Ten principles to maximize hybrid success
These ten principles will support you as you imagine, design, plan, and implement hybrid across your organization, and within your teams.
1. Embrace the opportunity
If you’re like many organizational leaders and planners, you’re focused on immediate concerns regarding hybrid: work-from-home policies, safety for in-office interactions, and technology to optimize engagement. But hybrid also represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to think much bigger, even about the nature of work itself.
Here’s what McKinsey & Company is saying: In this moment of transformation, CHROs and other leaders “should do nothing less than reimagine the basic tenets of the organization.”1
Gartner argues for a reinvented employee value proposition for higher impact, “Defined around people, not employees. Designed to provide an exceptional life experience, not just employee experience. Delivering features and feelings that match employee needs, not just offering features.”2
The opportunity inherent in hybrid is big. Coupled with other disruptions that are arriving or will soon—increased job automation, advances in technology, worker reassessments about their post-pandemic career paths, and more—hybrid can open a door to new and different ways of working.
How are you seizing the moment that hybrid represents?
2. Examine (and reconsider) your mental models
Underneath the practical realities of implementing hybrid lay a series of beliefs that you and other organizational leaders hold.
Here’s one, from Mat Ishbhia, CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage: “I have never wavered on this. We are better together. If you have an amazing culture, and great people that collaborate and work together, you want them in the office together.”3
By contrast, here’s L.J. Brock, Chief People Officer of cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase: “Your trajectory at Coinbase should be determined by your capabilities and your outputs, not by your location.” The company intends to continue a “remote first” plan.4
These are two very different mental models about how people should work together. Each is undoubtedly backed by data and the lived experience of the company and the quoted leaders. The key is this: Those worldviews put in motion the policies and actions about where and how people work. They shape the culture. They inform other actions, such as whether certain employees decide to stay with the organization in response to its hybrid plans.
This is a time to directly examine your individual and organizational mental models about hybrid. Everything you do will follow from them.
What are your mental models about hybrid? What are your organization’s?
3. Think and act like inventors
Shifting to hybrid work arrangements is not like making minor alterations to the status quo, where the goal is to return to “normal” as quickly as possible. The old normal is gone. Some advisors are calling for wholly new work arrangements—“radical flexibility,” to borrow Gartner’s term.5
If you treat hybrid as new territory, then how you navigate it will be different. Think, design, and plan for hybrid by acknowledging what it is: an experiment.
Seen that way, you can:
Approach hybrid with an attitude of curiosity and imagination.
Ask questions that you might otherwise overlook.
Set appropriate goals for hybrid that focus on trying things and learning.
And have fun as you explore what works with hybrid.
Are you ready to approach hybrid as inventors? What possibilities might that unleash?
4. Engage everyone
Given that hybrid work arrangements affect everyone in your organization—even those who aren’t working flexibly—it’s best to engage the entire workforce as you make and enact your plans.
A classic premise of successful change management is to actively involve stakeholders. Ideally, you’ll invite everyone in the organization to co-create the hybrid changes in some way.
That’s different from just establishing an organizational policy and expecting adherence. To signal respect to your workers, and to incorporate their needs, ideas, and perspectives, invite them into the change process.
If that’s not entirely possible, then be transparent in your communications to the staff; reach out to them regularly; and exhibit exceptional emotional intelligence as you do.
With hybrid, more engagement is better. How are you doing that in your organization as you put hybrid in motion?
5. Use a systems mindset
As challenging as remote work has been, hybrid is more complicated. With hybrid, you’re introducing many variables: Who gets to work where, on which days, according to which criteria, and using which practices and technologies. Additionally, arrangements may vary from day to day, and evolve over weeks and months.
Seen that way, hybrid bears many of the hallmarks of complex, emergent systems.
As I explain in my blog “Bring Hybrid to Life in Your Organization by Applying Smart Systems and Change Principles,” here are four systems considerations as you plan for hybrid:
- Recognize the interrelationships and complexities.
- Don’t overlook how your decisions may play out over time, and how unintended consequences may appear.
- Be deliberate in identifying specific actions that could benefit the whole system.
- Make the purpose of your system clear and known.
Read the article to learn more. How are you applying a systems mindset to your plans for hybrid?
