Traditionally professional "face-to-face" time in the office was considered crucial for performance and productivity. Team bonds were built carefully over time based on proximity and capability; the closer, the better. Those who showed up early and stayed put for 10 hours a day – under the perimetrical oversight of the boss – were viewed as committed and hardworking.
This is preSEATeeism – visibly fossilising in the office on ergonomic meeting chairs – was rudely disrupted by the pandemic. "Action, observation, reaction" no longer worked, as bosses were forced to trust their teams to work out of sight, mostly with surprisingly good results. Moreover, employees overwhelmingly enjoyed their newfound autonomy and flexibility.
Today many CEOs and organisations struggling with the question: do we flip back to the old school type of presence or explore a new "hybrid" work model? We firmly believe that the "face-to-face time only" has been on its way out since the 1980s and was finally handed a death blow by COVID 19. The unstoppable asynchronicity and virtualisation of the modern workplace are here to stay but will need a deliberate redefinition of "presence" based on trust, not continuous proximity or seat warming.
Distrust is too slow for modern hybrid work environments
.The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway (Worked From Anywhere)
Trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone else. How you get it and how you lose it depends on your personal beliefs. Do people fundamentally have good intentions, or will they naturally take advantage of you or the situation? If you have a negative view of human nature, you protect yourself by carefully and closely monitoring others over time so they can earn your trust and companionship. This “control” was easier to exercise when you had people physically around you. Now you are stuck at home, unable to “check” if and how everybody is behaving. The perfect storm for any control freak.
If you believe people generally want to do the right thing – at least until the opposite is demonstrated– you can build relationships much faster and typically have a more pleasant life, even if you will occasionally be fooled. In a hybrid work setup, you will trust people to do their jobs and look for ways to build safety and predictability into a more complex work environment.
Beliefs are hard to change, and both the negative and positive mindsets regarding trust have risks and advantages. However, in an increasingly virtual and fast-paced world where “real” face time is becoming a scarce commodity, biases and natural distrust slows everything down to a level where performance, innovation and engagement eventually grind to a halt. Holding on to hard-fought talent highly controlled environments will be a competitive nightmare, even in the most attractive locations. Silicon Valley is already on a aggressive treasure hunt offering flexibility AND the big bucks.
Building trust: The Hybrid Reset 8
How do you set up a hybrid environment where we have the technical skills, setup and trust needed for success in a hybrid environment?
From our research and experience we found 13 questions – 8 trust + 5 logistics – important for success in hybrid environments. They are built on a reset of the most popular motivational theories* and lots of experience working in and with remote teams.
8 out of 13 focus on trust. We believe trust is a prerequisite, the glue allowing all the tough conversations but also enabling a genuine alignment and commitment from all stakeholders.
As much as we need to address basic logistic issues and organize ourselves as a team, in HyWo any arrangement or agreement would be worthless if not sealed through trust.
Opening up about our self: HyRe 8 vulnerability
We found that the best way to start building the hybrid trust is openly discussing the HyRe 8 items: it's a good way to open up about our “unique selves” and discover others. The higher our level of interpersonal awareness the higher the amount of interpersonal trust: the virtual "breakfast of champions" in complex and hybrid settings.
Testing Our Own Medicine
Experimenting on ourselves we decided to have a team-of-two session to extend the OPEN area using our HyRe 8 questions. We assumed we had the logistics under control: we had the will, the type of job, and the setup to work hybrid.
We both learned a lot by unboxing ourselves and going beyond the usual superficial pleasantries. Below you can find the results.
While discussing these questions we gradually opened up more. Check out the results in profiles you will not be seeing on LinkedIn any time soon
Let's get to work!
Why not give vulnerability a first try and reflect on & discuss the HyRe 8 trust questions in your team; it might be the most important step you can take towards getting prepared for a hybrid work environment.
iIn a recent paper, "Future of Work" paper, the behemoth HR Consultants Aon used an interesting chart to explain what elements you need to make the most of remote work. The chart makes sense looking through Aon's "human capital" solution lens (competitive pay, workforce planning, digital readiness, etc.) but is – unsurprisingly– not complete. Imagine a team that is well paid and digital up to speed, but nobody trusts each other. Picture an office culture filled with fear of highly "command-and-controlling" leadership types. Envision an HR department that builds a 300-page "hybrid" rule book for every conceivable situation. The result – we guarantee you – would be a spectacular failure of your hybrid work model and eventually your organisational strategy.
