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