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Forward to Work: How Hybrid Working Can Create Maximum Value for All Stakeholders

A man sitting at a desk having a virtual meeting on a laptop

A global CEO told me: “We have a major challenge getting people back to work after Covid lockdowns.”

Being a compulsive reframer, I responded with: “Let’s think together how you can get individuals and teams ‘forward to work’ rather than ‘back to work’ and use this opportunity to create more value-creating ways of working.”

Recently I have worked with a range of organizations from fast-growth companies to major global organizations, supporting them on what is variously described as: “Transition back to the office” – “Creating the new normal”, working out best forms of hybrid working. 

Every situation is different and so the ways of doing this successfully need to co-create for the specific context. However, there are some general principles that have emerged about how to tackle this new challenge. 

Here are 10 simple guidelines:

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic has been too big and costly a disruption to waste. Many companies have used it to greatly accelerate their digital and virtual connectivity and realized that enabled and inter-connected home working can be more productive for many aspects of people's work portfolio.

  2. Periods of disruption loosening the old culture are an opportunity to explore how the future culture needs to be different.

  3. You cannot have one size of hybrid working that fits all roles. Many employees expect the senior team to come up with a simple solution to home many days you have to be in the office and how many days you can work from home.

  4. You cannot leave it to each individual to go with their own working preference. Just as it was important to support people who are anxious or finding it difficult to return to some office-based working, rather than organize around this.

  5. People don't resist change, they resist being changed. The best leaders first share the well-articulated challenge with their employees and then provide a framework and parameters for each team to work through their collective solution.

  6. The challenge needs to be one that is 'future-back' and 'outside-in'. The organization and every team need to be clear about their purpose, and who and what they serve. Then they can consider what all their stakeholders (customers/clients, suppliers, investors, employees, local communities, etc.) need from them and how this will change in the future. Only then can they work out how they need to operate to maximize the value they co-create, with, and for, all their stakeholders and to be future fit.

  7. Then the team can explore the teaming needs, recognizing that most people are members of multiple teams. I have previously published guidelines on effective virtual teaming (Leadership Team Coaching) based on helping many teams improve the quality of their meetings during lockdown. However, there are some things that are still done better face-to-face. These include:

    • Developing a new team and the necessary psychological safety for forming trusted relationships (Hawkins 2021: pp112-123 and 357-359).

    • Deepening personal and business intimacy - we have discovered that productive partnering is built on business intimacy which requires a similar level of personal sharing and mutual interest. Where tensions have emerged in teams, they are better addressed face-to-face, then tackled virtually. 

    • Creative generative thinking together can be enabled by many virtual programs but can still lack the spontaneity and embodied energy that can be created with you are physically alongside each other. 

    • Partnering across boundaries and with stakeholders goes deeper and quicker when there is full presence, as a large percentage of communication is non-verbal and embodied, and trust is built around the edges of the formal meeting.

  8. Different expectations for different roles will feel unfair to people unless you have clear principles that everyone buys into, on which the differences are based. The principles for each organization, team and individual role needs to be based on the following order of priority:

    • The organizational purpose
    • What the stakeholders require
    • The multiple teaming needs and inter-team needs
    • The type of role(s) the individual needs to fulfil and the requirement of those roles
    • The working style preferences of the individual team members

  9. Team leaders need training and support to coach their team through this inquiry approach. The team leader needs to know how to hold in creative tension the needs of stakeholders, the business, the team and the individual employees and create a 'win-win-win' way forward.

  10. There are some teams and team leaders who might need an internal or external team coach to help the team through this process. If this is the case, bring them in right at the beginning, not when it has become polarized, with the business and personal needs having become split. 

I welcome any response or case examples from organizations who are in the midst of the transition to hybrid working: [email protected]