People have been working remotely for years. Remote work has been studied for years. Many companies have global workers, so some remote work is inevitable. But that remote work involved co-located teams and individuals working with other co-located people. This is not what is happening today.

With the pandemic, whole technology teams were working remotely in different locations. Everyone was a square in a video screen spending the day online. Few workers in tech were in a face-to-face meeting. The Remote Work OP in 2021-2022 explored the experience of remote working with an eye toward its impact on women and other underrepresented populations. See a video of the findings below.

Many people in tech are happy with remote working, and our research is in line with this. Product teams are used to remote working and their remote tools. They like remote work because it gives them a better home/work balance and family life, the ability to live in a personally desirable place, and less commute time. Some also feel safer behind a screen—safer from jerk behavior and micro-aggressions. Some companies report that they achieved a more diverse worker population because they can recruit all over the country.

But remote working, even before the pandemic, comes with costs. Our research, like the literature, shows that a sense of belonging, social connection, getting support from coaches, onboarding new hires, and ensuring that working meetings are run well so that all voices are heard suffer with remote working. More importantly to the company, team cohesion and innovation can suffer when people do not come together frequently enough to know each other, exchange information informally, and participate in ideation. Last, group interactions where some people are in person and some are remote disadvantage the remote people.

The Remote vs Hybrid Work Challenge

Many companies are now asking employees to come back to the office at least 1-3 days a week. This hybrid work changes the complexion of daily work for tech workers. With that in mind, we are launching the Remote vs Hybrid Work Project. By taking a deep dive into hybrid working we hope to better understand what is needed and what works and how to balance the draw of remote working with the value of in-person interaction.

In 2022-2023 we will focus on the hybrid work experience of user experience professionals, designers, and user researchers. This population is interesting because UX professionals typically work closely with cross-functional teams to ensure that user data is collected, synthesized, and used to drive ideation and product decisions. They are often in the middle of group interactions and collaboration that may benefit from in-person interactions. UX work by its nature benefits from collaborative spaces. How companies use space is of particular interest to us. Coming back to the office brings with it the opportunity to reinvent how we use space. If we expect that all will go back to the way it was, we fear we will lose an opportunity for workplace and work life innovation.

The Remote vs Hybrid Work Op 

Volunteer Opportunity: We are gathering a team to do the field interviews. If you are a UX professional and would like to be interviewed or do a diary on your experiences, please contact us. If you have deep training in Contextual Design you may want to be on the team. We are looking for skills in Contextual Inquiry, interpretation sessions, and affinity building in Miro. We are also looking for an expert in survey construction so that we can get run a survey following the qualitative research.  Volunteer

Collaborating Colleagues: Thanks to Nina Schloss for project managing the Remote Work Project v1 research effort. Thanks also to Lacey Arevalo, Aditi Shankar, Emily Carlson, Bradlee Sutherland and to my students at University of Maryland HCIM program.

Next Steps: We plan to start the field interviews on hybrid working in the Fall 2022. Watch for findings. 

Donate: Please help fund a survey panel to collect a wider sample of responses impacted by remote working. Donate to the general fund.

Related Videos:

Best Practices for Managing Remote Teams
Retaining Women in Tech in the Remote Work Environment
Remote Contextual Design


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