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December 28, 2021

Putting the utopia into ‘Remotopia’

With a personalized work-location strategy, businesses can build in the autonomy and flexibility that’s currently missing from their remote-work policies.

Calling all innovators, culture creators, tastemakers and game changers — the world is in the midst of a fundamental change in how work is done. Thanks to meaningful advancements in technology and the pressures of a global health pandemic, businesses everywhere are living through the newest evolution of work: remote work at scale or, as we’ve termed it, “Remotopia.”

However, many business leaders are struggling to come to terms with the shift to remote work, from adopting the flexibility required to meet employee expectations, to managing rampant attrition. Unfortunately, if the past 18 months has revealed anything, it’s that the employee/employer relationship has long been broken.

Healing that relationship is no longer optional. When the daily grind was put on hold for many office workers last year, people had the time, space and perspective to evaluate how their professional choices contributed — or didn’t — to their own value systems. People started to see how their lives fit around work instead of the other way around. Today, the power dynamic has shifted, especially as employees and job candidates now have unprecedented access to:

  • Information about work (i.e., commensurate compensation, competitors, environments, practices, bargaining rights, ownership models, distribution of profit and wealth, and the impact of investment decisions)

  • Alternatives to work (downshifting careers, entrepreneurship, self-employment, much-needed vocations)

Organizations that recognize Remotopia as an essential place for the future of work — and do what’s needed to become future-fit — will thrive. Those that don’t will continue to struggle to attract and keep top talent.

Setting up remote work for success

To date, however, Remotopia has been long on “remote” and short on “utopia.” To succeed, leaders must build in the autonomy and flexibility that’s currently missing from remote-work policies by taking a personalized approach to work-location strategy. One size does not fit all.

In our recent report on talent management in the hybrid-work era, we discuss guidelines for leaders to approach this business issue carefully and thoughtfully. As organizations shift into more flexible work structures, their success will hinge on adequately investing in the planning, preparation and execution phases of hybrid work. Now is the time to revamp talent management, from designing the job through conducting the exit interview.

A major piece of the modernization effort detailed in our report centers on developing role-specific work-location strategies using our heads-down/heads-up work model. This model is based on the understanding that the office serves three distinct purposes:

  1. Heads-down work that requires focus and time alone to complete. Think of activities like research, analysis, planning, individual training and development, and emails.

  2. Heads-up work that requires collaboration and time together to complete. This includes knowledge sharing, networking, ideation and problem solving.

  3. Research & development and showcasing of the business’s capabilities to vendors, clients and partners, in a lab, a studio or a showroom.

Using this model, work-redesign teams can estimate how much of a given role’s time and responsibilities are spent on activities that are best facilitated in-office or remotely. The resulting flexible work structures should be customized, best-fit arrangements, based on employee input and guidance, and a work assessment based on activities instead of functional groupings.

Calculating a location rating

Consider a medium-sized insurance company tasked with meeting aggressive growth targets in a hyper-competitive labor market. The insurer needs to modernize its back-office talent management approach and align it with the desires of its current and targeted high performers for a flexible work-location strategy.

To accommodate this adjustment, leadership would select and empower a task force with representatives from all levels to evaluate individual roles. Through an assessment and manager validation process, the team would determine how much time each role dedicates to a variety of business-critical activities. These activities would be categorized based on the heads-up/heads-down work model to calculate a location rating, which reveals where the work of each role should take place to unlock the highest productivity given the demands of the role.

In this example, the task force would determine that subject matter experts and individual contributors are best facilitated remotely, while the leadership team is best facilitated in the office. From here, managers can work with team members to determine their interest and comfort with working remotely or in-office.

Embracing Remotopia

This moment is about so much more than learning about best practices and seeing what other organizations are doing. This isn’t the time to “lift and shift” a market leader’s work location strategy or approach to hybrid work.

Rather, success depends on doing the hard work of talent management now: implementing the disciplines and exercises that will help you develop a coherent, cohesive and functional return-to-work strategy.

Cognizant Insights Team

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