Hybrid is here to stay. But does it really work?
This March, Emergn hosted an executive breakfast in partnership with the Global Peter Drucker Forum, featuring London Business School’s eminent Lynda Gratton and her latest book, Redesigning Work: How to Transform Your Organization and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone. It was nearly three years to the day since the COVID-19 pandemic took its grip, offices emptied practically overnight, and much of the world went into various degrees of lockdown. Yet, fast forward three years, and some time since we emerged blinking from our bunkers, there remains an unfamiliarity about the new working order.
How do we sustain the new normal?
In a time of crisis, many businesses found a way not only to make things work, but to thrive. It took a tectonic shift to prove what some of us already suspected – that a workforce operating remotely could still be a productive one. But now, we face a further shift in the landscape. As the threat of COVID-19 recedes, we find ourselves wondering how to create the ideal working model for our current conditions. An environment that looks right from every angle.
Because – don’t be fooled – the new ways of working might seem like an established part of the “new normal,” but they’re still emerging. We don’t have all the data to back them up. We know the world didn’t grind to a standstill when employees started working from home en masse – 60,000 Fujitsu workers switched from office to home working in a week, Gratton noted – but we are still at an experimental stage. We’re still finding out what works, we’re still waiting for the concrete proof that points one way or the other – to the home or the office. Or, of course, that middle ground where we find the hybrid working model dancing enthusiastically for our approval. Another method that needs to find its feet.
Hybrid working needs a roadmap.
At our breakfast, Lynda Gratton noted that companies are mostly set up to thrive either remotely or in-office, so it wasn’t surprising that a clearly signposted roadmap for successful hybrid working has yet to be established. It’s at an embryonic stage, and whether it can ultimately impact positively depends on numerous factors – most notably, on finding a way to manage hybridity effectively.
At Emergn, we interact with companies all over the world that are facing this test, and we see positives in all modes of working. While we wholeheartedly support remote working, we also see the benefits of coming together in person to reinforce the company culture, collaborate, and foster the overall well-being of our employees. As such, we encourage a model that embraces both remote and on-site work, with both teams and clients.
We’re working it out in real time.
The challenge for all of us now is to strike the right balance and put in place the proper infrastructure to make it work. This requires agility to allow for experimentation and antennae tuned to pick up what’s happening at other companies: where they’re getting it right, and where they might be falling short.
We need to understand all the challenges that hybrid working presents. The pandemic may have demonstrated the benefits of working from home, but it also left people feeling isolated. The definitive model needs to work for everyone, covering all bases. This demands precise insights that can only come from learning as you go. It requires understanding the key drivers of productivity for specific jobs and tasks, understanding whether they would benefit from extra focus (from the quiet you might get at home) or from collaboration (better suited to the office).
It means having the right tech to ensure projects can be successfully carried out from different locations. And, significantly, it requires understanding the different needs of employees, and experimenting with the kind of flexibility that benefits everyone in the company.
Successes and failures will always dictate the implementation of new methodologies, so it is important to be open to these changes. Because, don’t forget, everyone is in the same boat. Hybrid isn’t a working methodology that arrived fully formed, it is an eventuality that landed on our doorstep on the back of a global crisis. As such, it could be either more or less productive than a single method. But It’s an exciting problem to have – and ultimately, it’s one we will solve together. Because we do know this: as human beings first and professionals second, the pandemic shone a spotlight not just on how we work, but how we live.
And how we want to live is the key.
Successful companies will generally comprise employers and employees spanning a broad swathe of the socio-economic spectrum. And while remote working models have obvious benefits for some groups – notably working parents or keen globetrotters – the reality is that individual home-working conditions will vary. Higher up the company ladder, more senior employees may well have space to set up comfortably at home. No longer weighed down by a commute, they may be eating more healthily and feeling energized.
On the other hand, an isolated younger worker living in cramped accommodation might be desperate to get back to the office to enjoy the benefits of community, support and mentorship to help with their career – something much-needed in a world that now looks likely to expect us to work deep into our 70s. There are all kinds of needs to be considered. As Lynda Gratton said, we are looking at a massive Petri dish, out of which is emerging the hybrid model that is likely to represent both the present and the future of how we operate.
We have to make it a success. Three years on from the pandemic, one thing certainly hasn’t changed – it remains the key job of our leaders to adapt and learn.
About the author:
Alex Adamopoulos is Chairman and CEO of Emergn Ltd
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