As we enter into the fourth calendar year of the great global hybrid working experiment that began with the pandemic in 2020, here are some of the things bouncing around my head about how we are currently and going to be working:

In-person isn’t better or worse, just different. But we need to optimise for it.

It actually now takes a much greater amount of effort to get people together, face-to-face in the physical world. Our diaries have been “optimised” around Teams or Zoom meetings, and the peripheries around things like childcare.

So if we are going to go to the effort of bringing people together, we need to put the effort into assuring the time is well spent. Don’t expect people to just carry on as they would on any other day. Build space into diaries to allow for the presumably much-missed serendipity of offices.

Many don’t work at desks. For a while, they felt equal. How are they feeling now?

During the lockdowns with everyone expelled from offices, one notable thing for organisations whose staff aren’t all tied to desks was that an acknowledgement that not everyone was in the office allowed them to feel more included than possibly ever before.

But has that sense of equity been sustained? In some cases those “not in the office” staff are now feeling even more excluded than ever as flexibility now seen by the desk staff isn’t being extended to them.

Training new staff is not a reason for everyone to be in the office. We need to change our methods of induction.

In the days before COVID new joiners obviously learned about their new employer through osmosis if all the calls for people to be in the office to be inducted are anything to go by.

The issue with this is it implies that everyone needs to be back in the office. We need to look much more cleverly at induction processes that are effective for our new patterns of working.

If you are a client service organisation, stop waiting for your clients to return to the office.

If our working practices are still geared around being in person with our clients, we need to reassess our working practices. If our business development depends on building relationships being in-person in the workplace, we need to reassess how we build relationships.

This doesn’t mean everything moves online. But we need to rethink in-person as the opportunities will be fewer and further between.

The value of meetings wasn’t the meetings. Let’s find new ways of doing those other things.

Meetings were another osmosis tactic in the days before COVID. The liminal spaces between them were where all the interesting, valuable stuff happened. And those spaces are stripped out by Zoom and Teams.

We need to get imaginative about how we find new liminal spaces. It’s one of the drivers behind my #100Coffees experiment in 2023.

Open-plan offices with rows of desks are no longer fit for purpose.

Sitting next to people in different meetings is bad. Sitting next to them in the same meeting with a badly timed soundtrack through our noise-cancelling headphones is horrific. I don’t know what replaces rows of desks in open plan offices, but they are seriously unfit for purpose.

We can’t be absolute about the benefits of being in the office, so don’t be absolutist about when people should be there.

I’ve yet to see any clear calculation about why being in an office is better for organisations or their people. But just because you can’t measure something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

However, in a situation where you can’t be absolute about something, using absolutist decrees to determine that people should be in the office x days each week really rankles. We need to give people trust to work out what works best through their own experiences, experiments and observations.

If an organisation doesn’t trust its employees to make sensible decisions about locations for work, hybrid working is probably highlighting its problems rather than being the problem.

Seriously, trust is everything. Any organisation or individual loudly trumpeting about how they want everyone back in the offices is massively signalling trust issues.

There are no right answers. So experiment and iterate. Organisations take time to find and embed new ways of working.

A significant shift in work takes ages. The pandemic accelerated things, but we are still in the foothills (but the bridge we came over has been burned). We need to continue to give people time and space to work things out.

3 thoughts on “Year 4 of the great hybrid experiment

  1. It’s a bit like conferences. Rarely are conference talks as valuable as the conversations outside the conference halls around coffee and water. The same liminality and serendipity that happens around meetings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.