6. Focus on human behavior, too
Hybrid will come to life through people, and the daily behaviors they demonstrate separately and together. Yet at any moment in a hybrid workday, some people will be colocated while others aren’t. To ensure optimal productivity and engagement in these conditions, put ample attention into questions such as:
- How are we generating excellent ideas together?
- How are we sustaining strong, trusting relationships among colleagues?
- How are we maximizing the involvement of every colleague, wherever they are?
- How are we communicating formally and informally to do our best work together?
- How are we coordinating and completing tasks together successfully?
- How are we sharing feedback with other another, so we can continue to improve?
The success or failure of hybrid rests mostly on how people agree to work together across time and distance.
How are you tending to human behaviors as you plan and implement hybrid?
7. Emphasize standards
Standards express our expectations about how people should act and how work should be done. They appear in many forms: in organizational policies about hybrid, in C-level and managerial edicts about performance and quality, in how you manage safety consistently in the workplace, in how the IT team expects data to remain secure in all work locations.
Standards derive from beliefs (see principle 2 on mental models). They provide the bridge between beliefs and action, and as such are important to get right.
Because hybrid is new territory, you’ll need either new or refreshed standards to make hybrid succeed. Here are some helpful guidelines:
- Engage multiple people to create your hybrid standards. Doing so will improve adoption.
- Create standards that work across the organization, as well as within individual teams. (They may not be the same.)
- Ensure consistency across your standards. Otherwise, people will become confused about what to do and how to act.
- Treat your standards flexibly. Treating hybrid as the experiment it is (principle 3), update or alter your standards as you learn what works.
Standards bring beliefs to life and guide behaviors and actions. Put attention to your standards, and your hybrid journey will be smoother.
What’s a standard you’re using to support hybrid in your organization, and how well is it working?
8. Remember your teams
When your individual teams lay a strong foundation for hybrid, and make everyday hybrid teamwork better, your entire organizational experience with hybrid will improve.
Even as your organization sets mandates and guidelines about hybrid, members of each team should do three things to lay a foundation for successful hybrid practices within the team:
- Set team-specific standards about hybrid teamwork
- Rededicate to the team and one another
- Set expectations to measure and learn.
Once your team has done these, you’re ready to make everyday hybrid teamwork better:
- Hold better, smarter meetings
- Sharpen decision-making
- Coordinate actions effectively
- Share meaningful feedback.
The Better Still Teamwork Toolkit for Hybrid Teams provides a practical, engaging, step-by-step program for teams to succeed with hybrid work arrangements, in all the areas described above.
How are you preparing your teams to make hybrid a success?
9. Celebrate the learning
No one has mastered hybrid yet.
With any experiment, the learning that emerges is the most important gift. It allows us to take stock, to recalibrate, to improve.
It also removes the pressure of having to get things right the first time.
But here’s the danger: If we don’t intentionally establish mechanisms to capture the learning from hybrid, and then to examine and deconstruct what we learn, we’ll miss the riches that emerge from the hybrid experiment. In turn, we may slow progress with hybrid.
So, as you plan for hybrid, even in the short term, build a learning structure to go along with it. Then extract the lessons regularly, and plan better for subsequent steps along your hybrid journey.
What are you learning already about hybrid that will make you smarter in the future?
10. Take the long view
The idea that we should apply a longer perspective with hybrid is a direct contrast to the remote-work policies and practices we put in place in response to COVID. That was an emergency, and required short-term planning.
Certainly, we need near-term plans to put initial hybrid practices into place—enhanced tech, altered work schedules, and the like. But that’s just the beginning. As McKinsey & Company argues,
“Many employers we talk to spend far too little time acknowledging that building the muscles for a truly effective hybrid operating model could take years, not the least because they are still learning what actually works in such environments. …
“[I]f intentional decisions with a clear, evidence-based rationale, the current disconnect between them and their employees could serve as the creative tension point that will power a customer-focused, employee-led operating model designed for today—and tomorrow.”6
As you act now to install new work arrangements, are you also taking the long view as you plan for hybrid?
1 The New Possible: How HR Can Help Build the Organization of the Future. McKinsey & Company, March 12, 2021.
3 The Boss Wants You Back in the Office. Like, Now. The Wall Street Journal, July 24, 2021.
5 Gartner Identifies Three Dimensions that Define the New Employer-Employee Relationship. Gartner October 13, 2020.
6 It’s time for leaders to get real about hybrid. McKinsey & Company, July 9, 2021.
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