Hybrid and remote work is here to stay. What will it take for your company to succeed in the new normal? Building a workplace culture strong enough to thrive at a distance doesn’t happen by chance, but by design. In Remote Not Distant, meticulously researched book, top culture thought leader Gustavo Razzetti provides a roadmap to understand, adapt to, and succeed in a hybrid workplace, investigating the leading edges of this revolution, including Amazon, Slack, GitLab, Volvo, and Microsoft, to name just a few. The lessons are simple yet stunning. Interview.

Hi Gustavo Razzetti, so why did you write this book… now?

Gustavo Razzetti : I wanted to encourage teams and leaders to embrace this unique opportunity to rethink why and how we work. The conversation around hybrid is flawed, often getting stuck in the location aspect (office versus remote), creating a damaging narrative. 

Writing this book was my way of challenging my assumptions, too. I spent much of my career in office-centric organizations, believing that strong collaboration requires being in the same place and in real-time.

Writing a book was a more effective way to share everything I learned in my research and consulting work. I collected stories of how organizations have adapted to the changing workplace. I met leaders who are still lost and trying to recover a sense of normalcy. And I met many who were brave enough to admit they didn’t have the answers and are figuring things out together with their teams. I talked to people who would rather lose their jobs than the freedom and flexibility they gained during the pandemic. I met remote work advocates who think having an office is pointless. And, of course, skeptics.

I didn’t write the book for recognition – though I’m very excited about the generous endorsements, especially if they help spread the word. 

My primary purpose was to provide a framework to spark meaningful conversations about the hybrid workplace. If that happens, then mission accomplished.

An extract from your book that best represents yourself?

Gustavo Razzetti : When I write, I like to connect stories that feel unrelated to get people’s attention and provide context. Here’s an excerpt that represents how I like to write, but also talks about something really meaningful to me: helping others – a concept that’s also vital to building strong teams and cultures.

“When famed anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked what she considered to be the first sign of civilization, her reply took her students by surprise. She didn’t mention religious artifacts, clay pots, or grinding stones. Instead, she pointed to a 15,000-year-old human femur that had been broken and healed.

Mead explained that if an animal breaks its leg, it will certainly die. No creature can run from danger, hunt for food, or seek out fresh water with a broken leg. There’s not enough time for the broken bone to heal; a predator will eat it first. A broken leg bone that has healed is evidence that a human being stopped what they were doing and took care of the wounded person until the bone healed.

“Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts,” Mead concluded.

This definition of civilization is an important reminder of something we tend to forget: human nature is inherently good and helpful. People don’t just want a job; they want to create a positive impact that goes beyond the organization they work for.

Normally, we associate successful organizations with a strong product, technology, or leader, but it’s the organizations with a strong sense of purpose—the ones that have created a shared future that includes everyone—that usually end up leaders in their industries.

Successful teams don’t just work together; their members care for each other. Collaboration and alignment are by-products of culture. Team members help and support each other because they share a future. They know that their mission can only be accomplished if they work together.”

The trends that are just emerging and that you believe in the most?

From Culture by Chance to Culture by Design

Many people believe that culture just happens organically; they’re afraid it will suffer if people are not at the office. But culture can and, I would argue, should be designed deliberately. A thriving company culture doesn’t happen by accident. It is designed and built with purpose and intent.

In a hybrid environment, organizations need to be even more intentional. Company culture design should be treated just as intentionally as designing a new product. It should start and end with the user in mind, turning it into a co-creation process.

Very few companies have had the privilege of working remotely for years—and by choice, not forced by a global pandemic. One common thread I observed researching successful remote-first organizations is their obsession with designing culture intentionally, along with a healthy emphasis on clarity and transparency.

Most importantly, successful remote-first organizations co-design their cultures with their employees.

At GitLab, anyone can edit the company values. You’re encouraged to make suggestions even if you don’t work there. Give it a try: Contact GitLab’s CEO Sid Sijbrandij on Twitter with any suggestions you have.

From Input to Impact

Historically, organizations have rewarded input—visibility, effort, presenteeism, etc.—over outcome. Employees who worked late, sent a lot of emails, or were always in meetings were perceived as hard-working, committed team players.

Organizations can benefit enormously by shifting their focus away from these traditional input measures and focusing on impact. Don’t reward presenteeism or long hours. Evaluate people based on goals and results, not on how late they stay in the office or how many Zoom calls they attend.

Having a team purpose helps people focus on the most significant outcome—the impact you want to create in the world.

People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to create a legacy. Having a purpose matters more than ever. Research by Humu shows that people who don’t feel their work contributes to their company’s purpose are six times more likely to quit their jobs than their peers who do.

From Work-Life Im/balance to Work-Life Integration

As a society, we tend to consider work and personal life separate, but for most of us, “work-life balance” remains elusive. Paradoxically, the more we try to pursue it, the harder it becomes to achieve.

