Humanity has a habit of rising to challenges in extreme situations. With the COVID-19 pandemic, once again, adversity has provided many of us with a much-needed reboot. We will never travel the way we used to, blindly jumping on planes out of habit rather than necessity. We will no longer occupy massive offices where we headquarter our staff more out of vanity than need. And, I hope that we will no longer accept traditional business practices, as we’ve all learned that they are out of step with our time.
We have an incredible opportunity to redress the balance. For decades, we have tried to shape ourselves to fit what business needs. Now, we have the opportunity to make business fit us. In doing so, we will deliver better work with a lot less effort. Not only will we have a big smile on our face, but so will our employers.
For far too long, we have assumed that people are business assets that need to be sweated. But the human design is far more complex than that. We are not machines. We are sensitive beings who were designed to be hunter–gatherers, not for staring at screens for eight hours a day. Energetically, we ebb and flow. I’m a different person at 9:00 a.m. than I am at 4:00 p.m., and yet my diary makes it look as if each 60–minute chunk of the day were equal.
Hybrid or blended work is the future for many of us. It has huge opportunities, but it also carries some new risks. No one knows exactly how it will work, and although there are some obvious principles, how they play out within your organization will be unique to your people and your culture. My advice is to see this time as an experiment. Don’t think you have all the answers — or that you have to have them — because the only thing that’s sure is that there will be surprises in store for us all.
To learn how to make hybrid working work for your organization, set up weekly experiments within your teams. After all, people join a company, but they stay for their team. The team is where behavioral standards are set and where relational energy thrives, so it’s the perfect Petri dish for hybrid work experimentation. What a team embraces will stick, and what it rejects will die.
A useful approach to these experiments is to design them around the four pillars of our energy: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy:
Hybrid work offers us choice in our physical environment. The more conscious we can be in choosing which space suits the work we need to deliver, the better our decision will be. There are times that we work best from home — perhaps when we need deep, focused thinking. But creative kickabouts need employees to be together, and we need to deliberately make them happen when appropriate.
Hybrid work also gives us more flexibility in how we use our days to make sure we optimize the ebbs and flows of our energy. We can walk and talk. We can exercise if we are flagging. We can nap to give ourselves a boost. Movement is key to focus, and hybrid work means there’s no excuse to remain static anymore.
Our design means that we are innately challenged with focus, and this challenge is especially difficult in the hybrid workplace. We only have between 90 and 120 minutes of deep focus per day, according to Leo Widrich, founder of Buffer, and we can so easily waste it on emails and other people’s agendas.
Being a successful hybrid worker requires discipline. We need to start our day with a crystal–clear intention regarding what we need to achieve, and we need to end our day reviewing what we’ve learned. Every interaction that we have needs to be aligned to make sure it delivers value. Sloppy work magnifies uncontrollably in a hybrid context.
What we think is what we feel, yet as much of our thinking is subconscious, most of us have no idea why we’re having a good day or a bad day. And, most of us are not really sure how COVID has affected us or, indeed, how hybrid working can change how we feel about who we are and what we do.
To embrace this new reality, we need to be better at talking about what’s going on, which means we need to be able to dig more deeply into what makes us tick. We have no idea the extent to which our colleagues are experiencing anxiety, post-traumatic stress and all manner of other mental health challenges, but we do know that we can help them by processing emotions together.
One of the greatest challenges with hybrid working is that we can disconnect from ourselves and what’s important to us, from our team, and from our reason for working. We need to overinvest in these connections to make sure that we are all doing meaningful work. Making sure that everyone is clear on his or her personal purpose and how it relates to the purpose of the organization is foundational, and investing in the relational energy of the team is imperative.
If you start each week with one behavioral experiment on your team and then revisit it together at the end of the week to see what has worked and what hasn’t, you can only improve. It’s the organizations that learn at a team level that will thrive. The ones that think it’s business as usual will soon become extinct.
Embrace experimentation through the lens of energy, and you will win, regardless of what the planet throws at you.