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The new normal is dead

Raise your hand if you’re sick of the phrase the new normal — whatever that even means. Nothing is “normal” about forced office closures and everyone working from home during a global pandemic. And nothing is normal about the impact that’s had on the way we work. Qatalog recently partnered with Gitlab on the 2021 Remote Work Report to understand exactly how people feel in today’s environment, and what companies can learn from it. 

Remote is hard. I spent over five years at InVision — one of the largest fully remote companies in the world — where we were fully remote from day one. It took a lot of time, focus, and support to make it a successful model. And there were still issues. To think we can flip a switch and enable businesses to instantly create a collaborative and engaging remote environment is unrealistic. 

Now that the world is slowly opening up, we’re starting to see the movement back to offices — if not wholly, then with the “hybrid” approach. There is nothing normal about this working model either: having part of your company in the same office, and part of them scattered all over the globe. 

With more than a year under our belts working in these new models, we can begin to assess what worked and what we need to improve. 3,900 remote workers responded to the 2021 Remote Work Report survey and we’re breaking down how they feel about remote and hybrid.

Let’s start with the good. Overall, the sentiment toward remote work has been positive, with almost four in five saying they’re satisfied with their remote work set-up. 82% of workers praised their leadership for understanding how to operate a team remotely. 

According to our survey data, most people think there has been a positive impact on productivity, efficiency, and employee morale as well. 

So people have a positive sentiment toward remote work. Great. Now it’s time to change the model again: 42% of companies have already proposed a hybrid working model. How do remote workers feel about it?

Given the choice, over half (52%) of respondents would leave a co-located company for a remote role. And if staying remote is not an option, one in three people would not go back to a commute, and more than a quarter would look for a new role, relocate, or retire. So the shift to hybrid becomes a significant risk to retaining employees who would rather stay entirely remote.  

Four ways to improve your working model

Whether your company goes hybrid or not, there are a few things we’ve learned from the 2021 Remote Work Report that we can put into practice to improve working conditions wherever your employees are. 

  1. Be transparent. 34% of respondents noted that transparency from leadership leads to connectedness at work, while 38% noted that more visibility into the organization improved their sense of connection. Companies need to over-communicate to enhance a sense of belonging. Specifically by: 
    • Reinforcing the company vision and how everyone’s daily work contributes to that. Don’t underestimate the value of consistent and creative company updates
    • Status against goals. Everyone loves (or hates) things like OKRs. However you structure goals, they need to be vibrant and visible, not color-coded sheets you update before the quarterly review meeting
    • Two way communication. Give people a voice. If they’re not in the office with the ability to voice questions or concerns, make sure there are the appropriate vehicles to understand employee sentiment, engagement, and feedback.
  2. Audit your meetings. Everyone wants a 1/1 to “catch up” or have more meetings to get updates, etc. You need to adjust your meetings to meet the needs of employees. Including: 
    • Separating 1/1s for check-ins, forecast updates, career development, and “catch-ups.” Set expectations up front and layout the schedule. Career development is one of the biggest reasons people come to companies, and stay. Set expectations when those meetings will occur, and in what format. 
    • Move to asynchronous updates on key projects to save time and only prioritize “update” meetings when things are needed.
  3. Audit, and re-audit, your tool stack. There has been an explosion of tools to help you collaborate and communicate. But with this comes more confusion. More noise. Different teams using different tools, some tools not being used to their full potential. 
    • Understand what each team is using, and then assess the usage. 
    • Set up enablement and expectations for the tools you are prioritizing.
    • Centralize usage and reporting across the different tools.
  4. Enhance social context. You don’t always know as much about people personally if you know them behind a screen. Provide layers of social context wherever you can. 
    • Prioritize time for social connections — remote happy hours, etc.
    • Add elements of social contexts into the tools and processes you’re using (org charts, etc.).
    • Focus on recognition and celebration. Tools like give you those mico rewards or virtual “high fives” in daily work. Set goals and take time to celebrate achievements.
    • Celebrate cultural expectations. Using your company values or principles, highlight people who are setting examples for each value. Give awards. 

The reality is the shift to remote has forced companies over the last year to build the muscle for healthier organizations, whether or not they go back to an office. In order to survive the new normals to come, companies should focus on the single most important asset at any company, the people.

Nothing is normal anymore, and the way companies operate can’t be either. 

Remote expert, experienced senior sales and business development executive
Ryan is an experienced go-to-market leader. He is an expert on distributed working, previously helping InVision scale a fully remote team to over 800 employees as SVP of Sales and International.
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