Introducing The Hybrid Sweet Spot
Let’s take a step back and try to understand the bigger picture by introducing a framework that can help us better organise and give direction to virtual work ambitions.
A long-term hybrid work strategy will only work if the following areas of desires & needs are considered, discussed and –at least partly– met. You can't have one without the other.
1. ME: the individual's work–life–leisure desires
2. TEAM: the team's performance needs
3. ORG: organisation's profitability needs
4. PLANET: the global needs
Smack in the middle of these interlinked areas there is a win-win-win-win space – a hybrid sweet spot– that could accommodate everyone's ambitions.
We have got a lifetime opportunity to find this spot by having incremental "both-and" discussions instead of "either-or" transactional ones!
Let's dive a bit deeper into the different areas.
As individuals, we have wildly different desires, expectations and circumstances when it comes to determining how and where we spend our time. Some of us want to invest in a career and others long to spend more quality time with family or on hobbies. You want to live in exciting city centres and I want a tranquil place with a garden. Some of us are introverts and happy to work alone, others get their energy by being together with colleagues. Some of us find commuting and travelling wasteful, others like the “disconnecting effect” of the trip.
We do have a one common desire to have the freedom & flexibility to find our own work-life-leisure balance.
During the pandemic, most of us showed we could actually handle the responsibility and remain productive from our kitchen tables. This "battle tested" autonomy is now making it hard for organisations to force everyone to return to the office, especially workers whose talent and skills are in high demand.
Enabling ME needs
In a hybrid world, where Working From Home, Working From the Office and Working From Anywhere can coexist, forward-thinking teams and organisations will provide the flexibility to support workers to find their ideal hybrid “setting”. Backward-thinking organisations will not be able to attract and retain talent as workers are getting the upper-hand.
For most of us, a team –or teaming with different groups – is how we actually get work done. An organisation can effectively be seen as a hierarchy or network of teams. Teams need to deliver results and the best teams – no matter the level – need clarity & alignment around direction and execution, trusting relationships, effective habits & principles and the leadership holding it all together. In a virtual environment multiply everything by two.
During the pandemic team dynamics have been heavily impacted for good and bad. Most teams – fuelled by an “survival” focus and a “let’s get through this together” attitude – got through it without dropping the ball. Some even worked better and the ones that didn’t were probably already struggling before the pandemic.
Enabling team needs
Maintaining long-distance alignment and relationships will be crucial for performance. Starting off by finding the right “hybrid setting” will help maintain the focus and positive mindset that brought results in the lock-downs. Moreover, the team can fish in a far bigger pond of talent.
The commercial organisation needs to efficiently produce goods and deliver services that clients are willing to pay for. Purpose, values, talent, offices, compensation & benefits, cost management, supply change management and everything in between are there to support the profitable creation of value for its customers. However, the org can only operate for the long term if it also takes into account the well-being of all its stakeholders, workers and wider community, including the planet.
Enabling the ORG needs
In a Hybrid world, the most obvious positive direct impact on paper is the potential reduction cost of travel and office space. In a way, the more employees work from home, the more the company can outsource its costs to the employees. Taking into account that the yearly office cost per employee in the US goes anywhere from 3k USD to 10k USD. Combine that with companies spending more than $111.7 billion on business travel in the US every year, it gives you an idea of possible savings.
In reality these savings could only materialise if there were serious investment in communication tools and training to ensure the company culture is embedded in every decision the org, its managers or each of its employees make: we basically need to relearn to talk and listen.
Another item to take into account – maybe less visible at first sight – is that flexible work schedules and frameworks have become a competitive advantage for talent attraction and retention. In some industries candidates expect hybrid working models to be the norm: a basic hygiene factor.
Now let’s be super clear, as an HR Professional if I see one of my competitors not embracing Hybrid I would not hesitate a single second and tap directly into this top talent.
Our planet has certain needs to sustain itself as a habitable place to live and hybrid work models will play an important role. The problem we have today is that we have evolved to pay attention to immediate threats, like terrorism, but underestimate –or simply deny– more complex “far away” threats, like the effects of climate change, changing demographics and pandemics. Mix that with politics, and decisive action on a local/regional/ global level is almost impossible until it is too late. Employees, with support of their organisations, know there are many things they cannot change on a global scale, but still hope their habits can contribute to a higher purpose.
