Remote work vs. radical flexibility. What’s the difference?

by Amber Robinson April 22, 2020

When was the last time you had a great idea? I’ll take a bet that it wasn’t at your desk, or even in a meeting, even a ‘brainstorming.’

Usually, I have my best ideas in the shower, or while walking by myself somewhere quiet. I wanted to know if other people had that experience too, so I ran a poll on Twitter.

It was a small sample, but of those that responded, 92 % named a non-workplace location as the place they come up with their best ideas. Walking came out on top, with 55% of the votes.

The answer is simple – doing things that are enjoyable and relaxing, like showering, exercising or driving home, releases the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, which has an effect on mood and motivation.

This made me think that perhaps we have the modern workday all wrong. While many organisations have made a surprisingly smooth transition to remote working since the COVID-19 epidemic disrupted the world, the majority are still adhering to the 9 am-5 pm workday and expecting employees to be desk-based for that period. Some companies are even spying on employees via chat programs and noting down how much time they are spending away from their desks. Hardly the way to engineer trust!

Other companies offer flexible working arrangements, such as part-time work or time-shifting, say from 7 am to 3 pm. This is a huge step forward, particularly for those juggling care responsibilities, but doesn’t take into account people’s own biorhythms and natural styles of working.

Radical flexibility

At Quiip we practice something called radical flexibility. We don’t have a head office which means that for the most part, people are free to choose when and where they do their work, within a framework of agreed hours. We are paid and assessed for the work we deliver for our clients and for the organisation. This requires a different approach to leadership and naturally, takes some time to get used to. Overwhelmingly though, it works tremendously for our team. Our latest company survey found that 9/10 employees would recommend Quiip as a place to work, with radical flexibility identified as a key strength of the business.

Radical flexibility requires trust that your employees can get on with the job without direct supervision and also requires new communication tools and styles in order to set objectives, collaborate on tasks and deliver feedback.

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Asynchronous communication

Mostly, our communication is asynchronous, which means that it doesn’t happen in real-time. Training and company updates are filmed then uploaded for people to consume in their own time. When emails are urgent, we label them so, and meetings are kept to the minimum.

For starters, this allows us to collaborate across wider geographies and different time zones, to accommodate our international team members. It also allows us to cater to various types of working schedules (night owls versus early birds) and diverse personalities (introverts versus extroverts.)

The fact that we are a workplace of community managers means that communication is a strength across the whole business. If that’s not the case in your business, you may need to set out expectations and guidelines around communication.

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Finding your work rhythm

Over time, you learn to develop your own rhythm while flexible working. I tend to divide my work into ‘zones’ or groupings of similar tasks, which match my levels of focus and motivation at different times of the day and night.

My work involves strategy and creativity, so I tend to use the morning for thinking time – while exercising or in the shower – and the find I have a bunch of potential solutions to explore with my colleagues later in the day.

I use the time when my children are at school (or home learning) for face-to-face video calls and connecting with my team via Workplace and email, as most of us are online between 11 am and 2 pm.

In the afternoon I’ll do work that doesn’t require a great deal of brainpower, such as admin, reports or presentations, taking a nap or walk as needed to recharge.

I’ll return to my laptop later that night, as I find that’s the best time for me to write, when the house is quiet and I’ve had time to distill my thoughts during the day.

This is a balance that works well for me. Other Quiipees, like our CEO Alison, are early risers and prefer to start the day with a burst of productivity – setting priorities, answering emails and reading trade news.

The point is, we all naturally have the ability to be creative and productive when given more control over our working environment. While many of us are locked out of the office, now is the time to think about how we can create a new future of work, one which is radically different from what came before, that’s lighter on the environment and better for mental health and productivity.

Our tips for radical flexibility:

  • Set clear objectives and expectations so that staff can work autonomously
  • Assess staff on output rather than time spent at their desk
  • Create a virtual workspace (such as Workplace, Microsoft teams or Slack) with areas for project discussions as well as social chat
  • Maintain workplace culture by being inclusive, using collaborative decision making, providing rewards and recognition, keeping everyone informed and enabling face-to-face time where possible, such as an annual retreat
  • Asynchronous communication means just that. You will need to be patient while waiting for team members to respond to questions or join conversations. If something is urgent, let people know

Even more tips to help you thrive while working from home

If you’d like to learn more about radical flexibility or need help setting up your online work community, contact the team at Quiip.