The Future of Remote Work
April 7, 2022
Annie Dean is the VP of Team Anywhere at Atlassian, a software company that builds collaborative software. Her role is to execute their distributed work strategy which allows her to get back to the type of client she’s served throughout her career as a lawyer, founder and consultant. Prior to Atlassian, Annie worked as the Director of Remote Work at Facebook (now Meta).

There she designed and executed the global strategy for remote work as well as their portfolio of future of work offerings. The experience gave her an incredible opportunity to develop those strategies in the context of a very high-scale organization. Annie was also the Co-founder and Co-CEO of Werk was acquired by The Mom Project in 2020 and has since been rebranded to WerkLabs. At Werk, her team raised more than $5M in venture capital from top funds and served the world's biggest and most innovative companies such as Apple, Amex, Airbnb. Their research and thought leadership were featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Google's re:Work, CNBC's Squawk Box, CheddarTV, Marie Claire and Glamour.

Where we began - The pandemic

Let's talk about how things progressed throughout the pandemic. The pandemic's disruption initiated the mass work from home mandate. For me, that meant staying up until three o'clock in the morning creating training materials to prepare CEOs to turn their in-office companies into temporarily remote companies in a very short period of time. In those early days, people were afraid but confident. It was evident from our conversations that there was a recognition that this was a one-way door. On some level, we understood that the behaviors acquired during a presumed short transition would be adopted on a permanent basis.

A trend of lifting and shifting

There was a bit of a shift in leadership that created a large diversion. People recognized that this was a health and safety crisis, so leaders were willing to get on board. But at the time, CEOs were coming out and providing vastly different perspectives. Some said it would be a huge real estate savings opportunity. Others said they would go forward toward a more inclusive world of work. And others said they would go back to the office the moment they could because they couldn't develop talent under remote circumstances. To an extent, that division still remains.

As the pandemic continued, we saw the Great Resignation take place. Talent began to vote with their feet and only entertained offers from companies that allowed them to embrace the flexibility that comes with the future of work.

Talent began to vote with their feet and only entertained offers from companies that allowed them to embrace the flexibility that comes with the future of work.

How we move forward with future of work policies

The first stage of restructuring our workplaces was about approving and setting up talent strategies and then transforming businesses to make these talent strategies work at scale and in the long-term. With the Delta variant and the Omicron variants disrupting the return to office strategies, companies then recognized that variants were likely to continue to come up and that as a result they needed to have a much more fluid and flexible approach to the future of work.

Now, as we transition from being talent-focused to business-focused, we need to address all the limiting factors: government regulations, technologies and behaviors. All three of those categories are enormously complex as we think about creating these business transformations.

The terminology

  • Remote work is the ability to be free from an office in general and work from an approved remote location.
  • Office-based work includes flexible or hybrid options.
  • Flexible and hybrid options involve being able to sometimes work from the office and sometimes from an approved location outside of the office.
  • Work from anywhere can be likened to Choose Your Own Adventure. One can choose their location on a more ad hoc basis.
  • Return to office (RTO) is the health and safety process of getting people back into the office full time.

Every company has to define further what those options look like for them and how to implement them, get their leadership on board, build new technology and establish new behaviors.

Key limiting factor #1: Government Regulations

When we think about government regulations, we think about permanent establishment and a corporation's relationship with a country to be taxed. In terms of employment law and payroll taxes, there are probably 21 different compliance-oriented governmental restrictions that make working from anywhere extraordinarily difficult.

If you see in the press, a new company has adopted a work from anywhere policy, and then a few weeks later, that company starts to walk it back. It's because they realize they don't actually want to establish a corporate taxable relationship with places like the Bahamas, Macedonia or Croatia - places that people want to work from because of their beautiful scenery.

You'll hear people ask about digital nomad visas, and we just don't have the tools or laws to make this type of transient feasible right now. Digital nomad visas give individual contributors the right to work in a country they aren't a citizen of. But it doesn't take care of any of the tax consequences for the corporation, which are some of the most complex, burdensome and costly ways that a corporation would need to establish itself.

Every company has to define further what work will look like for them and how to implement it, get their leadership on board, build new technology and establish new behaviors.

Key limiting factor #2: Technologies

We have great but somewhat disaggregated technologies. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack are a few examples. These collaboration technologies allow us to start making work happen primarily online, but they're fragmented and don't represent the whole workflow.

That means pieces of work can be done online, but not all of it. That creates an enormous collaboration tax, where people are spending more hours on getting work done than they need to because they don't yet have the technology to make all work happen online.

Key limiting factor #3: Behaviors

There are many problematic behaviors related to how we manage work that happens in a predominantly online space. A profound behavioral dynamic found amongst leaders is a concept called proximity bias. It is when leaders reward certain behaviors based on those they are physically near. It can be extraordinarily disruptive to those who need access to remote, hybrid and flexible work.

Just like every other kind of unconscious bias, this is something that we need to be conscious about identifying within ourselves. We must continue to rectify and learn about it so that we do not create a two-class system of people in the office and people outside the office.

The future of performance reviews

We know that people need to spend less time working. And that means more priorities and more efficient work. The collaboration tax showed that people spent 20% more time working in the pandemic, and extreme burnout was noticed across all industries. Therefore, we want to encourage prioritization and KPI-driven work without over-rotating so that we can still reward creativity and innovation.

The impact that has on culture and camaraderie

In this digital world, it is critical for people to feel connected. Based on Atlassian's research, those behaviors will be vital. Remote work has impacted our culture and camaraderie, but technology can be utilized to facilitate connection.

Remote work has impacted our culture and camaraderie, but technology can be utilized to facilitate connection.

Building a new world of work

How do we build a world of work where work is always accessed online. That would mean having a setup where everyone can collaborate effectively and drive business value regardless of location. To encourage that environment, we need to incentivize anti-proximity bias by rewarding inclusive and native collaboration behaviors. Intentionally discovering and aligning to these new behaviors will be critical.



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