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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking

2023... WHAT NEXT FOR HYBRID WORKING?

2023-01-20 09:33

Cathryn Barnard

Blog, HYBRID WORK, FUTURE OF THE OFFICE, HYBRID WORKING, FUTURE OF WORK, WORKFORCE WELLBEING, HYBRID WORK STRATEGY, FUTURE OF WORK STRATEGY, HYBRID OFFICE,

2023... WHAT NEXT FOR HYBRID WORKING?

Rather than make wild guesses as to what 2023 might have in store, one of the things we’ll prioritise this year is the evolution of hybrid working. What's next?

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Each January, journalists, academics and ‘thinkers’ reveal their predictions for business in the upcoming year. With so much change afoot in the world of work, there’s no shortage of forecasts and hypotheses.

 

Work’s emerging future is dynamic and complex. One thing you can say about complexity is that it’s hard to predict the impact trends will have on one another. All you can do is keep a watchful eye on the trends that matter to your business and pay attention to how events unfold. 

 

You’ll know by now we track ten key future of work trends in our annual Foresight Focus Report. This helps us prioritise primary themes, while of course staying alert to other shifts and undercurrents. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that seemingly unconnected events can converge to deliver ripples of fallout that scant few could have foreseen. 

 

Rather than make wild guesses as to what 2023 might have in store, amongst other things this year we’ll prioritise the evolution of hybrid working.

 

What’s next for hybrid working?

Since it was first coined as a phrase following pandemic-enforced remote-working, debate about the long-term survivability of hybrid work has raged. Those owning commercial real-estate of course have a vested interest in coaxing, encouraging and sometimes even insisting their staff get back to the office. Sadly, thinly veiled threats of punitive action can often lurk beneath the public narrative.

 

The workforce however has a different stance. 

 

According to 2022 research by Cisco, 78% of poll respondents believe hybrid or remote working has improved all aspects of their wellbeing. 62% agreed the freedom to choose to work from wherever would impact whether or not they remained with their employer [1].

 

Elsewhere, Gallup found that 53% of remote-capable workers now expect to be able to work part of their week from home [2]. 

 

The sample sizes in both sets of research are not insignificant. 

 

To corroborate the efficacy of hybrid work still further, earlier this month The Guardian documented the findings of research by the University of Birmingham [3]. The Equal Parenting Project found that three-quarters of managers feel flexible working has boosted team productivity. 

 

Whether the landowning elite like it or not, hybrid working is here to stay.

 

All this said, there’s still much progress to be made before we arrive at an optimal state of hybrid work. While the basic foundations have now been laid, key areas require ongoing focus and attention. Think of this journey as getting from 1st generation to next generation hybrid working.

 

This is a key area of focus in 2023, where we’ll continue to support clients. We have four priorities.

 

The path to optimal hybrid working 

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1. Co-design hybrid working

Hopefully by now most organisations have accepted that offering some type of hybrid working improves access to the full labour market, for improved hiring outcomes. 

 

With luck, most organisations will have realised that designing an optimal blend of home and office based working requires input from those delivering the work. 

 

In the early days, we heard many stories about hybrid arrangements that had been organised centrally. All too often, office days had been scheduled to favour the organisation - allow it access to a continuous presence of team members from each function. But this scheduling hadn’t factored in who each team member needed to collaborate with in order to make a day in the office worthwhile. 

 

It’s well and good to expect there will always be someone on site from a key business function, to provide continuity of functional representation. But when members of a department or team need to be able to see each other in real life in order to get value from a day spent in the office, shouldn’t their preferences also be factored into decision making?

 

Today, there are countless digital tools to schedule hybrid work patterns. But it’s social and emotional intelligence that delivers hybrid work arrangements that maximally benefit the organisation. 

 

Action: Review hybrid scheduling with employees. Discuss what’s working and what’s not. Modify arrangements to boost team engagement and performance. 

 

2. Establish new work boundaries

Over the course of last year, we helped clients brainstorm ways to improve hybrid working. A primary feature of worklife in 2022 was anxiety, overwhelm, exhaustion and in the worst cases, burnout.

 

While working from home delivers a range of wellbeing benefits, without daily signals and cues from colleagues, it’s easy to succumb to overwork. It’s harder to know when to switch off. The boundaries between home and work are blurred like never before. We all need help learning how to best integrate work into life.

 

When working remotely, it’s all too easy to prioritise the deliverables and outcomes that help make organisations successful. Over and above the routines and rituals that help make US effective.

 

Ambitious organisations are already helping their colleagues adjust. Taking time to better understand the art and science of focus is a key step forward. 

