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This week I have come across three new pieces on remote work and all are worthwhile companion pieces to my blog of earlier this month Even Zoom has mandated a return to the office – so what now for remote work?

Recruiting Brainfood curator Hung Lee published an excellent blog Recap on Remote in the Open Kitchen part of his weekly newsletter, This Week in Recruiting. In his blog, Hung offers a recap on “what we know about remote / hybrid / on-premise and all the flavours in between” and summarises the evidence on the eight different areas of worklife impacted by a policy of anything other than five days a week in the office.

Hung’s writing is always accessible and he’s not afraid to offer his views – I recommend you read it.

One week in the office a month: the overlooked hybrid structure a fascinating look at the impact of a one-week-in-three-weeks-out hybrid structure that has been adopted by a number of companies in the U.S. including corporate catering company ezCater, makeup brand Benefit Cosmetics as well as smaller companies, like airport management solutions company AeroCloud and insurance company Assurance IQ.

Over 50% of Benefit Cosmetics’ staff are hybrid workers for whom there is significant flexibility for three weeks out of the month. However, the fourth week of every month is the mandatory “Think Pink Week,” where flex and hybrid workers must be in the office Monday through Thursday. The initiative was launched in 2020 as a pilot but has been highly successful, which Benefit has measured through pulse surveys.

Employees are advised of the schedule of Think Pink Weeks at the beginning of the year to minimise annual leave during those weeks. The specific events for each  Think Pink Week are advised the week before. All in-person learning and development happen that week, including speakers and panellists. A Thursday cocktail social as well as town halls (all-hands meetings) and CSR initiatives all happen in Think Pink Week.

Also published this week was an aspect of the whole debate that has received little coverage to date – the different experiences and responses of employees, dependent on global location, to remote work.

Two researchers, Mark Mortensen and Henrik Bresman, from INSEAD published a summary of their work in the Harvard Business Review in which a survey of 651 managers from 50 countries across EMEA (61%), APAC (24%), and Americas (15%) conducted by the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute and Universum, found some significant differences.

The picture emerging from their data is that work preferences differ according to where that work is situated in the world

The first difference of significance relates to productivity

The proportion of people (50%) in the Americas rating remote productivity as 5 out of 5 was almost double the rest of the world (26%). At the same time, when asked to identify key concerns arising from hybrid work, respondents from the Americas were half as likely (11%) to identify lower productivity than those from APAC or EMEA (both 22%); all of these were statistically significant differences. This suggests that the Americas have a much more positive view of remote productivity.

The reported human impact of remote work also showed global differences.

A significantly higher proportion of respondents from EMEA and APAC (86%) reported being concerned about missing out on social connections with coworkers compared to those from the Americas (78%).

This difference carried over to employee engagement with respondents from EMEA and APAC reporting significantly lower employee engagement (both 3.2 out of 5) compared to the Americas (3.6).

Respondents from EMEA reported significantly lower interpersonal bonding as a result of hybrid work (2.3 out of 5) than those from APAC (2.6) or the Americas (3.0).

The potential to be forgotten or ignored was far more of a concern for respondents from APAC with 38% identified being left out of important meetings and decisions as a concern compared with only 17% of respondents from the Americas feeling the same way.

There were also significant differences in the perceived ideal mix of days working at home compared to in the office: APAC wanted the fewest days at home on average (2.9 days out of 5), EMEA averaged more (3.4), and Americas the most (3.7).

This all suggests an interesting possible explanation for recent data showing the Americas lag far behind Europe and APAC in rates of returning to the office: these differing rates could reflect different beliefs about the ability to remain productive and avoid negative social effects.

The researchers emphasise that these results are point-in-time and as more time passes they expect the differences to change, although they are unwilling to speculate as to the degree of change.

Mortensen and Bresman conclude that the often-implicit assumption that the employee response to remote work changes little across countries, cultures, and contexts is disproven by the evidence.

The researchers offer a rather compelling conclusion, easily applied to any company policy not just remote work, “…..leaders need to take the time to understand the contexts in which they’re setting policies. Employees don’t care whether a given policy aligns with the prevailing wisdom at HQ 3,000 miles away or matches what a popular pundit tweets — they care whether it aligns with their experience and needs on the ground, where they are.”

 Related blogs

Even Zoom has mandated a return to the office – so what now for remote work?

Airbnb match Atlassian in remote work as (most) tech giants return to the office.

Remote work reaches a fork in the road

Remote work and the 4 day week are winning in the fight to hire and retain talent

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