograms of remote team members to appear around a table during meetings.

These immersive technologies create a stronger sense of connection and allow for more natural, free-flowing collaboration. They also enable hybrid teams to smoothly engage with both remote colleagues and those present on-site.

Artificial intelligence is also improving meeting transcription, live language translation, and smart calendaring. Intelligent assistants can schedule meetings, book rooms, manage participant availability, and ensure optimal use of time.

As these innovations become more mainstream in business settings, they will greatly enhance the remote and hybrid work experience. Seamless virtual collaboration will enable teams to be productive and united – no matter where individual members are located geographically.

The talent pool will be global. Remote work enlarges talent pools beyond local geography. Companies can recruit excellent virtual team members regardless of where they physically live.  No longer constrained by geographical limits when recruiting, companies can source skilled workers from a much wider pool. They can find the best team members for specific roles regardless of where candidates are physically based.

Some key benefits of global virtual teams include:

  • Access to rare, in-demand skill sets that may not exist locally. Companies can recruit talented individuals from anywhere in the world.
  • Ability to hire from large metro hubs with rich talent markets. Tech teams can add members located in major innovation centres like Silicon Valley or Bangalore.
  • Tapping into emerging markets. Virtual teams allow access to fast-growing talent pools in regions like Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.
  • Greater diversity of perspectives and backgrounds. Mixing team members from different cultures and countries brings new thinking.
  • 24/7 productivity. Global teams enable round-the-clock collaboration and can provide night and weekend coverage.
  • Scalability. Virtual teams are much easier to expand than location-dependent teams.
  • Cost savings. Access to global talent widens the labor pool beyond just expensive major cities.

To lead diverse global teams effectively requires inclusivity training, cultural sensitivity, and flexible scheduling across time zones. But the benefits make building successful international remote teams well worth the investment for forward-looking companies.  Managing distributed teams across countries and cultures requires training and thoughtful coordination, but pays major dividends. Some best practices include:

  • Inclusivity Training – Provide unconscious bias and sensitivity training to help managers recognise and mitigate issues like ethnocentrism. Teach leaders to be inclusive of all team members regardless of background.
  • Cultural Fluency – Invest in developing cultural intelligence and understanding communication nuances across cultures. Avoid stereotyping. Recognise different motivators and work styles.
  • Flexible Scheduling – Accommodate time zones when scheduling calls and meetings. Optimise times for core collaboration while allowing flexibility for members’ local needs. Clarify availability expectations.
  • Asynchronous Communication – Rely more on practices like email, chat and collaboration platforms to smooth workflows rather than rigid meeting times. Document discussions for easy information sharing.
  • Local Empowerment – Allow regional sub-teams autonomy over local decisions and workflows. Don’t micromanage. Empower leaders in each geography.
  • Inclusion Events – Host global offsite meet-ups or retreats. Create virtual spaces for informal interactions. Enable global knowledge sharing and relationship building.

When managed effectively, multinational virtual teams enable amazing diversity of thought, 24-hour productivity, and access to the best talent worldwide. The level of coordination required is well worth the substantial benefits. Leading globally distributed teams is becoming a critical executive skill.

Offices will become collaboration hubs. With less need for daily desk space, offices will be redesigned for team building, brainstorming, social bonding and training. Residential co-working spaces may also emerge.

With remote and hybrid work models, the traditional office space needs to transform. When employees only come in occasionally, dedicated desks become less crucial. Instead, offices will redesign for maximising interactive teamwork.

Reconfigured office layouts will emphasise open, flexible spaces for group problem-solving vs individual heads-down work. There will be larger communal areas for meetings, informal gatherings, and team building activities. Amenities like cafes, lounges, and gaming zones will aim to make the office an engaging destination.

Training rooms will also feature prominently, allowing employees to immerse in learning experiences together. Larger townhall venues will accommodate all local staff for company meetings and social events.

Co-working spaces may emerge near where employees live, providing options for connecting with fellow remote workers closer to home and avoiding long commutes. Employers may subsidise membership fees.

While remote work provides flexibility, physical offices retain importance as hubs for strategic collaboration, strengthening relationships, onboarding employees, and reinforcing culture. More than just workspaces, reinvented offices can become innovation zones and energising sites for team engagement.

The future office needs to balance focus on interactive synergy with personal productivity. Utilising workplace design psychology, they should feel welcoming yet also professional. When done right, new collaboration-centric offices can bring out the best in hybrid teams.

