• Scott

Is the hybrid model the future of remote w/ Ali Greene, People & community @ oyster

Updated: Apr 4

As CoVid begins to wind down, companies are starting to think about whether there's a purpose to the office post pandemic. Many companies that went remote during the pandemic are looking at the hybrid remote model. Whether for productivity, team engagement or simply it's easier for the company. We'll discuss why companies should (or really shouldn't) go hybrid.



Here's the recap...In today's episode, we chatted with my good friend, Ali Greene, who runs People & Community at Oyster about the hybrid remote model & future of offices. Remote leaders who've been doing this a while think quite differently from leaders that went remote overnight during the pandemic. Ali, like Tevi & I, are not fans of the hybrid model which many companies will look to adopt. We dig into the reasons why companies may look to use this model, as well as, why it's not really a viable option.


Full Transcript Below...


This is Part One of our series on the hybrid remote model & the future of offices. You can check out Part Two here & Part Three here.


Related References


Ali on Linkedin

Oyster

DuckDuckGo

Cohana

Ali's Remote book

David McClellan's Theory on Needs







The Hybrid methodology is all about real estate 🏢 not a mentality 🧠


Hybrid can be put as simply as Shakespeare's To Be or Not To Be? To have office space or not to have office space. Meaning it's not how a company operates such as sync vs async communication, how teams collaborate, or how the team is engaged. This definition makes quite a bit of sense to use this approach. 100% in the office is office based culture. 0% office is remote first culture. Anything in between is hybrid remote culture.


Both Ali & Tevi shared examples in their career while working from an office, they only spoke to colleagues in the same room via chat tool. Further developing that idea that it's not how you do the job vs where you're doing it from.



Hybrid is the easier that remote first 💪


Any company exploring the hybrid remote was almost 99% certain to have been working from an office pre-CoVid. The other 1% was already running the hybrid model. Any remote first company pre-CoVid would never dream to shift to the hybrid model. Want to test that theory? Ask any founder currently working on launching a company today. As them if they'd specifically launch a company using the hybrid option. It would be quite difficult to find many, if any.


So why the black & white perspective? Across pretty much every episode of this show one thing has been crystal clear. To build a remote culture you need intention. You must specifically build a remote culture because it's much more difficult to sprout up and cultivate organically. Whether you do meeting synchronously, how you foster engagement & connection between colleagues, etc must start from day one at the executive level.


Companies looking at hybrid are likely scared or simply unprepared to building a strong remote culture. Going remote isn't plug n' play. What you did in the office, does not translate to how you do things remotely. In order for these companies to have a successful remote culture, they need to redesign their current one. The problem is not many people have experience in building remote companies & teams. So these leaders are looking at the question from a simple math perspective. The effort to train leadership on leading remotely, implementing tools, and so forth to redesign a world class remote culture is greater (>) than going hybrid. The in-office culture worked before right? So it will work for those coming into the office X days a week. The rest of the folks or days of the week will just get figured out.


Hybrid in essence is a compromise 🤝


Let's be honest here and put our cards on the table 🃏. Companies looking to go hybrid are not doing it out the kindness of their hearts ♥️ or under a belief it will help create/continue a world class culture. They're doing it fully understanding that employees will not be forced back into an office ever again. There are a few holdouts like Netflix & Goldman Sachs. Within 24 months both will either shift towards hybrid, or take a significant hit to their businesses. The genie is out of the bottle and people want freedom and flexibility.


Again reiterating the points made previously. If a company isn't truly wanting to embrace remote and doing it out of necessity, how will that help them develop a great culture? It doesn't, and many people will leave these companies for remote first companies. Commuting 2-3 days a week is better than 5 right? Yet, it's still a 60+ minute commute plus each way on those days. Perhaps even more now, with many people leaving the cities. Mon-Wed required in the office? That significantly decreases the flexibility employees to take care of the other things in their lives, or do the things they enjoy most.


Hybrid leads to a decrease in productivity 📉


Many companies were shocked to learn that their productivity either remained steady or actually increased when their team was working from home. Yes, we're pretending that years of data and research didn't already prove this as fact. Whether due to fewer distractions or using some of the 60+ minutes they'd normally be commuting to do work. More productivity has been great for every company (though do listen to our episode with Gitlab where seeing this increase, led to company offline days).


Now let's estimate the impact to productivity when work returns to the office.

  1. Back to the commute, so not 'extra time' put into work. Bad for productivity.

  2. People are in a less comfortable and less productive environment. Bad for productivity.

  3. People miss the extra time they got to spend with family or doing things they enjoyed before/after work. Leading to burnout and the 'on the dot' 9-5 schedule (or later/earlier) to try and get some of that time back.

  4. My favorite. If in the office 2-3 days a week like Google & Facebook are looking to do, it's extremely likely management will want to take advantage of the opportunity for face time. Meaning 1:1s, team meetings, all hands, etc will be done while everyone is in the office. If you add all those meetings together where does work time come in? It doesn't and large chunks of those 2-3 days will go down the toilet 🚽 regarding productivity.


