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As much of Australia and New Zealand is in the midst of further lockdowns we find ourselves again forced into a remote working environment. One that we are more familiar with and more equipped for than in our first experience in March 2020. So much so that with this taste of this new way of working, a clarity around our working preferences has started to emerge.
The term “hybrid working” has only become well known over the past 18 months or so as we’ve learned to quickly adapt to new ways of working in early 2020. We have come to see the value from both an employee and an organisational perspective of working across office and/or home locations yet the habits and mindsets that support the pre-pandemic ways of working are hard to shift. The ‘burning platform’ of Covid 19 has been the catalyst we needed, giving us permission to test and explore without the pressure of getting it right. There is no one way to do this that meets the needs for productivity and safety as well as enhancing the employee experience.
Employees and employers alike may still feel unclear about the right model or approach. There is often mention of the ‘biggest remote working experiment’ we have all been forced to participate in and many look to the finish line in search of their ‘new normal’. The chances are we may not find that new normal for quite some time.
What if we acted like scientists and approached this post-pandemic phase with a test and learn mindset?
What questions can we ask to develop a hypothesis for the key elements in hybrid working?
When we focus on questions like “where should people work, ’ does it limit the opportunity for us to unleash the potential of individuals and even organisations in a way that we have not had the motivation to try before? I often find myself thinking about Lewin’s model of change over the duration of the pandemic. That we move from a Freeze state, to Unfreeze to Refreeze. The “unfreeze” we currently find ourselves in offers a huge opportunity to think differently about the way we work as we speed our way towards a Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Our workplaces and ways of working shifted dramatically in each of these phases. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Australian communications organisation, Telstra, saying “There’s an opportunity for employers to look forward and create a completely different vision of the workplace” (Alex Badenoch, Telstra’s group executive of transformation, communications and people).
If we explored together through observations, questions, and robust reviews on ‘what would it take for us to enable our people to be thriving and unleashing their potential regardless of where they work?' Would the answers around location more easily follow? If we look at it through a lens of being at our best, how does the type of work influence this?
What work is better attended to in person versus remotely?
Many knowledge workers have found the benefit of more focused time at home during the pandemic that enables deep work without constant distractions in an office environment.
But for some roles the work is fluid and fast and requires certain team members to be in the same collaborative space both for formal meetings and for those moments where they seek insights from each other through informal conversations in the workplace. And there are client facing projects that may be far more impactful in a face-to-face context.
Our habits around how we meet and with who are also up for grabs in the great experiment. Who needs to attend what meetings, for how long and in what format? A quick regular review with a simple question like…’is this achieving the desired outcome?’ could prove to be of value. Experiment with different channels of communication. Does the flow of information always need to be synchronous? It also pays to consider the personal styles of preferred communication and how they may be impacted in a hybrid work environment.
Our preferences in how we think, communicate, problem-solve and organise ourselves will all play a part as we experiment with the different elements of hybrid working.
If connecting with people energises us what are the choices to enable us to thrive? If structure and certainty are important what can we experiment with to prevent hybrid working from impacting our work negatively? How can we use this time to align jobs to strengths and values as we strive to be at our best?
A strong sense of self-awareness coupled with a realistic assessment of our needs to be most effective is required for us to unleash our potential in the workplace.
This next phase, as we prepare for life post-pandemic in the workplace, gives us the chance to think differently about how we go about our work. We also need to consider how we will create the space as individuals, teams and organisations to reflect on the learning, share and adapt.
The answers are not black and white, office or remote, they are complex and still evolving. An employee-driven flexible approach may well take us a good step towards that answer.