Research & Thought Leadership

Regimagining Work for a Hybrid World

Professor Debbie Bayntun-Lees & Professor Andy Cross

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With the flexibility of hybrid working, comes choice. In almost all the organizations we talk to, teams and individual employees have significantly more choice about where to work, who you work with and when you work. This choice has been beneficial for most, with job design being a more personal, agile, and engaging process. Employees are now able to deconstruct the tasks necessary to achieve an outcome and put them back together in a way that best fits the task to be done, their energy levels, and personal activities that they have planned. Removing the traditional boundaries of 9-5 in the office has been liberating for many.

It all sounds very positive, so why the concern about hybrid working? We hear concerns about worsening productivity, inconsistent practices, less collaboration, redundant office space and leaders struggling to adapt the challenges of managing a hybrid workforce. 

We believe that one of the main reasons is that hybrid working practices have emerged due to the necessity of COVID. A passive, ‘let it happen’ response has been adopted by many organisations so it is only now that leaders are finding it difficult to provide a framework within which they can get the right people together at the right time.

For some the natural response is to return to the safe place of ‘back to normal’ and media interest is fuelling a campaign to get workers back into the office. Is this the right answer? Probably not, the advantages of hybrid working are too significant to ignore.

We would encourage team leaders to use a simple framework: Reimagining your Job, to facilitate a discussion, at a team level, to design and create new team working practices that achieve a balance between personal preference and what is effective for customers, colleagues, and the wider organization. 

We have learned from our research, Rethinking Leadership for the Hybrid World of Work, that more common assumptions are not always proving to be the case. Some people find it easier to concentrate on individual tasks when outside of their home, others are more than able to use remote technology to work creatively with others, and many value team meetings being a virtual process. Exploring these preferences as a team can help promote a positive hybrid team environment.

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Reimagining your job

The model is simple to use and encourages leaders to involve employees in decisions that affect them.  The first step is to ask, at a team level, "What work is best done together?" Creative tasks, team check-in’s, information sharing. Challenge yourself to be clear on the added value of being together, who is it benefiting? The leaders, the team, or the customer? How could it be done differently without reducing effectiveness. Explore the differences of opinion and aim to reach agreement.

Next, ask "What work is best done alone?" Create a list of the tasks that can be completed effectively alone. Encourage the team to share what works well to stimulate ideas for others.

As a third step, introduce the question of the preferred location for that work. What can be done remotely? What activities are best done in person? When will you invest the time to bring people together to work? You can use the grid to visualize the team preferences.

Once these steps are complete, you can ask what needs to be in place to enable this to work in practice.

  • What are our space requirements?

  • To what extent to we need to schedule our working week collectively?

  • What technology do we need?

  • How will we make ourselves available to others?

  • What communication platforms and channels will we adopt?

This way of thinking is not new, with existing global virtual teams, being a source of great practice. In one organization, they leverage the advantage of time-zones to plan work so that someone is always working on a task and working together happens at the critical points in projects. Asynchronous working in practice, whilst one person sleeps that project is still moving forward. Work reimagined beyond the boundaries of the office.

It is understandable that many leaders and commentators will want to return to normal. It is safe and maintains the status quo. However, the potential benefits of hybrid working are too significant to ignore. Yes, we have accelerated into a hybrid world of work due to COVID and there are some unintended and unwanted consequences but that is not a reason to fight against working more flexibly. Be curious, take the time to design the future together – be Hybrid by Design.

To explore further, download the research study Rethinking Leadership for the Hybrid World of Work

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