Why The Transition To Hybrid Might Be Harder Than Your CEO Thinks
The hybrid working revolution is gathering pace, but do business leaders understand what’s needed to make it happen?
Your C-suite has declared that the organization is going ‘hybrid’. The press releases have been sent out and the comms have been developed and delivered through various channels. The CEO has done a company-wide town hall.
Now the real fun begins.
Different strokes for different folks
Some organizations have declared that everyone has a right to work from home forever and every team has to work out what it means to them. Others are making blanket statements about when people will attend the office regardless of the nature of each team’s work, competence, desire or their performance during lockdown. Some are seeking to manage the process so that every individual and team has the opportunity to discuss what’s appropriate within an agreed framework and come to new, consistent and fair arrangements. A fourth group has said employees can work at home two days a week but be in the office on three specific days when everyone is expected to attend, leaving buildings substantially empty for four days of the week.
Whatever route organizations take in the coming months, there is great deal more complexity under the hood than most leaders can recognize right now. Pretty quickly, what looks like a simple idea becomes complicated. Hybrid changes everything.
Firstly, there is a need to clarify what ‘hybrid’ means. It’s not a uniform concept; it’s a mix and match of time (at home and in the office), pattern of days and places. And each team potentially requires a different mix. In my piece ‘Blue Money: The Hybrid Work Challenge’, I identified four core hybrid work models, with varying degrees of office attendance based on their employer’s priorities. One size definitely does not fit all.
Haves and have nots
Then there’s the question of fairness and consistency. Pre-pandemic the road to flexible working was impeded by the issue of unfairness – whether a team could spend more of their time working away from an office was often determined by the leader’s personal preferences and beliefs as opposed to its appropriateness. Two teams could perform broadly the same work, yet one manager might allow more flexibility than another, leading to resentment and lower morale. In some organizations there are people in roles for which flexibility was never possible, forcing leaders to have to explain their reasons without creating haves and have nots.
Entitlements, benefits and taxation can become emotional topics. Previously, some employees received higher weighting in their salary because their role was associated with a more expensive location. In a future hybrid model, if they continue to do their job in the same location but live in a lower cost part of the world, only travelling occasionally, should the weighting be withdrawn? Similarly, as teams continue to expand across borders, leaders need to understand the challenges that come with people who are employed in one country or state but work in another, like tax, insurance and local employment law.
Out with the old leadership styles
Most CEOs and HR managers also recognize that the hybrid world demands stronger leadership skills. When teams are not together under one roof, leaders need to find new ways to manage to ensure task clarity, team cohesion, trust and no damaging misunderstandings. Psychological safety is the key. Some companies are recognizing that workers too need to take on more ‘self-leadership’ responsibility. Hybrid workers have to recognize that they are responsible for proactively building and maintaining trusting relationships with colleagues inside and outside their team. They must maintain the trust others have in them by meeting their promises and providing information, advice and guidance that is reliable. Maintaining the effectiveness of the team isn’t just down to the leaders.
Finally, it’s crucial that organizations make a conscious effort to manage, maintain and nurture a positive and open culture. CEOs are asking how they maintain their unique culture and evolve it for a virtual world, how to increase social connection and knock down siloed walls. It was tough enough getting people to work cross-function when everyone was in the office; in the hybrid world we need to work at it.
They want to know what sort of office workplaces they will need now and into the future, how many and where? What purpose they will have and how they’ll add value? How they are going to be managed so their capacity us used responsibly, without having half empty carbon generating buildings?
These are just some of the fundamental questions that leaders need to ask themselves before embarking on the journey to hybrid working. So when the CEO announces you are going ‘hybrid’, that’s only the start of the journey. To make it happen the C suite need to recognize that they have to get their sleeves rolled up to work out the answers to some pretty challenging questions.
Every organization is different, with unique values, cultures, history, leadership capabilities and infrastructure. What is certain is that each one is learning what hybrid working really means for them – and this requires business leaders, HR managers and infrastructure experts to work together like never before to deliver against a clear view of their future.