The Future of Working is a series by &us examining the policies, ideas, and concerns for the future of working, learning from those who’ve already started their journey. We’ll look at where we work, when we work together, and how we work, asking, what is a better future, and how might we get there?
In the early days of the pandemic, company directors in fancy houses had a sudden revelation: ‘Remote work is amazing! Have you heard of it?’ They bellowed. Suddenly, all over LinkedIn and every other platform, there they were, extolling the virtues of this new found freedom.
The balance they were achieving without a 2.5 hour commute.
The kids they were getting to know.
The home office, they’d finally got just right.
Never mind that their staff had been asking for it for years. Never mind the technology had been available for years. Never mind the diversity campaigners who’d been making the case for it for years. Because it was here now. And they’d discovered it. All from the comfort of their large houses with gardens and fast WiFi. The rest of us sighed from our house-shares.
The truth is, remote work doesn’t work for everyone, and not only for logistical reasons. But picking up where we left off doesn’t seem realistic either. Ultimately, there are things from both worlds that we need to keep and that we need to bin.
All eyes are now on hybrid work. As handfuls of employees filter back into the office, and others dial in virtually, the slow reopening of our world has let hybrid working in by stealth. Despite knowing that some form of office reopening was always on the cards, many companies appear to be on the back foot.
But intentional design – of working structures, processes and the culture that surrounds them – can save us.
It’s time we design for the future we want, and recognise the journey has already started.
In this article we hear from some of those who are already making the future of working work for them, on the issues that we recognise are central to this conversation.
Structures, defaults, and balance
For Dan Cullen-Shute, CEO and Founder of Creature, an independent creative advertising agency, the future looks like the 3:2 model – a choice of working location for 3 days a week, and everyone working from the office together, 2 days a week.
Having got to grips with remote working early on in the pandemic, Creature started to plan for the future. “Our feeling was that what we were gaining in efficiency, we were massively losing in effectiveness, but we definitely didn’t want to go back to the office full time because there was just too much good stuff. So we worked hard to give people structure.”
The structured flexibility Creature put in place, was designed to remove the sense of ambiguity around how work happens. Dan shared that “we have very strict rules that you can go into the office on Monday and Tuesday. There will always be space for you. But we are remote first. So if there are six people on a project, and five of them have chosen to be in the office on a Monday, any meeting or any conversation is still digital. Then on a Wednesday and Thursday, we’re all in together and it’s fucking brilliant, with the kind of positive energy that makes us better at our jobs and makes this industry more fun to work in.”
For James Hirst, COO and Co-Founder of Tyk, an API Management Platform, treating work as remote by default is essential, to avoid a two-stream system. “We went and just hung out with some of the early stage people from GitHub, and they showed us how they work. One of the things that we resolved after that was, if we’re having a meeting, even if that meeting happens to occur in an office, we should make it open to everyone.
Use Miro, use Google Docs, use Confluence, but it will not happen on a whiteboard, in an office. Otherwise, if you’re not in the office, you’re not able to contribute to that discussion.”
Taking advantage of asynchronous work through collaborative platforms and contextual commenting has been essential to Tyk’s teams who are distributed across the world, and various time zones. It has also enabled them to move away from the binary of working from the office, vs working from home. “Everything from software development, through our sales cycle through customer support is designed to work asynchronously. And it’s designed so that as long as you’ve got the Tyk laptop, you can just go to the beach, or whatever, and contribute at whatever times work for you.”
Both Tyk and Creature have maintained their offices, for any of their people to use, for any reason. For other companies who are finding their office space is no longer cost-effective, or who have given up their leases, co-working spaces are already adapting their models to this demand for structured flexibility. There’s a rise in ‘timeshare’ offices, where two or more businesses with similar needs take the space on different days. Individual memberships are also getting the hybrid makeover, responding to the desire of employees who want to work remotely more often but don’t always want to work at home.
Trust and Responsibility
Where pre-pandemic, much of the push back against remote work came from managers worried about their employees’ productivity, the last 15months have shown how increased choice and flexibility have increased productivity and efficiency. Asynchronous work, and the ability to work from any location requires organisations to trust their people to an even greater degree, and for teams to trust each other to make it easy to pick up and handover work.
