The Convoluted Mess of The Hybrid Workplace

What if hybrid ends up being a mix of the worst of both worlds?

Employers are ready to get back to significant in-person presence. Employees aren’t. The disconnect is deeper than most employers believe, and a spike in attrition and disengagement may be imminent.

McKinsey

Right at the beginning of the pandemic, Dave Hollis wrote a tweet that would prove to be prophetic. In the rush to return to normal, he said, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.

Well , people did consider this. And they didn’t rush back.

Whether you term it a great resignation, or as I prefer, a great reshuffle – people are reconsidering the role of work within their lives. And the prize seems to be increased autonomy rather than simply increased pay.

The emerging data highlights distinct generational differences – but shows a trend of people moving away from restrictive roles towards those which offer a better work life balance.

The shockwaves for employers have only just begun to be felt. As lockdowns are lifted and work from home mandates ebb and flow employers have found that their previously compliant servants has discovered how and when they want to work, rather than wait for some top down ’employee offer’.

Employers may claim to have a distinct culture and purpose, but the behaviour of many of our institutions during the pandemic has left many doubting their authenticity.

People only truly believe that a company has a purpose and clear values when they see them sacrificing short-term profitability for the sake of adhering to those values. Has that happened?

Employee burnout has doubled since lockdown ended, according to Glassdoor, whose survey showed that flexible working was only one part of the jigsaw, with better performing organisations also having flatter structures.

Companies congratulating themselves on their newly found hybrid work approach should pause to reflect. What a lot of people are now experiencing is the worst of both worlds.

As Emma Goldberg writes, this sudden mash-up of remote and in-person work “has resulted in a mushy middle ground: video calls where remote workers have trouble hearing, a sense that people at home are missing out on perks (teammates), while those in the office are, too (pajamas). And the stakes aren’t just who is getting talked over in meetings. It’s whether flexibility is sustainable, even with all the benefits it confers.”

My most absurd experience , in a year of absurd experiences, was literally carrying a remote colleague around during an in-person workshop. Holding their dimly lit face on a laptop and positioning them so they could see some post-it notes on a whiteboard. My battery power died and I forgot all about them until they text me to ask if the session had finished.

Hybrid takes effort. Token attempts at employee engagement just don’t work (btw is there anything in the recent history of mankind that is more soul crushing than a festive Zoom quiz?). Companies that have crafted very strong, definable cultures have tended to be fully in-person or fully remote, not mixed.

Equally remote work isn’t equal for everyone. A study from Qualtrics, found that 34% of men with children had received promotions while working remotely, compared to just 9% of women with children. There are similar disparities for ethnic minorities.

Our offices, those that are still there, look increasingly adrift and desperate. Stowe Boyd , as ever, has a good take on this: “One of the potentially smart things companies might try to entice workers back: converting open office space — which almost everyone hates — to private offices with doors. Those who share a home with family or flatmates might find respite in a quiet place to work heads down, in peace.” He goes on to make another great point: “Taken to the most extreme: what if some of the unused office space was turned into something like Airbnb rooms, so those who have moved outside of easy commuting range might come into the office for a two- or three-day onsite, working and not-working in the office. This could be coordinated with team members for once a month intense working sessions, too.”

To get hybrid work to work it will take creative thinking like this, breaking the fourth wall between Microsoft Teams and real life. It means really getting to know individuals and understanding productivity at a very human level, listening to people as individuals with unique and frequently messy lives – rather than as efficient worker drones. It means letting our people become the designers of their own unique workdays, and giving them the right tools and permissions.

Or maybe we just need less work. Signalling that people will sacrifice some pay for a better life Spanish high-end apparel brand Desigual introduced a four-day work week at its headquarters in Barcelona last month, raising expectations in the business and political arena in Europe, where some other pilot trials have been launched.

No employee works on Friday and they can choose to work remotely any of the four working days. The company has subsidized half the cost of the 13% reduction in working hours, with employees overwhelmingly agreeing to a 6.5% paycut.

Four days a week, no meetings, you choose the hours and work where you want. Is this the future of work or just the late 2021 expectations of the many?

When people have a 60-Year career you need to design something that’s sustainable for the long term not built on burning people out by the time they hit 50. Indeed -“If a 60-year career sounds like a nightmare, perhaps that’s because we’re imagining 60 years of work as it is for many people today: inflexible, all-consuming, poorly matched to the rhythms of life.”

