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The human side of hybrid working

The human side of hybrid working
Published: October 12, 2023
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Hybrid. It may be one of the most talked-about phrases of the last eighteen months, but what actually is hybrid working? The answer to that is that there is no easy definition. For some people, hybrid working is as simple as some time in the office and at home. For others, this might be combined with the responsibility of leading a hybrid team, all working different hours in different places. For others still, we might add to this the task of delivering work that requires them to move between variable tasks, skills, and roles to clients working different hours in different locations. The only certainty is that we can no longer make any assumptions about who is working where, when, and how.

What is clear is that there are enormous, tangible benefits to hybrid working, which have been demonstrated to many of us during the pandemic. By giving up the rigidity of a 9–5 culture, you also give up the time and stress involved in commuting, travel, and people trying to contort their personal lives into ill-fitting structures that don’t work for them. Therefore, embracing hybrid working is to embrace your people having more time, more opportunities for collaboration, and more autonomy. By letting people own their schedules, you allow them to own their commitments, fostering accountability. Furthermore, you open up various opportunities for collaboration – particularly impactful for global businesses. Fundamentally, when people are given control of their wellbeing and are empowered to arrange their working lives according to their unique definition, almost every aspect of an organisation will benefit.  

But successful hybrid working doesn’t happen on its own. It requires two things: intentionality and a human focus.

Here are three top tips for achieving this:

1. Develop a human understanding of the diversity of hybrid working: Just as wellbeing means something different to everyone, so too does the working style that will enable them to achieve it. This requires us to not only understand what a working day or a particular commitment means for us, but also what it means for another person, and in turn, how our own work choices might affect them. For example, how will this event invitation work with your schedule, and how will it work for the others in your team? How will your choice to not work mornings impact a working relationship you’re trying to establish with someone who finishes at noon? And what effect will your decision to work remotely have on your direct reports in the office? These are just a few questions we might need to keep asking as we foster curiosity, openness, and a desire to understand the needs of others.

2. Be clear and intentional: With this human foundation of empathy and understanding in place, it is then possible to explore ways of working and collaborating to achieve success, and this requires clarity. Be clear and intentional with others about why you’re contacting them: what you need when you need it. And emphasise your need to understand their desired outcomes; don’t leave any space for misunderstanding or assumption.

3. Place value on shared time and purpose: When everyone in a group has different working times and locations, coming together must make the best use of that time. Meetings should have clear, communicable, and valid intended outcomes – which couldn’t be achieved in a Teams post or email. This includes creating time and space for human connection. For example, I recently created an optional meeting for my team that is driven by conversation rather than agenda. This allows us to connect and understand what’s going on for each other and to feel like part of a team still – even though we no longer share the same space between 9-5 every day. Creating space in which agendas take a back seat and connection is the priority helps us understand better and learn about each other whilst also giving us a much-needed break to pause and enjoy the people we work with.

Over time, this intentionality and human focus will not only yield successful hybrid working relationships; it will also increase agility. Being accustomed to adjusting to external factors outside of your control makes it easier to work in a disruptive, volatile, and unpredictable world.

For example, operating in a hybrid team means that you will get used to being confronted by potential absences or time clashes at short notice; and you will become practiced at finding quick and effective solutions. Furthermore, developing a thorough understanding of your needs and the needs of others improves your ability to notice when change is required – when things are no longer efficient or are no longer working for someone. In this sense, hybrid working develops the muscle of agility by exercising our abilities to learn on the go, flex around and with others, notice issues, and perform through disruption or complexity.

In conclusion, hybrid working in all its forms is here to stay. To operate in this hybrid environment with mixed characters operating on varied schedules, doing work composed of mixed parts, we must embrace a more human way of working. No matter what your hybrid looks like, if you can communicate intentionally and understand what is best for others and yourself, you can vastly increase your chances of developing a high-performing team of agile, collaborative, productive, and most importantly, happy people.  

Erin DeVito is General Manager of Impact North America.