At Tyk, the ability to work from wherever you want is powered by what James calls radical responsibility. “As a credo, radical responsibility says, other people depend on you, including our clients, but also your colleagues. You simply need to get your stuff done, keep communicating with them and make it accessible to them. Other than that, how you structure your day when you work, and how you work is entirely up to you.”
Since founding Tyk in 2014, James says he has found this credo has led to fantastic results, and engagement, with people mindfully structuring their work so others can pick it up easily and autonomously.
For Dan at Creature, trusting your people is essential. “Trust and empowerment beats micromanaging any day of the week, and I hope most people are seeing this now.
We always believed that if you trust and empower people to just get on with stuff, then they will be brilliant for you–and that’s what’s happening for us at the moment. All of these happy, relaxed, excited people are just fucking brilliant. Creature is genuinely so much better an agency for it.”
Expanding the talent pool
One of the most profound benefits of hybrid working is that it increases the talent pool beyond city, regional, and national borders. This is a fantastic opportunity for employers to find the best talent, without limits, and for employees to live in a location that works best for them.
For Dan at Creature, he sees their 3:2 model as enabling their future as the first London advertising agency for whom living in London isn’t a barrier.
“What will make us significantly better as a business is that we’ll be able to access ‘London talent’ that isn’t based in London. I hope that we can be that agency full of people that aren’t confused by the North because they live there, and aren’t confused by shops that aren’t in Shoreditch. I think it’s a genuine client benefit if we get it right”
Tyk too saw the benefit to the talent pool right from the start, when it turned out their first prospective hire, a perfect fit for the role, was based in Paraguay. This find prompted James and his co-founder to commit fully to being remote by default. Since then, they’ve continued to make fantastic hires around the world from Rwanda, to South Korea, to Venezuela.
“The hires we’ve made remotely were off the chart quality compared to what we could find in London. We were able to find people who are real experts and real deep, deep holders of knowledge in the very specific niche we operate in, that otherwise can’t contribute to the industry because they are so far flung.”
For Creature, hybrid working is also an important tool in social mobility, and increasing diversity in the advertising industry. “I think if we get it right and open the industry up to everybody, no matter where they live, no matter what their parents do, no matter how many friends they already have living in London, then in 10 years time, we’ll have an industry that looks, sounds, talks and acts how it should do. We think that this model of working could be a hugely important part of that.”
The future is hybrid
Both James and Dan are seeing an increase in press requests to chat about their ways of working. Conversations are tinged with an equal mix of a desire for their magic hybrid formula, and disbelief about whether it can actually work.
Tyk have been advocating for more flexible and hybrid models of working for many years and some of the biggest push back they see is from companies who believe the model can’t scale. For James, this doesn’t make sense “our view is this is nonsense. This can work at any scale. Do it mindfully and start from the top.”
Both James and Dan see the biggest challenge or threat as being what happens after the pandemic passes. Will the behaviours stick, or will people default back to the office? For James, holding leadership accountable is essential “If leadership teams say ‘we’ll go back to where we were before’ and 20% will stay remote, then those 20% will leave the business straight away. Because they will get cut out of conversations. If you end up with a two stream system, it will break down. So to some extent, you either commit or you can’t do it.”
Dan is also clear that “if we don’t make this the norm then we’ve lost.” At Creature, the case for hybrid work is that happier people equals better work. “There’s a world in which businesses both on the advertising side and the client side realise that there is a balance that can be struck, where everyone wins. I think you have happier people who view jobs as a kind of a positive constructive part of their life rather than the thing they have to get done to get on with their actual life.”
At &us we are already working with client teams to help them design and launch flexible policies with clarity, practicality and humanity, and to transform their cultures to support these new ways of working. If you’re interested to learn more, or would like our input and perspective on how to do this with your teams and and in your organisation, we’d love to help!
You can read our Future of Working series which covers what the future of working might hold, how to get started with experimenting with hybrid work, and how we might design for a more inclusive workspace.
Huge thanks to Dan Cullen-Shute of Creature, and James Hirst of Tyk for being generous with their time and expertise for this article.
Dan Cullen Shute is CEO and Co-founder of Creature, an award-winning, independent advertising agency, fuelled by rebellious misbehaviour https://www.creaturelondon.com/
James Hirst is Co-Founder and COO at Tyk, the leading cloud-native API and service management platform, built for the modern stack https://tyk.io/