Bye-bye Diversity & Inclusion 👋


One of the great benefits of remote is around diversity & inclusion. D&I was one of the hot topics the past year plus, and will continue to be so. The ability to hire people of different cultures, faiths, who speak different languages and have different life experiences. Of course, also allowing people with a handicap to work from their own home or comfortable environment.


If a company requires 2 days in the SF or London office, that can certainly reduce access to a more diverse team.


The hybrid model will also lead to more synchronized meetings. Meaning that an employee in Tokyo or India will need to either stay up all night, or be unable to share input/thoughts/engagement into conversations. Their exclusion only leads to decreased engagement & happiness in the workplace.


We'd love to hear your feedback on the hybrid model. Whether your team is pro or against it?


Scott: [00:00:50] Hey everybody. Thank you for tuning into today's episode of Leading from afar. I'm Scott Markovits along with Tevi Hirschhorn. Tevi, are you ready for a fun new topic?


Tevi: [00:00:59] I'm ready for it.


Scott: [00:01:01] Excellent. Here we go. Today, we're going to be talking about one of the hottest topics about the future of work. Which are the hybrid remote model and the future of offices.


Will hybrid take over? Is there a purpose for offices in the future? I guess we're going to speak about this over the next few episodes to find out.


Today we're happy to be joined by my good friend, Ali Greene. Ali is both a leader and influencer in the remote work and the future of workspaces Ali is the co-founder of cohana.io. Whose mission it is to help educate, support, and engage companies to better support their teams and making remote. Awesome. And Ali is also the head of culture and community at one of my favorite, all remote companies oyster. And before that, she was the director of people ops at another awesome remote-first company DuckDuckGo.


As we usually do, Ali, you want to start off by telling us a little bit more about yourself, Oyster, DuckDuckGo, and where your passion comes from for remote work.


Ali: [00:01:57] Awesome. Scott Tevi thanks for having me today. So I have been working remotely. I went and checked this the other day. My remote work story is a little bit of luck and a little bit of young cliches.


I had been living the office hustle in New York City. Commuting an hour from Brooklyn to Manhattan from an eight to six workday schedule. I just hated it. I felt run down. I felt tired. I felt not inspired by the world around me. So I decided to quit New York City and to hike Machu Picchu. As luck would have had it, I actually had the opportunity to stay on with the company I was working within New York City as a consultant.


That is where I got my first taste of remote work. It's one of those things, as soon as I went remote, it was impossible for me to look back. And that passion for remote continued to grow during my time at DuckDuckGo where I was the Director of People. Instead of just working from home, I started traveling full-time while working full-time.


I experienced remote work from all corners of the world. From Japan and Vietnam to Montreal, to all parts of Europe. Through the people, I was meeting and the choices I got to make in my own lifestyle, how empowering remote work can be. Whether it's choosing to become a digital nomad like I did, or spending more time in rural towns, or being able to care for elderly parents or children. Having more flexibility around your personal and professional life.


I see so many amazing benefits that remote work can have as it continues to impact the social, environmental, and political changes going on in the world. I was really pleased with the opportunity to learn about Oyster a little bit over the summer last year and then start collaborating with them. And now working with them.


One of the things that I think is so amazing about the Oyster platform is that it's just making it easy to deal with all of the stuff that used to give me a headache as a People Ops person. In terms of how do you legally hire someone that is in a different country than where your business is? How do you give them benefits? How do you make sure that you're compliant?

I see this path that a lot of companies are facing during the pandemic of, "Ok, we can work remotely. We know what that looks like. We're getting good at it." Then you realize, oh, you can hire anywhere. And then there's this panic attack that sets in. How do you actually hire anywhere?


That leads you to international growth. Realizing these pain points and then having Oyster come in and solve the problems for you. And so being part of that team has really taken my passion for remote work to a whole new level.


Scott: [00:04:41] Awesome. It sounds like we have a very similar starting to the remote work career. I started mine in 2012. I was living in Long Island, commuting to downtown Manhattan. An hour ten, an hour twenty minutes each way on the train, the subway, and walking. And then I saw this job post. I don't even remember what the job post was about, but at the bottom, it said work from home. And I'm like, bingo, I need to be doing that! Thankfully it worked out. I was working originally from New York, had the opportunity to move to Israel with the same job; which was obviously fantastic.


Tevi: Oyster. How did it become a remote company or what was the idea behind it being remote from day one?


Ali: [00:05:18] Oyster has been remote since day one. Our decision to be a fully distributed company was very intentional. Where, if the product is to support companies to be fully distributed companies, the best way to offer that type of product that is high quality and solving real problems, is to live that ourselves.


Like this idea of dog food. You want to eat your own dog food. That's really something that is a core belief of Oyster's leadership team and everybody that works there. In the short amount of time that Oyster has been in existence, we have co-workers all over the world.


I have a coworker who lives in Lebanon. A coworker who is currently in The Bahamas, but originally is from Canada. I'm an American living in Spain. It's really so much fun to see this intentional decision of being remote. Not only because it's offering a product for the remote work industry, but truly living it. And helping each other get better at it.


