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Remote working, works! Here's how…

Does remote working really work? Presenting at this year’s CFG Annual Conference on 30 June, Kirsten Buck and Katy Stanley from PTHR, shared how they’ve made ‘remote first’ work for them and why ‘office optional’ IS the future, for people and the planet.


PTHR is a consultancy and enterprise of 18 people, working 100% remotely, two thirds of the team are working mums. We operate with self-management and are geographically dispersed across the UK, Romania and Italy; connected by audacious dreams of “better business for a better world”.

Our purpose is to transform teams, and the way they operate to help people flourish. PTHR was founded in 2020 by Perry Timms who has a number of accolades. To name a few; two times published author with Transformational HR and The Energised Workplace, and cited on HR’s ‘Most Influential Thinkers’ list for five consecutive years. This year, Perry was recognised as number one.

As a collective, we are proud to be 4DWW employer and mentor as part of the UK-wide pilot scheme, climate positive and a certified B Corp as of Oct 2021.


Why does remote working have to work?

The lenses through which we perceive work are changing; the Covid pandemic really acted as the catalyst for much needed change. Before Covid, work was about place and physical proximity; it was about five-day weeks, defined job roles, digital tools that are sometimes bespoke to that organisation, about divisions and functions which are divisive by nature.

Organisations shouldn’t look at themselves as a collection of places, but rather as platform enterprises that CAN be collaborative; although dispersed. Purpose has also become a determining factor for consumer and employee decisions. Financial profit isn’t the sole measure of success. John Elkington’s triple bottom line is salient.


Employee experiences and needs

Hybrid working is part of these changing lenses and a real opportunity to re-work work systems, fit for the 21st century.

As Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of Gitlab (who has been working remotely since 2014) said: ‘Those who do hybrid, if not intentional about making systemic changes and treating every employee as if they are remote (whether in-office or not), will see their most effective remote people leave…

‘The hybrid companies will then blame the lack of productivity on remote (workers) instead of the actual cause: managing two distinct employee experiences is a very arduous task.’

This is hyper-personalisation of the workplace, or as Deloitte have referred to it – ‘inclusive design’ – to design for the widest range of people, in order to benefit all.


Differing demographic needs

  • Gen Z have a slight preference for some face-to-face collaboration, based on their need for mentoring and guidance early in their career and developing social connections.

  • 24% of workforce are 55+ years old. Flexible working patterns and choices around location are key for enabling people to have access to their careers for longer, and also supporting those with menopause symptoms. We highly recommend you check out Kate Usher’s work and research on this.

  • Women are three times more greatly impacted by care responsibilities.

  • 30-40% of adults have some neurodiverse needs. This can really affect individuals’ social and communications skills, and even how environmental factors (sound, smells, lighting, scheduling pressures) affect performance.

  • DiversityInc conducted research that showed employers voted as the best for the LBQT+ community enabling career progression opportunities, are those that offer remote working, due to fewer communication barriers.

  • The same goes when we are looking at ethnicity, where remote working has helped individuals overcome communication barriers, and address issues with more confidence, with a reported reduction in microaggressions.


With just these few general examples, it’s possible to see how hyper-personalisation can apply to each and every one of us.

Hyper-personalisation helps leaders understand what their teams need to flourish. Teams tend to want to work harmoniously and so teams can be a meaningful unit of designing the degree of ‘office optional’.

Research undertaken by Bulent Duagi, which examined 14,000+ resources on hybrid/remote working, led to him creating the Links model. The main finding was that connection and focus matters most at team, not departmental or organisational level.

Organisations are using this to establish preferred work patterns. For example, GSK has teams deciding their remote versus in-office rhythm of work. And it is the manager’s responsibility to check in with them on how it is going every six months.

For AirBNB, flexibility is key in their ‘work from anywhere’ team level manifestos. Working effectively and collaboratively remotely means work can’t be so ‘traditional’, meaning in-person and at the same time. We need to flip this. Asynchronous and distributed has to become the norm. And this IS the norm for us at PTHR.

We will now share just a few of our practices and tech platforms with you. These have led us to be autonomous, connected, and transparent.


Get creative to provide options

Remote working options aren’t always possible in some job roles, for example those that work in hospitality, manufacturing, retail, medical and care industries. BUT you can look at other, more creative options, that offer flexibility and choice:

  • Working patterns
  • Hybrid (physical work versus remote administrative work)
  • Flexible benefits and self-management

You may have heard of Buurtzorg as a shining example of self-management. For those unfamiliar with them, Buurtzorg are a healthcare organisation, consisting of small, geographically localised nursing teams who are completely self-managed. Their model is being adopted in some areas within our own healthcare service.

Buurtzorg Newham team have been able to look at their LOCALISED team’s unique needs and create their own sickness and leave policies that suits and works best for them, whilst continuing to deliver effective one to one care of their patients.

Listen to individuals and think about your smaller teams. Some argue that an initiative may only benefit a small range of people, but that’s the point! Having choices is a benefit for all. Buurtzorg time and time again demonstrates how looking at organisational design at a team level can make inclusive work design a success.

