Throughout the pandemic we’ve had no choice but to address what I call the ‘dots’ of hybrid working, meaning the individual challenges and/or obstacles that we’ve had to face. From figuring out how to get our people set up to work from home, to figuring out how to bring them safely back to the workplace, we’ve had lots of dots, moving and changing over and over again.
But as we’re now in a place where we know that hybrid work is here to stay, it’s time to pause for a moment and start looking at and addressing it differently. It’s time to connect the dots, making sure that all of the individual dots together create the hybrid working ‘picture’ that’s right for you - helping you attract, retain and engage your people, and helping your business be productive and responsive to further change challenges.
“A well-executed hybrid workplace can be a magnet that brings people together and helps us work better than ever before” - Jim Keane and Todd Heiser, Harvard Business Review blog titled ‘4 Strategies for Building a Hybrid Workplace that Works.’
The first step is to determine your end ‘picture’ by reimagining how you want hybrid working to look, feel and ultimately work at your company. As you do this, it’s important to take into consideration your company’s mission and values, the culture you want to create and/or maintain, and the needs of your people so that you end up with a picture that meets all of these objectives.
The next step is to determine the individual ‘dots’ required to create this overall picture when you connect them. As you do this, it’s important to understand which ones you’ll need to add, those that need to be removed, and any that may need to be changed. Consider anything and everything, from how you communicate with your people, to how they work together, to how you engage with them, make sure that no dot is missed that could have an impact on the overall hybrid working experience.
Once you do this, you’re set up to connect the dots, having an end-to-end and holistic approach to hybrid working. And to help you as you go through these steps, here are five tips:
1. Don’t just recreate existing practises
When we were first forced to work from home at the start of COVID-19, we had no choice but to recreate the office online. We leveraged existing technology and quickly added new ones that would help our employees do their jobs remotely. Great in the middle of a pandemic, but there are two problems with this long term. First, it assumes that everything we did before was worth recreating, and second, it assumes that what worked in an office would automatically work remotely.
For these reasons, when we reimagine hybrid working we need to resist recreating existing practises, taking a step back and looking at and for opportunities to redesign how work is done. By doing this, we have a better chance of meeting the new requirements of hybrid working, and in some situations, creating something better than it was in the past.
An example relates to how we manage meetings with a hybrid workforce. In the past, we’d have one or maybe two people that couldn’t make a meeting in person, so we’d dig out the conference call phone, or connect them through videoconferencing technology. Either way, it didn’t work, with the person being forgotten or ignored as they weren’t in the room. Companies are taking some interesting approaches to overcoming these challenges and redesigning new ways of holding meetings. From everyone bringing their laptop to the meeting room or taking the meeting from their desks to even things out, or having empty chairs with the person’s name (or even photo) on the chair so you don’t forget them, they’re finding ways that recreate the situation to achieve their desired outcomes.
According to Alex Hirst, Co-founder of Hoxby Collective, and someone who campaigns for individual's setting their own workstyle and is a pioneer of asynchronous working, "Companies need to unlearn corporate behaviours, with successful ‘async’ working requiring a cultural change. We need to encourage employees to communicate when and how they work, by broadcasting working hours on profile pages, in email signatures or Slack status messages. We need to upskill management to lead by example and work asynchronously too. And, we need to encourage a culture where people are judged on their outputs rather than their presenteeism."
2. Imagine the impossible
Building on from the previous point, it’s important that as you recreate and reimagine hybrid working at your company, you challenge yourself and others to imagine the impossible. Leading with your strategy, objectives and ‘picture’, get out that blank piece of paper and come up with alternative ways of doing things. It’s something you’ve been doing for the last two years, so it’s what will be expected and required going forward.
An example is how companies are challenging traditional working practises and patterns that support hybrid working. From moving away from traditional nine to five working hours, to letting employees work from anywhere, to moving to four day work weeks, companies are doing things now that were unheard of (and unimaginable) a few years ago.
3. Be on the lookout for obstacles
An important thing to keep in mind as you go through these steps are the obstacles, which are things that could trip your company or people up. For example, if you mandate that all employees must come into the office two days a week, consider what obstacles this will cause for working parents who over the last two years have adjusted their work schedule so that they can take their children to school. Or, what about employees who share a house and would have to work in their bedroom for three days a week? Put on your diversity and inclusion lens, and make sure that your dots don’t favour one group of employees over another, creating a hybrid working picture that works for everyone.
4. Understand the changing needs of your workforce
When reimagining your hybrid working ‘picture’ and determining your ‘dots’, it’s absolutely critical to understand the changing needs of your workforce. Many companies have done a fantastic job with this, going out to their people and asking them how they believe hybrid working will impact their work and personal lives, and what they need to change to better meet their needs. Take the time to ask these questions, and then use this powerful information to put yourself in your people’s shoes as you reimagine how work will get done moving forward.
An example is a company who adapted one of their recognition practises to work more effectively for a hybrid workforce. In the past, when an employee would win a recognition award they’d surprise them with balloons at their desk. It was a great way to showcase their achievement and celebrate with colleagues in the office. But as they moved to hybrid working, they heard from their people that this wasn’t working, that often they wouldn’t know they had won an award for days as they weren’t in the office, or that they had missed out on celebrating with colleagues since they hadn’t been in the office. The result was to move to an online digital recognition platform so that all employees, regardless of where they worked, could feel recognised and get involved with the recognition even more so than in the past.
5. Continually review and refresh your approach
Last, but certainly not least, is to review and refresh your hybrid working ‘picture’ and ‘dots’ over and over again. Speak to your people, understand what’s working and what’s not working, measure engagement and effectiveness, and ultimately determine if what you’re doing meets the changing needs of your business, people and what is on offer to support hybrid working. Whether it’s how you run meetings, manage projects, hold company-wide events, manage work schedules or communicate with your people, constantly have a pulse on how effective they are.
Let me end by encouraging you to take these steps to connect the dots of hybrid working at your organisation. And, as Mohith Agadi said, “If you can’t connect the dots, find the right dots”, finding and addressing ones that are right for your company and people now and in the future.