This year we are seeing a significant amount of conversation around terms like, “the future of work”, “back to the office” and “hybrid working”. Of course, this is all because of the unprecedented impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic and the way that forced a hard and fast move to working from home for an enormous number of people.
I am now seeing a significant tension in the workforce. A situation where one side is pulling to stay at home forever, and the other side pulling for the return to the way things were before. However, this significant shift, should also reflect upon all those workers in essential services and core workers, who carried on working in their usual space.
I’m recognizing that we have a continuum for working space. On one side is the fully remote, working at home situation, at the other end we have fully in the workspace all working hours. The first may be some of the technology development and administrative heavy organizations and the latter being a hospital or retailer. It’s a fascinating spectacle to watch organizations working through the swings of their pendulum between these two extremes and discover their balance point somewhere along this. This takes time and it cannot be a singular decision, in fact for many multifunctional large workforce organizations, it may vary by working division.
Now I’m exploring this topic here, because I’ve noticed something very, very interesting. The use of change management, leadership, and support mechanisms to aid this workplace change, differs from entity to entity. However, I’ve made a discovery, the closer to the centre of this continuum that the workplace is landing the more likely that entity is to be deploying change facilitation and people guidance systems and engagement mechanisms. Its almost like there is a recognition that at the central, fully blended experience, there is a recognized need for the most support. Whereas those closest to either end of the range; a fully at home or fully in the workplace approach, need the least amount of support.
I am impressed with this realization and recognition. I feel that its taken a pandemic and maybe one of the biggest upheaval in the working environment, but at last the value of change management is being recognized for something that isn’t an IT implementation.
So, what does this change management activity look like in this central space. The most common word for this space is “hybrid“ but this of itself covers a multitude of experiences. Typically, it covers a variant where both at home and in the workplace, activity takes place with each making up the whole of the expected working commitment. This can range from 2 or 3 days in the office with 2 or 3 days at home each week, with variations that can also include off site visit days, meeting days and collaboration days mixed in for collegial and customer focused interactions. Pulling away to the one side of the spectrum we see the amount of “at the office” reduced to one or two a month in some cases while at the other end of the scale we see those occasional days to work from home are permitted but with a greater expectation of being at work more or less all the time.
Now apart from the obvious cost savings of less footprint space for the lower end of the “in office” group, there are certain elements of leadership and cultural shifts that are evident from this approach. We can see there is greater empowerment, trust and flexibility with the greater level of work at home. Something that confirms a level of agile leadership practice here. Yet the other end of the scale is probably the fight for control and not the mindset I would encourage from a leadership (or bad leadership) role model. I think its indicative of the poor leadership at the controlling end of the scale, that doesn’t recognise the change experience for individuals who have spent the best part of two years at home, being jolted into back to office set ups – they probably need a little support or they will become a statistic of the great resignation, no doubt.
Where does the change management, support and guidance come into play for these workplace changes. Its not actually that different from any good quality support. Work with the individuals to recognize their pain (i.e., fear) points and build strategies to prepare for the new, alleviate the discomfort through the change and guide the adoption of the new – a bit of a William Bridges model to approach, if you want to tie it to something specific. Within these strategies for the journey, recognizing that not everyone will be the same is key and having a flexible space for those who are slower to gain the trust of the new systems set up, and I mean actual space. Some people will make mistakes when they are due inhouse and at home, so if they turn up on the wrong day, let them stay and help them understand. For many large organizations I think this is going to take 6-12 months of support and coaxing to get fully understood and onboard. Learning new protocols for connecting, understanding how to be disciplined to not work 24/7 and take mental health into consideration throughout the experience, is key.
Its not going to be easy to embrace the future way of working, but at least we have change enablement mechanisms to support it. I want to leave you with something to ponder as I close… if you think hybrid working is new, think back to the days of the traveling salesman, who was out on the road all day and only dropped into the office for meetings and the like… wasn’t that the pioneer of hybrid working? Oh and there are still large numbers of people who continue that model of working right up to today!