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The Hybrid Office: 3 Unintended Future Scenarios Leaders Must Avoid

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

How to create a #PIVOTculture

‘Hybrid’ – the long-awaited sequel to ‘Remote’… Many of us are anticipating a number of pros and cons to this set-up, but might there also be some unintended consequences we should be mindful of in the drive to enable a balance of office and home-working.

Many people have reported upsides to the greater freedom and possibilities that remote working has afforded us, and the shift to hybrid working will be no different. Meetings have tended to become more efficient and more focused. We are now all sat ‘next’ to each other in effect, and the importance of physical presence and size have been reduced as Zoom does its best to make us all equal in the eyes of the webcam. The absence of a daily commute has saved millions in time and money, not to mention the associated positive environmental impact of lower emissions, which anecdotally appears to be a large driver for the continuation of remote working. Working patterns have adapted to the needs of families, albeit in strange and unfamiliar circumstances. New parents have been spared the difficult decision of whether to take more leave or go back to work, and the advantages to the new family unit of having both parents on-hand in the early months of life could have real positive benefits for all. In the main it can be summed up by arguing that greater choice of where and how we work, will make lives easier and lead to happier, more productive people.

But what about the unintended Cons

On the other hand, in the rush to embrace hybrid working we are potentially heading towards ways of working that few organisations had truly experienced ‘at scale’ pre-pandemic. This means we’re likely to see a number of challenges which from our viewpoint can be grouped into three categories: reduced business benefits, amplified divisions and psycho-social impact.

In our white paper 'Leading the Shift to Hybrid' we share real insights from organisations about how they are working to get ahead of these three unintended consequences. We discuss and share best practice for leaders and how they can create a #PIVOTculture for their organisation by focusing on:

  • Corporate Isolation

  • Remote Role Modelling

  • Protecting Personal Strengths

  • Virtual Resilience

  • Present Privilege

1. Reduced Business Benefits

The first challenge is largely the result of ‘remote’ rather than hybrid working, but will remain for those of us who are able to, and choose to, conduct the majority of our business from home. The reality is that despite our best attempts, there are simply fewer unplanned interactions than there used to be - with almost all of our contact with colleagues now planned via the tech of choice. The last time I checked it was impossible to accidentally bump into someone on Zoom the way we once might have done in a corridor or over a coffee – so all spontaneous encounters have largely been eliminated.

Whilst remote working has undoubted upsides for the less socially inclined… it inevitably has an impact on the types of conversations we have, and the views we are exposed to...

2. Amplified Divisions

The second challenge is being afforded a degree of choice about where and when we work could also have unintended consequences and amplify divisions in ways we haven’t even considered along gender, personality, socio-economic and generational lines. A number of articles have referenced the fact that women have been much more likely to drop out of work during the pandemic, with women in academia submitting fewer papers for example. No doubt the home-schooling necessity has played a large role in this. This in itself leads to very different experiences of working from home. It will be interesting to see how hybrid working plays out along personality lines too. Will our offices be populated by extroverts enjoying the hustle and bustle that it affords, with introverts choosing to stay safely at home in a more controlled environment that suits their style of working? If so, how will this impact on the dynamic of the workplace? The personality variable also plays a huge role in the perceived need to be physically present for at least some of the working week.

Being afforded a degree of choice about where and when we work could also have unintended consequences and amplify divisions in ways we haven’t even considered along gender, personality, socio-economic and generational lines...

3. Psychosocial Impact

Perhaps least understood are the ways in which the permanent reduction in the separation of home and work lives will affect us.

When we go to bed at night anxious, what we are struggling with is literally in the next room, or even in the same one if our home set-up requires us to work in a make-shift office in the main bedroom!

This lack of separation makes it much more difficult to switch off, and again is much less of an issue for those with spacious home offices.

It is always easy to talk about increased choice as a good thing. But often with choice comes added stress and increased awareness of the path not taken…

And So...

Clearly for such a wide range of potential issues there is no one solution, but two things immediately spring to mind. In the longer term, the requirement for emotionally intelligent leadership will be even more critical in the hybrid environment, if our workers are to be optimised. We may have thought we knew our people before the pandemic, but we have just added a whole range of new variables. In the short term however, leaders need to learn how to PIVOT when change occurs without losing the buy in from their team. We have begun transforming the leadership behaviours of a number of our clients – whereby we facilitate a skill build on our PIVOT programme, using a range of constructs to consider the leadership competencies required for hybrid working to be a success. We explore with leaders how this is likely to play out in their workplace, and anticipate or head off problems before they arise with their people.

These clients are now seeing a new culture in their hybrid organisation forming as a result of their ability to PIVOT where:

  • Leaders & teams being proactive to ensure the organisation remains in flow to achieve its ambitions & everyone accountable for the collective goal

  • Neuro based Leadership is promoting hybrid cohesion so everyone in the team is positioned for future challenges together

  • Teams are adapting to this change with a growth mindset so they are feeling more futureproofed

  • Talent retention strategies & working structures are simplified to empower cross functional teams, self managing work groups & work pools who are highly engaged

  • Leaders are steering performance by optimising health when the pressure is on so they are a resilient organisation

The most important thing to realise about hybrid working is the intentionality and effort necessary to maintain a #PIVOTculture. Where teams and leaders can Persevere, Involve, create Value, Optimise & rebuild or maintain Trust nothing will be automatic, and it will be nearly impossible to have a positive hybrid culture by default. It will take an awareness and dedication from Leaders to get this right. Culture has always been a challenge to strengthen and sustain when we were under one roof, maybe we should ask ourselves why? Is it time to acknowledge that cultures don't work in business? Is it hybrid communities that will now see us through? Creating a #PIVOTculture won’t be easy, but if we can create highly functioning work communities and avoid the three pitfalls above, creating the intended consequences of freedom, balance, efficiency & equality will be worth it.

Download our White Paper: Leading the Shift to Hybrid where we share our best thinking & strategies to make leadership easier in todays world of work.

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