Have you ever played a game that has no rules or guidelines? No matter how open-ended a game is, it must set some parameters. That’s the difference between a dream and reality. Reality comes with a set of pre-existing parameters and guard rails within which one must operate. That is exactly why each organization will have their own rules and tools when it comes to hybrid working, which will be a function of their vision, mission, goals, business drivers and risk tolerance.
I will pause here, as I want to make sure we are on the same page when we talk about hybrid work, especially when it comes to the tech sector (since Silicon Valley and the Bay Area have been my living and breathing ground for quite some time now). A better way to understand hybrid working is to know what it is NOT. I recently interviewed a few folks from my clients’ tech organization and asked what comes to their minds when one says hybrid working? They almost unanimously said ‘anything but 1:1 seating’ and ‘anything but five days in the office.’ For a moment I thought we had cracked the code, but I soon realized that if hybrid is everything else, then it is not a point on the spectrum but a spectrum in itself. The challenge is to find where on the spectrum your organization falls.
Being a hybrid workplace consultant, below are a few shades of hybrid working that are crystalizing in the tech sector that display their DNA well:
Workplace: a destination, not an expectation
Companies who are the right size to be able to maintain their culture without running into scalability issues are giving their people not only a choice of location but also a choice of how long (and IF) they want to come to the office to work. This is expected to land well if the vision is supported by the top leadership and embraced by the people managers to align on how the business will continue to yield results with a workforce that is not anchored to any location.
Location agnostic markets
Significant research and studies are being done by the people organizations within companies to understand the similarities between various markets in terms of the talent pool and growth strategies. This will allow them to attract talent globally while maintaining a certain level of structure in terms of their talent concentration in various markets.
Some organisations are giving their employees the freedom to choose a location to be mostly anchored from within a region, thereby ensuring that in-person (face to face) team collaboration and engagement stay intact. This is especially true for organisations that are in aggressive growth mode and attracting millennials and Gen Z. This has allowed employees to take advantage of flexing their proximity radius a little bit while still maintaining a certain manageable proximity to their anchor regions
Mapping hybrid spectrum to job functions
It is not too far from the imagination to think of organisations looking at the degree of flexibility by job titles or job functions. This approach requires an in-depth dialogue between people, HR and leadership to pave the right path for the future of the organisation. The ratios between the demand and supply by functions are derived differently based on the varying need for team-based collaboration, cross functional collaboration or need for a knowledge incubator in the form of a workplace.
While there are many other degrees on the spectrum of hybrid work, organisations within the tech sector are experiencing some combination of the above listed trends. As a result, some of the changes to employee experience perspective are:
- Flexibility in work schedule
- Flexibility of days in the office
- Policies and processes enabling the new ways of working
- Changes in workplace anatomy
- Changes in the compensation structure
- Training programs enabling virtual or remote workforce management
- Asynchronous collaboration
- Shift in urban and suburban composition
- Improved work life balance
- Technology enabled work practices
- Intentional collaboration patterns
- Conscious knowledge sharing
- Technology as a core of new ways of work
While the flexibility and choice that come with hybrid working have been two of the silver linings of the pandemic, we have certainly not mastered the art of flexibility yet. Therefore, we should allow ourselves to make mistakes (in some cases fail), to learn from those mistakes, and to develop strategies and solutions with flexibility at the core that allow organisations and employees to thrive. We must constantly remind ourselves that the benchmark for this phase doesn’t exist, and therefore we need new base-lining, which is an iterative process. So let’s share our knowledge with each other and create a robust baseline for the workplace and workforce of the future.