Tevi: [00:06:18] Awesome. I moved to Israel because I went remote. I was in Chicago and the winters there are brutal. I was also commuting an hour and a half each way to get to the loop and three hours a day, total commuting in the city.


I told my boss, "Listen, I can't do this every day. This is killing me. I've got three kids. My wife's a nurse and we don't see each other because of our flipped schedules. Can I work from home?" He and I would work five feet away from each other, but we would communicate by text.


I don't think we had Slack back. That was like 2011, I think. So we were essentially remote because we weren't ever talking to each other. And it was great, but they won't allow that. So I said, "I gotta go. See you." So I quit and I started consulting.


Once I was working on my own, I was traveling to meet with clients. I said I don't have to live in the Chicago winter anymore. I can go anywhere. So we ended up moving to Israel.


Ali: [00:07:10] Yeah, I love that story. I think it's awesome that you had the courage to stand up and say, "This isn't for me. I'm going to leave this job." Because we're seeing today, companies are having to offer remote work. Not just because of the pandemic, but because the employees ask for it.


Tevi: [00:07:25] Yeah, for sure. So tell me a bit about Oyster's product. How is it specialized for a remote distributed company, as opposed to some of the other HR tools out there?


Ali: [00:07:36] What's really cool about Oyster is that it really takes all of the information and knowledge that people can spend years trying to figure out such as, what are the holidays that I have to give someone if they're employed in France versus Mexico versus Israel? How do I set up contracts? What legally needs to be included in the contracts. And all of that knowledge is coming together.


We have public knowledge bases that people can go and learn more about these countries. But then when you join the Oyster platform, it takes it a step further and really makes sure that when you're bringing someone on, you can navigate, is it best to hire them as a contractor? Is it best to hire them as an employee? There's the salary calculator. How much will it cost me as an employer and how much can I give employees. Takes a lot of the confusion and frustration out of the process so that People Ops people can lean on Oyster to deal with all of this stuff that normally causes headaches.


So they can focus on things that I think are super fun. Like, how do you hire the best people? How do you create a remote culture? How can my employee just think about their work and enjoy it? Not being super stressed out that they've gotten a new job because now they have to figure out their taxes.


Scott: [00:08:50] Very cool. So let's now dive into the hybrid topic. First, I'm going to give you a three-part question. First, which is your definition of what the hybrid model is?

Because in my head, I have two or three definitions. Then go into why companies would actually look to use this model. Most importantly, what's your personal view on the hybrid model?


Ali: [00:09:08] Yeah, this is great. So I'm going to give my definition and then I'd love to hear your definitions. Because I think one of the most fascinating things about remote work is we're at a time right now where all of these cool terms are being used. We're fully distributed or remote first or we're hybrid.


But every time you talk to someone, people give you a different definition of what it is. Which makes it really hard to have a shared vocabulary for conversations. I'm going to give what I think is the most common definition. Which is a workplace strategy where there are some people who are working remotely and other people working in an office.


I don't like that definition. My definition is that hybrid describes the buildings and the real estate strategy that you have as a company. So hybrid can explain if the company owns or leases real estate and offers that as a place for employees to work. But from my perspective hybrid, shouldn't define workplace strategy in terms of common use behaviors, operations, product strategies, or collaboration strategies. Which maybe is quite controversial. But that's what I really think is that it describes the building, not the experience. So yeah, I'd love to hear your definitions as well. Then we can debate them a little bit maybe.


Tevi: [00:10:24] I guess I've always defined it like the way you mentioned originally. Where there's an option to come into the office and some people are remote. Which leads to problems that we'll discuss later. Maybe what you're describing is that if it's more than just the real estate strategy, then you start getting to culture issues. Which isn't necessarily a hybrid operational decision.


Scott: [00:10:49] I like the point about real estate. It's something I didn't think about. My thoughts are you have two groups of people. You have ones that go to the office and then you have ones that don't. Or option two, you have someone who it's optional. Some days I want to go to the office. Some days I don't want to go to the office. Maybe this week I do. This week I don't.


A third one in my head, but I've just lost. Thinking about the next one, about real estate. It's what that office looks like in the future? A central location in a major city that everyone comes to, or is the future going to be more micro offices? More co-working spaces all over the place.

It's a very interesting perspective of thinking. It's not the mentality or whether people come to an office or don't come to an office, but what does that office actually look like?


Ali: [00:11:30] Yeah. I think that's important to dig into. In terms of the definition, I like to use, which I haven't heard anyone really share in that way before, as it relates to real estate. It goes back to Tevi. You went into an office in Chicago, but most of your communication was still done virtually. I had a similar experience when I first entered the workforce. I was working for this hot startup in Washington DC. We had a really cool office. I actually remember it being a little funny because it was above a Hooters restaurant. Right in the middle of Chinatown.


There were the ping pong table and all that stuff that was a stereotypical culture building. But all of the work got done on computers. Then that company grew in scale. We outgrew the one office building. They opened up a second office building down the street and then a third office building in an adjacent neighborhood. And so days where it was raining or cold, or you were lazy, you would just pick up the phone and have a conference call. So we were working remotely, even though we were office-based.


