How work is changing at Rexlabs

Little over 18 months ago our lives changed in ways that we could never have anticipated or planned for just months prior. As the mechanics and rhythms of our workplaces became stressed and strained, companies around the world were moved to embrace new ways of working and adjust their perceptions of what a successful workplace looked like. Views towards workplace flexibility shifted, with policies and procedures being introduced in an attempt to mitigate and support these unprecedented events.

During this time the desire at Rexlabs always remained the same. We wanted to create an environment that captured the aspects of remote work that we valued, while ensuring we created and supported opportunities for in-person connection, collaboration and serendipity.

Wrangling Uncertainty

Yeehaw!! And other cowboy lingo...

While watching the impending health crisis unfold overseas, we knew the clock was ticking for us as a leadership team to get out in front of this thing. Our approach to workplace flexibility, which was perfectly adequate at the end of 2019 (some may have even called it above industry standard) suddenly resembled a wedge of Swiss cheese. We knew we needed to evolve and fast, but our leadership team was divided on what this evolution should look like, debating these issues was difficult due to polarising departmental views and the ramifications to both work and personal lives that any change in policy might usher in.

We needed to understand the views of Rexlabs, to hear the voices of the people that drive the business and who would be affected most, what were their thoughts, feelings and concerns?

Going to the people

Surveying the team on what workplace flexibility meant to them and how that view aligned (or didn’t) with our current approach showed that the leadership team was a microcosm of the wider business, a blend of polarised views and misaligned expectations.

However disparate the views across the company were, two overarching insights were delivered by survey. The data showed:

  • our employees valued flexibility
  • but still had an attachment to our office

These insights gave us the confidence to move forward with an approach that we believed would broadly align with the needs of the team and the business, just in time for the “Ruby Princess” to pull into the docks of Sydney harbour.

Coming through COVID

Building on what we already had in place prior to the pandemic, the revised approach sought to establish a greater baseline level of flexibility as well as provide clear direction and expectations for handling the new joker in the pack, the lockdown.

  • 2 days working remote, 3 days working in office
  • In office days would be determined by the needs on the team
  • All team members should be in the office on those days

These policies were effective in providing the business with the predictability and consistency that was sorely needed in these most uncertain of circumstances.

Lockdown takeaways (not the Uber Eat kind)

Even as we were rolling out these changes, patting ourselves on the back for a job pretty well done, we knew that there would be ramifications that we simply had not had the chance to fully explore and understand. As ‘the rubber hit the road’ in the months that followed a couple of themes bubbled to the surface.

  • Where to find someone: It’s important for employees to have a predictable mental model for where they can find the people they work with.
  • Timing for office days: Implementing a fully flexible remote work schedule can lead to a “ghost town” office. If no one comes in at the same time, then you lose the moments of connection and serendipity that make in-person offices beneficial.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Of course, these challenges and learning were not unique to Rexlabs. Businesses around Australia and the world had been grappling with the same sorts of dilemmas that we had, fortunately many had published their thoughts, findings and approaches. As realisation grew that Rexlab’s round 2 flexibility policy wasn’t going to be effective for a post-COVID world, we began immersing ourselves in this research, searching for insights that we could adopt and Rexify. Canva, Dropbox, Figma and Facebook were all adopting approaches and frameworks that, to some degree, resonated with what we were looking to achieve in this next iteration of policy.

Canva

  • Come to the office at least “twice a season” or eight times a year once pandemic restrictions lift

Facebook

  • Anyone whose role can be done remotely can request remote work.
  • Offices will be more flexible for those expected to return — guidance for employees is to spend at least half their time in the office.

Dropbox

  • Every employee aligned to one of our offices will have access to a Dropbox Studio.
  • Dropbox Studios will be specifically for collaboration and community-building, and employees will not be able to use them for solo work.

Figma in particular seemed to be in a very similar position to our own, with a desired outcome that we were also looking to model.

  • Moved towards a hybrid model, where they offer both in-person and remote work options. This is a departure from the mostly in-person approach Figma had before COVID.
  • Team members choose whether they will associate with an office or be remote.
  • The offices will have a flexible model, where people will be expected to come in at least two specific days per week. These days will be the same for everyone in the office to maximize connection and serendipity.

With our own first hand experiences now augmented with research we had conducted into some of the best known, market leading, innovative companies around the world, we had the understanding and clarity required to take us forward as a company, based around the tenets of flexibility and connection.

Flexibility and Connection

Historical footage of flexibility and connection in a pre COVID world

As described above, to a large degree we followed our own normal design process in revising our workplace flexibility policy. We thought about the competitive landscape, conducted research and explored different options before converging on a solution.

Principles that guide us

As a new approach took shape, there were two principles that guided the design and development of our future state.

1. Team first: We wanted to empower individual teams and team leads to make their own decisions when it comes to support for remote working and how that affects their own cadences and rhythms. Individuals needed to think as a team and put the team first when planning meaningful time to connect and work together.

2. Office time: We wanted to ensure as many people as possible come together for important opportunities to connect and collaborate in-person. Many team members will continue to come into the office regularly and we need to maintain our commitment to our shared space and culture.

Although we were providing company level guidelines, we want to devolve as much of the decision making as possible to individual teams. They would be best positioned and most informed in regard to the specifics that would make sense based on the composition of the team and its associated roles and responsibilities.

As team members (and by extension the teams themselves) began considering how they would like to operate moving forward, the principles that had helped guide the development of our approach would also be utilised in the practical implementation. In formulating their approach, team members were strongly encouraged to apply the principles in the following ways:

  • Work in the way that’s best for the team, based on diversity of preferences and team needs
  • Be as practical as possible, choose the mode of work to suit the problem
  • Get together when possible, we value the energy that happens when a we get together to collaborate
  • We want to use in person to collaborate and create bonds across the company rather than to mark time

The new approach

Our goal was to provide guidelines that enabled our teams to have greater workplace flexibility if their role and team supported it as well as provide all team members with access to an office for collaboration and community building. Backed up by the research and supported by our principles, we moved forward with the following hybrid, remote and in office approach.

Changes to Hybrid Roles

  • 2 days in office (down from 3)
  • Whole office comes in on the same day (to be determined)
  • 2nd and additional office days aligned with team preference
  • Permanent desks for hybrid roles (no more hot desking!)
  • Office updates to improve and enhance hybrid meetings and collaboration
  • Work from anywhere up to 4 weeks of the year

Introducing Fully Remote Roles

  • Aim to hire locally or in near geography where possible (within 2–3 hour drive).
  • In person onboarding for new remote hires to build bonds and connection
  • Come together twice a quarter in near geography
  • When geographically distant, aim to come together as often as practical
  • Encouraged to come to the office for team based collaboration
  • No permanent desk when in office.

Although they are referred to as fully remote roles, we still intend to physically see each other on a semi regular basis. The desire is that the principles discussed will support team members coming into the office for both professional collaboration and personal connection.

What’s Next?

As you might imagine, these changes have added some complexity to our systems and as a result all the necessary processes and policies that underpin our hybrid model still need to be worked out. Even without the approach being “gold plated’’ it was important to get it in front of the team, so they could see the journey and understand the aspirations and sentiments that drove its design and development.

Over the next couple of months we will roll out the specifics of the new hybrid approach, ensuring that both new and existing team members understand the rationale behind it and can effectively integrate it into their teams.

We hope this balance between flexibility and connection continues to empower our people to do their best work and that the formalisation of the hybrid framework gives the teams the clarity and predictability they need to continue to be successful.

The future of work at Rexlabs is an exciting one, we’re looking forward to providing more updates as we continue on our journey.

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