Communication skills are critical. With fewer in-person interactions, strong written and verbal communication become vital. Training in areas like active listening, clear messaging, empathy and conflict resolution will grow.

With distributed teams, in-person body language and facial cues fade. This makes strong communication fundamentals essential. Training and coaching should improve skills like:

Active listening – Fully concentrating on what others are saying without distractions or assumptions. Repeating back key points shows engagement.

  • Clear writing – Conveying complete thoughts in a succinct, organised way over email. Proofreading before sending.
  • Verbal clarity – Speaking slowly, precisely and avoiding tangents during virtual discussions. Being mindful of how audio issues can hamper shared understanding.
  • Empathy – Striving to understand teammates’ perspectives, challenges and emotions. Asking thoughtful questions.
  • Conflict resolution – Detecting interpersonal friction quickly and addressing it proactively with compassion. Finding win-win resolutions.
  • Presentation abilities – Learning to engage audiences effectively in virtual settings. Tailoring messages to remote channels.
  • Nonverbal cues – Using tone, speed and inflection for impact since visual cues are limited. Conveying energy and positivity vocally.

With fewer organic interactions, communication gaps can easily emerge on distributed teams. Training team members to connect deeply despite physical distance is crucial. Nurturing a listening, empathetic culture where people feel heard will help remote teams thrive.

Work/life boundaries need re-setting. New norms need to be established around protecting family time, avoiding burnout and setting health work/life boundaries. Companies will provide more tools to address these challenges.

The flexibility of remote work can blur boundaries between work and personal time. Without the physical separation of an office, employees can end up working excessively long hours from home.

  • To prevent burnout and nurture healthy, sustainable remote cultures, companies need to take action to help employees re-set those boundaries in our new virtual world. Useful steps include:
    • Training managers to recognise signs of burnout and have supportive conversations that emphasise output over always being “online.”
    • Modelling behaviour from the top down – leadership should actively demonstrate unplugging after work hours and not sending late night emails.
    • Establishing “no meeting” blocks of time during days to allow focused individual work.
    • Discouraging emails or calls outside standard office hours except in emergencies.
    • Monitoring employee wellness through surveys and checking in on mental health.
    • Offering wellness benefits like virtual yoga or meditation breaks to de-stress.
    • Suggesting simple home office adjustments like facing desks away from windows to avoid distractions.
    • Exploring historic company norms around time off and travel that may need adjusting post-pandemic.

The transition to remote work long-term requires a rethink of day-to-day practices to instil healthier daily routines. With the right level of employer support, teams can avoid the pitfalls of constant connectivity and honour their personal lives.

The future is flexible. Work models will continue morphing, but maintaining productivity and culture virtually gives organisations more resilience. Prioritising employee wellbeing also remains key.

The Benefits:

Research shows properly implemented remote or hybrid models lead to higher productivity, better work-life balance, and lower real estate costs for employers. Allowing location flexibility also expands talent pools and improves diversity.

For individuals, key upsides include no commute, greater schedule flexibility, and more family time. Companies with engaged remote workers report increased employee satisfaction as well. 

Making it Work:

However, leaders must be proactive to reap rewards. Some best practices include:

  • Setting clear policies around remote work schedules, availabilities, meetings, and communication norms. Make sure to outline expectations for online hours, response times, virtual meeting etiquette, and channels to use for different types of communication.
  • Investing in collaboration technologies like videoconferencing and project management software. Provide employees with access and training on platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Asana, Basecamp, and any other tools your company adopts.
  • Prioritising inclusive company culture through both virtual and occasional in-person activities. Foster bonds between on-site and remote staff by organising remote coffee chats, virtual happy hours, team building activities, and bringing remote workers on-site for key meetings or retreats.
  • Training managers to oversee remote teams successfully – focusing on results vs time logged on. Coach managers to evaluate team members based on work output and achievement of goals rather than physical presence. Empower them to keep distributed teams engaged.
  • Embracing asynchronous communication to accommodate different schedules. Encourage practices like status updates via email, chat, or project management platforms rather than rigid meeting times. Document and share key discussions with remote staff.
  • Ensuring remote employees have equal access to career development. Create advancement opportunities tailored to remote staff. Be transparent about requirements for promotions and offer mentoring/coaching.

The pandemic proved many roles can be done from anywhere. Forward-thinking companies recognise this shift is here to stay and are adapting accordingly. With deliberate strategies focused on flexibility and inclusion, businesses can sustain productivity and also reap benefits around costs, talent, diversity, and worker satisfaction.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain