Challenges and benefits of working in a hybrid-remote setting

Why it is worth overcoming the culture and collaboration challenges in a hybrid-remote setting to unlock productivity, cost savings, and global hiring.

Ever since the pandemic started, remote work has been adopted at a crazy pace all around the world. Today, organizations don't ask themselves whether remote work will continue to impact our lives post-pandemic but rather to what extend. As we at Acapela were a hybrid-remote company from the beginning, we have had our fair share of learnings in the past. However, before we jump into the experienced benefits and challenges of hybrid-remote teams, we created a short recap of the three major work settings so we're all on the same terminology.

Recap - 3 major work settings:

  1. Fully remote: There are no office spaces and all employees work in a fully remote capacity.

  2. Hybrid-remote:

    a. There are office spaces. All employees live in close proximity to the office and can decide whether they want to work at the office or at home.

    b. There are office spaces. Some employees live in close proximity to the office and go there daily. Some employees don't live in close proximity to the office and are fully remote.

    c. There are office spaces. Some employees live in close proximity to the office and can decide if they want to work at the office or at home. Some employees don't live in close proximity to the office and are fully remote.

  3. Fully onsite: There are office spaces and all employees work there.

For further context: Acapela has office spaces; some employees live in Berlin, Germany, and go to our HQ during some days of the week; some employees don't live in close proximity to the office (Poland, Estonia, USA) and are fully remote.

Challenges of a hybrid-remote setting

Before diving into the challenges, we should stress that these can be avoided and overcome if the company implements processes countering these potential pitfalls. If you're curious about how to do this, there is another blog post already waiting for you.

  1. Remote employees have worse access to information
    Most companies transitioning to a hybrid-remote work setting haven't been fully remote before but rather fully onsite. This means that informal office chats and random meetings exist to share information and develop culture. In a setting where not every employee is present all the time, information sharing can be a challenge that can eventually lead to confusion, frustration, and eventually underperformance.

  2. The onsite experience dictates the culture
    Hybrid-remote employees often have a suboptimal experience when it comes to bonding with other team members. This can lead to onsite vs remote struggles where co-workers might pass over their counterparts for promotions or development opportunities. Additionally, companies that build culture primarily in the office have a hard time offering remote workers an equal experience when it comes to physical perks and benefits.

  3. The feeling of being lonely and forgotten
    During the pandemic, almost everybody felt somewhat disconnected from their co-workers - imagine that for the rest of your career but nobody noticing it. Although a situation like this is definitely a two-way street, remote workers have a harder time expressing their mood as they are not surrounded by people all the time which makes it easier to hide when they are feeling bad and harder for co-workers to notice if something is going on.

Benefits of a hybrid-remote setting

After reading through the challenges you're probably quite doubtful whether hybrid-remote makes sense at all, but bear with us. Although there the challenges should definitely be taken seriously, they can get overcome when the right processes are in place. And then, the only thing left to do is to enjoy the significant benefits of hybrid-remote.

  1. Productivity gains through uninterrupted working time
    Being in the office is great for connecting with other people or having a change of scenery from a remote setup. However, if a deadline is closing in quicker than anticipated it helps to work from home and thereby having no commute and no co-workers pulling you into a random meeting or social event.

  2. Better access to talent due to flexibility and an increased talent pool
    Every company is made up of the employees that work there. Attracting, hiring, and retaining employees is crucial to every business. Companies offering more flexibility to their employees not only have a much bigger pool to hire from but also attract much more diverse candidates which is crucial for every team's decision-making and cultural setup.

  3. Cost savings resulting from reduced office space
    For an early-stage startup, the business case deriving the savings in office space from having a hybrid-remote work setting exists but is obviously limited. However, as the company scales, cost savings become increasingly apparent. For bigger companies, it will be much more enlightening - to put a number in your head: Capgemini's remote workforce survey showed that expected real-estate cost savings due to remote working will range between 20% and 48% across all industries in the next 2-3 years.

Final thoughts

Having these challenges and benefits in mind and continuing to experience and iterate on our work setting while talking to other teams, we believe that in the future all companies will start offering some variation of hybrid-remote to their employees. Prominent tech companies such as Coinbase, Dropbox, Figma, Spotify, and many others are already championing this evolution, and established corporates such as Siemens and most recently Deutsche Bank are also pulling along. Given the added complexity of a hybrid-remote work setting, we at Acapela figured that teams around the globe need tooling to facilitate this new way of working. If you're interested in what we are building, have a look at our website and reach out if you have any questions or want to discuss the future of work.

The power of asynchronous communication

What we can learn from companies working in a fully remote setup for years

The shift to remote work caused by the pandemic has been one of the most profound changes in the workplace in the last decades. While for some of us this felt like an emergency landing on a different planet, others simply carried on. 

