Over the past 18 months, companies all over the world have shifted to working remotely. Even though distributed work is here to stay for many teams, our research indicates that only 21% of companies are prepared to hire and maintain talent globally.
At our recent webinar co-hosted by Andela and Jellyfish, engineering thought leaders gathered to talk about how the pandemic shifted ways of working remotely and how this impacts business, culture, and productivity. Moderated by Andrew Lau, CEO of Jellyfish, the panel included Stuart Mills, VP, Trailhead & Ecosystem EMEA at Salesforce, Jeff Allen, Senior Director of Global Grooming Engineering at Procter & Gamble, David Bautista, Director of Product at Change Machine, and Ben Schmidtke, Senior Software Engineer & Tech Lead at Disney Streaming Services.
If you missed the panel or want a quick refresher, dive into some key insights below and download the whole recording here.
Andrew Lau: Does your company plan to allow remote work after the pandemic?
Jeff Allen: There are certain jobs that you need to be in the office to do, and there are others you can do from wherever you want. We have a large manufacturing line at P&G, so many of our facilities need to be in person. However, for some non-essential functions, we’re doing a hybrid model.
Ben Schmidtke: Before the world changed, we were already in a hybrid model. I’ve been a remote employee for as long as I’ve been with Disney. I’ve worked with some of my colleagues for 8-10 years and we’ve never met in person, but we are a very collaborative workforce.
Stuart Mills: We’re calling it ‘fully flex.’ We’ve always had quite a remote team. Now, we’re really thinking deeply about ‘what does flexibility mean?’ We’re trying to discourage people from just going into the office by default, and instead make going in a deliberate choice for the purpose of building social connections or doing collaborative, innovative work.
Andrew Lau: What’s changed in your business?
David Bautista: Traditionally, we’ve had a tech side and a direct services side. People would come into the offices for financial coaching or service management, and now that things are remote, we can serve a much bigger community. The flip side of that is that the work we do is very personal and you lose a lot of those close relationships when things are remote. In tech, there’s a lot of interest in building tools that can help facilitate those virtual relationships.
Ben Schmidtke: There’s good and bad. It was really interesting to launch a major platform (Disney+) during a pandemic. From that point of view, things are really good, and for our seasoned remote workers, this was a no brainer. On the other hand, the change to remote work for our in-office employees had a big impact on the organization. As a result, a lot of internal things started up, like remote work channels to help people deal with working from home.
Stuart Mills: It changed everything and now we’re really evaluating what it means to work virtually for the good of our business going forward. Some things haven’t changed, however, like innovating together in person is generally faster and more fun. The question now is, when the pandemic goes away and we’re living in a moment when working remotely is a positive choice, how does that change?
Andrew Lau: Let’s talk about culture.
Ben Schmidtke: We have a very healthy remote working culture that’s been around for a very long time. For remote workers, a lot of our day-to-day has stayed the same, which has been really nice because it provided some stability for the people who did have to transition from office to remote. We were then able to support the group that had to transition.
Jeff Allen: We run an annual culture survey and our culture scores have actually gone up. We’ve leaned really hard into the mental health aspects of working remotely. The manager-to-employee relationship has been a key focus, as has listening to employees, etc. We all know this is tough and I think this has increased the level of empathy across our whole organization.
David Bautista: We’ve always had a very collaborative culture and that’s translated into everyone having a lot of meetings. We’ve been really mindful of how we conduct meetings and changed their structure and timing. However, we try to actively consider if a meeting could be an email or working asynchronously instead. We’re also mindful of camera optional policies because screen fatigue is a real thing.
Stuart Mills: We don’t have all the answers regarding wellness in remote culture. We’ve been checking in through surveys, wellness reimbursements, mental health kits and monitoring how those things are utilized. We’re figuring out how to ride the line between employee surveillance and actually helping our employees.
Andrew Lau: How do you measure productivity now?
Stuart Mills: Our company was built to be very focused on measures so we can stay informed and be deliberate. During the pandemic, we didn’t just watch sales numbers but looked at inputs and whether people were engaged. When it comes to productivity beyond that, we remain very focused on outcomes. We don’t want to look at time cards and all that.
David Bautista: We ask, “how do we assign value to what’s going in?” We’re experimenting with story points or sprints for the developers, and seeing if we can also use that approach for non-tech positions. We estimate the overall level of effort required to complete tasks to gauge how a team is doing. It’s a lot harder in the remote world, so we’re trying to establish a more structured way of managing workload.
Andrew Lau: What’s your opinion of the hybrid work model?
Ben Schmidtke: I think there are pros and cons to both. I think some employees really benefit from being in an office situation. Then, for others, it’s perfectly fine being remote as long as people have the appropriate structure in place to support them. If there are weaknesses in your management tier, it really starts to show when people are in remote situations.
Jeff Allen: I have mixed feelings about hybrid because the human brain hasn’t evolved to make authentic connections with one another over video. Who gets promoted in a company is often personal and based on relationships. It becomes substantially more difficult when you can’t see people in person. When you have this kind of dynamic, you have a bunch of biases that become exacerbated. That doesn’t make it wrong, it makes it reality—remote doesn’t help break down those barriers.
David Bautista: Say one of your team members lives with their family and can’t work in person as much as someone who wants to come to the office 5 days a week. A bias can develop where you think one person is working more because you see them more often. It has to boil down to the data that makes it easier to separate out biases.
The other consideration is what does ‘flex’ mean? Some teams are going to need to be in the office more than, say, the tech team. Make sure that you’re not setting one flex policy for the whole organization but creating something catered to each team’s needs.
Download the entire on-demand webinar “Establishing Remote Maturity in a Post-Pandemic Workforce with Salesforce, Disney Streaming, P&G, Change Machine, and Jellyfish” here.