I believe if one employee is working remotely, then the whole company should operate like a remote company. Even though they have offices. Which is why this idea of hybrid to me, doesn't exist if you're talking about culture, communication, and business operations. And why I'd like to define it to only be around, are we going to include in our business strategy, having offices that we own or lease. To offer that as a place where our employees can go and work or not.


Scott: [00:13:02] That's an interesting point to think about. One of the beliefs I have the challenge of the hybrid will be, it's getting those people who are in the office to use that remote-first mentality. At the beginning might be easy, but then if you're trying to tell someone, "Hey, the person behind you, instead of just turning around and tapping them on the shoulder let me send you a Slack message." Because you want all the communication to be in a central place. So at first, it would make sense and people will easily be able to do that because they'd been working remotely for the past year. But does that last a long time? Once I know that Ali is sitting right behind me and I can just turn around and ask her a question without having to type it in the chat box, will that progress forward?


Will that idea continue or will people revert back to what's easiest? Away from that remote tool option.


Tevi: [00:13:49] I just want to interrupt Scott for a second. I've mentioned it. I used to work five feet from my boss, but we were always messaging virtually. It was because we were always both listening to music. So if I were going to interrupt him or he interrupts me, we'd have to take off our headphones and stop our music.


And that was a bigger interruption and then just typing. So it was even easier to act virtually in that scenario. That kind of evolved virtually.


Ali: [00:14:13] Yeah, I think that's interesting too. It's a piece of cultural artifacts that become norms and companies. So in co-located offices, it's quite a norm. If you're wearing headsets that you're doing deep work and maybe you shouldn't be interrupted. If you're not wearing headsets, especially I know we're going to talk about this later, but in an open floor plan. Then it's sort of chaos of this person didn't respond to your email, just walk over and ask them how their weekend was. Then ask them where your email was.


It started this passive-aggressive behavior that I think gets rewarded in office buildings. So going back to the multiple points of this three-point question. Scott, one thing you asked was, "Why do companies want to offer hybrid?" You said we would just revert back to behaviors that are easiest. Like turning around and talking to someone.


Unfortunately, I think right now that's a big reason why companies are considering a hybrid model. Because it seems like an easy transition for a long-term solution around the working from home and remote work movement. Maybe they feel as leaders, they have such a strong office-based culture that to change it to a remote-oriented culture is going to take a lot of change management.


It's going to take a lot of management training. It's going to take a lot of skill-building and resources that may be even leaders in the company don't know where to find that information or how to implement it. The cynic in me thinks " Oh, they still have their office leases. They still own this real estate. So what do they do with it?"


That's something that I think is interesting to ask companies. If you were to start your business today, would you operate it in a hybrid fashion? Why or why not? If people truly can articulate why they want hybrid from the get-go, then those are the people that I think are going to be really interesting thought leaders in this hybrid space. But for now, we think about going back to an office, it's going to help with collaboration. It's going to help with communication. It's going to help maybe with security measures.


I think those are points that people bring up when they're promoting hybrid. But frankly, I think that's a bit unimaginative. Instead of investing in an office-based culture, you can invest in rescaling your employees and teaching managers how to ensure that stakeholders are included in conversations. Make sure that you're collaborating in a way that's transparent where documentation can be saved online, and all of these other great benefits that are just naturally part of remote working procedures.


Scott: [00:16:40] Your last points are I think exactly right. The idea of switching from the office to remote was never a plug-and-play option. You took what worked in the office and you just do it now remotely. That's not what remote is. That's not what it's supposed to be. The whole remote experience needs to be redesigned.


And as you said, having that opportunity to share knowledge and experience and tools. That's how this podcast started. Tevi and I have been doing leadership and remote for so long. We both understood, that the key to a seamless transition to the future of work is giving those managers and leaders, access to experience the access to knowledge, access to tools from people who've been doing it so long.


A point that I brought up before when defining remote work or what hybrid is going to look like. One of those points was the two, three days in the office, and a couple of days at home. And a lot of the companies like Google and Facebook are all shifting towards that option.

I don't think it makes so much sense. I would love to know your thoughts on whether that's going to potentially backfire? Is it going to be specified days, Monday, Wednesday, Friday are in the office, or is there more flexibility? Is it going to be that old 9-5?. You're coming in Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 9-5?


And I think the biggest question is. Being in the office let's say two or three times a week, the mentality will be okay, this is the opportunity for facet time meetings.


This is the opportunity to throw in more meetings. Get that face-to-face. Get that collaboration. Which to me means that's two or three days that are thrown down the toilet of productivity. That's your two days of opportunity. That's where you're in the office. Let's shove everybody in a meeting for eight, nine hours. Just to get that face time. What work are you actually going to get done in those first two days? Tevi, Ali jump in there with your thoughts.


Ali: [00:18:18] Tevi, I'm curious for you what that means, before, before I jump in? Especially, what do you think leaders should be thinking about when they make these strategies happen? I know for me, it's this pull and take of what management and what companies want to do versus what their employees want to do.


In two to three days, in most scenarios, feels like a compromise to me. Tevi, what are your thoughts?


