Today’s insights are brought to you by my colleague and futurist, Graeme Codrington.
Whether you’re still working from home, back at the office, a hybrid of both (most likely), or have managed to secure a more digital nomad lifestyle since the world was turned upside down a few years ago. – wherever you find yourself sitting as you read this – welcome to our team’s first Tuesday email of 2023!
Discussions and decisions around hybrid policies need to be a lot more than merely recovering from these last few years and returning to work.
They need to be focused on how your team and organisation can prepare for success in the future of work. To attract, retain and get the best out of the people you need, you will have to give them more autonomy, more flexibility, and be more engaged in working with them to design the optimal working environment.
This video shares the overview of a five-step hybrid decision-making process used by TomorrowToday to show our clients how to have the “hybrid conversation” in the best way possible.
Decisions around what hybrid looks like in your team and your company need to be a lot more than just a recovery from COVID or a return to office policy. We obviously need to be getting a balance between productivity and efficiency, team dynamics and cohesion management oversight, and of course, staff engagement. To get that mix and to make sure that it’s right for everybody and for the company, we need to be thinking of this hybrid conversation as a future of work strategy, not just a recovery plan.
My name is Graeme Codrington and I’d like to suggest a five-point framework for decision making as we think about what hybrid means in the next year. So, this framework for hybrid decision making starts with us making sure that everybody on our team understands the deliverables, the drivers, and the constraints on the possibility of hybrid.
What do I mean by that? Well, we can’t just leave this up to every individual. We can’t just say to each person in our team, what would you like to do? That’s a starting point and hopefully, you’ve got enough confidence and team dynamics in your team for people to declare what they believe would be the best for them. But of course, nobody works in isolation, and everybody needs to understand that their team members might need something different to them.
I might be able to work from home, but somebody who relies on my input, who needs me as a mentor, who needs me to do some physical work for them, might prefer me to be in a physical space. And so, we need to have it. This is probably a big conversation to have maybe at the end or the start of a year where you talk through what are these drivers and deliverables and constraints on your team and just don’t think that everybody sees what you see and that everybody sees these things in the same way. This is definitely a conversation, and don’t forget that it might be a conversation which could also include a significant reset moment. Hit the reset button and see if maybe you can change things up.
Things that used to be constraints. Somebody saying, well, I have to be at the office because of X, Y, and Z. Well, maybe that’s not true anymore. I had this conversation with a client recently where one of their security guards, who was responsible for sort of perimeter security, had actually argued successfully to the company that because the company had now upgraded the entire security system, to include security cameras that were monitored by software and one or two drones, as it happens, on this quite big property that his job was mainly to sit in front of a TV screen and watch all the cameras, and just make sure that the system was working, and if something went wrong, he called somebody else to go and do something about it, and his argument was he could pretty much do that anywhere in the world.
A retail client that had previously had quite narrow shopping hours opening at nine and closing at five. Had a conversation around flexibility and thinking that there was no option for flexibility, except they discovered that there were quite a few staff who were prepared to come in earlier, quite a few staff who were prepared to stay later. What they wanted was some flexibility and instead of saying to them, well, the shop hours are nine to five, they agreed to open the shop earlier, which was a good thing, close it later, even better, got more customers in, they’re making more money, everybody’s happy. Don’t just try and get back to how things were, think about what things need to be and what that looks like.
Once you’ve had that big conversation, probably on a weekly basis, you need to have a smaller conversation that flows from this. Hidden in the concept of hybrid is the idea of constant change. Companies that are coming up with a hybrid policy that says you have to be at the office three days a week, well, that doesn’t feel so hybrid to me. Of course, what they’ve discovered is that if you tell your staff to come to the office three days a week, the three days most staff members choose are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. You might have a problem because you’ve got rid of some of your floor space, so you can’t have everybody at the office. So now not only are you telling them you have to come in three days a week, but you’re also telling them which three days to come in and now it’s not hybrid at all.
So, what you need to do in order to make it properly hybrid is you need to be asking this question on a regular basis, considering what has to be done and understanding the constraints, the deliverables on our team, under what conditions will we do our best work? And I think that the answer might be different for different weeks, it might be different next week, it might be different at month end, it might be different next quarter. This will change.
And so, some weeks you might have to be at the office five, you know what, even six days a week, and the week after that you might not have to come to the office at all. But you need to have the conversation and you need to then also this is the third point in this framework is if you do believe that it’s a good thing to meet together, you then have to ask, well, where is the right place? Because again, hidden in the concept of hybrid is this idea of flexibility, and that also means flexibility of space.
And your office might not be set up. You have to have a conversation with your facilities team to make sure that the office can handle a whole group of people who have come to the office to do a brainstorming type of session or to do a project management type environment where they need a big table and lots of flip charts and open space. But then the next day they need to have quiet cubicles, then the next day they need to have small little rooms where they can go and do conference calls with individual clients. We’ve got to think of our facilities and whether the physical space we’re making available at the office is actually conducive to the type of work we want to do.
Basically, if you want to get your head around this, the office is a tool, not a destination. The tool needs to be appropriate for the task at hand and you should only use the tool if the task requires it. That old statement, if all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. If all you’ve got is an office and a hybrid policy that says you have to come in three days a week, then everything looks like a nail, that you can hit with that policy, hybrid means you’ve got to be constantly flexing.
Now, the fourth part of the framework is asking whether we have set people up for their best success. I’ve framed it as a diversity, equity, and inclusion conversation. But of course, that is what inclusion is all about. It’s making sure that everybody feels that they can contribute, that their skill set is valued, and that they have the resources required in order to contribute. From a DEI perspective, that’s got to do with overcoming historical issues, that’s got to do with making sure that people are represented. In a hybrid environment, there’s all of that, but it goes further. It’s saying if people can work from home, do they have Wi-Fi connectivity? Do they have the technology that set them up for success? A lot of companies are saying you’re not being as productive from home, but they haven’t given people every chance of success in doing that.
Inclusion goes a lot further than just gender and cultural considerations. It goes to are you married? Do you have children? Are you looking after family members at home? How long is your commute time? It doesn’t have to be completely equal, doesn’t even have to be completely fair. What it has to be is making sure that everybody is set up for their best success. When I say it doesn’t have to be completely fair, I mean it doesn’t have to look the same for every person. It has to look as if every person is able to give their best. You need the psychological safety in your team for people to tell you when that’s not the case.
And that leads to the final part of this framework, the fifth point, and that is that we need that psychological safety where people are confident that they know how these decisions are going to be made, that this doesn’t just come as a policy from head office, that this doesn’t just come as well, the boss prefers it this way, so that’s how it’s going to be done. That people can push back and say, that’s not working for me.
Maybe a better way to frame this fifth point is to say you’ve got to build a culture of experimentation into this hybrid environment because you’ve got to give people the ability to say, could I just try it another way and see if that works? And yeah, this framework for hybrid decision making requires a lot more hands on from management, it requires a lot more conversation and a lot more flexibility. But if you get it right, you will have built the workplace of the future. You will have built a place that people want to work in. Not just a place where they can come to, but a working environment that gets the best out of them makes the most sense, and you’ll have created an environment that can attract and retain and get the most out of the best of the best in your industry.
I hope that that’s a useful thought for you as you think about what hybrid looks like for you in the next year or so. If you need any further information or assistance or any other resources, please make sure that you contact myself or our team at TomorrowToday Global. We’ve, we’ve been living this hybrid world for more than 20 years personally, and we’ve been helping companies to plan for the future of work for those two decades, and we can help you if you need assistance.
Author of today’s tip, Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.