Five things to think about before you rush your team back to the office

home office

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With the vaccine for COVID-19 being rolled out around the world, and case numbers low here in Australia, many companies are starting to push for all employees to return to the office. Sure, everyone loves to catch up (and let someone else make them a cuppa), and face-to-face, round the table meetings are where the magic happens, right?

But if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s just how effective we can be when working independently, on our own terms.

What if you and your team could have the best of both worlds, consciously choosing when to come together and when to work independently?

What if you could create a hybrid model that both works for individuals and provides a better outcome for business?

Put simply, the requirement of organisations to offer and adapt to hybrid practices as a regular option is now here forever.

Companies such as Twitter, Facebook, UBS, Shopify and many others have instigated permanent hybrid or ‘work from anywhere’ policies. Research has shown that, having ditched the commute, workers are reporting increased productivity, lowered stress levels, and improved reconnection to a healthier lifestyle. How work is done has changed permanently. 

Our team at Pragmatic Thinking has made the conscious decision to stick with a hybrid model of working. It’s been a path that we’re navigating with a clear and conscious framework — and one that is surprising us with the upsides not only in the output and standard of work, but in how individuals are thriving and growing.  

If you’re still a dissenter, believing this whole hybrid/remote/distributed team stuff is simply a holding pattern until everything ‘gets back to normal’, let’s take a look at some factors that give us the confidence to make these statements.

1. The office is broken

Having teams permanently co-located in an office space is not the panacea you might believe. Remember back to the problems that offices hold. Consider the following: 

  • Offices are a pit of interruptions and distractions: peak productivity, deep concept work, problem-solving and creative strategy all require focus;
  • The loudest voice wins: crafting connections and collaborations across teams is critical — this is where trust is built. In an office space, however, all too often the loudest voice wins. Pecking orders are established and disengagement ensues;
  • Meetings after the meeting are rife: how often have you held a key meeting, with all the relevant parties in the room, and then as soon as it concludes, the ‘real’ meetings happen — in fractured groups where team members say what they really think. This time-wasting process invariably undermines the outcomes of the meeting.

2. Hybrid allows increased adaptability and flexibility 

The push for organisations to provide more flexibility in work practices has been a couple of decades in the making.

Recent research suggests that, to be competitive in the talent marketplace, you need to have options available beyond the co-located team. And these options need to be more than just a token, and no longer based on old ideas that staff need to be monitored and the office is where ‘real’ work happens.

The concept of what work is and when work starts has shifted. Top employees are now expecting more flexibility and autonomy — and are happy to switch companies to find it. 

3. Going hybrid reduces costs

Chief financial officers around the world have celebrated the shift to hybrid more than anyone, because of their connection to the numbers that drive the business. The reduced costs are varied, but the two big reductions are:

  • Reduced commercial rent: fewer people at the office means fewer square metres of office space. 12 months ago our business shut our office space in the city following the shift to work from anywhere, allowing a reduced fixed cost in the business and greater opportunity to spend on experiences with the team; and
  • Reduced travel and accommodation expenses: the business world is becoming much more accepting of virtual discussions within teams and also in client contact has created massive reductions in air and land travel. Of course, reductions in accommodation costs go hand in hand with reductions in travel.

4. Habit formation has already happened

Perhaps the biggest driver of distributed work staying as an ongoing way of work is simply the length of time many teams have spent in COVID-induced isolation.

Your team has already done the hard work of making the change. Put simply, you’ve done enough reps for this way of work to now become deeply ingrained muscle memory. The hybrid habit is in place.

5. What if the hybrid is actually the best way to work?

Without doubt, you can lead and thrive as a hybrid team. Exploring and developing this model allows you to retain the efficiency gains that come from your team working independently, while still giving you time to gather with purpose, to build connection, culture and trust-building, and tackle roadblocks and challenges.

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