How fear and culture will impact hybrid working

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Fear culture hybrid working

In February I wrote about hybrid working and asked if the term is a red herring for leaders. In the blog I said:

“So rather than getting caught up in the latest buzzword of hybrid organisations, can we focus instead on the need for flexibility. Flexibility that reflects the reality of life today. A way of working that engenders trust and operates on an adult to adult basis. Now is the time to focus on the output of the work, not where and when it is being done.

This is about a fundamental shift in what we see as the working day in society. It’s about having the ability to focus on our priorities. To focus on what is important with balance and boundaries. To accept that what works for me might not work for you and that that is ok.”

And since publishing this originally with Influence online, I have been asked to speak on podcasts and at events about the future of work and the nature of hybrid. This week I was hosting a conversation for the CIPR Podcast, Engage where I was joined by communication experts Sofia Cann, Martin Flegg and Kate Shaw. The conversation covered a breadth of themes relating to hybrid working, and it’s left me with two important thoughts: fear and culture.

Facing the fear

The divisive nature of some of the messaging out there is likely to cause a serious divide in organisations. This started during lockdown for many in the UK – the divide in organisations where there is a split between frontline and knowledge or office-based workers. The comparison between a comfortable working day at home vs the risks of being frontline was discussed at length. But we know comparison is the thief of joy and comparing roles in this way is never helpful.  

Fast forward a year and the conversation isn’t going anywhere. But alongside it we now have very real conversations about working in different locations and commuting and our personal levels of comfort about that risk – all of this links to fear. The fear we feel and the fear we are possibly being made to feel through stories in the media and those shared by our networks on social channels.

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” – President Roosevelt

If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly recommend the book The Science of Fear by Dan Gardner – I happened to be reading it in February 2020 and it was incredibly helpful when it came to perspective and weighing up risk. You can read my blog about The Science of Fear here.

Culture and complexity

This shift and potential divide is one piece of a complex puzzle that requires a fundamental shift in terms of work and society. For organisations, this is simply culture change. But what we are focusing on is categorising employees and talking about booking systems for desks. This is the ‘soft, easy stuff’ as it was described in the podcast conversation. We aren’t talking about the big stuff – the things that require behaviour change or the conversations that allow us to explore ‘how things get done around here’ in a post lockdown world with more flexible working practices.

We know that culture change takes time. So, when I think back to my blog post about it being a red herring, I’m drawn to the underlying theme I was working through, which is that it isn’t a quick fix. It isn’t a ”let’s be hybrid for a few months” or “let’s create a project about hybrid working”. Because if you were to change organisational culture like that, without really thinking about what it is that needs to shift and what that looks like – actually, tangibly looks like – then it probably wouldn’t last long.

Freedom in a framework

There is a lot to consider about work. There is a lot to be mindful of in terms of individual circumstances. Freedom in a framework is your friend. Let’s not put rigid structures around something that requires inherent flexibility and let’s approach this like any culture change strategy – and please, give it the investment of time it needs to succeed. 

I talk about the theme of fear, uncertainty, understanding people in the workplace, and creating long-term change in my book, Influential Internal Communication. If you’d like to get in touch about any of the issues I’ve raised in this article, please do email me at info@redefiningcomms.com.

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