Strategy & LeadershipBusiness TransformationDefining key priorities in the future of hybrid working

Defining key priorities in the future of hybrid working

How leaders and organisations can best anticipate the ways that hybrid working will evolve in the future

HRD Thought Leader Kevin Empey surveys the changes that’ve been brought about by hybrid working in organisations so far, and defines what may yet shift over the coming six to 12 months.

As we all embark on shaping the next phase of work and working life, there is a natural mix of concern about ‘getting the transition right’ and also sense of excitement and optimism about a once in a generation opportunity to shape the future of work here and now.

HR being the ‘first responder’, as Dave Ulrich called it, for our organisations in coping with global health crisis, to supporting leaders, managers and teams in the delivery of business and organisational priorities and outcomes has provided further evidence of the impact, resourcefulness and skill of the function.

Now the profession is centre stage again with the expectation to guide and lead our organisations through an even more complex and tricky phase of work design. As many have remarked in recent months, ”it was one thing to get people out of the office against the backdrop of a pandemic and a common set of rules and guidelines for everyone, it is quite another to get people… to a new model of work that is complicated by choice and expectation and continuous comparison with what everyone else is doing.”

Three phases, two workstreams and one capability

Most organisations that are moving to a hybrid or more blended model typically agree that we are looking at progressing through at least three phases. First a tentative, almost experimental type experience that is currently underway for many. This is being followed with variable pace by a more deliberate and strategic transition to different ‘target’ working models that are more sustainable and hopefully free of the constraints and concerns around COVID.

Most agree that we are also not likely to get this transition perfectly right first time. A third phase is therefore likely to emerge as the realities, lived experience and outcomes from the transition to new target models are truly revealed and understood over the next couple of years. For simplicity, these phases could be termed experimental, transitionary and bedding down periods.

Regarding the HR agenda, there are two main threads work to be done. One, the operational and logistical challenge of getting people back safely through these phases and two, the more strategic challenge of creating a new work model and associated people processes, along with a leadership approach and culture that is ultimately successful and purpose-built for the organisation and its future.

The exact sequencing of these three phases and two workstreams will differ from organisation to organisation. But there is one foundational, enabling quality and reality that will not only maximise the success of this change management experience, but will also more importantly prepare the organisation and workforce for further inevitable disruption into the future. That quality is strategic or leadership agility.

As Marshall Goldsmith said in his best selling book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, “Leadership agility is probably the most important competency for leaders to have in today’s rapidly changing world.”

This next phase of work is a complex, ambiguous, vulnerable leadership challenge for everyone: organisational leaders, people managers, for HR for employees alike. But the transition to the next phase of work is also an invaluable case study of agility in action, a case study that we can all share and experience together, learn from, experiment with and most importantly embed into our daily practice and ways of working into the future.

This next phase of work is new for everyone and, from a HR perspective, there is a great change management opportunity in that fusion of interest and concern from all stakeholders in making it a success.

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The longer term prize for HR, leaders and employees

The potential prize for HR over the next six to 12 months is therefore not just a safe and successful transition to a new, post-COVID work model. It is about using the learning and experience of this  transition (along with the lived experience of leaders and employees over the last 18 months), to help the organisation develop and embed more agile ways of working, leading and thinking for the future.

Being deliberate about developing these skills over the coming months will ensure that our collective ability to deal with change, uncertainly and disruption becomes a normal reality and expectation of 21st century working life as opposed to an episodic, urgent or temporary necessity. Most of all it means our leaders and our workforces will be able to flourish and thrive in the longer term future of work and not just respond and cope from one disruption to the next.

Conscious development of the sustained and deliberate capability of agility at organisational, team and individual level is the real prize and a long lasting lesson. This prize can be won through our combined work over the next six to 12 months as we go through the experience of co-creating new, successful working models and working lives.

Start with an agile mindset

The practices, skills and tools of leading and working in an agile way will be important enablers as we all co-create and develop the emerging work model and associated people processes. They also help employees, leaders and HR teams to develop new habits, practices, routines and ways of working. Using the work design challenges over the next six to 12 months as a common objective, these practices and skills can evolve over time in ways that work for each organisation and team.

But one thing HR, leaders and our employees can to today towards building agility as a sustainable capability, and making best use of the experiences to come, is approaching every day and every challenge with an agile mindset – an attitude and openness to the learning experiences and tasks ahead.

An agile mindset is fundamental to any effort in improving agility – at organisational and at individual level. The Business Agility Institute’s global agility survey in 2020, for example, identified leadership and agile mindset as the two biggest barriers or enablers to enterprise agility, way ahead of other factors such as structures, processes and technology.

What is an agile mindset

In Thrive in the Future of Work, we explore what an agile or future of work mindset is in practical reality, how it contrasts with traditional ways of approaching work challenges and how it can be developed. In essence the agile mindset is a mental orientation, inclination or attitude towards certain characteristics such as:

  • Being open to continuous learning and new experience (growth mindset)
  • Having the resilience and positive orientation towards embracing change and ambiguity
  • Driven by a higher purpose and customer need, not just strategy and organisational objectives
  • Having a bias for informed action, comfortable with iteration and experimentation and doing ‘just enough’ analysis to inform such activity
  • Emphasis on collective knowledge, collaboration, diversity and co-creation

The agile mindset goes somewhat beyond the growth mindset concept due to its bias towards purposeful action and experimentation, specifically in more complex situations as well as its orientation towards collaboration and co-creation.

Over the coming months there will be many valuable and necessary training and development needs and activities in supporting managers and employees successfully transition towards the next phase of work. But considering Marshall Goldsmith’s words would suggest that a development initiative that helps managers, employees and HR colleagues to foster an agile mindset towards the beginning of this transition will not only bring benefits for the transition process itself but will also provide the foundation they need to flourish and thrive in the years ahead.

Subscribe to HRD Connect for daily updates on the future of work, including thought leadership, video interviews, the HRD Live Podcast and more.

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