Reaching a Balance for Remote Work Design and Principles

August 31, 2018 by

There seems to be an unspoken dichotomy around the concept of flexible work. For some, it’s well embraced. In fact, remote work has grown by 115 percent since 2005, and current indicators suggest that number will only continue to rise. With an increased work-life balance, employees who work remotely are four times more likely to be engaged at work and two times more likely to stay at their current jobs. Remote work doesn’t just support working parents looking to balance their family with their workload – it’s also a sensible alternative to the traditional 9-5 for employees looking to take care of sick relatives, or for individuals looking to gain a better balance between personal and professional time. The benefits are seemingly overwhelming.

And yet, there are certain instances where remote work carries a negative connotation. Some individuals view remote workers as less accessible, which is perhaps the reason why 95 percent require remote workers to be based in a certain location like city, state, or country. For others, remote workers are viewed as less engaged than their in-the-office counterparts. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is famous for her pull of the company’s work from home policy, but other companies like Bank of America and Aetna have followed suit.

As we look at the effects of the remote work generation on the design of the physical workplace, nothing speaks to the need for change more than those opposite viewpoints. On one hand, advocates of remote work suggest that the physical workspace footprint will shrink as the number of permanent spaces are reduced. On the other hand, naysayers of the trend can often be appeased by transformations in the physical space to better accomplish the community feeling and collaboration that remote work has seemingly taken away.

Painting a picture of this balancing act is Dell, which recently partnered with FlexJobs to promote flexible work. The company has reached an admirable balance of remote work while still providing opportunities for face-to-face connections, something that simply never can be replaced. Here’s how.

Design for inclusion.

Amy Forbes Winebright, global employment brand project manager at Dell, explains that the company has benefited significantly from its remote work policy. “By offering flexwork options, Dell has not only realized a more engaged and productive workforce, our Connected Workplace Program has also saved millions in real estate costs with the consolidation of offices worldwide,” shares Forbes Winebright. Dell’s Connected Workplace Program recognizes that work flexibility comes in many forms, including remote, flextime, part-time jobs, job sharing, or compressed workweek schedules. That variety of flexibility begets the need for companies to design their existing spaces for the inclusion of these different flexible work types.

In terms of office design, that means creating spaces that serve multiple purposes. Conference rooms are no longer just for conferences. Instead, they become spaces designed for collaboration and multifunctionality. As an example, from 9-11 a.m., Conference Room A may be used for a strategy session, where employees can pull down the digital whiteboard and take notes that can then be emailed directly to the 4 colleagues joining the meeting remotely. Then from 12-1, the room transitions to a classroom setting, where colleagues, both local and remote, dial in for a lunch and learn around the topic of innovation. The key to designing for flexible work is understanding that the way we view the workplace today is significantly different than the way we viewed it in the past, and what’s more, that view will only continue to change as we further embrace the need for flexibility in the workplace.

Measure success as it makes sense for your organization.

A critical aspect of any plan is measurement, but those metrics are for naught without the ability to measure success in terms that make sense for your organization. For some companies, this may mean measuring success based on the number of remote workers. For others, it could be a reduction of absenteeism or an increase in retention. Others may tie success directly to business initiatives, and view a successful remote work program as one that increases the company’s ability to better meet its goals through an engaged workforce. At the end of the day, defining the course of measurement must align to the company atmosphere – for both local and remote workers. Dell shared in its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan Annual Update that it has done just this. “We updated our goal’s language, and changed the way we measured it, to more accurately reflect how team members have embraced our flexible work culture. Rather than measuring formal enrollment in our flexible work programs, we now measure our performance based on responses to our internal Tell Dell survey question that asks team members how many days a week they work remotely during a typical month. In FY18, 58% of Dell team members said they leveraged work flexibility in their jobs (defined as working remotely at least one day a week in a typical month).”

Transitioning this balancing act to the principles of design, we are left with a new toolkit of ideas. The workplace of the future looks to design spaces that are fluid, inspirational, and welcoming to workers of all types. We’re already seeing designs that speak to this trend, such as companies like TalkBox designing phone booths for privacy in open office spaces, and companies like WeWork gaining massive popularity as people look to share and collaborate in the spaces they work. As for the future of remote work? We’re inspired to see how the trend molds future workplace design, as we look for an inclusive approach to encompass all forms of flexible work.



This article was originally published in The Business of Furniture, a division of Bellow Press, on August 22, 2018. It is reprinted here with permission.

About the author: Amanda Schneider, LEED AP is a researcher, blogger for the Huffington Post, and the founder of ThinkLab, a research led strategy firm serving the contract interiors market.