In nearly every client conversation I have been recently having the topic of hybrid working seems to come up.  It is just over 3 years since the first lock down and the rapid shift, for so many organisations, to a virtual way of working that has consequently changed the world of work permanently.  Expectations, precedents, and outcomes have been set and delivered at a scale that was not thought possible pre pandemic and are clearly here to stay. 

Now we are probably 18 months into the new world of ‘hybrid working’ and this reality, that this is the new normal, feels like it is beginning to have an impact on employers and employees alike.  The common denominator in all of the conversations that I have had has been the fact that there is no common denominator – everyone has a slightly different view or experience, and everyone seems to want something just a little bit different.  The bottom line for both employees and employers has got to be productivity.  If I generalise – for employers – are we getting the most from our employees in the most cost-effective way whilst promoting the values of our organisations and making it a place that people want to work (important for most employers).  For employees – can I get what I need to get done in the most time and cost-effective way whilst maintaining a healthy balance in the way I am working between delivering work, building a career, rest and play.  In both equations the requirement and ability to collaborate with colleagues and across teams is key to both time and cost effectiveness, but worth underlining because it seems to be one of the specific areas that hybrid working is making more challenging.   

So actually – both employees and employers are looking for the same thing, but why in some cases, does it seem like they are on opposite sides of the fence? Control, trust, consistency, visibility, freedom, flexibility, team working and collaboration – all words that I hear being discussed from different perspectives.  It is worth pointing out that the reason I believe that this is such a complex and difficult challenge for leaders and organisations to navigate is because there is clearly no right answer and no ‘best’ answer that suits everyone.

Which brings me to my soap box I guess and the opportunity that I see for organisations – it isn’t rocket science – talking and sharing peoples experiences.  If there is no right answer and it is complicated, the only way that you can find the best balance is by talking about and sharing the practical and emotional implications for people.  This would promote better understanding and tolerance and potentially ‘tactical work arounds’ that may help in certain situations.  Unfortunately, the ‘busyness’ epidemic continues to sweep across us all and individuals and teams are taking less and less time off the operational treadmill to reflect, discuss and create understanding and ideas about non urgent / operational issues or topics.  I apologise if you and your team are doing this brilliantly, but if you are, you are the exception, the rest of us continue to find it a challenge. 

This reflection got me thinking about how to help leaders recognise that people in their team and organisation were having different experiences with different results and I started to explore the correlation between flexibility and productivity.  These could be used as potentially critical axis when thinking about how our teams are performing and generating any additional insight that might help leaders find the best way forward.  Forgive the poor naming conventions and not quite sure why I ended up with cycling references, but the 4-box grid works to an extent if we want to just step back as leaders and think about the distribution of our teams.  It is a simple, intuitive model not designed with any science, but to start a conversation and it would be great to get builds and develop it further.

Track Champions – one way of operating, either in the office or at home and that works for them, they get what they need to get done, completely focussed on executing without too much interaction or fuss.

Unicyclers – again, limited flexibility so operating either in the office or at home but that works less well for whatever reason, unable to deliver the productivity you want and need, tough to get started, plenty of wobbles and difficult to respond quickly.

Freestylers – the freedom to work when and how they want, ultimately the flexibility does not enable good routines, or they clash with other colleagues or with the prevailing culture of the organisation and productivity is not as good as it should be as a result.

Mountain bikers – the top right which means that they also have the flexibility to work in the way they choose but it is working for them and for the organisation because they are highly productive.  The culture of the organisation, interaction and collaboration with colleagues and boundary management all seem to fit and they can deliver effectively.

So in conclusion I leave you with some questions to consider:

  • Is there an opportunity for your team or members within it to perform more effectively in this hybrid world?
  • What sorts of experiences are your team members having and how are they distributed against this simple model?
  • How much time have you spent talking about ‘how’ people are feeling and what they are experiencing regards hybrid working? Is it enough?

I would be really interested in people’s views and perspectives, I am not in any way claiming to have the right answer at all, because there isn’t one, but I do know that I can help you facilitate a conversation with your teams that will add value.