The what matters more than the where in remote work

Instead of creating rigid hybrid schedules, consider what needs to be done.
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· 4 min read

Audio streaming platform Audible may have found a way to solve the vexing problem of striking the right remote-work balance plaguing so many companies right now.

Instead of mandating specific days and times for employees to be in the office, Audible launched a program last year called the “hub and home hybrid workplace” model which allows employees to choose their work location based on the kind of work they were doing.

The policy encourages employees to come into the office for collaborative work, like brainstorming or budget negotiations, and to work from home on more individualized work that requires deep focus, like writing up financial planning and analysis (FP&A) reports or closing the books.

For Audible CFO and growth officer Cynthia Chu, the program empowers teams to find the flexibility that works best for them, is inclusive of employees’ needs and lives, and improves employee engagement.

“A more modernized way of working is not completely remote, and it’s not…completely back into the office,” Chu told CFO Brew. “It’s somewhere in between and creating that flexibility…really depends on the work we’re trying to get done.”

However, creating that balance takes careful consideration and listening to employees is key, one workplace expert told CFO Brew.

Here or there. The first step toward setting a policy that effectively balances home and office is understanding the needs and goals of your team and then crafting a plan of how to work together, said Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy, workplace management at Gallup.

“It’s really about sitting down with your team and deciding that a lot of it comes down to how interdependent versus independent your work is,” said Wigert. “Then, talking about how your team works best together.”

To create policies that worked best for all teams, rather than a blanket policy, Audible left those conversations to individual team leaders, according to Chu.

“They get to work with their teams who, as a team, figure out what’s the right cadence for them,” she said. The company also surveyed employees throughout the process, starting at the beginning of the pandemic, to understand what was working for them, she said.

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“We use that process, team by team, function by function…to really understand what makes sense for them,” Chu said.

Deep work. After the team agrees on objectives and sets ground rules for working together, the next step is to decide which work is heads down and which is most appropriate for in-person situations, Wigert said.

“And if you start there, you can back into the tasks that are best done at home versus at work,” he said. “So when we talk about heads-down work, I would very specifically say independent tasks, things that you do by yourself.” Deep, heads-down work is more suited for remote work, Wigert added.

Chu found different parts of her team had separate needs. The accounting and finance teams needed much more alone time to work through transactions and financial processes, while the FP&A team, which works closer with the revenue-generation and marketing teams, needed more in-office time, she said. As a result, those teams follow different routines.

Come together. The ideas and work that people produce during their deep-work time needs to be shared with and acted upon by the larger team, and that’s where organizations should be emphasizing in-office presence, said Wigert.

“So they work independently first apart, and then they come together,” he said. That’s when people need to be together to make decisions, to collaboratively generate ideas, and collectively solve problems.

For example, Chu’s team is in the process of finalizing their budget for this year and that requires more in-person work.

“Those require a lot of discussion and a lot of debate discussion working through whiteboarding,” she said. “Those are the types of work and intentional work that makes sense to come in.”—DA

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