Companies like Gitlab, Automattic, and Zapier have been working in a fully remote setup for years (in some cases even forever). One thing all-remote companies rely on? Async communication.

We took a closer look at how async communication helped their teams navigate the challenges of team collaboration in a remote setting. So that one day we hopefully can all fully enjoy the benefits of working remotely!

Here are 5 reasons why async proved to be so powerful:

1. Autonomous Work Flow

When collaboration isn’t tied to a specific time and location, discussions can continue at any time of day or night. Especially for organizations operating across time zones, multiple discussions can be underway simultaneously operating 24/7 for days, weeks, or even months. Free of time constraints, team members have the autonomy to decide when they want to participate while still being mindful of deadlines. They also can determine themselves when they want to focus for long periods of uninterrupted time to produce quality work. Especially for working parents, being able to avoid a strict 9:00 to 5:00 allows for a heightened sense of work-life balance.

2. Fewer Annoyances of Sync Meetings

Sync meetings are and always have been time-consuming. Since working from home they have contributed to a new problem: Zoom fatigue. With async collaboration, everyone can contribute when it suits them. There will no longer be any timing issues, meetings running overtime, or people being late. Tech problems, such as slow internet or sharing functions not working won’t be able to slow down teamwork. Neither will last-minute cancellations. Imagine never sitting uselessly in a meeting again feeling like you’re wasting your time.

3. Encouraging Thoughtfulness

Our hyper-connected society has increased expectations to be always available. When cooperating asynchronously, it is not expected of you to be always “at your desk” and ready to immediately respond to your team members. Thoughtfulness is prioritized over urgency in async workflows. Instead of feeling the pressure to produce an immediate response, team members are given a chance to digest and think about a response before hitting send. Reactive responses are often not your best, anyways.

4. Creating a Knowledge Base

Asynchronous communication keeps an archived record of all conversations and decision-making that is automatically digitized. The documentation produced from asynchronous communication is also more efficient than in synchronous environments where notes must be created while the message is being received. While tedious and time-consuming in the short-term, the long-term benefits of documentation can be scaled as it is revisited time and time again. Because everything is documented, anyone in the company can ask to peer into meetings to gain the context needed to fulfill their role at any time.

5. Diversity & Inclusion

When communicating asynchronously, organizations are able to operate with flexibility and empower geographically dispersed teams. Want to work in a different city than the one your company is headquartered in? Go for it. When team members are able to communicate across physical and social boundaries the potential for increased diversity among teams presents itself. This means that organizations can recruit talent outside of the location of their headquarters without feeling “blocked” by physical distance. Furthermore, asynchronous communication levels the playing field e.g. by raising the voices of introverts or enabling working parents to circumvent a strict 9:00 to 5:00 schedule making the work environment more inclusive.

It’s been over 12 months since teams have been on a quest to find the right set-up and mode of collaborating. By now, we all know that remote is here to stay. Even if not all companies will be fully remote, most companies will have some sort of hybrid setup after the pandemic has ended.

Whether a team is fully remote or in a hybrid setup, the tools and systems that need to be in place don't differ much. Async collaboration has become the gold standard for remote teams and should be for hybrid teams as well. With Acapela, we’re on a mission to build the next-generation collaboration platform for remote and hybrid teams. We believe it’s finally time to end your meetings before they start! 

Pssst 🤫 You can sign up for early access here.

Make Teamwork Feel Like Music

Where the Acapela brand comes from and what it means to us

The Acapela B(r)and

Everybody loves music. We do, too. (Even Donald Trump thinks everybody loves music). Music has a positive effect on how we do things. It can push us, calm us down, or help us focus. It gets us into "the zone" just by listening to it. Many musicians even get into "the zone" when making music. It’s a flow activity.

So, when Heiki and I started building tools to make team collaboration better and more delightful, we immediately thought of names related to music. We came up with a bunch of different ideas. Polyphone, Impro, Jive, Cadence. Not good enough. How about Acapella? Acapella definitely struck a chord with us. As we looked into more audio-focused features like voice notes and voice messaging, the name began to make even more sense. Because there are different ways of writing the word in different languages, we decided to go for the simplified "Acapela" (conveniently, we were also able to get the .com domain for that...).



Music and Teamwork

Choosing a name for your product is never easy and very often, there is a point when you question your decision. However, with Acapela this has not been the case. It was rather the opposite experience: ever since picking the name, we have discovered even more connections between the worlds of music and work. 

For instance, both are often best done in a team. Sure, Lang Lang is a great solo pianist and Einstein's work on relativity is mind-blowing. But for some things, you just need more people. How about performing Bohemian Rhapsody at Wembley or landing a rover on Mars? As a consequence of this collaborative aspect of music, there is a common language describing music and teamwork: "Let's have a jam session." "We have to find the right rhythm." "It feels out of tune." "That's the right cadence."