An “always-on” work culture was already eroding the boundaries between our work and personal lives. Then the pandemic arrived, and the lines became blurrier than ever. Working from home has created a more human connection to work. Many of us have spent the majority of the last two years working in the company of pets, children, spouses, and roommates. COVID brought work to our homes, and our personal lives into our jobs.

Accepting the increasingly fluid boundaries between work and personal life, rather than building higher, stronger walls between them, will create a more humane and flexible workplace. Before, our daily commute created a clear boundary between personal life and work. Today, working just a few steps from where you sleep or play is common.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says that harmony has been critical to his success and happiness. He doesn’t really separate work and life, but instead frames it as work-life harmony. As Nadella stated: “If I’m happy at work, I am a better person at home, a better husband and a better father. And if I’m happy at home, I come into work more energized—a better employee and a better colleague.”

From Synchronous to Asynchronous Collaboration

One of the biggest mistakes most companies made when forced to work remotely was carrying old habits into a new way of working. They continued approaching collaboration as something that needed to happen synchronously, with everyone reviewing information, making decisions, or brainstorming together.

The result? Most teams struggled with an overload of meetings, Zoom fatigue, and late hours, even on weekends.

Traditional workplaces were filled with synchronous communications. Meetings required everyone to show up, and people were expected to take calls and respond to emails immediately, regardless of what else was going on.

Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist, said the benefits of asynchronous communication go beyond flexibility “so people think before they write, and it creates a much more calm environment,” he says. At Doist, people can set their own work schedules, are not pressured to respond outside of work hours, and have the time and space to think about a topic and regroup with thoughtful responses.

Experts agree that whether your team is fully remote or hybrid, it should adopt an async-first approach. Asynchronous collaboration creates a different, more flexible set of rules.

Asynchronous communication requires more intentionality and effort. Your team needs to become obsessive about documentation which can slow down communication sometimes. However, when people are thinking deeply, writing down their ideas, and presenting them, better collaboration and work result—no meetings required.

From One-Size-Fits-All to Flexibility

I get a lot of pushback when I tell my clients to set a simple, company-wide policy and then give teams the freedom to design their own hybrid approach. Organizations are used to having a one-size-fits-all approach to work. It can be hard for them to accept that the benefits of flexibility more than justify any complexities.

But look at all the backlash Apple and Google got for trying to impose a rigid approach to hybrid work rather than a flexible one. Most importantly, they failed to include employees in the conversation. The pushback from employees wasn’t a mere rebellion; their feedback provides clear cues to redesign the future of work:

Remote and location-flexible decisions be up to teams to decide (just like hiring decisions)

A short survey be available to promote ongoing feedback on topics affecting hybrid work, including employee churn

The company evaluates the environmental impact of going back to the office

All employees could set their own schedules according to what would work best for them

A common denominator of each successful remote company I interviewed for my book “Remote, Not Distant” was that teams had a say in how things got done, from shaping the remote work corporate policy to having the flexibility to adapt them to their own needs.

Flexibility doesn’t mean permission to do whatever people want. Instead, it’s encouraging them to make personal choices in the team’s best interest. Rather than dictating a one-size-fits-all standard, let people choose what’s more effective for them. It’s an invitation to rethink how they can do their best work.

“I always think like a designer. Design is not the way something looks; design is how something works, and something works best when it works for the largest number of people,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told McKinsey.

Flexibility is more than just a perk for employees; 72% of workers who are unhappy with their current level of flexibility are likely to look for a new job. Flexibility is one of the best antidotes to the Great Resignation.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a reader of this article, what would it be?

Working in a hybrid environment requires trusting employees more than ever. This is critical for success. However, recently many leaders are ‘forcing’ employees back into the office despite they were able to work remotely during the pandemic and became more productive.

This is a clear sign of lack of trust – leaders want to go back to the manage by visibility approach.

Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify, popularized the idea of the trust battery. He believes that when a new colleague joins your team, the trust battery between the two of you starts out at around 50%. Each time the new colleague acts in a positive way, the trust level increases, while negative behaviors decrease trust.

The trust battery is slow to charge yet quick to drain.

In most companies, you must earn trust over time to earn benefits, but in a remote/ hybrid environment, you don’t have the luxury of time – trust should be assumed as a given, not earned.

The problem is that 50% is not enough. Trust is a two-way street. Leaders must take the first step and supercharge their own trust battery. Working in a hybrid environment requires trusting employees more than ever, and leaders must learn to trust their team more than feels comfortable.

In a nutshell, what are the next topics that you will be passionate about?

Gustavo Razzetti : Culture – the glue that holds people together is my passion. I will continue to study and experiment with how organizations can design more positive workplace environments, including people in the process.

I’ve been training thousands of corporate executives and consultants in the past 2-3 years and want to continue doing that to give the disciple of culture design the place it deserves.

Whatever new topics or changes happen within that field, I will be passionately explore them. Hey, no one predicted that a pandemic could disrupt the global workplace as it did. So, I’ll seize any new disruption as an opportunity to experiment.

Thank you Gustavo Razzetti

Thanks Bertrand

The book: Remote Not Distant, Gustavo Razzetti,  Liberationist Press, 2022.