Tevi: [00:18:39] I agree, it's a compromise. And I think what leaders who are saying that this is their strategy going forward, they're saying we compromise. We understand you want flexibility in your life. We understand that you can be productive at home without being in the office.


We understand you're wasting time commuting or whatever thousand reasons there are why a person doesn't want to come into the office. But they're also saying We want face time. We want to make sure that people are working together. That they know each other. That they're building relationships properly.


I think it's more about relationship building and team building than actual productivity. That's my hunch on that was my own experience. I worked for a company that kind of evolved into a hybrid model. We were all remote. And then there were teams that kind of coalesced in certain cities.


So they got, WeWork space in those cities. And then, some people decided they'd rather work at the office. So then it became like a thing. There's a bunch of people that are in the office every day, and these people aren't coming in at all. Why don't you start coming in one or two days a week and that's how it evolved.


The point was just to make sure everybody got to meet each other and work together and just build that relationship.


Ali: [00:19:47] This is where I think the compromise becomes a slippery slope. . It's almost there's social pressure at some point to be like, "Oh, all these people are coming into an office. Why aren't you?" It's creating an in-group and an out-group.


In a way, it's basically saying to your employee, "Hey, you have proven that you can be productive during the pandemic. Working from home. You have proven that you are an adult and can have autonomy around having a flexible schedule, get your work done, and be respectful of your coworkers and your peers."


"However, we're not placing enough trust in you that we're going to dedicate our time to really build our remote strategies." Instead, we're going to resort back to telling you to show up at an office certain days of the week. And you have to be in that office in order to build relationships. Because while you're great at being productive remotely, we don't trust that you can build relationships remotely.


I think that's like a fallacy. Not only are people having professional relationships remotely, but they're staying in touch with their families in different countries. They're organizing time with their friends. Like doing yoga remotely. All of these things are showing that it is possible to have a human connection using the tools that are online.


Scott: [00:20:56] I want to take one of the points and try to turn it around for the positivity that may come out of the productivity point. I don't think there were any companies that were forced to go remote overnight during COVID that thought productivity was going to be even, or even better. I think most companies found holy moly, people that are super duper productive at home.


This is fantastic. But then when we go back to the hybrid model. Let's say making the assumption that you're coming in for two days and you're sitting in back-to-back meetings, which probably is going to be the reality for two to three days. The productivity is going to go down.


So now it home very productive. Now, partially back in the office, productivity comes down. So what do leaders who are very focused on that point of productivity? What are they go to think? We were much more productive when everybody was home. Do we go back to the model because we care about productivity? Or do we keep this model and accept a lower amount of productivity? Where's the where's that fine line?


Ali: [00:21:49] It also depends on what your definition of productivity is. So for some departments there's clear, like outputs and data you can measure for sales. How many deals did you close? For engineers, how much code did you have that could be reviewed without any bugs? There are other teams where relationships are so much of the job.


With my experience in People Operations, it's hard to determine productivity. Because it's about relationship building. The idea of productivity means different things to two different teams as well. Which makes it even more challenging for leaders to define and then prioritize the values that they want for their company.


What comes to my mind as we talk about this, is it doesn't matter if it's relationship building. It doesn't matter if it's productivity. The area that I'm starting to be humbled by when it comes to hybrid, is what are the intentional reasons? And what are the intentional activities that people are going to plan for their in-office time?


The biggest realization that I've had recently where I'm like, "Oh, in this scenario hybrid can make sense," is access to tools and hardware that people need to do their job. That may not be possible to do in a distributed environment. Let's say you have a knowledge-based job, but you rely a lot on VR technology or 3D printing. As a company and as a leader, are you going to offer a 3D printer to everybody?


Like how do you budget and scale that? Or do you have certain tools that certain teams can come into, use the office for. Because it's going to help them with their job. And then also they can get these benefits of spending in time with each other. So thinking through things like that has really opened up my eyes. Maybe there are some ways to be a hybrid environment because of this hardware, but then still you need intentional expectations to be set from leadership.


Like why, what, who? For the whole day? For what hours of the day? And really making sure that those reasons are intentionally thought out and communicated and bought in to people in the company.


Tevi: [00:23:51] A hundred percent. I hear repeatedly from all the interviews that we've been doing, Scott and I. Is everybody who is a remote work evangelist is bringing up this idea of intentional management and intentional leadership. You have to just be very careful about what you're doing and why.


I think that it's like the old style of running an office in a building. It's just not, everyone was actually trained to be a manager or a leader. They just have habits that they use to run things and they don't know why they do things. They don't know what really works. They never thought about that.


So now they're forced to be remote and they've got to react. So I think the hybrid model is a lot of that reaction, where they were forced spear mode because of the pandemic. But now there's demand from employees to try to be more flexible. You mentioned before that, that having this hybrid model where some people are in the office and some not could lead to opposing camps. What do you think are things that leaders can do to make sure that doesn't happen?


