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Creating a Work-From-Anywhere Approach That Works for Everyone

Kawee Wateesatogkij Alamy Stock Photo.jpg

Image: Kawee Wateesatogkij - Alamy Stock Photo
When the concept of work from anywhere (WFA) comes to mind, I typically think of the extremes first – employees working out of campers thousands of miles from corporate headquarters; from swanky beach-side restaurants or cafes, at the top of mountains, and even off the sides of cliffs. While the technology is certainly there to support an individual working in these locations, workplace leaders should ask themselves: Is unfettered WFA truly the best and most conducive working style for all employees, their teams, and the larger enterprise?
This question came to me when I was on a video call and one of the participants chose to multitask – coming on to the call late, then staying on while they hailed a taxi, talked to the cab driver, went across town, then decamped to an office. The distractions from the call outweighed the benefits of work-anywhere dial-ins.
While this might be a much tamer version of WFA – certainly no dangling from the side of a mountain – it highlighted one potential issue within our current working model: What do you do when one employee’s working situation becomes a distraction to everyone else’s working environment? Similarly, how do you ensure that WFA sets up all participants for success and not those that it’s best suited for?
Creating an Equitable Work Experience Isn’t Just About Tech
When it comes to creating fair, equitable, and ideally distraction-free work experiences, a big focus has been placed on the technology side of things and how the latest AI-based meeting technology can bridge the gap between in-person and remote meeting participants. Many video conferencing technology providers, including device maker Poly, offer features that take a single video stream from the conference room and split it into multiple video streams for those in the meeting remote. This allows individual meeting participants to have their own video window within the video meeting experience, effectively making the in-office meeting experience mimic the remote one.
And for those employees working in a distracting location, a simple background filter and mute button should do the trick.
But is this really creating an equal meeting and work experience?
As anyone who has had a hybrid meeting in the last month can attest, there is no real illusion that those in-office and those at home are truly having the same experiences. Even if the video feeds to and from the office and remote employees are impeccable, that’s only one facet of the meeting and work experience. For instance, in-office meeting participants might be given preferential treatment over remote employees when it comes to getting their questions answered or might be able to build better relationships with leadership, which were common critiques of remote work before the pandemic. On the flip side, remote employees might be able to keep up with in-meeting chat conversations better, as the full meeting experience is often within a single interface.
HR and IT Working Together Towards A Better WFA Model
Technology has a key role in supporting WFA, but "here's what the tech can do" shouldn't drive company policy on hybrid work. In order to be more equitable, workplace leaders need to craft thoughtful policies to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to be productive. In other words, WFA needs some guardrails.
In a recent HR Daily Advisor article, Dana Eisen Ezov, VP of HR for ControlUp, stressed how HR professionals need to be “intentional” in ensuring that remote employees don’t become isolated, especially for newcomers to an organization. She goes on to write that one way that they can do this in part by enabling IT to support WFA employees, which can include employee support for home offices, internet, and cell phone services.
To further support employees, HR professionals might also need to develop a more "people-centric" approach to their HR strategy, as Nish Parikh, CEO and co-founder of Rangam Consultants shared in this Forbes article. One way to accomplish this is by hosting regular sessions on work, social interaction, and emotional support where employees can have an open dialogue with leaders across the organization, Parikh added. Presumably, in these sessions, HR leaders will hear from employees who can give their honest assessment of how WFA is currently going and if anything needs to be tweaked. This kind of HR initiative can serve as one of the guardrails to ensure WFA doesn't devolve into a free for all.
In its truest form, WFA and workplace flexibility should cater to all types of employees … the extrovert in-office worker, the introvert at-home worker, the ambivert hybrid worker, and so on and so on. However, this doesn’t mean that WFA environments, including the work done in offices, should be without some norms. By blending the discipline and expertise of HR and IT departments (and facilities management, primarily for the in-person component), workplaces can find what guardrails might make sense for their organization and inch closer to that equitable, more collaborative workplace of the future that we often hear so much about.