Music Principles for Work

This language connection of music and teamwork is great and lends itself to many comparisons. We asked ourselves if it’s possible to take it one step further. Ideally, could we derive some principles from the world of music to improve the way we work? Could those ideas help us build better tools for team collaboration? Here are some of our thoughts:

Like in music, in teamwork you want to have the right people in the right role: someone providing the beat, someone responsible for creative parts, and someone leading the whole band.

When thinking of team composition it’s crucial to have the right people in the room - or in our case, in Acapela. To collaborate productively, the setup must empower the right number of people to play together nicely, so that everyone finds the part matching their skills. For instance, it’s difficult to imagine The Beatles having six band members or John Lennon playing the drums.

Like in music, in teamwork you need to find the right balance between playing nicely together and giving enough space for an amazing solo from time to time. 

Thinking of a band or orchestra playing together as a metaphor for teamwork, there should be time for individuals to shine. Very often, everyone on a team has their distinct super powers. There must be enough uninterrupted time for these virtuosos to do deep work, i.e. their solos. Keeping the right balance between collaboration time and focus time is crucial for each team member. For Acapela, this is an integral part of our mission. We want to enable remote and hybrid teams to have more focus time while staying connected with asynchronous meetings.

Like in music, in teamwork you don't want to have everyone playing the same tune. You want people to play different, individual tunes that fit well together.

When talking about meetings, playing the same tune equates to having the same opinion as everyone else or blindly following the most actively voiced opinion. Team dynamics are crucially important for the outcome and the decisions made. Whether it's because of groupthink, power dynamics or personality factors (e.g. extroverts vs. introverts), there are many reasons why the greatest ideas sometimes do not come out on top. With asynchronous conversations, Acapela helps to mitigate these influences by providing a more level playing field.

Make Teamwork Feel Like Music

For many people, a brand is just a name. It has to sound good. It should be easily recognizable and the logo should look nice. For us, it’s much more. Ultimately, it touches the core of what we’re trying to achieve with Acapela. How can we enable teams to work together more effectively, ideally achieving a flow state in their collaboration? How can we bring back more joy into their working lives? Can we make teamwork feel more like music?

Thanks for reading. For a sneak peak of what we’re working on, visit www.acapela.com. Stay tuned.

Roland 

(Founder, Acapela)

What is asynchronous communication?

In the past decades, employees typically traveled to offices to work together. This in-person work environment primed synchronous collaboration - when two or more parties meet at the same time, normally in the same location, face-to-face, over the phone, or on video. 

As the world has gone remote in 2020, teams were forced to deal with team members not sitting right next to each other or even adjusting to collaborate with co-workers in completely different time zones. Since the complexity of work doesn’t decrease when people are remote, workers have had to find new ways to fit the same amount of work in less synchronous time. Therefore, mastering workflows asynchronously has been a topic catapulted in companies’ daily workflows when trying to maintain productivity during the pandemic. Asynchronous communication is the art of communicating without the need for the other team members to be available at the same time and place. For instance, sending a message to a colleague on the other side of the globe updating them about progress and receiving an answer when they start working again.

The status quo of remote work

As the workforce becomes more familiar with remote work, the reliance on synchronous communication tools has continued to dominate collaboration globally. Presumably, the reason for this has been the sudden shift from full-time “on-site” to full-time remote work, prompting teams to simply replicate their in-office experience without thinking about reimagining the way they work. This has led the day-to-day of millions to consist of countless Zoom meetings and cluttered calendars in the hope of recreating the “always in touch” office environment. 

Since most current workspace tools were developed during a time where remote was more of the exception than the rule, they are heavily catered to synchronous office communication. For instance, Zoom is meant to be used for remote synchronous collaboration. Other tools are also being repurposed to work asynchronously. For example, Google Docs was initially a real-time collaborative writing document that has turned into an asynchronous idea board/meeting preparation tool/general notepad.

Problems with moving to asynchronous tools

The current issue is that organizations operate remotely, but their mentality is still “on-site”. The question is how teams can adjust to a remote-first mindset and utilize asynchronous tools instead of synchronous ones. If successful, this shift in mindset and tooling will enable organizations to operate sustainably in a full or hybrid remote work environment in the coming years. 

Although we believe in the power of written communication for multiple reasons, we do feel that the transition from synchronous to asynchronous shouldn’t mean every person has to become an avid writer and reader overnight. That being said, we also believe that solely focusing on written communication leaves lots of room for miscommunication and misinterpretation, while removing personal interaction from collaboration.

The future and its tools are asynchronous

Clearly, in order to strive in the new world of remote work and asynchronous communication, new tools are needed to enable frictionless communication and seamless collaboration between teams. This new generation of tools will provide teams with all the benefits of asynchronous communication but also maintain the personal aspect of communication and be well structured and better documented at its core.