Ali: [00:24:47] I think that's a great question. So the answer I want to say is don't go hybrid. Just be fully remote. But that's not helpful or tactical for listeners who want to explore serious things. And Tevi, I think the word intentional is going to be a word that people are sick of hearing, but it's so important. And I a hundred percent agree with you that in offices you were allowed to get away with more. Because there were so many barriers to fall back on or cushions to fall back on.


So we're just going to have more face time to solve for that problem. Whereas remote puts a magnifying glass on any potential opportunities or challenges leaders face. Once you have that magnifying glass, it's really easy to say, "Okay, now, if some people are removed from this situation what are the challenges?"


So if you want to be a company that's inclusive for a distributed team, what I think that leaders need to implement, is number one, documentation. It's so boring, but so important. So if documentation is living online and regularly followed up after every conversation, whether it's a conversation that happened in Slack publicly or privately. Whether it's a conversation that happened in the office over a coffee, or if it's a conversation that happened between someone in the office and someone online, it shouldn't matter.


As soon as that conversation is done, there should be clear documentation and transparency to what the conversation was about. Tag all the stakeholders that were not included in that conversation, and give them ample time to chime in. Before rushing to any decisions that need to get made. Obviously that needs to be thought about an altered based off of the level of complexity or the level of urgency.


If your website is down and you have two people in the office with the skills to solve that problem. And they huddled together real quick and they get it done, versus those people being remote. Taking the action is important, but still documenting after the fact is important. So people can learn from that and have a place to see what's going on in the company.

So that first and foremost is what I would say to make an inclusive hybrid company. The second would be announcing weekly goals and expectations of each other. So like, when are people working? When are people's heads downtime? What are people's personal boundaries?


If there's a certain project, are there certain milestones that will be expected to be completed by Wednesday, Noon, EST? And again, having that all live in a place where everyone has access to knowing that information. Regardless of if they're coming into the office or not is extremely important.


And the third tip that I have which is extremely tactical, is one person, one zoom screen. So I think a lot of the bias around hybrid is going to be in hybrid meetings. If you have ever been the person on a screen, looking at a bunch of people in a room having side conversations during a meeting. Or the microphone's too far away, and people are forgetting about you and you can't chime in because the tools aren't there. It's a disaster. So one person, one zoom screen.


If you have a meeting, everyone should have equal say in that meeting represented by showing up on camera. If people are in an office, encouraging them to take that meeting separately so that it doesn't feel like there's a power imbalance or inequality of conversation and thought during the meeting. I think is incredibly important.


Tevi: [00:28:09] I love that. That's so true. Good tips. Next question would be around team building. I know a lot of remote companies have had annual or semi-annual gatherings, so they could all meet up and have some face time with each other. Because of COVID, they haven't been able to do that.


Even though they're remote companies, we all understand that it's important to build relationships and meet each other face to face. How do you think that companies can emulate or get the most out of that experience that they would have otherwise gotten in person at these annual conventions.


Ali: [00:28:41] It's a really good question. I love co-working retreats. I'm planning one personally. I was chatting with Scott about this before the podcast started. I've planned co-working retreats for companies I've worked with and just groups of friends in the past. So while I'm strongly opinionated about the benefits of remote work, you cannot replicate the vibes and feeling you get from meeting up in person. So, when the world is open to travel and people on a team feel safe, I think there's lots of amazing reasons to invest in face time. That doesn't necessarily mean invest in an office in a hybrid strategy.


This is something we did at DuckDuckGo, co-workation retreats. Where people could bring their friends or family. We had a group of people go to Machu Picchu and they worked together all week. And then they went and had this amazing experience hiking to Machu Picchu on the weekend. Not because they all worked on the same team, but because they all had shared interests.


And so it's a way to connect and build community internally. I couldn't make it. I had already hiked Machu Picchu, but I was a little jealous after I saw the pictures.


Scott: [00:29:47] You could have been the guide.


Tevi: [00:29:48] such a cool idea.


Ali: [00:29:49] Yeah, I could have been the guide. It would have been great. I organized early on in my career DuckDuckGo. This was amazing because it was the first time that this type of retreat happened. A cross functional retreat in Japan, where we had an employee living and working. We're all working remotely, but can you imagine working remotely from this time zone? And you're a non-technical person working for a pretty technical job.


So in all these ways, you're teaching the rest of the company, what it feels like to be coming from a different perspective. And having people go through that lived experience, I think creates a lot of empathy. Because then people realize "Oh, when we schedule meetings that work for four people but don't work for the fifth, do we know how painful it could be for that fifth? If they're in Asia and we’re all in California, for example. So yeah, I'm going off on a tangent but meeting up in person obviously has its benefits.


But while you can't do that for the time being, I think it's an interesting question. One thing that has really bothered me during the pandemic is this idea of replicating in real life experiences, remotely. Without any consideration of how it translates. I guess at first, it was exciting to have zoom happy hours or zoom parties with people.


But let's be honest it's a little awkward. Especially if you're doing it with coworkers that you don't know that well. It's awkward with my friends and family, so definitely awkward with my coworkers. I dunno, if you have those experiences as well.


