Conversations for the liminal phase we are still in
‘The ability to effectively navigate in a hybrid environment is itself a skill and therefore a source of power.’
Collaborative work is making its way through a sticky and speedy evolution, catapulted up the agenda as remote working extended beyond what most had expected.
Connection is not only good for bonding and for wellness. It is particularly useful when we feel a majority of things to be outside of our control. The serendipitous collision of thoughts in hallways and over lunch results in some of our great inventions.
But our strange, recent times have produced a jumbled mix of where we work and how. We are not quite yet out with the old, or in with the new. Our state of work is perhaps akin to a liminal phase – full of discovery and a little uncertainty. Most places of work (the term ‘places’ is used liberally), are a jumble of working from home (WFM), working from the office (WFO) and WAT (where are they?).
The imperative that we adapt and pioneer new futures is clear. What nuances are emerging? Are there nuggets can we grapple with based on experiences to date?
These are five pointers for conversations to have.
We have drawn widely on two source articles, both worth a read:
Making the Hybrid Workplace Fair by Mark Mortensen and Martine Haas, Harvard Business Review
A guide for remote work by Dr Richard Claydon, LinkedIn
1 What is your hybridity configuration?
In reality, we are neither returning fully to the office nor seeing the death of it. Hybridity refers to work with employees who are co-located in the same physical space, as well as employees working remotely. Hybridity may scoop up the benefits of remote work such as more flexibility, a reduced carbon footprint, time saved traveling to and from a place of work and increased employee satisfaction (for some employees), as well as the benefits of more traditional co-located work such as in-person collaboration, networking, increased socialisation, on-site support, and learning. But hybridity also creates power differentials through two key elements: variable levels of visibility and access to resources. Our awareness of these kinds of issues and our intelligent, positive interrogation of them should be on the rise.
Questions to ask include: How effective is your hybridity configuration? What benefits are you securing from your unique mix? What are you losing? How are your clients experiencing the way you’re modelling your work? Do employees feel disconnected, or well-equipped for the job at hand? One might start by mapping your team’s hybridity configuration. For example: WFH (from home) or WFO/IO (in office), MWF (Monday Wednesday Friday), or TT (Tuesday Thursday). Tracking and communicating, monitoring and ensuring access to resources and support make hybrid work possible and productive.
2 How visible are your employees?
Out of sight, out of mind? It appears so. Employees who are seen are more likely to be picked for new projects or to be recognised for work well done. Working in the same office as a manager or leader exposes employees in ways that can assist with their growth and their career path. How do we make sure that employees who spend less time in office are not disadvantaged?
3 Where is your drag, distraction and drama?
Three things limit a digitally transforming workplace, according to Dr Richard Claydon:
- Drag refers to old practices slowing down the transition to new ones, examples are emails and business as usual meetings. What no longer serves us? What new tools are out there?
- Distraction is a notable challenge in modern workplaces. Tech enables but also distracts, and platforms are cleverly designed to grab human attention. Multi-tasking is a myth, certainly in the case of tasks that require some cognitive input (which is most of our work). Cal Newport is a specialist on the topic of distraction. He builds a solid business case for scheduling focused and uninterrupted work time into each day. Productivity levels soar as do ‘flow states’.
- Drama is so very human. We aim to please and to be recognised, and these desires can leave some appearing to be productive and hard at work far longer than they really are. Sitting at your desk and responding to email chains simply to be visible increase drag. Where is the drama in your workplace and why is it there? Perhaps it has something to do with how leadership ‘walks its talk’?
4 What experiments are you running?
It’s true. We don’t really know what’s up ahead. But as Margaret Heffernan so elegantly puts it:
‘Just because we do not know the future, it does not mean we are left helpless. Start wherever you are. In a complex non-linear world, there can be no step-by-step rule book, only an infinite mandate to explore.’
Small experiments help us to lean into the future and to prepare for a variety of possible scenarios. Some will work out, others will fail. Over time, they may build engagement as employees get the chance to engage with and activate their ideas for the future. Resilience and competitiveness levels may also improve as small enhancements stack up.
5 What leadership competence must be built for hybrid times?
Environments reward employees who think and act adaptably and flexibly, who are able to organize and coordinate across a complex and dynamic environment, and who are able to establish and provide evidence of their own trustworthiness when working in a context of low visibility. – Haas & Mortensen
Relationships remain ever important. The ability to form, feed and inspire human networks across both face to face and digital contexts is rising to new prominence. Psychological safety is going mainstream. Employees who can ask for the resources they need will fare better than those who do not have the courage, confidence, capability or positioning to do so. This has profound implications for those who lead others. What are they?
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