Dis-Location: how hybrid working leaves us all over the place
Companies risk losing their coherence as hybrid employees feel disrupted and confused. Reimaging the total workplace experience rather than just redesigning the office can be a way forward
Ouch – if you have ever dislocated a limb you will know how painful and uncomfortable this is. It involves a period of adjustment and often some sessions of physiotherapy to help you regain your movement and mend the trauma. Dislocation leaves you disappointed, dismayed, distracted and disrupted.
You can see where I am going with this – much has been written about the pandemic and how working from home has impacted how we behave, our productivity (mostly improved), how it has given people new perspectives on their lives at home and at work, and how the two have become forever intertwined.
The Great Resignation and the Great Reflection have become terms to trouble business leaders. The retention of precious and precarious talent is a priority – U.S. employee turnover is expected to jump by nearly 20 per cent in 2022, from an annual average of 31.9 million employees quitting their jobs before the pandemic to 37.4 million quitting this year, according to Gartner.
Engagement a priority
However, this is only a fraction of the story when we consider the culture leaders are looking to reignite in their organisations. As such, engagement is rising as a priority for future coherent workplaces.
We must face up to the fact that hybrid is a polite term for ‘all over the place’ which is in essence ‘Dis-location’ — how do we truly explore creative ways to imagine locations as destinations? Offices previously built for visibility and monitoring activity will need to pivot towards a culture and experience driven by engagement and shared experiences: new rituals, new behaviours and new journeys.
‘Offices previously built for monitoring activity will need to pivot towards shared experience…’
Three years ago, if someone described a colleague’s decision to not come into the office on a particular day – usually Monday or Friday – it was typically accompanied by a two-handed inverted commas gesture, a wry smile and a wink. Times have changed and now the cry is ‘I thought we were all doing this meeting on Teams – I didn’t realise some of you were in the boardroom’ or ‘we thought you were coming in today!’ – more a question of proximity and less a suspicion of contribution or commitment.
Sense of confusion
Our tolerance for office conformity has changed — pre-lockdown office life dictated the time spent in a location, where you sat, what you had on your workstation, what time you ate and what you wore – certainly not sliders and sweat pants. Now we are more confused – do people really know what to do anymore? Dis-Location often means we’re never quite sure where we’re supposed to be and then, when we get there, we often find ourselves on our own or in meetings with remote colleagues cut off in a hermetically sealed soundproof room.
Just as we hear that mandates and diktats to show up five days a week are being rejected, the current ‘whatever whenever’ has significant implications for the culture and common goals of a business. Mandates will not work and a renewed focus on purpose in a dislocated world is more important than ever. It needs to fully embrace how and when we do things alongside the more typical what, why and where we do them.
Capturing the dilemma
A recent open letter written in mid-2022 to the Apple Executive Team — Thoughts on Office Bound Work perfectly captures the dilemma many of us face. In broad terms, it discusses the waste of (commuting) time, the value of flexibility, and the diversity it brings to the workforce. A few excerpts are shown here:
‘Office-bound work is a technology from the last century, from the era before ubiquitous video-call-capable internet and everyone being on the same internal chat application. But the future is about connecting when it makes sense, with people who have relevant input, no matter where they are based.
‘We definitely see the benefits of in-person collaboration; the kind of creative process that high bandwidth communication of being in the same room, not limited by technology, enables. But for many of us, this is not something we need every week, often not even every month, definitely not every day. What is also required for creativity and excellent work for many of us is time for deep thought.’
So, a specific discussion within a high-profile business that prides itself on being human-centric, but nevertheless one which highlights the need for new thinking on the subject.
Rise of consumerisation
I predict we will see the consumerisation of the workspace becoming more widespread. Malls, high streets and shopping centres needed to adopt a greater focus on experience when faced with the disruption of e-commerce. Creating a destination was key, a reason to leave home was envisioned, and so too will we need to look at the future experience of an office as an attractive destination.
Maybe the word ‘office’ will no longer be a useful moniker as it immediately predicts a set of activities and behaviours that are counter to the new attitudes of highly productive but less compliant employees. Now is not the time to begin a naming exercise (h’office etc) and there is only so much beer and pizza you can give to people to encourage their return, but a new lexicon and attitude to location, expression and experience are needed.
Is a campus the solution? Maybe…but if it is just a bunch of offices in a grand building with better water coolers, task lighting and some well-appointed wall graphics then it has failed to capture the true opportunity a dynamic multi-faceted experience could provide.
‘Is the ‘away-day’ mindset and approach needed to regenerate our on-site experience?’
Team-building exercises were the stuff of away days in interesting locations out of the office – the location was chosen deliberately to counteract the day-to-day and present a fresh environment away from the cubicles. The destination brought people together in new ways – is the ‘away day’ mindset and approach needed to regenerate our on-site experience. Can we make the workplace as interesting and stimulating as the country hotel or paintball arena?
So, dis-location is painful but I do think it can be mended and rather than relying on a bandage or a splint, we should look at more holistic and radical ways we can provide future flexibility and enjoyment in the physical workplace. Laughter, friendship and a shared experience in a wonderful destination are the beginning of this journey to a reimagined workplace, not a redesigned office.