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The remote work revolution is a ‘chaotic transition.’ Here’s how tech leaders can make it successful

July 13, 2022, 10:43 PM UTC
FORTUNE Brainstorm Tech 2022
(L-R) Qualtrics CEO Zig Serafin, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, and Upwork CEO Hayden Brown discuss remote work at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo.
Stuart Isett/Fortune

For business leaders to succeed in 2022, they will have to stop playing by the old rules and create new ones. And where their employees work from is one of the biggest changes to the rules of knowledge work that they’ll undertake.

To make this set of decisions work, leaders have to be intentional about when they operate remotely and when they call employees in to work together in-person, tech CEOs stressed at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for every company, or even within a single company.

It’s “really about going team-by-team and figuring out what is the level of flexibility, what is the level of face-to-face versus remote work that does work for them,” Hayden Brown, CEO of freelancing platform Upwork, said during a panel discussion this week. What works for the tech team may not work for the marketing team. Trust managers to do what works best for their reports.

Business leaders need to ask themselves what kind of company they want to have, and what kind of culture they want to foster, added Zig Serafin, CEO of software company Qualtrics.

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston said it’s “an exciting time” for business leaders to rethink the future of knowledge work.

“It’s a very chaotic transition,” Houston said, noting that Dropbox now works primarily remotely, but brings employees together for team-building off-sites and “curated” in-office experiences.

How leaders and executives structure their work has to “make sense to people,” he said. They need to respect their employees’ time.

“If you’re asking people to commute multiple hours just to be at a stand-up that could have been on Zoom and not making it a full day or multi-day thing, that’s really frustrating,” Houston said. Through trial and error, companies will learn what type of work—a Zoom meeting, in-person work, asynchronous work—operates best for different tasks.

“Matching the right mode to the right task is something a lot of leaders have to think about now and be more intentional about now than in the past,” he said.

If companies get the transition to remote work or hybrid work right, they’ll be rewarded with a vast new talent pool, the CEOs said. Remember: The “office is not the point,” said Brown. The people matter most.

“As people are opening up their doors to remote workers, suddenly they can change the composition of their workforce, which is absolutely critical in terms of bringing in new talent, changing the game as everybody is battling in this war for talent,” she said.

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