Hybrid work: why self-regulation is inherently selfish

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It’s a given that the future of work must include an element of choice and flexibility. This is important because each business is different, and every team and the individuals within those teams all have varying requirements, driven by preference, circumstance, geography, team, role, and ways of working.

However, if we let individuals completely self-regulate their schedules and locations without guidance, the visibility of their colleagues, or the tools and technologies to optimize, we cannot really reflect the needs of the business and its customers. The truth is self-regulation alone is inherently selfish and not good for anyone.

We keep investing in culture and on-sites, but people aren’t turning up and it ends up being wasteful.

Need for transparency

What’s often missing is transparency and the need to think beyond ourselves and start thinking about the team and how we can work as a collective. This is the quid pro quo (there must be something in it for both parties).

Individual or task-based work aside, we need to be thinking about matching individual, team and organizational needs, and finding clarity on how we come in (or don’t) at the right time and for the right purpose. One analogy I like is ‘fish swimming together’.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to hear stories like “I stopped going to the office because I was always on my own”, “I was upset not being in the office and missing out on a cool event” or “we keep investing in culture and on-sites, but people aren’t turning up and it ends up being wasteful.”

The pessimists may ask “are people really willing to say where they are?”, but fundamentally organizations need to move beyond that concern and be willing to have conversations with their teams about connectedness and the social contract of what it means to work for the company and within a team.

Avoiding tough conversations

The idea of balancing the scales (the quid pro quo mentioned earlier) and intentional togetherness is catching on, but too slowly. Why is that?

Many executives tell us things aren’t working but they are not ready to rock the boat for fear of losing people. If it’s not the tight talent market, maybe it’s organizations not feeling confident they can effectively operate multiple flexible policies? On the flip side, for some leaders self-regulation is convenient because it suits their needs, but the problem with that is they are not providing consideration to their teams who may have differing requirements.

Some leaders seem hesitant to have tough conversations. This is ironic because the more this disconnect grows the harder things are going to get, and some organizations are going to end up making more prescriptive decisions regarding flexibility. This will end up polarising employees and with today’s tighter economic conditions it may also mean organizations look more closely at their operating costs, and specifically real estate.

As a leader in our organization, I ask our people when they are coming in - not where they’re working from when remote. If our people aren’t transparent and willing to share whether they’re coming in or not, it’s hard for their colleagues and teams to optimize around them. Also, the services we provide (including real estate, events and on-site perks) should be based on actual utilization and be optimized as much as possible.

We have to ask - if there’s no quid pro quo, then why are we offering flexibility and employee experience in the first place? The future of work will continue to evolve, exponentially, over the coming years. Policies and technology will play an important part. But, it’s ultimately culture that will breed success. I believe transparency and the social contract will be some of the pillars successful organizations build off. If we don’t start there, all the systems and processes we put in place will be a house of cards underpinned by selfishness!

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