Enabling PLANET needs (some examples)
Working from Home has had a substantial positive impact on the contamination in most densified cities during the pandemics. Smartly reducing commute traffic and business travel could have a further positive impact. We see the reluctance of young employees to join companies that are not integrating climate awareness into their general practices: 14% of companies are already reporting difficulties to recruit because of their environmental impact, and 40% report that more and more employees are leaving because of the company’s current climate impact.
We are getting older and less fertile, leading to population decline. If a country cannot increase its workforce productivity faster than its population is declining, the results, both in terms of its economy, the quality of life of its citizens, and the environment, can be a net negative. National efforts to confront population decline have been centred around increasing labour force participation, raising retirement ages, worker productivity and immigration. Hybrid work enables greater access to the labour force and global talent. Done well it can also increase productivity and include older generations.
So far COVID19 has not mutated into COVID 20 but even if the entire world would be vaccinated (11,5% as per the 5th of July) new variants might pop up and lock down the world again. For years, epidemiologists and other experts have warned that we have been setting ourselves up for a global pandemic. Our effect on the climate, reduction on wildlife habitats and global travel have helped circulate animal-borne diseases. Combined with urbanisation, overpopulation and global trade, we’ve set up an ideal scenario for more pandemics to come. Apart from getting work done during a pandemic hybrid work could reduce urbanisation and repopulate rural villages.
Discovering your hybrid sweet spot
So it seems there is a lot to win-win-win-win to be found in the Hybrid sweet spot. But are all needs really compatible; can we find a happy compromise?
Yes, but exploring – and tracking- that hybrid sweet spot will be complex: the areas keep shifting and pull each other in different directions. There are no simple settings for optimal hybrid work.
Stay safe, Huibert & Luciano
For the last century, companies have heavily relied on their physical office as the hub to attract and retain talent: through the things happening in the building (office layout, wellbeing spaces, any kind of benefit you would provide in situ), and/or the environment surrounding the office (e.g. close proximity to mountains or sea, warm climate, big cities with cultural activities).
If the things taking place in the office are to a large extent replicable, the surroundings of the geographical location are not. How do you copy the Rocky Mountains, sunny beaches, 300 rain-free days per year, the charming ambiance of the narrow streets of Montmartre in Paris, the emulation of Silicon Valley? As long as working was associated with a physical space and location within an office, the battle for talent was clearly under control and only required a company to establish itself in your location with all the investments –and bells and whistles– associated with it.
If you as a manager or company were comfortable with this situation and wishing it would last forever: TOO BAD...the party is over!
COVID busted location as a USP
During COVID, employees experienced working from home, and most of the myths (loss of productivity, distancing from the company culture, lack of alignment, loss of sense of purpose), simply vanished. The fact that workers managed to rebalance their priorities and use the flexibility to work close to relatives has now led to a situation where 80% of the employees want to work from home, or in any case not in the office, for at least for 3 days per week. Many even prefer a schedule not based on days but blocks of weeks: 3 anywhere - 1 in the office. This means that 70% of the working time occurs out of the office. Yep. This is happening. Now. Not science-fiction.
The most agile and distributed companies jumped the gun and have started offering fully flexible working frameworks to employees all over the world: I don’t really care “where” you are, as long as the “what” is delivered and the “how” is “somewhat respected”. The main barrier to access some talent pools has thereby disappeared. As "asynchronicity" is becoming more and more the norm and time zones have evaporated, you can now work from the Riviera for a Silicon Valley startup, or from your home village close to your parents while working for a company in Australia.
In the Tech world this is nothing new for companies which are distributed by DNA (Atlassian, Gitlab, etc.). However, for most, even amongst the most innovative ones, (see Apple’s last week of tension with its employees), the "dematerialization" of the office blew up the traditional paradigm and dynamics of talent attraction and retention.
Companies which were dominant in certain geographical areas by the mere fact of being established in that area have to rebuild their entire sourcing strategy because their value proposition is no longer relevant in the decision making matrix of the employees.
Among highly skilled groups, attrition is skyrocketing, almost doubling for certain scarce skills. Exit interviews show that "hard dollars" are just a qualifier. We all use the same salary ranges and know quite precisely what the market pays for each role, for each industry. Offer & demand is now giving more power to employees of these high skilled groups, and they are collectively and informally setting what are the conditions of satisfaction, the trends and the new rules of the game.
