Like the rest of the world, Australian organisations were significantly disrupted by the pandemic, moving to predominantly work from home (WFH) arrangements. However, with the successful suppression of the virus, many workplaces enjoyed extended periods of minimal or no workplace restrictions. Many organisations had the opportunity to return to the office and even experiment with hybrid ways of working. All these at a time when organisations elsewhere in the world were still in extended lockdown!
At Veldhoen + Company, we are curious about how work has evolved for organisations and employees in Australia with the rather unique experience that they’ve had. We surveyed over 1,500 people in Australia aimed at understanding their experience throughout the pandemic. Together with insights from our experience working with organisations to create a better world of work, we have published the whitepaper On the Edge of Hybrid: Lessons from the Australian Experience.
One of the insights that stood out for me from our research was the irony in the inflexibility of some flexible work policies. Rather than helping employees become nimbler and more resilient in the way they work, some of these approaches can end up being rigid, unproductive and achieving the opposite of what they aimed for.
For example, I see some organisations offering their employees to work remotely for two specific days a week and be in the office for the other three days. While this could be seen as hybrid working and can be helpful to manage capacity in the office, it does not consider the way people work. In this scenario, people can’t plan their workweek well enough and may end up spending a day in the office doing individual work and virtual meetings. They may also find it difficult to meet with a person or team that is scheduled to be in the office for other days or must call in remotely for meetings which would have been more productive face to face. This arrangement can result in missed opportunities for collaboration and socialising – two key ingredients in building a strong culture and a sense of belonging at work.
CHOICE AND AUTONOMY AS THE BASIS OF A LONG-TERM HYBRID STRATEGY
I think the hybrid genie is out of the bottle and when Covid-19 restrictions ease, people will not return en masse to the office. Not without good reason, at least. Therefore, there is an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the ‘when’, the ‘where’, the ‘how’ and the “with whom” of knowledge-based work. Whatever the new organisational model, providing people with a level of choice and autonomy will need to be central to any approach.
The Neuro Leadership Institute’s (NLI) research has highlighted how the brain thrives when provided with optimal levels of choice and autonomy. Autonomy can be rewarding in four ways: once you have been given a choice, when you make the choice, when you make the right choice for you, and when you experience the long-term benefits from your choice.
Image credit to NeuroLeadership Institute
The discovery of choice can soften strong emotions and be intrinsically rewarding. Additionally, the autonomy to make those choices creates the ideal condition for a growth mindset (NLI, 2021). Similarly, organisations where employees have a strong sense of organisational purpose and feel like they are empowered to contribute to that purpose in a meaningful way are more likely to be successful (Stallard, 2020).
The power of autonomy can go a long way and I believe there is a huge opportunity to create a new way of working that leverages these benefits and practically addresses the wide difference of people’s preferences and needs and getting better outcomes for the organisation. By empowering individuals and teams to organise themselves to do their best work, organisations will become more adaptable, resilient by adopting truly flexible ways of working and create a better world of work for its people.
Keen to find out how your hybrid way of working could look like, or got any questions on hybrid working? Feel free to drop me an email at email@example.com.