Starting with autonomy. We are self-managed. What does this mean? Well, it challenges conventional leadership. It is about operating in a space where “I’m given guidance on what to do, and I decide what to do it”. Buurtzorg is the largest self-managed organisation in the world, 15,000 people and 900 self-managed teams.


New recruits and onboarding

Onboarding is a ‘moment that matters’. At PTHR we have a supported, yet self-directed ‘opt in’ onboarding process. A new team member can take personalised steps to pace their learning for themselves.

After spending some initial time with team members who can guide on tools, practices and resources, they can then follow our playbook for themselves and are signposted to all of the resources they need.

An allocated business partner will continue to support them. Remote onboarding needs to be carefully considered and intentional so that the individual feels welcome – something that Vodafone does really well. They describe onboarding as ‘a moment that matters.’

Business partnering is our paired way of working, and we rotate these on a six-monthly basis. On the team we have a shared experience of strengthening collaboration and forging friendships across the team, and it also acts as peer-to-peer pastoral care in place of line management.


Power to the peer!

We don’t have policies, we have team agreements. We believe in peer power. In 2020, we came together, using a digital whiteboard, Mural, and established our co-created team agreements. This made our implicit expectations on how we show up, behave, engage, and perform, explicit.

You may have heard the term ‘team charter’ – we are hearing of organisations having these, which is great, but we must remember this should evolve as the team does.

At PTHR we run an anonymous pulse check survey every six months, and then run one, two or however many sessions with members of the team to upcycle these. This practice was inspired by Semco Style Institute who consults on the self-management style of Ricardo Semler, former CEO of Semco, Brazilian manufacturing firm. It is worth reading Semler’s Maverick! if you are interested in self-management.

We don’t have key performance indicators (KPIs) but we have objectives and key results (OKRs). We have found this really powerful. Why? We set these ourselves, seasonally, and do so with our business partner, so again, there is peer power.

We then look at how our individual OKRs map onto our strategic objectives, again seasonally. This really allows us to see if there are any gaps, but beyond that shows our individual value contribution to where the company is headed.


It’s okay to experiment

A top-down hierarchy is not best suited to remote working. There needs to be trust, space and leadership is best if seen not as an individual property but rather a collective practice.

Also, it's okay to experiment with remote practices. Our ‘leaderful circle’ is an example of this. Until two months ago, we had a bi-weekly meeting amongst four of us who sit in the typically strategic roles. We also had a rotating chair; where an employee or collaborator could sit in this space for a season. This started to feel exclusive, so we evolved.

We moved from a ‘leadership circle’ to a ‘leaderful circle’. We have open board meetings and we invite everyone to add to the agenda. Anyone can host.


Build structure with pillars and stacks

PTHR’s operating model is known as ‘pillars and stacks’. Our pillars provide the foundation to our working model and structure – looking at people, operations and processes, and the stack encompass all of the distinct areas of work that make PTHR function.

Organising our workload in this way is taken directly from the world of technology development but lends itself well to our ways of dispersed leadership and clarified ownership; each stack is championed by a lead who develops the strategy, and is then supported by the specialism and area of work of individuals. One of our large public sector clients has successfully adopted a similar model.


Get the right tools

Some of the tools and resources we use at PTHR, and the practices and ways in which we use them to support our remote, agile ways of work:

Slack is commonly known to cause a communication overwhelm within an org, but it has reduced email traffic for us, and is used on an opt-in basis. We segregate conversation channels between our pillars and stacks, plus specific internal and client projects.

The team only subscribe to channels that are relevant. We have specific channels for more social or

human centric conversations, including a wellbeing and safespace, and we have a daily check-in channel that helps us share our daily priorities, focus and connection with each other.

Asana is our project management tool where we can visibly and transparently see each other's progress on tasks and a timeline of all current projects and events. Our team bio board where we each share our own skills, interests and expertise, plus more about how we like to work, give/receive feedback so we can really get to understand each other’s unique needs better.

Huler is like our intranet and it provides a visually dynamic pleasing way of sharing key content and internal comms.

Clockify helps us to focus our efficiencies on the right activities.

Spatial Chat is our virtual office. A ‘physical place’ to be in a remote world. We see this type of space being a reality for more and more organisations and allows us more spontaneous meetings and collaboration. We also have an intentional meet-up twice weekly where we gather for a more friendly coffee and conversation.


Prioritising people and planet

From our PTHR world to a much bigger world: our planet. It wouldn’t feel right to talk about remote working without saying that this can reduce carbon footprint. The earth is heating up. Businesses have a role to play in combating this.

During the 2020 lockdown, emissions in the UK were 8% lower than in 2019. Emissions from transport accounted for the largest share of the global decrease. Commuting must now actually be reported under scope 3 by employers.

To conclude, office optional IS the future. And this can be done by setting up your organisation for remote, first. This is a positive opportunity, not a burden. Planet and people have to come before profit. Performance and profit will then follow.


Interested to find out more? You can join the PTHR team for a one-hour, virtual 'culture tour', held every month. It's free to attend. To find out more and to book your place, email Katy or Kirsten.

With thanks to the PTHR for their presentation to CFG Annual Conference 2022: Purposeful and Empowering.

Download the presentation slides


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