Remote work is so 2010!

Forgive us the cheeky headline but you’ll understand why we don’t quite understand the fuss around remote work and the endless debate over how long it’ll last, what it’ll do to morale, how it’ll impact a company’s fortunes and so on.

At Nayamode, we’ve practiced a hybrid work model for well over ten years and can attest that it has worked, and worked well.

Our move to remote/hybrid was necessitated by a part of our team needing to collaborate with their colleagues offshore, in locations 12 time zones away. This meant that they were necessarily spending some time online at night and in the interest of not having our people burn out, we instituted a policy of having people work from home a couple of times a week. Further, on other days when they did come in, our hours were always flexible. And we did this with a diverse workforce – with people ranging in age from their mid-twenties to mid-fifties. It’s also worth mentioning that this move was not a brainchild of senior management – rather, it was a suggestion that bubbled up from some of the younger people on the team, and we had enough wisdom to adopt it rapidly.

The result was that we had one of the more supportive work environments you could find anywhere, which complemented by other benefits we’ve offered, helped keep our attrition rates low. I can say without hesitation that this has been an unqualified success for us, with little loss in team bonding, morale building or any of those factors that many (including infamously, Malcolm Gladwell recently!) have warned against.

Is this a perfect solution for every organization out there? Likely not. Each one will need to evaluate their particular situation and arrive at an arrangement that works well for them, and for the specific roles within the organization. There’s no one size that fits all (duh!), and even in the context of a professional services firm like ours (we offer Consulting and Creative Agency services primarily), we see significant differences in what each role requires. Take, for instance:

  • Our consultants who are assigned to projects with clients and whose primary interactions are on the client side. There is little if any need for them to be in our offices, and as long as the client doesn’t need them onsite, they are perfectly welcome to work remotely, and are often most effective from there anyway.
  • Our Agency Project Managers. Their work requires a mix of time with customers, with internal creative teams and with other partners/freelancers. They are quite effective in a hybrid model that gives them focused time without interruptions and also time to collaborate in person with colleagues.
  • Creative teams – writers, editors, designers – much of their work is necessarily done on their own but there’s so much to be gained by active collaboration with their peers and PMs as well. Ideation doesn’t flow as well over Zoom or Teams. It’s hard to replace the magic and serendipitous inspirations that happen when meeting in person or even having a casual conversation in passing.
  • Back-office. Accounting, HR and other administrative roles almost by definition have a lot of interaction with several roles in the company. While there is a benefit for these functions to be in the office in person, the downside of remote work is small enough to not be a major factor.
  • Sales/business development. Even before remote work was a thing, I looked askance at sales or BD people who spent too much time in the office. Their role in my mind requires them to be on the frontlines, face to face with customers. Now with Covid restrictions lifted, I’d expect them to make up for lost time and not be tethered to their desk.

So what does this mean for us? Well, we’ve adopted different stances across our offices in Seattle and the San Francisco area. Seattle, being our HQ for consulting, is all remote at the moment and the creative agency folks who do work here have continued with the remote model.

In the Bay Area on the other hand (where most of our designers are), we found and signed a lease on new office space last year and are working in a true hybrid model today. People come in 3 days a week and WFH twice weekly and so far, and we believe that’s a great mix. We have the opportunity and room for in person collaboration and ideation on a regular basis, but also enough flexibility to allow people to enjoy the benefits that remote work affords – less commute time, more focused time, less expense of gas, tolls, etc.

I don’t intend to minimize the need (and challenge with hybrid) for the people/bonding aspect. This is where we get a bit creative on ways to still foster that human connection. Some ideas that work well for us include:

  • Weekly Zoom/Teams meeting “themes,” such as “A famous food from your hometown” or “Which castle would you buy?” (with a link to a site full of castles and chateaus for sale) – teammates change their background image based on their selection for the week.
  • Monthly team lunches and happy hours – we get together on Zoom/Teams and have lunch together and chat about anything from the cool series you just binged on Netflix to the latest Covid stats. For happy hours, we set up jackbox games and laugh together – a lot.
  • All Monday meetings start with a weekend recap – this serves as a warmup to jumping straight into the work.
  • Sending e-cards that everyone can sign for birthdays and large events.

Will this model become ubiquitous? At the risk of prognosticating a bit, I believe it’s a fair assumption that some version of remote work is here to stay. With enduring, meaningful benefits to the firm and to our people. Given that our Seattle office has been using a hybrid model for well over a decade now, you could say we’ve had a head start on making this work.

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