What’s The Future of the Office? It’s Where We Work Together

Hybrid Workplace

In 2020, words like COVID and pandemic, and acronyms like PCR and PPE came into our everyday vernacular with immense voracity.  In 2021, the new word is “hybrid” in all its various forms and definitions. 

In working with many organizations and their leaders, Fluency has been having lots of conversations around this topic, and doing what we can to help leaders find their way through the complexity and challenge of defining a path forward for their teams…a hybrid environment with work happening at home, in the office, and every permutation in between. 

As COVID cases rise and the uncertainty around the variants continues, many organizations are pumping the brakes on a Fall return to a fully-functioning physical office dynamic and instead are looking to the New Year before bringing people back. For some, this is a welcome reprieve as, admittedly, they still have lots to figure out and a growing list . 

Today’s blog isn’t a roadmap or playbook on how to manage your way through the uncertainty of the return to the physical office and a hybrid workplace. That would require many more keystrokes and a wealth of information and expertise that we don’t have. 

Instead, we offer a simple reframe on this complex situation in the hope it provides you with a new way to look at it. Ideally, it’s a reframe that can serve us now and for many years to come. 

 

Pre COVID era: The office is where we went to work. 

Post COVID era: The office will be where we work together. 

 

What underpins this reframe is the imperative for the re-injection of connection, creativity and collaboration in our work. We’ve desperately missed it, and we’ve dangerously drawn down our accounts against each of these three elements over the past 18 months. We must invest in these essential and foundational elements of work. Without these three C’s, we’ll be permanently stuck where we are today. Innovation, creativity, employee engagement, retention and hope for the future depend on getting back on track. 

Scott Galloway (who many know as Prof G from his media appearances and his great podcast) dropped this hammer-fist line a few weeks ago that made me stop in my tracks. “The office of the future will be a source of inspiration, not perspiration,” he exclaimed in his trademark irascible and memorable tone. The message I heard in this declaration is that the era of gathering people together to do their individual work is over. In fact, it likely ended a long time ago. We now know that people can remain productive, efficient, and valuable working from whichever environment works for them. For many, that will remain mostly at home. But the missing ingredient for a thriving and purposeful team and health is the inspiration…the human connection, the spark of engaged in-person exchange of ideas, and the shared experience that bonds people to their work and organizational purpose. 

As you think about the future of the office and the principle of working, here are some additional thoughts to help you build your way forward as you return to working together: 

Start with Why 

People need context, particularly when navigating through the unknown, where emotions are high and there is a lot at stake. They need to understand why decisions are being made, how things will change, and what’s to come. Providing context and reason around how we work together will become critical. The easy part is communicating the What, such as the number of days employers expect their team to be in the office, or the subject of on-site meetings. But the Why is the essential ingredient.  We offer that building an imperative and reasoning around the requirement for collaboration, creativity, and connection is a starting point that can ground your message and ensure you’re providing the context that your team needs to move forward. 

To get buy-in, make room for weigh-in 

This is a truth in any circumstance, but especially right now. If organizations and their leaders push too hard for a structured and mandated return to the office, they do so at their own peril. The path forward to the hybrid workplace is through a constant and authentic conversation with your teams. One survey or a singular conversation won’t suffice. People must have ongoing agency and voice in the shape of their office time in the future. Leaders who choose not to take this approach step right into the waiting trap of The Great Resignation and will lose credibility, trust and talented people in the blink of an eye.  

Put it on the field of play 

Many leaders feel the innate need to get things right the first time. But in the current conditions, no leader can pay the price of perfection. Starting with (and sticking to) the evidence-based guidelines of workplace safety, every leader and organization will need to find out what works for them, and that will likely come through a thoughtful process of trials, first-attempts, and feedback. Even back in January, thought-leader Adam Grant was encouraging leaders to experiment and try out different work models. We found our way through the violent and sudden transition to work-from-home in March 2020, so we know we have the collective resilience to try out new things, see what works (and what doesn’t) and build our way forward and rekindle those sparks of creativity, collaboration, and connection. Start with simple steps and trials, and then get feedback that gives you the confidence to move forward. 

What’s your Why in bringing people back to the office? 

How much of your team’s voice and needs are represented in your back-to-work plan? 

What would a renewed spark of collaboration and connection do for you and your team? 

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