Working with intention and purpose in a hybrid working world

April 17, 2023 Updated: April 19, 2023 by

Paul Miller kicked off our hybrid working blog series a few weeks ago with Why post-pandemic HQs must be big and small – at the same time, which shared examples of organizational ‘workspaces’ optimized for collaboration. 

When you consider the relentless pace of organizational and technology change, the hybrid working holy grail is built on shifting sands and is difficult to get right. And what ‘right’ looks like can also be very subjective. 

So, how can organizations pivot to meet the needs of both business and employee in this multi-faceted landscape? And might this be a unicorn moment for organizations; the chance to reimagine a more equitable way of working? This is where a human-centred narrative around office attendance is critical.

Creativity, culture and careers” are the drivers for coming into the office at Disney, while Amazon pragmatically champions its “overriding priority to deliver for customers and the business”. But highlighting how the office can mitigate the shortcomings of remote working in ways that benefit employees is equally important as these more business-facing rationalizations. 

What could this look like in practice? In this blog, we explore the importance of using the office deliberately – for specific, intentional activities – demonstrating the benefit of hybrid for both organization and employee. 

Culture, collaboration and the importance of togetherness

In a Gallup survey on The advantages and challenges of hybrid work, the greatest challenges of hybrid work (unsurprisingly) include: having the right tools to be effective at work; feeling less connected to the organization’s culture; impaired collaboration and relationships; and disrupted work processes. 

Collaboration is arguably one of the biggest casualties of hybrid working, due to the ambiguity of digital connection. The reassurance of body language, tone, inflection – all of which can change the dynamic of an online conversation – are notably absent. The article spotlights the importance of establishing a feedback loop between employees and their manager to reflect on tasks that require zero ambiguity (perhaps where colleagues have not worked together before or because the subject matter is unfamiliar) and of scheduling in-person interactions where appropriate. 

Culture is also difficult to engage with when its embodiment is either digital or consists only of fragmented moments spent in the office. But a culture that offers something tangible to employees will find a way – perhaps through communities of practice (which we look at later); targeted communications; purposeful use of time in the office for town-hall meetings or workshops; and keeping the lines of communication open as to what employees are missing about the culture of the office. 

The nuances of connection

Workplace connectivity has become a hot topic since the pandemic and our options to connect are better than they’ve ever been (notwithstanding the paradox of choice).  

But what exactly does connectivity mean in this new, hybrid world? There is huge emphasis on connecting colleagues who need to collaborate for work, or teams who share common outputs, but why are friendships so rarely considered? 

Results from a Gallup survey conducted last year showed that: “having a best friend at work has become more important since the start of the pandemic, even considering the dramatic increase in remote and hybrid work”. 

Data suggest that employees who have a best friend at work are significantly more likely to: engage customers and internal partners; get more done in less time; innovate and share ideas; and recommend the organization to their peers. 

It’s therefore important to assess social opportunities when considering the use of office space. These might include hubs where colleagues (or friends) can have a coffee and catch-up; breakout areas for larger groups; and perhaps most important of all, the office cafeteria or restaurant. These social spaces provide the connectivity that employees can’t get from a Zoom call, reflecting the most enjoyable of our previous working experiences. 

In the spirit of diversity, however, it’s also important to call out the fact that not everyone has social inclinations. Monsieur T, was one such person who had no obligation to attend retreats and Friday apéros, according to a High Court ruling in France. 

Digital literacy workshops

In the world of projects, it isn’t unusual to find yourself on the receiving end of an invitation to a tool or app that is both completely unfamiliar and also integral to your outputs. The days of in-person training sessions are a distant memory and you must grapple – often without context – with online tutorials, cheat sheets or off-the-cuff guidance from a colleague in the know. 

But how different is this experience from those early days of lockdown? The Microsoft suite of tools became de facto in our everyday lives, with IT and support teams running online training sessions at pace. However, these tools are constantly iterating, announcing new features and ways of doing things so frequently that it can feel impossible to keep up; yet organizations rarely question the digital literacy of their employees. Digital literacy workshops could meet employees where they are, offering intimate training sessions that cover best practice usage, when to use which channel for what and, perhaps most importantly of all, reinforce the message that we are all in a perpetual cycle of learning. 

Communities of Practice (COP)

COPs often operate in the background, visible only through their calls to action via the intranet or planned initiatives, but these volunteers provide an invaluable service to organizations, fostering a sense of purpose and belonging amongst employees. They might, for instance, raise awareness around LGBTQ+ issues, invisible disabilities, sustainability or be champions for technology usage. 

Community growth is a constant challenge and requires events, activities and relationships that increase visibility across the organization and harness potential. 

In-person COP festivals held on a monthly basis provide the dual opportunity of allowing existing members to collaborate and plan their activities as well as a window of opportunity to canvass new members.  

Putting intention and purpose at the heart of the Future of Work

Miroslav Miroslavov, CEO and Co-Founder, OfficeRnD, offers a compelling quote as we strive to make hybrid working work: 

“Hybrid work doesn’t happen by chance, and you need to be intentional, proactive, and thoughtful to make it work properly. It’s not easy but is doable and the outcomes can be massive!” 

It’s also an opportunity to edge towards that utopia of working smarter, in which work – wherever that is and whatever you’re doing while you’re there – works better for you. 

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Categorised in: Digital literacy, Digital workplace, Hybrid working, Social, Workplace productivity

Annette Corbett

Intranet and content professional

Annette Corbett is an intranet and content professional who has worked across a diverse range of disciplines, from internal communications through to knowledge management. An advocate of digital sustainability, Annette has worked on global intranet and transformation projects and her legal background has been the catalyst to learn more about content design - saying more with less - across content creation, metadata and taxonomies. Connect with Annette on LinkedIn

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