It’s time we start with remote work as the default setup and not as an add-on to business as usual. The office is dead; long live the office(s).
When an organization seeks to be a suitable environment for their remote worker, there’s more to it than shipping them a laptop. When we start with remote work in a structured way, there’s a process side to it – and a logistical one. The third workplace is one of those logistics topics.
Leadership and team members have incredible momentum to create a workspace where people can have a meaningful career in a meaningful life! As I mention in my book The Suitcase Office (in Dutch: Thuisvoordeel, in French: Bureau à portée de main), the key in working remotely starts with a process design where asynchronous work is the default way of operating. In a traditional work setting, we went with synchronous first. Transposing a synchronous workstyle in a remote model leads to the well-known stressors, zoom fatigues, not to mention burned out and disengaged staff.
Homework isn’t homework
Those amongst us that hoped that the measures we took at the start of Covid in 2020 would guide us in the next evolution of work are mistaken. There’s a vast difference between the ad hoc force homework we experienced in March 2020 on the one hand and an organization that set itself up for success in a remote strategy.
Remote work – the three workplaces
A Transnational organization has to change the working space strategy to succeed. This is no longer a forced situation but an environment that will decide if our organization will play a role in the war on talent. Work-life balance is not a slogan, and it’s a perk that the visitors of job boards will evaluate almost as much as the salary. And that requires organizing the best possible remote job situation. Whether we go full-time remote or find well balanced hybrid models, there are now three locations our employees might expect from us:
The first workplace: The Regular Office
This one, ladies and gentlemen, needs no introduction. For many workers, this has been the office by reference for all those years leading up to the COVID crisis. But, while we’d be aggravated when people would disturb us before, we’re now seeing that this is a place where we go hoping to be disturbed. It’s the place where social interaction and the face to face conversations are easy to accommodate. It becomes the place where we meet.
The second workplace: The Residential Office
AKA: Working from home. But this time when our workers feel that’s the right place to get work done, not because the government makes it the only possible workplace. If we believe our knowledge workers can do a part of the job better at home, we’ll have to think with them what it takes to make that an actual workspace. That means we’ll deal now with the elements that made the forced situation so hard: cramped and inefficient workspaces, having partner and kids present simultaneously, insufficient internet connectivity, and working on that uncomfortable kitchen table.
The third workplace: The Remote Office
Don’t forget the third workplace might as well be a spot on the beach or in a local coffee shop. When designing policies and rethinking data- and IT security, a zero-trust approach is more than recommended.
The third workplace has the focus space we find when homeworking without distractions, but it comes without the disruptors we find at home. It has an internet connection we can rely on, even when the kids are all in their online game at home. We find a working printer and a decent coffee maker. For focus work, it brings the best of the regular and the remote office. For meetings, it brings the right equipment. And it might have adults who we can interact with – when we decide to.
A third workplace is within walking or biking distance, or reachable with a commute that the individual colleague doesn’t perceive as a huge time waster.
There’s home and there’s work
And the fact that this place is not at home means we don’t have to ask ourselves whether we work from home, or sleep in the office. We disconnect from work when we’re done, and we go home to be that family person.
When I try to group the abilities of the modern knowledge organization, I like to use the term “Transnational”. It is an organization that is able to work in any location and is time-independent, without being forced to do so. It creates a process and a collaboration model that allows organizations to operate (and expand) when and where they like, without being blocked by their own way of working.
To start with remote work means we’re embracing the transnational model. Even if we’re not all becoming fully remote companies.
Legal issues that come with remote work
Besides the logical stress, payroll, tax, and possibly even immigration issues to consider. Depending on the amount of days employees will be in the office, benefits such as meal vouchers, transport allowances, and others might be impacted. When employees start working abroad, complexity might rise. Talk to your payroll company and/or legal teams to make sure you deal with these correctly.
Impact on salary and costs
Depending on how employees spend time in different locations, these aspects might change. Here are a few things to start the conversation:
- Workers who receive an allowance for their commute might lose a part thereof
- Meal vouchers and per diems might be recalculated based on the days work at each type of location
- Insurance might change in cost, and the insurer might require registration of locations where employees work
The project management that deals with the remote and hybrid policies have to include specialists that can understand the ramifications for the company and the impact on the net income of employees.
Remote work and the Data Protection Laws (GDPR)
The freelancers who’ve been reading this far, thinking this doesn’t apply to them, better start a conversation with their clients. Depending on where the work is done, they might be restricted (by technology or policy) to access certain types of information. Most security officers I spoke with recently are enforcing much stricter controls on access to data depending on the location of the workers. When starting a new job as a contractor, both sides have to be very clear about what is accepted and what is not.
Mitigating the cost of the third workplace
Over the past weeks, I had a few interesting conversations with individual facilities managers and the Belgian Federation of Facilities Managers. And besides the extra logistics work they see in the third workplace, we discussed the cost of providing the space in the regular office and the remote office. These costs, however, can largely be mitigated by using platforms such as Deskalot. These platforms offer employees access to meeting rooms and offices when they need it. Organizations that embrace remote work and hybrid work will soon view the number of desks in their locations that remain unused. These places can be presented on the Deskalot platform, where other companies can rent these.
Embrace remote work, and the third workplace
Collecting this extra revenue can (partially) mitigate the costs for the own employees in providing the third workplace. And finding a remote environment that attracts talent will show the critical role facility-specialists play in tomorrow’s competitive landscape.
Koen Blanquart is an author, keynote speaker, and strategy consultant. Being a digital nomad, Koen operates worldwide, while he considers New York his home base. In his most recent book, Koen gathered tips and methods of digital nomads to manage a remote workforce and hybrid work. Koen explains how asynchronous and remote work is critical in creating a high-performance workforce in his most recent book. Whenever Koen finds a chance, he’s out and about with his camera.