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Remote work is here to stay. So why is everyone still getting it so wrong?

Hybrid work plans that miss the point will never achieve what they set out to do.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director
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Image: insta_photos -- Shutterstock

Hybrid work -- a combination of remote work and in-office time -- has become increasingly common, even if Elon Musk isn't a fan.

And yet plenty of bosses still seem to be getting it very wrong.

Perhaps that's no surprise, because adopting the hybrid model means rapidly overturning about a hundred years of assumptions about the best way to organize the working week.

So, what's the problem?

Tech analyst Gartner recently published an interesting look at some research that might provide a clue. It suggests that while insisting on a rigid return to the office will be a big mistake (sorry, Elon), the way that many companies implement their model of hybrid working is also likely to be flawed.

"Most of those work models delivered below-average outcomes" the research found, and the common factor was some kind of rigid on-site requirement.

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Much more successful was a "hybrid-flexible" setup, offering leaders and employees the opportunity to choose where they work.

But most successful by far were workplaces that offered this flexibility and also included elements of "intentional collaboration and empathy-based management," where bosses don't force staff to come to the office just to keep an eye on them.

How the working week is organized matters: get it right, and staff are more likely to want to stay, and more likely to perform well.

Autonomy also reduces fatigue, which in turn means workers are likely to sustain good performance over time. None of this freedom is about giving up as a manager -- the key is to ensure that autonomy is also matched by accountability.

It's also about being more thoughtful about how and why we meet and interact as teams.

That's where the tech side of things comes in, because it's vital to match the medium to the message.

If the purpose of a meeting is simply to share data, should that Zoom actually be an email? Conversely, if the point is to praise a team for doing a great job, perhaps that email should be a Zoom -- or even a real-world catch up? More broadly, if people are working on individual projects with little need to communicate other than to share the odd document, does it really make sense to insist on them all showing up to a physical office?

New ways of working can make us more productive and engaged. And I'm certain we are at the beginning, not the end, of that process.

There's still a lot more that tech can do to help: new mediums can help us to create new messages.

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We've been testing out virtual reality meetings as part of our recent metaverse special report. While they're still undeniably clunky and can feel awkward, I was also surprised by how much benefit they could potentially deliver.

Sure, a meeting with avatars that only look a bit like your colleagues, in a fantasy meeting room that wouldn't look out of place in a Bond villain's lair, does feel a bit ridiculous.

But it also -- and this was the revelation to me -- adds a level of engagement that you just don't get from a video meeting of colleagues occupying flat tiles on a screen. It provides a sense of being there (wherever 'there' was) that adds meaning beyond what you get from staring into a monitor.

I'm not saying I want to have every meeting in virtual reality from now on: far from it. But we have to see the present state of hybrid and remote working as just the current state of the art, and to keep experimenting, and thinking, about the way we work.

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