Hybrid Work Part 3: Strategic Considerations

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The Hybrid Work Series

In Hybrid Work Part 1: Advantages and Challenges we looked at research from Gallup and Steelcase which concluded that the advantages for people and organizations in embracing hybrid work far outweighed its challenges.

In Hybrid Work Part 2: Do This, Don’t Do That we looked at what New York Times best-selling author Dan Schawbel had to say and concluded that while technology and office space redesign are important, first and foremost we need to take a people-centred approach.

In this, the final instalment in our Hybrid Work series, we offer strategic considerations for developing a hybrid work approach that can be fit-for-purpose for your organization.

The past is not a guide

As we look to the future of work, we at The Hive believe, as do many others, that hybrid work, in whatever form it may take for individual organizations, is here to stay for the long-term. This makes it important that organizations take a more collaborative and strategic discovery-driven approach to making policy, selecting tools, and governing hybrid work over the traditional top-down plan-driven approach that many organizations still seem to favour.

We say this because hybrid as a way of working is still new to most organizations, can be disruptive, has not yet been extensively researched, and the form it takes for any given organization needs to reflect its individual circumstances, needs, and culture. No one can say with certainty what will work and what will not work in any given context. That is not to say we cannot learn from others and what did or did not work for them, we just need to be careful not to simply implement what may have worked somewhere else in the mistaken belief it will work the same way for us.

As Rod Collins, author, and keynote speaker, noted in part 2 of our series on hybrid work, innovation requires serendipity and emergence, and this must be solved for hybrid work as the physical presence under which they occurred in the past is no longer the norm. You can catch our conversation with Rod over on The Hive Nation Podcast.

The above is also true for a lot of the challenges and problems facing organizations from a variety of change vectors such as new strategic directions, recessions, technology, environment, financial crises, etc. The traditional approaches of labelling everything new to be done as a project and starting with a technology solution to ill-defined problems are being exposed for what they have always been, ill-suited to a fast-changing world.

We now face wicked problems whose full definitions, and hence solutions, are yet to be discovered rather than simple problems with simple answers and ready-made solutions.

The thinking processes, the business capabilities, as well as many of the competencies and skills people require, regardless of whether they are tackling disruptive change due to new strategic directions or trying to figure out how to properly do hybrid work in their own organizations, are going to be different than before.

And if all of that is not enough to change how we view our people and our organizations, Randstad’s 2022 Workmonitor study across Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, concluded:

We believe focusing on these five areas is essential: fitting work around people’s lives, aligning values, strengthening attraction strategies, offering job flexibility, and accelerating professional development.

To stay ahead of the competition for talent, companies — now more than ever— need to adopt a people-first mentality.

Strategic Considerations for getting Hybrid Work right for your organization

Acknowledge hybrid work is here for the long run

Business as we have known it for decades is gone forever for most organizations, regardless of sector. Hybrid is its replacement, and its DNA is still being written. No one knows exactly what it will look like one year from now, let alone five years from now.

This means there is no need to rush into choices that will have long term consequences for your people, their ways of working, their well-being, and just as importantly, your organization’s resilience and sustainability.

People need to collaborate to co-create

The WFH model exposed the glaring deficiencies in organizations’ top-down management and leadership approach. The need for people to collaborate with one another across intra- and inter-organizational boundaries has always been there. It has also always been a people-first and not a technology-first or process-first opportunity.

According to a pre-pandemic Harvard Business Review article, an astonishing 91% of managers say they cannot rely on colleagues in other functions and units all the time, and just half say they can rely on them most of the time. When managers can’t collaborate with or rely on one another, this does not bode well for the rest of their organization, nor in how well they can collaborate with other organizations in an increasingly interconnected world.

Collins posits that in fast-changing times, networks, rather than hierarchies are where it’s at. And in networks, collaboration and co-creation are the norm which draws heavily on collective intelligence. Collective intelligence helps to correct for the unconscious biases among the elite few people who are typically involved in the decision-making process.

The fact that everyone throughout organizations is now expected to collaborate using tools, simply exacerbates existing problems, and exposes just how poor most organizations are at facilitating collaboration as well as the act of collaborating within and across teams, let alone across organizations. Tools won’t fix that. Focusing on people and their needs and helping them develop their collaboration-related and co-creation competencies will allow them to find solutions that work for the context that is unique to their organization. And that applies to all of the wicked problems they face, not just those related to hybrid work.

Create space for creativity and innovation

Every country, every industry, every organization, as well as every person is different. Homogeneous plug-and-play process, tools, and organizational structures are not the answer.

Asking questions to find what works for your people and your organization is from where the answer will emerge. Create the space for that to happen. Use the challenges and opportunities presented by sorting out how to do hybrid work in your organization as the first steps toward working differently in how you tackle every other challenge or opportunity, regardless of the originating change vector.

