What it Takes to Reimagine Remote Work

Even before COVID-19, distributed and remote work has been on the rise. According to a 2020 Gartner survey, 74% of CFOs plan to shift at least 5% of their previously on-site employees to ongoing remote positions, even after the pandemic has subsided.

A new Professional Certificate program from UBCx arms learners with human-centered design skills and tools to transform their work-at-home experience for the better, and help their teams and organizations do the same. In this Q&A, program instructor Dr. Patrick Parra Pennefather shares insights into what it means to truly reimagine remote work and how to create remote work environments that empower individuals and teams to perform at their very best.

What does it mean to reimagine work at a distance?

To reimagine work at a distance for me involves first thinking about the types of work interactions I used to have that were in-person, whether with customers, clients, or colleagues. Then, reflecting on those interactions and being open to trying to reinvent how they can be transformed at a distance. It also requires being open to changing the work that I do. In some cases, this might mean some minor adjustments to the workflow and the amount of time spent with others. At other times it might mean being open to radically transforming how I interact, what I do, and how I create value. More extremely it might require me to acquire new skills to change the work that I do completely.

What’s the difference between short-term adapting to working from home vs. setting up for success in a ‘new normal’?

Minor and short-term changes to working from home might involve small technological updates, like investing in a better mic and headphones, getting used to being on a Zoom call, and taking more time to manage relationships. Setting up for success in a new normal means accepting that ‘normal’ might no longer be possible. What it means is that while we adapt to working at a distance with others, we have to simultaneously work on the assumption that things will not go back to how they were. Knowing that may motivate some to secure their future work by finding ways to innovate on how they can continue to work remotely and in person. It might also mean having a backup plan if there is no new normal and the expectations of your job have changed or are in the process of shifting.

What’s an example of a design tool that helps people build their at-home toolkit?

A key human-centered design (HCD) tool in the course are variations on the Empathy visual model. Understanding your own needs and finding alignment with the needs of those you work with is key in being able to work. This is equally true whether you work at a distance or you work in-person or a combination of the two. The empathy visual models I propose are a beginning, a map that I hope inspires people to develop their own, to iterate on the components of the model and to deepen their awareness of the needs of their customers, clients, and colleagues. Doing so is essential when you work at a distance because it’s easier to be more detached from what others feel, think, and perceive when you don’t have to.

How can managers and organizations leverage this program?

If you are responsible in any way for the work of others, or if you depend on the work of others to support your product or service, then this course will benefit you as it will provide you with the tools and processes that are often put aside or considered not as important in the development of team cultures. When you invest time and money focused on developing your team culture the benefits are numerous. With increased support and buy-in, employees will eventually exceed what you imagined they could deliver. Managing others is also about managing relationships within an organization and being able to identify problems, get to their root cause, and be able to propose solutions. While you may not find all the solutions to solve all the problems that come up, you’ll definitely learn a different process for solving them.

What’s at stake as companies continue to navigate increasingly distributed teams?

Whenever I’m asked what’s at stake I like to break the idea of ‘stakes’ down to two important questions that can help me provide a clearer answer: What actions are you willing to take to change what is not working? And if you do nothing then what are you prepared to lose?

How each organization answers those two questions will determine how well they future proof. Especially now. We’ve all been hit hard. Change is the only constant. Adapting to changing work conditions is not temporary. There will be losses. We will need to create new value propositions. There will be gains, but only if we can shift nimbly and quickly. It comes down to re-evaluating what you as a company offer the world (or your target customer) and what you are able to and willing to change in this newly emerging world.

So, what’s success look like for your distributed team? Project that first, then you’ll be able to work with them to manifest that. That, combined with a persistent dedication to create the right environment for individuals to perform at their very best. That environment needs to be organized and facilitated. Companies in many cases need to completely change the environments they were dependent on before. Communication patterns are different at a distance. Working from home needs practice. Navigating the stormy seas of distributed teams will involve parting with team members who are unwilling to adapt. It will also demand that you create multiple opportunities for those who do adapt to contribute beyond what you thought possible. Everything might be on the table from roles to value proposition to a transformation of the business model itself. Top-down hierarchy might still work but you’ll lose people faster. At a distance people need more affirmation. They need persistent communication. They will starve to work with teams whose vision becomes entwined with the nurturing of a strong team culture.

Gain Practical Tips and Tools in UBCx’s Human-Centered Design for Work at a Distance program

Design methodology and skills are in high demand, and particularly valuable in a climate of disruption. According to Rutgers research using Burning Glass Labour Market Data, between 2016 and 2018 there was a 200% increase in jobs requiring design thinking skills, compared with a 6% increase in all positions.

Learn more about the value of human-centered design tools and skills and if UBCx’s practical two-course Professional Certificate program, Human-Centered Design for Work at a Distance, is right for you.