From team collaboration to work-life balance, hybrid and remote work models have transformed how, when, and where work is done.
As hybrid and remote working becomes a staple of the new normal, organisations need to re-evaluate how to measure performance and engage with employees.
Marking a radical shift from the traditional office environment, organisations across the globe are making the transition from an office-centric culture to more flexible ways of working. As companies adapt to a trend showing no signs of abating, whether they opt for a full remote work model or a version of hybrid work, a wide range of possibilities and challenges are reshaping the future of work.
For the Q1 2022 issue’s Spotlight cover story, we have invited organisations from different industries to share their insights and various ways they are taking care of their employees’ wellbeing, recruiting talent remotely, and managing a cross-generational workforce.
It has been almost a year since humour entertainment platform 9GAG took the decision to transition fully to a remote working model – the process is operating efficiently, said Ray Chan, 9GAG’s CEO and Co-founder. "Of course there have been a few challenges, but we keep learning and moving forward," he added. "So far the advantages are outweighing the disadvantages."
From 9GAG's perspective, the fundamental pillar that supports successful remote working hinges on frequent and open communication with teammates (the term 9GAG uses for staff) and the emphasis on "performance-based", not "presence-based". This involves regular goal alignment and checking teammates’ sentiments and where practical, acting on feedback to improve or do things differently. "Our goal is to exceed expectations through flexible and agile management," Chan said. For instance, ensuring that teammates feel appreciated and valued by implementing flexible work arrangements that fit with teammates’ priorities.
With remote working experiences to leverage, Chan explained that teammates have narrowed down what works for them and what doesn't. This includes how, where, and when they work. "We try to be proactive," Chan said. For instance, employees who work remotely may need upgrades beyond their computer setup. Furthermore, employees who are unable to work from home for any reason are provided with the option of working from a co-working space, which 9GAG pays for. "If there are issues that worry them, we encourage our teammates to talk to their managers so that we can work on a solution instead of our teammates staying silent, or even worse, leave the company," Chan said.
A key challenge for the company is that it cannot take a "one size fits all" approach to working remotely because not every employee has the same needs or expectations. With this in mind, 9GAG operates from a standpoint that if enough staff make a similar request the company will look for ways to address the issue. "You have to take the time to listen to your teammates and understand their concerns," he said. “It is important that teammates understand it is safe for them to speak up without any fear of repercussions.”
With health as a priority for many, 9GAG also places emphasis on wellbeing, offering a suite of comprehensive health and annual leave benefits. Chan explained when combined with the flexibility of working remotely, wellbeing and health benefits have become differential tools for both retaining and attracting talent. The switch to remote working has also expanded 9GAG’s recruitment landscape. Prior to the switch to working remotely, while the entertainment platform reaches a global audience of millions of users, the company's workforce was almost entirely based in Hong Kong. However, the pivot to a remote working model has opened the way to recruiting talent from beyond the city's borders.
Transparency and self-management
Recognising that working remotely doesn’t suit everyone, Chan stressed how it is crucial to make it clear at the recruitment stage what working remotely entails. "We are very transparent about what we provide and what we expect from our teammates," he said. While relevant hard skills are important, equally important is the ability to self-manage, which involves taking the responsibility to work on assigned tasks without constant instruction from managers or needing to be seen physically working. "The aim is to create an alignment of trust which is based on an open, and equitable two-way relationship," Chan said. That said, self-management still requires setting out a clear schedule with managers and collaborating with teammates, while taking charge of performance and recognising the importance of deliverables and goals. In the fast-moving sector that 9GAG operates in, Chan pinpointed how it is critical for teammates to be open-minded to learning new skills. “They also need to be flexible in their outlook to overcome challenges that can quickly arise,” he said.
While some organisations choose to monitor their employees’ work activities, Chan said as an internet knowledge-based company, 9GAG believes that tracking teammates’ work activities is unnecessary. "We focus on the quality of work and performance and not so much on where or how the work is done," he said. When it comes down to it, whether they are in the office or at home, if people choose to slack off from work, they can.
While remote working can pose employee engagement challenges, Chan explained that, in many ways, remote working plays to 9GAG's employee engagement strengths. For instance, staff have found it convenient to communicate and collaborate using technology platforms. "When teammates worked in our office they tended to communicate using chat rooms and digital channels instead of face to face," Chan explained. However, working remotely does not equate to working in isolation. Although 9GAG staff value the autonomy that comes with remote work, when a project requires face-to-face collaboration they make arrangements to meet in a suitable location.
"Teammates decide when the time is right to meet up to regroup and refresh both for work and their social life," Chan said. This fits with 9GAG's vision of "hustle", which relates to the concept of "work hard, play hard", but with more emphasis on working in a smart way to achieve goals. The concept also reinforces the significance of maintaining a shared understanding of their mission and a strong connection among remote team members. "Remote work provides our teammates with a different set of engagement choices that don't need to be based around a central office," said Chan, who adds that depending on business needs and sector, size, and structure, what works for one company don’t necessarily work for another.