In the world of work, we’re increasingly talking about hybrid office models. Yet we often do so within a framework that’s resistant to change. What’s the secret behind a truly hybrid, irregular model?
Today we have to ask a question we haven’t asked in over 200 years: why should our collaborators come to the office? Since the Second Industrial Revolution (1850-1914), it hasn’t been necessary to even pose this question. Being in the workplace has always been synonymous with work itself. But in recent times — and especially over the last year — the workplace has become virtual. The office is no longer the workplace. We can work from home and be more productive than ever.
That’s why, in our organizations, we have to solve the following riddle: what can we offer collaborators at the office that they won’t find at home? The answer is: the experience of meeting up. Because this experience can forge the emotional connections that bind us to an organization in a way that remote work cannot replicate. And it can also open a space for collaborative creation. It’s here that we need to question our beliefs from the past 200 years, because our very understanding of efficiency is being put under the microscope.
Not so long ago, when a leader found his or her employees chatting next to the water cooler, he or she assumed they were “wasting their time.” All that chit chat was undermining productivity! The dominant idea, back then, was that such socializing had to be restrained in order to increase efficiency.
Today, we believe otherwise: generating and designing meeting spaces can enrich the experience of our collaborators and, in turn, boost their efficiency. Organizations and offices, once mere productivity chains, are now turning into something closer to amusement parks. Just one year ago, leaders thought that focusing (and limiting) the experience of their collaborators was the key to productivity. But recent events have shown us a different path. Productivity no longer depends on yesterday’s ideas about efficiency. As Daniel Markovits explains for the Harvard Business Review, “Productivity is about your systems, not your people.” The experience of our collaborators is what defines their motivation and willingness to give it their all for the benefit of everyone else.
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Freeing ourselves from our beliefs
In this debate, hybrid office models are often brought up. According to Alicia Tung, COO at Great Place to Work in Greater China: in 10 years, 60% of work will happen in the workplace while 40% will be remote. Indeed, Apple recently announced a new policy that mixes office and home working. However, such hybrid models are often based on aging preconceptions. To begin with, these models tend to make only some days available for teleworking, while insisting that the rest of the week be completed at the workplace. In the end, they’re not so different from earlier models that were either exclusively office-bound or home-bound.
The lessons of this past year suggest a different kind of hybrid model, one far more irregular. And in thinking about such a model, we need to see beyond the specific tasks at hand. We must look at hybridization in a wider sense, as a concept that will allow us to adapt our professional lives to our new reality. Because this concept is more than just another rule or guideline.
Our collaborators, now as never before, need and want to coordinate their private and professional lives in more immediate, moment-to-moment terms. For instance, if we schedule an in-person meeting for a certain day, we can be sure that some members of our team will show up virtually. One day, maybe ten collaborators might share a physical room; another day, only two people might attend the workplace while everyone else calls in from home. In order to adjust to these changing work practices, organizations should allow collaborators to decide which days they will head out to the office. In doing so, they will transform the experience of their collaborators and, in turn, their efficiency.
Breaking your (mental) limits
We must do away with the belief that hybrid and irregular work models only fit certain kinds of activities (such as analytical or investigative tasks, as opposed to manufacturing labor). We should be open to innovation. Some of the work we’re now doing remotely used to only be carried out on-site: dental exams, medical laboratory analyses, project management for energy infrastructure, food quality audits, and so on. The digital transformation, which has accelerated over the past year, is giving us a chance to put what we’ve learned to good use and challenge ourselves (by adopting IoT solutions, for example).
To summarize, a true hybrid model is not about picking certain hours, days, or moments for work. It’s about rethinking our organizational model — its structure, its processes, its tools, its habits and behaviors —and our leadership. Because today’s leaders must measure success in new ways.
To find a hybrid model that fits our organization, we should look beyond the tasks our collaborators must complete. The real question that needs answering is, again, why should our collaborators go to the office in the first place? How do we design a unique value proposition, so that every person in our organization can find, in the workplace, something that enriches what they could otherwise do at home? This is the only way we can restart a virtuous cycle in which we incentivize collaborators to give us their all — and so retain the main value our organization has: its people.