Hybrid Work: If it can go hybrid, it will

Rolf Pfeiffer's picture Submitted by Rolf Pfeiffer July 12, 2021 - 2:11pm
Hybrid Work: If it can go hybrid, it will
In an office setting, people are working at their laptops, wearing face masks and at separated desks. At the front of the picture, a white man is wearing a face mask and talking to his coworker, a black woman wearing a face mask. Their desks are separated by a plastic partition. The office is white with copious green leafy plants scattered around.
 
If it can go hybrid, yes it will…

When some 30 Fellows of the Institute of Coaching discussed what the “new world of work” might look like, we started from the question: What will we go to when moving to a hybrid work format of working both remotely and in person, and what are the challenges that we might expect to see? The topic is widely discussed in many places, and the answers are emerging, but not set in stone yet. The following aims to provide an overview of what the hybrid way of working might look like; reasons for conducting work in a face-to-face setting or remotely; and some of the key questions that leaders and teams will need to be mindful of when shaping their version of the “new world of work”.

First of all, let’s remind ourselves that this is a conversation that only applies to some of the workforce in an economy, as a large number of jobs (manufacturing, the medical sector, transport & logistics, energy, aviation, as well as essential public services such as the police, firefighters, ambulances) will not transfer into a hybrid mode. It is therefore important not to turn this into a “winners and losers of the new hybrid world” conversation (where those who can’t take their jobs into a hybrid format might envy those who can, as the hybrid model might end up being seen as bringing a higher quality of life). It will take solutions that are responsive, adaptive, and inclusive. 

For those who can work in a hybrid model, this situation is a unique opportunity to reinvent how we do business, how we communicate with each other, and how we learn with each other while at work. We will create better gauges for creativity, success, and getting stuff done. We have a huge opportunity to be creative around all those large and small things that build company culture. Some of these perspectives might be uncomfortable (e.g., for leaders who in the past have acted like shepherds, wanting their team physically around them). Employees will want their voice heard in the decisions being made, specifically in markets where sought-after talent is scarce.

For leaders and their teams, the big question will be, “how do we find a balance that works for all involved.” Leaders will need to take into account the needs of the business and its clients, the needs of teams to get stuff done and to learn with each other, as well as the needs of the individuals to balance work and life. Stakeholder needs will now be a bigger part of the equation as we have learned that we can adapt if we must. How will leaders and their teams find appropriate answers that take into account business, sustainability, and financial objectives? We will have to question some of our most deeply held assumptions. We have a huge opportunity to take a fresh look, and seek new solutions, as opposed to struggling with how to somehow go back to what we have had pre-pandemic. A lot of these decisions will (have to) be at the team level, where the visibility of business needs and personal situations is best.

Leaders and their teams will have to find ways to balance process accountability with psychological safety. How do leaders create the space to have the conversations that allow all voices to be heard, needs and concerns to be discussed, and then make decisions that find a good compromise between these needs that will certainly diverge from time to time? And how do we get that done in a reasonable amount of time? How do we then get stuff done and survive in fierce competition? How can we turn our new flexibility and balance into a competitive advantage?

And once we have defined new ways of working, and the alignment issues arise, who will be the “aunties” that people can speak with in confidence (e.g., individuals in an organization that provide a blend of coaching and psychological support, to employees so that they have access to someone to discuss their needs with in a totally confidential manner)? Who will be the “grandmas” (like in some African countries) who sit in the village square, and anyone can sit next to them, talk about their issues, tap into their wisdom, and leave with a few good ideas?

Let’s also look at some key points:

Reasons to work in a face-to-face (F2F) setting will include* …
  • The need to bond, build relationships, invest in the culture: human beings are social animals, and we benefit strongly from spontaneous interactions while in the office, bumping into each other in the hallways or at the coffee machine.
  • Getting critical work done in a collaborative and co-creative manner: when the stakes are high, still nothing replaces the opportunity to pause the big meeting and break into smaller (side) conversations that can lead to the important breakthroughs.
  • The ability to think differently, more (co-)creatively, when in the same room, as proven time and again by cognitive neuroscience and attachment theory (Marrone, 2014).
  • Meetings can include physical movement, we can have walking meetings, we can use terraces, gardens, parks, and we know that this unleashes more creativity than sitting in a meeting room.
We should aim not to lose …
  • The effectiveness and efficiency of a well-facilitated virtual meeting that can accomplish a lot more than we might have thought prior to the pandemic.
  • The flexibility to juggle different needs during a day, which, if it works, can actually increase productivity; specifically, if we treat flexibility as a factor that helps to optimize situations vs. treating it as a benefit
We will need to pay a lot of attention to a few important details …
  • Not to call the situation “going back to work” – people have worked from everywhere. So let’s ask “where do we go from here?”
  • Making value judgments about being or not being in the office, and how to measure contributions if we don’t “see” people at work (let’s recognize that this will essentially be an issue for highly co-located teams; those who have worked with distributed teams in the past will see less of a shift).
  • How we build & maintain trust when people are in different settings on a permanent basis, or situations are in constant flux.
  • How we come to and then stick to agreements around what happens in F2F mode in the office, F2F mode in other locations, or virtually. Early reactions to those who summon everyone back into the office as of a certain date have not met unequivocal praise by those concerned.
  • Ensure that everyone who wants to work flexibly has the technology that allows for this to work properly.
  • Not to exclude anyone who might – for whatever reason – not be able to fully follow guidelines being issued for the hybrid working world.
  • That we need to rethink what the office is for. It’s a place for gathering, socializing, and coming together. What does the office represent and how do we make this come to life?
  • How do we make sure that those who join hybrid meetings without being in the room with others are heard and included in the conversation?
  • That leaders will likely find it challenging to manage the energy of teams and meetings when some are F2F and others are remote.
  • That we don’t overthink our approach, but much rather test and experiment with ideas that sound promising and then keep what works and iteratively shift things that don’t.
  • That we need answers for those who work, e.g., in an open space where some are fully vaccinated, and others aren’t (either because they don’t want to get vaccinated or they have a medical condition that prevents them from getting vaccinated).
  • That informal networking used to be easier for those working full-time compared to those working part-time; and now there is an added dimension in this equation: F2F or remote.

And finally, let’s not forget a key premise: when we went virtual sometime in early 2020, everyone who could, went virtual. The experience now will be much less similar. Some will (have to) go back to the office full time, others will go entirely remote, yet others will have a mix of both. Things will be messy for a while until we have settled in. New questions will arise for which we don’t have clear answers right away. We might need to speak a lot more about our life situation holistically to really create the alignment needed to make this work for everyone in the long run. Some of the ideas that will be implemented will feel like roses (beautiful) to some, but like thorns (hurtful) to others.

We are in the same sea, but we don’t sit in the same boat.


We’d also like to hear from you! What do you observe in this space? What are the questions that your clients bring to you? What works, what doesn’t work in your professional/client environment?

 

References:

Marrone, M. Middle initial. (2014). Attachment and Interaction: From Bowlby to Current Clinical Theory and Practice. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

These are insights taken from conversations with some 30 Fellows of the Institute of Coaching, representing tens of thousands of hours of experience working with leaders around the globe; and backed up by work done with teams at some of the most demanding firms in recent weeks on the topic of “what will the new world of (hybrid) work look like.”  Cognitive neuroscience and attachment theory insights are built on several of the works by John Bowlby.