The following text appeared in the Flemish newspaper De Tijd, on 5 August 2022.
Organisations love rules and processes. They strive toward a state of serenity. A balance that brings certainty to puzzling times. So it shouldn’t come to a surprise that many organisations have translated hybrid work into a homeworking policy: a clear set of rules that spell out with which frequency employees must come together physically.
Rules guarantee good management, grip and control. And that’s good.
But when the rules of the game aren’t supported by a powerful story, a vision of the future of work, an explanation for the increased flexibility, hybrid work dissolves into a mere “we go to the office on Mondays and Tuesdays”.
What I see today is that hybrid work is getting an ugly face.
Recent research from Microsoft shows that since March 2020 our workdays have been extended by 13%.
Managers who are inclined to exercising output-oriented management, feel uncomfortable when forcing physical presence in the office.
And the digital tools we all embraced during the pandemic make it easier to interrupt each other. We are addicted to meetings, notifications and chats.
Does this mean the end of hybrid work? Are we going back to square one? It is my hope that this is rather a transition period, a shift toward something new and better.
However, if this is the case, organisations, teams and individuals will have to take 3 steps.
Step 1: start with why.
Top management must specify why the organisation opts for more flexibility. For instance, we opt for sustainable employability because we believe that a healthy relationship between people and work leads to greater wellbeing, greater value creation for customers, and greater prosperity. Connection with the team, the organisation and customers play a vital role. As does self-leadership.
Such a message engages more than “you may work from home two days a week”.
Step 2: better to be safe than sorry.
Organisations need to raise awareness. It is their duty to preach a healthy work ethic and not to steer clear of difficult messages like “constant availability is damaging”.
Fruit baskets, yoga lessons and mindfulness courses are like a handkerchief for a bleeding nose when managers hardly ever take time to have lunch, are overweight and regularly plan in meetings after normal working hours.
Step 3: teams make agreements.
Teams get to work to design sustainable ways of collaboration. The following questions can help with this:
with which kind of tasks do we create value?
what do we need to carry out these tasks successfully?
how can we make sure we are not alienated from the end result of our work?
which behaviour is harmful to each other’s productivity?
which meetings can we cross out from our calendars?
how much focus time should we plan in?
what is our synchronous minimum?
The answer to these questions doesn’t lead to ‘working two days from home’.
The answer to these questions leads to developing healthy working habits.
The future of work is not digital.
The future of work is not hybrid.
The future of work should be healthy and sustainable.