Here is our next article in our series discussing hybrid and flexible work.  Jill Whittington shares her thoughts.

 ‘What is hybrid work? ‘What is the future of hybrid work?’ ‘How can we make hybrid work a success?’

These questions are some of the most common searches right now. It is THE topic on most business leaders’ lips. It is also the topic on most employees’ minds.

We’ve chosen ‘Hybrid Work’ as our current Insights theme. It  follows our poll on the subject where my fellow Change Maker Astrid Davies, shares the results. The highest-scoring section, with 34% of respondents, said they were looking at introducing (or perhaps improving) “hybrid” working.

What does hybrid mean?

The word hybrid has its origins in biology, where probably our initial, most familiar use of the term is ‘hybrid rose’

  • the offspring of two animals or plants of different breeds, varieties, species, or genera, especially as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics’
  • ‘bred from two distinct breeds, varieties, species, or genera’
  • ‘composite; formed or composed of heterogeneous elements’

 Of course, the now familiar use of the term is for cars. ‘Hybrid Car’ is well-established in our vocabulary. It is also becoming more and more recognised as a reality on our roads and in our choices of vehicle.

How long does it take?

I was curious as to how long it takes to create a hybrid variety of rose.

I needed to call upon my ‘A level’ biology to understand it (!). In essence I discovered that commercial hybrid cycles can be as short as 3–5 years today.

Initially however, the process took much longer. A lot of the time is spent in first deciding on the best component parts and then in testing, testing, testing until the outcome is as required.

From roses to cars

From Roses to Cars!

What is a hybrid car and how does it work? I was very surprised to hear that the first hybrid car built was by Ferdinand Porsche way back in 1899!

Until recently such hybrid electric vehicles (or HEVs) were relatively rare. The success of the Toyota Prius however, raised public awareness of such vehicles. We are now familiar with models within most car brands which have become one of the most rapidly growing segments within the auto industry in our quest for greener motoring.

Now of course the race is on for established, reliable practical electric cars.

What do they have in common?

Although a different subject, the commonalities creating hybrid roses and hybrid cars is that of many years of testing, refining, testing.

The other critical elements are:

  • The need to create a hybrid
  • Identifying the best of both to hybridise

For the rose, needs were driven from ease of looking after, variety and beauty.

For cars, the need is now well established as finding greener motoring to help look after our planet.

In both examples however elements from the hybridisation process are clear:

  • Elements from the original, no longer needed or relevant to the outcome, were eliminated
  • The best of the old mixed with new were introduced.

What about hybrid work?

For completeness the definition I found for hybrid working is

Hybrid working is a working structure that is composed of two types of working practices. Or in this case, two working locations: home and office. However, the home may be replaced by another non-office-based location in many circumstances.’

Hybrid work is very much a term that came into our vocabulary over the course of 2020. The need of course driven by the Covid 19 pandemic.

Whilst forced upon us, many things were learnt from having to adopt and adapt to a different way of working. Our capacity and creativity, driven by need, were in fact amazing with technology developing rapidly in support.

Organisations knew that a ‘return to the office’ would eventually follow. My observation is that this has still taken business leaders somewhat by surprise. Not so much in the fact of returning to the office but more so in the issues and challenges this presents.

Hybrid Work – So have we really learnt?

My concern is that the vital elements required for developing the hybrid rose and the hybrid car are missing when implementing hybrid work:

  • Actively deciding the elements from both that an organisation needs or chooses to retain
  • Actively deciding the elements from both that an organisation needs or chooses to eliminate
  • The time for testing, refining, learning.

My sense is that the announced ‘freedom’ to go back to work is forcing some rushed decisions, models and plans in the way that the initial lockdown driven working from home did when the pandemic broke. Much focus is on working conditions, process and guidelines as opposed to innovation in design and creating the most effective culture.

I have first hand knowledge from stressed people that some organisations are merely replicating previously known issues onto a new environment, presenteeism being just one example.

Before the pandemic, data from one UK survey showed that 80% of workers said presenteeism existed in their workplace.

In the BBC article Why presenteeism wins out over productivity – BBC Worklife the article purports that this behaviour has transferred from physical desks to online showing how deeply it’s ingrained in our work lives ‘…without a good hard look at our ingrained biases, transformation may be tough.’

There are many more examples for simply replicating previously know issues from a physical environment into an online and hybrid one. Examples include communication, inclusion, decision making and change management itself.

Hybrid Work – Employers v Employees

In addition there is a risk of an ‘us and them’ divide between what employers need and what employees now want.

Many workers have expectations about working from home as shown in a survey reported by ‘People Management Today.’

A survey by Sony Professional Solutions found that two-thirds (65 per cent) expect to work from home at least two days a week, while almost a third (31 per cent) believe that a return to five-day office working will not happen until 2022, if at all.

On the other hand some employers suggest that hybrid working is unsustainable. The bosses who want us back in the office – BBC Worklife explores how some employers, particularly within the finance industry, suggest the long-term role of remote work has been overstated:

“It’s not a new normal,” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said at a Credit Suisse Group AG conference in February. “It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”

Whilst these examples highlight two extremes, the conversations from both perspectives are a reality with associated worries and concerns on both sides.

Individuals are also re-evaluating how they wish to work. Many are looking to change their job with some employers recognising this and citing it as a benefit within the work package to attract new employees. This also varies across age groups, so the demographics of the workforce is a vital element for consideration.

Hybrid Work – Where does this leave you as a business leader?

There is a danger that we have a perfect storm of  post lockdown ‘business as usual’ pressures, a rush to ‘do hybrid work’ whilst employees are becoming more discerning because they now have more choices, needs, and wants.

This may create unforced errors in the quest for a quick fix, undermining the very essence of creating a hybrid and missing out on:

  • Actively deciding the elements from both that an organisation needs or chooses to retain
  • Actively deciding the elements from both that an organisation needs or chooses to eliminate
  • The time for testing, refining, learning.

There is one last component that is important – that of investment. New hybrid roses and new hybrid cars had investment in time and money to achieve the goals.

I suggest this is just as true for hybrid work and an additional element to the perfect storm for business leaders at a time of unprecedented challenges on time and results.

Furthermore, I imagine that you, as a business leader, are grappling with balancing the post pandemic business as usual demands with the pressures for getting hybrid working right.

Hybrid Work – The importance to get it right

Sometimes external support is the only way to bring about the most effective conversations to:

  • Identify the true needs for the business and the people
  • Create a psychologically safe environment for conversations between employer and employee
  • Retain objectivity
  • Inject innovation

It is vital that you as a leader do not become caught out by predicting what is needed on assumptions and gut feel.

It is vital that the voice of the employee is heard and for worries to be safely exposed.

Everyone will have not just a view, but a strong view on hybrid work, based upon their own experience from the last two years. Coupled with new anxieties according to their circumstances and the fact this is at the very heart of basic hygiene factors for ways of working, everyone will be motivated to get it right.

As a business leader can you afford not to get hybrid work right?

You are developing PEOPLE, not roses or cars

Now may be the time create some headspace for yourself for hybrid work, and invest in support to bring about the right conversations which consider every individual’s communication preference, style, and capacity for change in a psychologically safe, objective environment.

We are experienced in doing just that.

Just like a ‘Sherpa’ we can use our experience to guide you through the most appropriate path, helping you to avoid typical pitfalls, thus supporting you to reach the best possible outcome for you and your employees.

Remember you are not developing roses or cars but people – is that not even more important?

Jill Whittington

To continue this conversation about hybrid and flexible work, please click here to arrange a chat.

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