For anyone following along, you’ll notice tech companies are having a wild ride working out what the future of their work policy looks like.
Some are moving towards bringing people back to the office, some are moving to fully remote and binning the expensive costs of the office, and others are committing to hybrid and shoring up their processes and tool to facilitate effective teamwork whilst allowing appreciated flexibility to their employees.
But most seem to be in a state of “Accidental Hybrid” where they fell into a process of Hybrid working during the pandemic, and now things aren’t quite working out, and they don’t understand why.
Many companies went through the same journey.
Step 1: The company was forced to go fully remote during the pandemic, and a few things happened:
- Quite a lot of people realised they quite liked having some kind of flexibility about where they work.
- Hiring managers started to realise the benefits of throwing open their hiring pool to much wider geo-locations.
- Nothing exploded (completely), and companies continued to function fine. Humanities core skill of ‘finding a way’ got us through the situation.
Step 2: We, mostly, realised that 100% working from home doesn’t quite ‘feel’ right. There was something about it that wasn’t quite working for most people. This was driven by a couple of factors:
- Most people quite like other people, and are genetically programmed to want to spend at least some time in their presence, and some of those people we like are our colleagues and teammates.
- The people who paid the rent and mortgages on the company office space started to feel uncomfortable about spending money on things that we no longer fully understand the benefit of.
- As the excuses of the pandemic melt away and the financial outlook of most companies starts to look less favourable the “graph people” start to wonder if people are as productive as they were when they could be visually monitored in the office.
Step 3: On an all-hands call, the CEO tells a story about the “vibey” experience they’ve had coming back to the office and asks you all politely to come back in a few days to experience it for yourself. (Disclaimer: If you’re a CEO reading this and you think I’m talking about you, I’m not. I’ve seen, or heard of, at least 4 situations like this… OK, I might be talking about you… but not singling you out 😃!)
Step 4: Nothing changes.
Step 5: Leadership get annoyed and employs some kind of enforcement of office days/back to the office drive, employee satisfaction plummets, and productivity drops further.
Step 6: GOTO Step 2
What is missing from the above loops is the process of applying the same business practices to your working policy as you do to your day-to-day business. People desire hybrid working primarily due to a basic human need for human connection. This leads to people making judgments on “heart” and “gut feelings”. The problem with this is you’re dealing with the human needs of a bunch of squishy, unpredictable, meat-based people who aren’t feeling or thinking in the same way as you.
We can solve this by being “Intentionally Hybrid” and applying the same processes as we would a product, or business, decision.
Step 1: Get Clarity. Decide your hypothesis, strategy, or vision for your workplace policy. Is it really about collaborating, productivity, or creating a place for real human connections for your employees? There seem to be three main topics emerging.
- Productivity: As budgets tighten due to economic pressures, “getting shit done” becomes more critical. Measuring productivity has always been a difficult topic, especially in knowledge work. Being intentional about why people work where might help.
- Collaboration: Over a few hundred years of “modern work”, humans have built skills around collective problem solving, and they built them whilst being in close proximity, not on a video call. Maybe having people do that kind of work in the office might help.
- Social Connection: If humans are excluded from a social group, their brains react in the same way as they do when they feel physical pain. We need social-human connection. Maybe using the workplace to facilitate that might help? (Full disclaimer: this is my personal hypothesis currently)
Pick one of the above or something else, but pick something.
Step 2: Get proof. Get some kind of empirical evidence that you currently have a problem with in problems space. Ask your people, and check your data.
Step 3: Get aligned. Now that you have evidence that you have a problem ensure that you have alignment across the organisation that this problem is a shared truth. You don’t need everyone on board, but you need enough momentum to ensure that future change will succeed.
Step 4: Get Goals. Like every other initiative or business decision you make, treat this one the same. Based on your hypothesis, define the measurement and goals that will define success for any hybrid policy.
Step 5: Get a Plan. Based on your main objective and goals, think about what your people need to be successful in a hybrid environment. Your tools, process, business practices and core business values must change.
A change to work policy is a significant risk. Maybe you want to A/B test this or do some isolated trial.
Step 6: Go!
Step 7: Measure and review. Check your numbers, get feedback, review and iterate. You won’t have got it right the first time, so you’ll need to tweak and course correct.
It ain’t Rocket Science!
The above might seem obvious to some, it’s a standard approach to improving many areas of business, but for some reason, I’ve seen so many examples where people seem to be blinkered in their approach to changing working practices.
If you’re struggling to make Hybrid work, consider if you are “Accidentally Hybrid” or “Intentionally Hybrid”.
I will speak at LOGIN.LT in a couple of weeks about measuring the inner strength of teams. If you’re in the area, come watch and say “Hi”