 

As one example, every human has their own chronotype. This is the natural time of day when we each feel most energised and productive. The conventional 9 to 5 emanates from the manufacturing era. But in the digital age, with all our societal gains in the fields of psychology and neuroscience, surely there are better ways to work? 

 

Understanding the brain’s capacity for deep focus and blending this with one’s chronotype yields enhanced quality of output. When, of course, we take time to educate ourselves on such topics.

 

Encouraging internal conversations about how best to optimally focus, how to recalibrate the rituals and routines that separate work from home, and how to restructure the working day to maximise social connection while working remotely – these are all key features of an engaged and productive hybrid workforce.

 

Action: Organise interactive workshops to help colleagues better adjust to hybridworking and uphold work hygiene practices that improve performance and wellbeing.

 

3. Reimagine the role of the office

As hybrid goes mainstream, the importance of regular in-person meet-ups between colleagues and team mates can’t be underestimated. It’s what underpins a healthy and vibrant organisational culture. 

 

Providing opportunities to meet in real life fosters trust between colleagues and is integral to building a sense of community when work is increasingly distributed and asynchronous. 

 

In our client work last year, we identified a persistent theme. While en masse people are invigorated by the freedom to work remotely, in parallel there’s a pervasive shared loss of human connection. Collectively, people long to be able to maintain the social relationships that make work enjoyable. 

 

And herein lies the opportunity for business.

 

Many organisations are now redesigning and reconfiguring workspaces for hybrid working. For those maintaining office space, it’s vital to re-consider the purpose of the office now. 

 

If you want your teams in the office, you must create a compelling reason to come.

 

We propose that far more important than a space where work gets done, the office is now a destination location where colleagues should look forward to reconvening and spending time nurturing the social relationships that underpin teamwork, collaboration and innovation. 

 

While hanging out with work friends may fly in the face of preconceived ideas about productivity, we’re seeing that taking time out to look after social connections at work actually enhances performance over the longer term.

 

If organisations learned anything from the turbulent labour markets of 2022, it’s that employee experience matters. Regardless of what economic downturns may manifest in 2023, keeping hold of valued colleagues is key to long-term organisational resilience.

 

Team cohesion is business-critical. 

 

Rather than singularly focusing on meeting effectiveness, we should focus on why we gather.

 

Understanding the psychology of human relationships at work is a key step towards business sustainability. Organisations where trusted relationships between colleagues are strong are far better equipped to move quickly in response to ever-changing external market forces. 

 

Action: In addition to reconfiguring the physical layout of the built environment to integrate phygital working, invest in learning to curate in-person gatherings that foster deeper connection and trust for enhanced team collaboration. Focus on culture.

 

4. Review continuously

The urge to ‘get back to normal’ continues to dominate boardroom conversations. But such are the complexities of hyper-connected 21st Century life that ‘normal’ is now wishful thinking. 

 

The world is changing constantly. The lives we lead, the familial responsibilities we have and the nature of the work we do are in continual flux.

 

The best we can do is to learn to adapt to perpetual change and continuously review hybrid working arrangements to make sure they’re still fit for purpose.

 

As already mentioned, one thing we can say with certainty is that market complexity demands organisational agility. Hybrid isn’t a settled state. As McKinsey said in 2021, "The finish line is a mirage".

 

Let’s get into a habit practiced in the military. The After Action Review (AAR) is a superb way to review progress and analyse where improvements can be made. It’s measures gaps that exist between the proposed outcome of an action, and the outcome that actually unfolded. As a discipline, it underpins effective transformation programmes. 

 

The most resilient organisations are designing work regeneratively – continuously evolving, adapting and updating working patterns and conditions to meet new market contexts as they arise. This is the future of work.

 

Action: design and implement new work practices to continuously review hybrid work arrangements. Involve everyone in hybrid work design. Test, measure and adapt accordingly. 

 

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We hope you’ve gained some value from these ideas. If you want to dive deeper into this critical aspect of work's evolving future, we've created our suite of Hybrid Working resources.

 

Over the course of the coming months, we’ll also share details of upcoming workshops and learning events to develop these concepts further. In the meantime,  if you’d like to be first to hear about them, or you’d like a no-obligation chat about the challenges you’re facing, please do get in touch.

 

References:

[1] www.cisco.com/c/m/en_us/solutions/global-hybrid-work-study.html

[2] www.gallup.com/workplace/390632/future-hybrid-work-key-questions-answered-data.aspx

[3] www.theguardian.com/money/2023/jan/09/most-managers-believe-flexible-working-helps-productivity-uk-study-shows

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