To convince someone to join your company, “soft dollars” are more important than ever, and flexibility to choose your when and where you work has become the gold standard. All those who, at one point in time, had to make the hard choice between living in their hometown and having a career have now a unique opportunity to combine both. We now small companies poaching dream potentials from far more prestigious brands, basing their employee value proposition on their working frameworks of total flexibility.
The new deal
Consequently, if the office and everything you were offering there, from gyms to yoga and painting classes are no longer relevant, what other “non-replicables” are you left with to differentiate yourself as an attractive employer?
First thing that comes to mind is culture. We include into it the talent practices, management practices, mentorship, diversity and inclusion policies and, more and more important Wellbeing.
However, if 70% of the working time occurs out of the office you need to review the entire employee life cycle in order to successfully export the Culture at home or anywhere the employee is working from. For that you need to train your managers to shift their focus into new things: from managing resources to managing context, environment, personal well being, and work/life balance. In the last 30 years we had managers transforming from boss to mentor, and now we ask them to evolve into enabling coaches. While capacity to deliver was the most valuable “currency” in the 70s, today it is all about generating trust.
The physical space of the office was enabling certain personal circumstances or conditions which are now differentiated at home, so managers need to reintroduce those personal circumstances in the framework and take them into account while dealing with a team. The overused “empathy” skill is no longer a conceptual one, but one of the main assets we will require from our leaders. How do we support them?
To add complexity, there is a generational element into the preferences of the employees at the time to choose their Hybrid model. While we see the social life of the more senior being office centric, the youngest ones value the presence at the office more for mentorship and collaboration than to ensure social connection.
These are just tiny examples.
Recruitment focus, competency frameworks, onboarding processes, communication channels, talent development policies, social connection, collaboration tools, comp&ben policies, proximity bias avoidance, team dynamics, off-boarding, sense of belonging and purpose, emotional and contextual support of the employee WFH: it all needs to be reviewed.
In the war for talent the choice is clear: there is no choice. You can stay as you are and be only the prey of your competitors, or you can push the reset button and also be a predator (I acknowledge this is an awful and commonplace metaphor).
The war for talent...not my problem!?
Those believing that this is a trend only affecting the top tech companies are fooling themselves. Today we are all tech! Every company is digitalising, using data scientists and cybersecurity experts.
In the automotive industry, General Motors has announced recently it will recruit thousands of engineers remotely to work on the development of its future electric vehicles. So, as German and French carmakers, you should start ring-fencing your best engineers before GM goes for them. Many pharma companies are shifting permanently to a hybrid model, and opening remote jobs from anywhere, specially in the R&D field. Again, European pharmas, you should lock-down and hide your researchers, scientists and physicians because biotechs are going after them big time.
Lately several research papers (ie Manpower Group, Korn Ferry) have found a global shortage of a half a million software engineers. As most of the trends occurring in the tech sector are a good indicator of what is going to happen in other industries we need to monitor and prepare for a talentpool tsunami.
If you are not one of those companies exposed to talent war, don’t worry, you can’t hide either. You will be indirectly affected, whether you like it or not.
The war for talent is not a matter of quantity. There are tons of unskilled or with the “wrong” skills workers. Most of the companies are fighting for the same scarce group of skills. Dramatic technological and operational disruptions are happening at such a pace that schools and universities cannot adapt the content of their education fast enough to deliver to the corporation's needs. The short-sighted answer to this until now has been to find new locations, if possible “low cost”, (we all hate that word but let's call a cat a cat) to establish offices and exploit the talent pool there: Bangalore, Hyderabad, Manilla, Warsaw, Prague, Kiev, Istanbul, Sofia, Bogotá, San José etc… However, as soon as one company moved into a new location many others were following very quickly, saturating the talent market. Therefore the basic dynamics of offer / demand have the salaries going up, the location is soon no longer a “low cost” one and you need to find a new “low cost” place: a never ending story. An that is not taking into account the problems of cultural integration and alignment.
Now the “new reality” (hey, it seems no good article can afford not to mention this new reality thing) is that the dematerialization of the office offers an opportunity to the most powerful, but also the most agile companies: Work From Anywhere means Poach From Everywhere.
So, how can we surf the tsunami?
These are only the early signals. Who knows the long term ones? We see the first macroeconomic effects of the trend. Only in the US lumber were price skyrocketing, oil price fluctuating, real estate collapsing in certain cities and exploding in some other rural ones. Redistribution of demographics and economic re-dynamization of rural areas, positive environmental impact, natality… name it, who can anticipate anything?
