How Do We Reshape Work Today When The Office Seems So Far Away

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Hybrid isn’t the answer.

In fact, I would argue that when you ask an executive what “hybrid” means, mostly, it feels like they’re saying one thing: “We don’t really know.”

When a company leader says that they have embraced a hybrid working model… or that hybrid is the future of work, it’s a deflection. When you scratch beneath the veneer of that hybrid there’s little in terms of true organizational structure that can define how a company has truly made this work. Is it by day? Department? Meetings? An individual’s schedule? When someone’s says they’re fully in-office, we understand. When someone says they’re fully remote, we understand. When someone says they’re hybrid, it means they don’t know… and we don’t know. It’s neither here nor there…. It just… depends. And, that’s understandable… but it’s troublesome.

Here are a few data points that might surprise you, as in-person office resumes (regardless of which wave of the pandemic we find ourselves in)…

  • “75% of executives want to come back to the office three or more days a week – compared with just 37% of rank-and-file employees.” – Slack Future Forum.
  • “17% of office worked say they’re working remotely because they moved away.” – Pew Study 2022.
  • “Half of workers would rather quit than to be told to return full-time.” – Robert Half Survey 2022.

If you asked an employee what would make them come back to the office, many mention moments of collaboration. At the top of that list would be meetings. In the same breath, most employees would argue that the vast majority of meetings could have been an email… or that most meetings are a waste of time. So, if meetings are not that effective, what is a good reason to assemble and work under one roof? What you find, if you really dig into the conversations, is that everyone (from leaders to entry level) have their own perspective, emotions and personality-types that taint their answers.

Which can be humorous.

We’ve seen the notion of holocracy fall down almost as flat as its model for providing a flat management structure that distributes authority to each individual over the typical hierarchical corporate culture model.

Let me propose a thought: If you start the conversation about the future of work/office life with, “I think….” It’s not going to end well. Full stop. Wherever you may be in the organization, what your daily work means to you, personally, is just that: Personal. It often (if ever) entails an understanding of the entire organism and how it functions (as an entity), that both builds a unique culture and can deliver against its financial goals. Said another way… how you work in a company – on a day-to-day basis to get your job done – may have little bearing on what it takes for the overall company to be successful.

That’s a tough pill to swallow.

It also forces leadership to rethink work and office life, and this could wind up blowing up a lot of things. Whether this is a recession or we have severe supply chain issues or a employment challenge or a myriad of other macro issues that are slamming businesses today, it’s important for all of us to remember, that if the vast majority of office work has shifted to remote or hybrid models, it also facilitates a company’s ability to hire anyone from anywhere. This means that a job can travel at a higher and faster velocity than the 17% of office workers who said they’re working remotely because they moved away. With that, employees will have more options, but so too will employers who might start looking outside of bigger metropolitan cities to build a remote (or hybrid) talent pool… at a fraction of the cost. The reshaping of work is going to tumultuous for everyone.

We may want to start by getting everyone (leadership and team members) on the exact same page.