Tevi: [00:31:17] So there's two; one was a family experience. My son was Bar Mitzvah this year and he's a really great kid. We felt terrible we had to cancel the Bar Mitzvah. But we did the best we could to make it fun. So I set up two zoom stations in the house. One was recording everything in a different room. Which wouldn't pick up our audio if we were muted. Which allowed us to be on the main camera where we could mute ourselves in certain scenarios where someone else was talking. We set up a whole nice on camera.


I made like ribs. I would never have done ribs for an entire Bar Mitzvah. But for our family, I could do that. We went a little over the top for just the family. And we had people all over the world across 10 times zones attending. Which is pretty cool.


So we did get to connect in ways that we wouldn't have otherwise, but it wasn't the same. On the work front, I saw a Mural had a very interesting thing where they sent out gift baskets of random objects. They created a scavenger hunt for the whole company. They tried to get these little boxes of random items delivered to every single person in the company before the event.


They're like, "Don't open the box." Then at the event, announced, "Alright, now open your box." Everyone had a different assortment and they were supposed to use those objects to go through the scavenger hunt. They broke off into breakout rooms.


That was a very interesting way to bring the real world into it. With those assortment of objects that were mailed out. And they actually encountered seeing how someone in a far-flung area might have a different experience. They had issues getting certain packages to certain people because they were so remote.


Ali: [00:32:45] Customs takes longer. You to pay for it to come in and things like that. It's interesting. Those experiences that are virtual they're not directly replicating an in real experience. So they all have a tangent that's unique to the goal that's being driven.

So with the Bar Mitzvah, setting up those different areas, was an intentional thought by you. How do I make the tools work for me? With the scavenger hunt, let's give someone something tactical that they can open and create that delight and level of surprise.


So I think what's an important lesson here is instead let's mirror this experience and put it online how can we cater to remote experiences in a different way that gets you the same goal? So if you start asking very specific questions, like what do people want to do? How do they want to spend their time? Then you can start to discover a whole team is super interested in doing a cooking class. And then you can post the pictures of the end product on Slack. If the leader or CEO of team is doing it, then there's this level of buy-in and excitement. It's not forced.


Especially during a pandemic, I don't think anyone wants forced fun. So I love companies that are being creative with interest based employee groups. And breaking things up into what are people struggling with? Give them an opportunity to create that psychological safety online by connecting with the employees that are going through the same thing. Like childcare and remote work, or getting people together purposefully in a company because they have shared interests. Like taking an online yoga class together or doing a cooking class together.


It's way deeper than just these fun virtual experiences. It's really about how do we get people to know what the behaviors are at work that should be rewarded and celebrated and build trust with each other. I think you can go back to the basics and do some of that stuff remotely without putting too much glamor or shine on it.


It comes down to, how you create a culture where people are allowed to be vulnerable. To show up as themselves. Teaching managers the skills to create that safe space for people to do that. Prompt them with certain questions that will offer a level of self-awareness that everyone can share with each other.


So I love like people kickoffs where people ask each other, "How do you like to work? When are you most productive? If you get a random Slack message without a lot of details, what do you feel when you experienced that? Does it give you anxiety? Does it give you excitement to talk to one of your colleagues? Or it doesn't make you nervous because you don't know what they want from you." I think that's how you start building culture on remote teams.


Scott: [00:35:24] I want to pull that out and your point before, about the one face per zoom. Is it possible to do hybrid team engagement? Many companies did these virtual happy hours. So I'll use that as an example. Once people go to the hybrid model, just imagine yourself sitting in their remote, behind a screen, and you see the company kitchen with 50, 60 people in there.


They're drinking, they're eating, they're schmoozing. They're having fun. And you're sitting there home alone behind your screen. Totally disconnected. You'll need to either do totally separate type engagements. So you have your office people and they do their in the office engagements and separately you do the remote option.


Because the two don't seem that they can overlap with each other. Because once you're having that in real life experience together and another one, you're doing it virtually. So is there the ability to do hybrid team engagement?


Ali: [00:36:14] What's the point? Why are you trying to do that? I don't know a good answer that I would be convinced by. Because if it's to build relationships, then give people an opportunity to build relationships throughout an entire week. Not at this one singular activity. If it's to celebrate something important, like a milestone in the company, or celebrate the hard work of a team, what will actually motivate the employees on that team? Is it this hybrid experience, or is it other ways of feeling recognized and motivated at work?


So I love this theory by David McClelland. He's an organizational psychology person and he talks about three needs at work. Which are basically like the need for affiliation. I think these are the people that are gonna be more motivated by hybrid structures or in-office structures. Especially if they don't have a strong community where they're currently living. Because their motivation comes from interacting and engaging with other people.


So maybe like that group of people, they want to travel into an office for this big celebration. Awesome. But the other people, instead of joining that remotely, what else could they be motivated by? Maybe they just want that recognition, that status, that knowing that they've achieved something great.


Having an announcement at all hands and sending them a personalized, thank you could get that same thing done. The third need is a need for power. Maybe they just need to know that they have control over their schedule. Their recognition comes from having clear ownership of a project that does really well and they can have that be known and celebrated internally.