Don't swim against the tideIn my opinion, there is no use in swimming against the tide. Doing so we would not be talking about resistance to change, but about negation of reality.
As we don’t know what we don’t know and we can’t control what is not under our influence, let’s start to untangle the nods which are closer to us: small steps & small wins.
So, as a company, as a manager, as an employee: will you lead or follow the Hybrid Reset?
Amal Reddy has asked every team member to send some thoughts on how, where and when they can work better as a team. As the sales & marketing head for a global bank in London, she is starting to prepare the return to the office after a year of lock-down.
Following the awful 2020 results, Amal's sales targets are more aggressive than ever. As much as she trusts each individual in her team, she has been noticing that the communication is not as fluid and spontaneous as before.
On top of all this, Amal's manager, Alex, is openly pushing everybody to return to the office as soon as possible.
Glancing through the emails, she is surprised to see how meticulous her team members have been with their feedback. She congratulates herself for involving everyone, especially her key account manager, Nathalie Sanchez, who has sent a comprehensive (wish) list:
TO: AMAL READDY
FROM: NATHALIE SANCHEZ
SUBJECT: IDEAS & COMMENTS RETURN TO THE OFFICE: MY LIST!
Staring into the garden, Amal realises this will be far more complex than she had imagined. Roger and Satu, the newly recruited super talents, are longing to get everyone back together in the office. Miriam, her head of marketing, did not even respond: is she close to burnout? Alex “green” Jansen is probably still thinking about his dream to get into volunteering.
She feels confused and trapped: all these ideas and requests could easily threaten the long term performance and the dynamics of the group. Where do I start? Why does HR not send out some guidelines and policies?
What would you advise Amal to do / where would you recommend her to start?
Post your comments on LinkedIn or request a hybrid tribe membership invitation to explore & experiment in a safe community; weekly newsletter included!
The last fifteen months of lockdown have had a substantial impact on the way we work and live. For many of us, that has been from home. We’ve scrambled to adapt, and most teams got the job done and even managed to kill some persistent myths about working from home; mainly around productivity. True, working from a screen could be lonely, but the forced isolation also gave us the flexibility to rebalance work with life, or the other way around.
Some companies – fueled by the initial concern for health & safety – proudly announced their staff could work from home permanently. Since then, Google and JP Morgan have changed their minds and are kindly requesting everybody to return. This has provoked strong reactions from some employees who are not willing to surrender their newfound autonomy without a fight. This debate is there to stay.
So, as we’re slowly coming – or being forced – out of hiding, the big question is: will there be a more permanent shift towards mixing working from the office/home/anywhere, or will we simply flip back and pile into our offices again?
The hybrid dilemma
This fundamental question is a trending topic among leaders and teams, from the C-suite to project teams on the frontlines. If it seemed daunting to move everybody online in the early days of the lock-downs, now it looks even more challenging to figure out how to bring employees back productively and preferably not against their will. As the guardians of “people and culture”, HR teams are in the “hot seat” to come up with viable solutions, with CEOs, Operations and Finance anxiously looking over their shoulders.
Meanwhile, back at home, teams are waiting to hear if and when it is time to dust off the lower part of their office wear.
As passionate and curious practitioners, we joined these conversation weeks –years– ago: virtual work has been around the last 30 years. It felt as if the COVID crisis finally “fast-forwarded” the future into the present.
The shift to hybrid ways of working goes far beyond –randomly– setting new policies and redesigning office space:
Wading through the implications, complexity and connecting the dots, we quickly realised that we need to start from a blank sheet and get as many brains on the case as possible.
The Hybrid Reset: join the tribe exploring hybrid work
A call for “collective brainpower”: that's how the idea for The Hybrid Reset was born. Figuring things out and learning together works best in the dynamic work environment we now all operate.
The Hybrid Reset is a "live" interactive playbook to share knowledge & experiences, connect stakeholders & practitioners, and find practical ways of taking the first steps in the hybrid unknown. Think of it as a platform to help you – as part of the Hybrid Tribe – to shape the "new deal" for your team(s) and organisation.
With the end lock-downs in sight, we need actionable knowledge, frameworks, structures and guidance: practical things that everyone can do to become hybridproof!
If you are interested in joining us on our expedition: subscribe here!
We count on your contribution and energy from wherever you are!
Huibert & Luciano