By Elisabeth Goodman, 10th May 2021
I’m starting to see and hear a flurry of articles and conversations about what hybrid working will mean, as companies open their doors for people to return to the workplace post Covid-19.
I’ve been discussing this with colleagues too who are involved, like me, in coaching and other forms of learning and development with leaders, managers and teams in Life Science, SMEs and other sectors and organisations.
Hybrid working is something that all leaders and managers will need to consider and role-model. It will impact recruitment and retention, policies on inclusion and fairness, the nature and quality of management and leadership, the well-being of employees, creativity and productivity. I’ve probably missed a few other aspects too!
This blog is based on two articles in consecutive issues of Harvard Business Review. The first, by Anne-Laure Fayard, John Weeks and Mahwesh Khan (2021), focuses on how we can re-design the workplace to reflect the different types of social interactions and activities that will take place in hybrid working. The second article, by Lynda Gratton (2021), analyses these interactions and activities, along with other factors that will influence the design of hybrid policies.
A framework for thinking about hybrid working
Gratton (2021) leads the Future of Work Consortium of 100 companies around the world. She has focused their recent research on the impact of the pandemic.
In her article, Gratton describes four critical drivers of productivity: focus, coordination, cooperation, energy and uses these to evaluate their influence on optimum hybrid arrangements.
She has come up with a useful framework for thinking about hybrid working arrangements in terms of both place (location) and time.
I’ve populated Gratton’s framework with my insights from her article: which of the productivity drivers might fit which of the four boxes, and what kinds of activities might fit alongside them.
My annotations are suggestions only, to stimulate further reflection. I expand on them in the rest of this blog.
As the author says, advances in technology as well as personal preferences will continue to influence how this picture evolves.
Different types of social interaction, different types of work
Anne-Laure Fayard and her co-authors (2021) suggest that the workplace will become, post-pandemic, particularly important as a hub for social interaction, enabling people to build closer working relationships and to have the kinds of unstructured conversations that are more conducive to impromptu learning and to innovation.
Gratton echoes this conclusion in her ‘cooperation’ driver for productivity, where she suggests that people need to be in the same space and time for activities relating to innovation. I’m curious to learn more about how some of my clients in the Life Sciences might be managing this with people currently working in shifts in and out of the lab, and communicating virtually to support this.
Teams can be effectively managed on a day-to-day basis without being co-located, a task that Gratton describes as ‘coordination’. My experience of working in and with companies where teams are geographically dispersed certainly bears this out. It can be tricky working across time zones but it’s helped if at least some of the working day overlaps as is the case with teams based in Europe and on the east coast of America for instance.
Although Gratton includes mentoring and coaching as something that can be done remotely (which is certainly my experience with my clients), Fayard et al. convincingly describe how being in the workplace will better support impromptu learning for junior and less experienced staff. Managers and more experienced colleagues can more easily spot, when co-located an opportunity for sharing some helpful insights or guidance. Junior and less experienced staff can more easily learn through observation and ask for clarification in a more casual way than when working remotely.
Tasks that require individual focus (another of Gratton’s critical drivers), such as strategic planning (if done alone), studying and report writing lend themselves well to remote working and more flexible work hours.
The last of Gratton’s critical drivers is energy – something that she describes as being core to those engaged in such activities as marketing. When and where these are done depend somewhat on the nature of the marketing activities, and the availability of clients.
How people derive their energy is also a very individual characteristic. So this is where personal preference and style are particularly relevant.
Design for personal preference and style
As Gratton suggests in her article, people might have different preferences depending on their home circumstances (which by the way could also have an impact on their ability to focus). Some people derive more energy from the interactions that they have in a busy workplace. Others thrive in a quieter environment, which could be at home, or elsewhere.
Fayard et al. describe how offices can be designed to provide different environments to suit different activities and personal preferences.
Gratton also describes how some companies, such as Fujitsu, have created an ‘ecosystem’ of hubs, satellite offices and shared offices, within and outside the workplace, that enable people to engage in cooperative, coordinated or focused types of activities.
Engaging and including employees in hybrid workplace design
As Gratton points out, one of the key criteria for success, as we move forward, is to engage employees in discussing what their hybrid workplace and practices should consist of. Doing so may enhance inclusivity and fairness.
Without such consultation we also risk repeating previous assumptions such as open plan offices and hot desking being good for productivity. Whilst open plan and hot desking might facilitate cooperation and coordination style activities, many of the people that I coach and train have struggled with the negative consequences for their focus and energy. And some people have thrived from the opportunity of working from home that the pandemic has offered them.
As these HBR articles and my own observations and discussions with others show, simply returning to old ways of working post-pandemic does not seem to be an option. Employees have experienced what the alternatives can be, as have employers. There are benefits all round for quality of life, well-being, recruitment and retention, and productivity. But there are also risks to the same if new approaches are introduced without proper consideration of the implications for all.
Managers and leaders have an important role to play in consulting with their teams, and in considering how they will apply and role model different ways of working in place and in time. What will you be doing?
Fayard, A.-L., Weeks, J. & Khan, M. (2021). Designing the hybrid office. Harvard Business Review, March-April, 114-123
Gratton, L. (2021). How to do hybrid right. Harvard Business Review, May-June, 66-74
About the author
Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through coaching, courses and workshops, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.
Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.
She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to exercise choice and realise their potential in the workplace by recognising their individual values and strengths. They explore such topics as enhancing their leadership / management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.
Elisabeth is accredited in Coaching (ACC – International Coaching Federation, PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching), Change Management, Lean Sigma, Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is also a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.
Elisabeth is also the founder of The Coaches’ Forum – an international community of interest for coaches to explore ideas and insights as an extension to their personal and professional development.