As this is our vision for the future of work, we are building Acapela, an asynchronous meeting platform at the forefront of this transition. Conversations are meant to entail personal touches, not leaving space for unnecessary misunderstanding all the while being more structured and easier to relive than typical in-person meetings.

Curious to learn more about asynchronous communication? 

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The challenges of remote work for organizations

And ways to deal with them

Organizations have dedicated the last decades to building amenity-filled workspaces designed to maximize collaboration and productivity. Employees were tempted by perks like unlimited snacks and on-site gyms to essentially live in-office. 

But, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations to rethink the appearance of a productive organization. Through embracing the use of leading-edge technologies, organizations have found remote work can be as effective (and less expensive) as face-to-face collaboration. 

While WFH was initially seen as a temporary solution, some organizations are beginning to publicly commit to the idea that WFH is the way of their organization’s future, offering employees the option to work remotely after offices reopen. 

The unprecedented nature of a remote organization means navigating how to structure a remote organization. It’s not easy and comes with challenges. To normalize this new way of working and help organizations successfully adapt to a remote operation, we summarized the best practices for addressing organizational challenges of remote work and what managers should change moving forward.

  1. Collaboration 

While there are a lot of aspects to the way we work that have changed in the past year, one skill has remained just as necessary for remote organizations: collaboration. But trying to replicate the way we collaborate face-to-face does not suffice in an online environment. No longer are our workdays filled with spontaneous water cooler conversations with colleagues or spur of the moment brainstorming sessions or debates. Scheduling back-to-back video meetings have not been found to have the same effect on productivity as face-to-face meetings either. There are no clear boundaries for organizations on how to keep remote collaboration fluid without making employees feel like they need to be online all the time. At this point, it’s pretty clear that remote work demands a different approach to collaboration. What does successful remote collaboration look like? 

Our tip: The solution to remote collaboration lies in developing an operation that supports the unique demands of the digital work environment. It is okay for managers to want to stay in constant contact with employees. But, they must choose how to communicate strategically. Instead of planning another time-consuming video call, managers should opt to collaborate asynchronously with their teams. This means that employees respond on their own time, produce more documentation, and create fewer meetings in the long-run. The possibilities of async collaboration are vast and ease organizations’ struggles with remote collaboration, such as differing work schedules or time zones. Asynchronous communication tools like Acapela allow teams to collaborate on tasks intermittently, over time.

  1. Company Culture

Millennial and Gen Z employees have shifted their career priorities. Choosing a workplace is no longer exclusively determined by money, location or perks, but about the reputation of the organization’s people and culture. We spend the majority of our lives at work, so we might as well work for an organization we feel loyal toward with people we identify with. Not to mention, in times of crisis a strong company culture can be the glue that holds the organization together. In an in-person work environment, company culture is cultivated naturally by spending time with colleagues. But in a remote organization, how does company culture develop? How are new employees supposed to find their place in an organization or get to know their colleagues on a personal level? And how should organizations respond to younger employees suddenly feeling bored with their WFH jobs? The importance of company culture has been highlighted by the shift to remote work as it influences morale and the quality of work. 

Our tip: Be deliberate about building and maintaining company culture. From planning time for new employees to socialize with the rest of the team during the onboarding process to scheduling team lunch or coffee breaks. Maybe even plan social events like trivia nights, or annual company retreats (COVID-19 safe, of course). This will help employees feel emotionally engaged with the company. Survey employees to gauge what type of social events would interest them to maintain a sense of community. Also, don’t forget to collect feedback regularly and frequently communicate the company’s goals and vision. 

  1. “Lack of Control” 

Evaluating the quality of output from time spent on a task is outdated: yet many managers still do this. In a remote environment where it is difficult to track time, managers tend to cope by micromanaging their employees due to a lack of control. This style of management has a negative impact on company culture because employees feel untrusted by their superiors. Obviously, simply telling managers to trust their employees is unlikely to be an adequate solution. What is the balance between management control and employee autonomy in a remote work environment? 

Our tip: Focus on outcomes, not input. Empower your employees and learn to trust that they will find the right solutions. It is normal for everyone to work at their own pace and now most likely on their own schedule. Clearly define the company goals. Jointly define team and individual goals. This can be done using tools such as an Objectives and Key Results (OKR) system. Frameworks like OKRs help organizations align company and team goals. This guarantees that all employees understand how their work contributes to the greater company vision. 

The challenges of remote work affect both organizations and individuals. Today, organizations must understand that skills they once depended on in face-to-face work environments do not translate digitally. In order to normalize our new way of working, we must use new tools and strategies. This is unchartered territory - for everyone. It’s time to shift our perspective of the pandemic from a trigger to an accelerator.

Curious to learn more about the challenging aspects of remote work and collaboration, and how companies around the world deal with them? 

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