While traditional organizational structures both rely on and lead to uniformity of thought and compliance led by an elite few, Collins says hybrid work and a fast-changing world rely on autonomy and a radically different element of power structure, power as energy rather than force.  When power is energy, the management problem becomes – how do I connect people in a distributed situation? And that’s the fundamental problem solved by networks. He says you need to organize them into teams, not departments. As we go hybrid, you get more distributed work and people, hence the teams also need to be inherently cross-populated from all parts of the organization. You want them operating in this way because collective intelligence is more effective when you’ve got whole teams in the same space who can now make better choices because all parts of the organization needing to be considered are part of the same team. That “space” will be hybrid. Collins says this is true whether you are trying to figure out hybrid work or wanting to create an environment conducive to innovation.

Andrew Down, a Director of Sales from strategic partner Vendasta, adds “It’s imperative to keep remote/hybrid employees engaged.  When having team huddles, get interactive.  Do online polls to drive engagement.  Connect via video throughout the day to talk through any challenges, problems, or opportunities

Redesign existing work-spaces to incorporate the physical and virtual experiences

The idea that significantly less office footprint will be needed to accommodate hybrid work is no different than the trope the IT industry has pushed for decades that their new tool will save you money and require less people to support.  It is rarely proven by the facts. While it may indeed be less — what is not necessarily known without experience data is by how much. We don’t know what we don’t know. What we do know is we need to find out, and we also know that the only way to do this is to get our people involved to uncover things that previously may have been considered as unknowable in advance yet are simply waiting to be exposed when we have the right people in the room.

This applies to the redesign of existing work-spaces and the new virtual experience to go along with it. Don’t bet the farm just yet on any one tool or approach. At the beginning of the pandemic many organizations thought MS Teams was the answer to make WFH possible. To many, it has since become the bane of their existence as online meetings became the norm for being able to prove people were “at work” when they were supposed to be.

Engage your people to co-design and co-create your teams’ answer.

In rapidly changing times, as we are now in, Collins say’s we need to switch from strategic planning to strategic discovery. And in discovery, your goal is to find out what you don’t know you already know. And better yet, how do I discover what I don’t know I don’t know. And this is where collective intelligence is an extremely valuable tool. In a world of hybrid work the teams must be both functionally and strategically diverse.

Hybrid makes mastering new ways of working an imperative

Traditional management is based on Train Wreck Management, wherein the prime directive for organizational structure and policies is to identify “dereliction’s of duty” — in other words, to affix blame when things go wrong. The modern workforce is not only well educated, the pace of change driven by technology, environmental, financial, regulatory, war, and other sources is such that adaptability and agility have become the hallmark of vanguard organizations who not only survive, but seem to thrive under such conditions.

Every organization, regardless of sector or size, needs to realize the world has not only already changed in substantial ways, but will continue to change at such a rate that properly accommodating hybrid work is but mere table stakes; table stakes that are necessary so organizations can handle the changes coming their way from all the other change vectors. What happens the next time people cannot get into the office for an extended period?

The recent crises show we can no longer do what we have always done in the way we have always done it. Sorting out how hybrid will work for your organization can be the first step on your path to figuring the new ways of working necessary to create workplaces where people want to be, rather than must be. Even when they are not in the same physical space, they still need to be able to collaborate to tackle whatever challenge or opportunity lies around the next corner.

The idea that people can be said to work together is only thus if they are in the same physical space is no longer true. In fact, for most organizations, as we already saw with the great resignation, this thinking is flawed, and instead requires different thinking:

“Experts say employers can offer more accommodating work arrangements, including remote work, hybrid work, and flexible schedules. And they can listen to what employees say they want and need instead of making tone-deaf, top-down decisions” (Randstad)

Collins agrees, saying while some types of work are suited to WFH but when innovation, serendipity and emergence matter in-person is still necessary. While WFH during COVID was necessary to keep the lights on, the need for innovation is coming back as we find out what a new normal might look like that incorporates hybrid and other new ways of working. The challenge now becomes how do you bring people together as you move away from the central office place? Collins suggests you’re going to need to actively bring people together and have conversations we normally don’t have. He suggests this can be done by having teams gather together into a hotel space for example for two to three days, and probably bring in a facilitator to have in-depth conversations which he says can serve three purposes:

  1. It can help accelerate innovation
  2. It can provide opportunities for shared understanding among people who normally aren’t dealing with each other
  3. It can create a sense of personal history within and across teams

The form successful hybrid work will take for organizations, regardless of sector, is still to be written. For the successful ones, while of course there may be some similarities with others, there will also be crucial differences that represent their unique culture, people, and context. Leaders must create the conditions and the environment for their people to leverage their collective intelligence to find the form that success looks like for themselves and their organization. As the title of Collins’ upcoming third book says “Everybody is smarter than anybody“.

About The Hive Professional Network

At The Hive, we are committed to providing people and organizations with the insights, coaching, and mentoring they need to become who they are meant to be so they can realize their true potential in work and in life. To do this we are building an ecosystem for coaches and those seeking coaches to find their perfect match through our proprietary matching algorithm, unique platform, and strategic partnerships.

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Larry Cooper is the Chief Strategy Officer and A/CTO at The Hive Professional Network.

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