There could be a silver lining to all of this where people re-engage with their own work on their own terms , but this is going to require huge flexibility from employers. Most will find this a challenge, and I expect to see further pandemic workplace aftershocks between now and 2025

Let’s remember that for almost all companies hybrid work is an experiment, and most experiments fail. The best experiments are small and build upon previous evidence.

When nothing is certain in the short-term never mind the long; a good approach to take colleagues with you is to “test and learn” rather than “show and tell”.


Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Is It Time To Rethink Industry Awards?

Award schemes have become a form of media. They exist to generate income for an organisation through a combination of entry fees and overpriced chicken dinners – Stephen Waddington

It can sometimes feel like there is an industry awards ceremony for every night of the week.

A Google search for ‘housing awards’ will get you 500 million results and nearly 700 million for ‘health and social care’ awards. That’s without awards for charities and other non profits.

There isn’t a resource where you can find exactly how many ceremonies there are in total (there’s at least sixty four UK award schemes for health and social care) , but it’s clearly very big business.

With all these awards schemes recognizing excellence you’d think customer satisfaction would be soaring to hitherto unseen heights – but that’s clearly not the case.

So what are the benefits of awards ceremonies?

Brand Recognition: A relatively quick way to signal you are above the competition is by seeking out and winning awards in your industry. This is nothing new, it’s basic marketing – companies have been touting their award-winning products for over a century.

Boost Employee Moral: For individual colleagues or teams winning a recognised award gives you public recognition, this gives people their moment in the limelight.

Encourage Self Reflection: The actual act of entering an award is a discipline that, if done honestly, encourages you to articulate why you did what you did and what you learned.

Let’s be honest though, the sheer amount of award schemes means they don’t deliver any true recognition of excellence. As Stephen says in his piece – with disciplined planning and a good entry form anyone can become a winner.

Do Industry Awards Inspire or Inhibit Innovation?

Awards and accreditation can actually act against the interests of customers.

  • They can encourage people to aim at the prize rather than the journey.
  • They can encourage organisations to tell good stories rather than promoting transparency and encouraging learning from failure.
  • They can imply that innovation is a single event, when it hardly ever is. Truly significant change is achieved over years, sometimes across generations.

And awards ceremonies can actually embed silo thinking — by promoting innovation at sector level when the really wicked problems need a more joined up approach

Serena Jones has noted that publicity from awards can help us reach new partners and investors. “They also highlight and circulate new ideas, approaches, methods which challenge us to do things better or different”.

This is helpful” says Serena, “But perhaps other mechanisms (without awards) can achieve the same outcomes?”

 

In 2014 I collaborated with Shirley Ayres in an online competition to find the people using digital tools to connect and share knowledge in new ways. It was called Power Players.

What was intended as a slightly light-hearted alternative to formal ‘awards’ turned into something else. Hundreds of people voted and the posts themselves have had over 40,000 views.

What was different about the list was the transparency.

As Shirley wrote  at the time “Digital technology has democratised access to information and created very different ways of enabling people to connect and share resources, thoughts and opinion. We live in a digitally connected world and in the crowded social space online influence is becoming increasingly important.”

I’m disappointed in the lack of innovation in the recognition and awards space in the five years since Power Players. Outside the social sector platforms like TripAdvisor, Trustpilot and Glassdoor have harnessed the digital voice of consumers to provide a more transparent way of recognizing excellence.

Indeed, transparency is where most traditional awards, many self nominated by the recipients themselves, completely fall down.

There is rarely clarity on why someone wins, why someone loses, or why someone was ruled out in the first place.

In fact the awards business wholly lacks any real transparency which is why many people leap to the conclusion that winning comes down to who sponsors what and which organisations buy the most tables.

Social media has enabled a new transparency, you can no longer control your messaging within closed industry borders.

We’ve still got organisations who are still adapting to an era where they can be answered back and where they don’t have the final word.

Many still think their brands can be controlled (they can’t).

Many still think that their brand is their own (it isn’t).

As Jayne Hilditch has said  – every time an organisation over claims how good it is, another piece of trust with the customer dies.

Those organisations who act like ‘awards tourists’, gathering baubles in very public shows of self affirmation may find themselves having to answer difficult questions.

Who really benefits from awards – and how? 

 


 

Image by analogicus from Pixabay 

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