So instead of thinking about how do we make something in person also work for remote? Why are you trying to do that? I really want companies to think about the budgets they have available for this and think about what else could we do? And so I think this idea of community outside of work is something that's going to be really important for People Ops and leaders to talk about as remote continues. Because we talk a lot about building a community within work, and then you want to get together in the office and celebrate people. But what if you're using that money as a company to help your employees build a community where they choose to live and then increase benefits to support that.


So instead of having a party remotely, or alongside having a party remotely, there's budgets for people to have a celebration in their local community. Invite others. They get to know about your company, your product. Maybe you get to learn things from those people, as well. So there's an element of community building. And there's an element of evangelizing your brand and product in new communities. There's an element of learning and development. Because you can learn so much from people that aren't your coworkers.


Tevi: [00:38:55] Once again, being intentional.


Ali: [00:38:58] Yeah. A hundred percent.


Tevi: [00:39:00] So last question for you, Ali. Here's an opportunity to be a little bit visionary. What do you think the future of the office should be? What is the ideal office after COVID and everybody can go onsite somewhere together?


Ali: [00:39:12] Thinking about the future of an office for one company becomes challenging because are you going to have an office in every major hub that you have employees? Are you going to have one core HQ? So I think it opens up this can of worms. When we talk about remote and the benefits on you can be in more markets where your consumers are. You can have global talent.


Okay. Then what is the future of offices? Offices become almost like a private public partnership in communities and urban spaces. So I think a lot about urban spaces in colder climates in winter seasons. There's not a lot of free places for people to go and connect with others in the community.


So what if all of these buildings that are in New York, Chicago, Detroit become public private partnerships. To encourage cross-company collaboration. Anyone who works in engineering or design in this city can go and work here. And the different companies that still have a stake in that business can use it as a way to promote their brand, to host, sponsored events, to host their clients, to create additional experiences, not just for their employees, but entire communities.


I don't know if that's too idealistic, but I think that will be incredibly interesting as we see movement of people from cities to suburban or rural areas continue. I also think because of that, the actual design of buildings will need to change. So instead of it being one company's brand everywhere, how can cities celebrate the successful brands and companies that exist?

What does that look like? And I think having more rooms for private meetings rooms for deeper collaboration, easy systems to drop in and have it be hygienic and safe. Bringing indoor and outdoor. I like the dichotomy of inclusive and exclusive. You want it to be inclusive to a whole community, not just one company.


You want it to be inclusive of like bringing in nature, outdoor space, and natural light. So people want to spend time in that office instead of it being like, "Oof, I have to go work there, that sucks." So I think as we evolve thinking more about design, thinking more about collaboration between different segments of governments and business, and thinking more about collaboration between community and companies is going to be really important.


Tevi: [00:41:35] Very cool. I love how you keep bringing up community and you're right. There's a good opportunity to be a place for not just the employees themselves. I think it'd be interesting, how we have a Starbucks in every corner in the United States, if there was a Facebook office in every city. Or all these big companies that exist, if they shut down their main corporate headquarters and simply had small offices everywhere. Where people could come together and have brainstorm sessions, network, go to some classes, or simply understand more about the company. Not just as a place for the employees to drop in and work, or have a meeting with other coworkers every now and then. I think that's really interesting idea.


Scott: [00:42:14] I agree with both. If any of the executives of Starbucks are listening to this, your next billion dollar ideas to convert some of your Starbucks stores into co-working spaces. I think the future is going to be much more around micro spaces all over the place versus the big office spaces. Even on the co-working side.


I definitely love the idea of community and to not being a central office for just one company versus a space for lots of different companies. The two things that I see are one, it being much more focused on team building and team engagement. Not doing work. It's a place where you come in a couple of hours.


The comeback of the ping pong tables into culture fits within this. It's a place you come in, you hang out with your team. You have a little ping pong tournament with with the people you work with. You have a good time and then you go home and that's when you do the good work.


If you need to have those whiteboard sessions that's great for that type of space or the opportunity to do the team building. The other thought that I have. it's changing the whole design. Getting away from these open office spaces to more coffee shop style. Small tables, more intimate. Again, having that opportunity where you can sit with somebody, sit with a couple of people over a cup of coffee and really build those relationships and collaboration. Versus your spread out offices. Your conference room over here, your desks over there.

Those are my thoughts of where officers are going.


Ali: [00:43:31] I just think what's really exciting about this time is that with each answer, more questions open up. And each question is an opportunity for leaders to make intentional decisions around what work looks like. Not just where people go, but how they get it done as well.


And so that's what I'm really excited for in the future.


Scott: [00:43:53] I think we are able to solve the question for the future. That companies should, without a doubt, get away from a hybrid. If they make a mistake and they don't listen to the experts on the show, understanding that the culture and the experiences need to be redesigned with intention to be built around the remote experience.


As always, we would love to hear from our listeners. If you're a leader or if you're an employee who's thinking about going with the hybrid model, we would love to hear from you. Ali, again, thank you so much for your expertise. Thank you so much for your thoughts. And until the next episode everybody.


Ali: [00:44:26] Have a nice day, everyone.

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