A Hybrid Future?
It's the buzz word of 2021. Hybrid working. It's going to completely change the way we work.
In it's simplest form, we will certainly never be returning to pre-pandemic working practices. The 9-5 trudge of the working week with long commutes either side are hopefully now a relic best suited to 'The Museum of Work'. Those outdated practices will sit comfortably beside child labour and the workhouse...
If you believe the media and the social channels, we are all going to live in a new working paradise where we can do what we want, when we want and manage our work around our lives rather than the other way around.
The reality? No surprises for guessing that it's probably going to look and feel very different for everyone.
There are many considerations with hybrid working models. The definition of hybrid is the mix of two elements. In this case remote and office based working. To mix or combine those two elements will require a great deal of navigation from organisations everywhere. I think it will take years to refine what hybrid working really looks like and to make work brilliantly for everyone.
Let's look at some of the key challenges, as I see them:
Sociable Office Space - overwhelmingly, the aspect of the office that most people miss is the proximity to other human beings. The human connection that brings means better collaboration, more informal conversations to impart information and lots of opportunities for help and support without the need for a video call or hour's meeting in the diary. We all remember shouting across the office to ask for help... and that is sorely missed by so many.
Zoom Fatigue - is here to stay and will only get worse if proper investment isn't made in technology to support full inclusion in meetings. There is a huge risk to meeting participation with hybrid working. On one hand you might have a few people joining by zoom and because of the challenges of mute and camera vision, all participants may end up on a zoom call rather than in a face to face meeting.
In another scenario where better technology exists, people may be able to join the meeting room virtually. This isn't risk free either. How often to face to face meetings continue as people leave the room? That means further discussions are had with some participants after the meeting. Instant exclusion for those that joined remotely.
Silo Working - we've worked so hard in organisations everywhere to increase collaboration and reduce silo working. When people are choosing their days to be in the office, there will be a temptation to be there when their colleagues are there so that they can achieve great things together (see the point on sociable office space...). Whilst the intention here is to make the most of the time you have available with your team, this may result in exclusion from other teams and a reduction in overall collaborative working.
It was acceptable in 2020 - throughout the pandemic, we were all forced into home or remote working. Not everyone had an ideal working environment, the kids were being home schooled, distractions were the order of the day. As we move towards our hybrid model of working, what will the expectation be? An ironing board desk is not going to cut it in the new world. This raises the obvious question - is home working a benefit or an expectation? The difference in definition may not seem important, until you look at who is being asked to pay for home office setup - and that seems like a minefield to me.
Will the distractions be as accepted as we leave the pandemic behind? We've all made jokes about the cats backside being on the screen or Dave not wearing trousers - will that be funny in the future or just a genuine distraction from the task in hand? If I'm honest, I know where I fall on that one...
There are hundreds more challenges that I've not gone into here, you will no doubt have a list of your own. I'm excited about the future - we do have a real opportunity to change the way we work, to focus on balance and to get ourselves ready for a potentially more part time future.
The halcyon days of working lay ahead for any organisation brave enough to grab them.