“Out of sight, out of mind” and “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.

On the surface, these expressions both make sense, yet, put side-by-side they seem to contradict one another. If you’re out of sight, you’re forgotten and if you’re away, you’re yearned for. Huh?

Ok, so the language got a tad romantic – not intentionally – but these expressions operate see-sawing on opposite ends of the spectrum, of mind and of heart, and so aptly describe work right now. Every single part of it.

Millions of people worldwide do not have work. A significant part of the ordinary workforce is out of sight – yet, hopefully, not out of mind.  Not only for the economic costs but simply because work is a fundamental human right for every one of us.

And to those people, I am sure, the absence of work has made their hearts grow fonder for it.

While we all have momentary grumbles about our commute, our pay or some other conditions, or maybe even a relationship or two from time to time, the alternative of being out of sight of the workforce entirely is much worse. And what about the order, and the spatial separation so beautifully described by my colleague Suzanne a couple of weeks back. So many of us are ruing the loss of that 3rd space, between work and home, the space to reset.  Yet without work we may occupy just one, pretty lonely space – and that’s worse again.

Work is about the right to contribute, to receive opportunities to grow and develop, to learn from and teach others. And work is the personal accountability and responsibility to the people you work with.

Right now, out of sight, out of mind goes beyond simply those without work.

It also goes to the full gamut of cases presented for the way we will all work differently now. And, there’s a lot of complexity to work through.

Amidst it all, there are some crazy voices being heard.

Powerful voices, operating in old-fashioned ways, have repositioned themselves to ‘expert status’, groups who have botched their own organisational restructures are kindly touting their expertise to help all of us (thanks), and lawyers have become cultural gurus…

But, I’m not here to throw body punches at others.

My point is, for as long as I have been at work, we have been talking about ‘The Future of Work’. And all of a sudden, we are now ‘in the future’ – albeit a somewhat crazy one.

And, as we try to make sense of right now, we need some guardrails. We absolutely DO need to combine some underlying principles and some current trends to make sense of the future.

What are we navigating right now?

  • Individual Reactions/Actions – n=1. We see the cases of over-precaution; we see radical cases of ignorance and we see people getting it right – and everything in between these three. We need to listen for where our people stand right now, on safety, on societal issues – to help us collectively move forward.
  • Health and Safety Implications. As we learn to ‘live with the virus’, we are getting more and more discussion on this – individually, organisationally, and societally and less and less separation between the three. We are discussing, but are not willing to fully financially commit at the organisational level to owning mental health – other than a program here, or a wellbeing workshop there.
  • ‘Speed-Up’ vs. ‘Slow-Down’ – on one side, you have team ‘go faster’ – now we are all working flexibly I can do my job without interruptions. Phew! I can go faster than ever – and I love this. On the other you have team ‘slowed to a halt’ – not just interns and graduates, but anyone new to the organisation who has lost the richest experience that used to be all around them – ‘On the Job’. It’s very hard to shadow someone on a virtual call – let alone understand personality types, or attributes, or work preferences or anything else.
  • Leadership 2020 – we see now, more than ever, that the old world of ‘Leadership as the driver of productivity’ has reached palliative care, and we’ve entered a brave new world of measuring meaningful connectivity of leaders to their people. We’ve giggled together about a cat climbing a windowsill, our boss in their pjs, our colleagues swallowing a meal. These things are OK – and that’s supported by Leaders and Leadership that’s connected, real and human (and it trumps productivity every time).

What principles and momentum are current, to guide us to ‘the future’?

We think there are four key pillars or principles on which to hang (or design) our understanding of the future of work:

  1. The Future of Society. We seem far more willing (thank goodness) for ethical and societal debates within organisations. What is happening ‘out there’, can be discussed ‘in here’. We need to lean in harder, faster, and be more accepting of less well defined lines between work and real life. This is our new context. What will society look like?
  2. Individual Perspectives. We need to understand n=1, n=few, and n=many. Call this democratisation if you will. Ultimately, it is about balancing the individual, the team and the organisation – understanding unique perspectives, needs and emotions and finding ways to cater for them.
  3. Leadership Reimagined. If society has changed and perspectives are broad and varied, then surely that singular measure of Productivity has reached its gold watch, and it is finally time to understand the value of connectivity between leaders and their teams. It’s about how they foster Belonging to create inclusion. It’s how they inspire confidence, courage, creativity and from all that, maximise diverse contribution. Leadership is the person that can deploy a way to connect everyone, at the right time, in a way that enables many to thrive.
  4. Navigating Complexity, through flexibility and simplicity. I’ve written before about working with amazing people on the trading floor of a bank. Financial wizards, math geniuses, relationship builders – able to deal with complexity that hurts my head. And yet, why did they exist – what was the purpose – to make financial markets easy to navigate for their customers.

The lesson – as we have more complexity in every way every day – we just need to break it down.

The most likely solution for the future – the Hybrid Team

So, while we have those where being away from the office makes the heart grow fonder for it (me!) and others who are shouting that being out of sight is the way to go, the reality is that most organisations will take a hybrid approach.  They’ll have some people back to the office, factory, store; and they’ll have some people working remotely.

Yes, even the people that are printing their black t-shirts ‘Remote Forever’ or ‘WFHRocks’ will be taking a hybrid approach to their teams as they seek out greater connectivity and appreciate the very valuable impact we actually have on each other (although, they’ll be doing it quietly as no-one likes breaking a visible commitment!).

What is a Hybrid Team?

I am not a ‘car person’ – but a hybrid team is like a hybrid car. It has different components within its system to handle different conditions, but not different purposes. You can run it on petrol or gas when needed, and on electric power at other times where it makes sense to do so.

But the purpose is always getting the humans in the car from A to B. That is analogous for the intent of a hybrid team too.  It’s a flexible solution that brings the merits of each person in the team to bear with the collective purpose in mind.

What’s the purpose/what are you doing?

Who do you need?

What do they need?

Let’s get it done.

And a hybrid team – means full-time/part-time/job-share/contract, in-person/remote/flexible/distributed, internal/external resources, generalists/specialists, static/dynamic structures, stable/fluid plans. And more.

This is the way of navigating the future (without knowing exactly what that is) by creating momentum around the situation (or work to be done) at hand.

It’s also the way to balance risks and business and operational continuity.

And the biggest challenge for hybrid teams is creating belonging. There’s a lot of talk about productivity, but it needs to be about connectivity and impacting each other and the work we share.

What principles should guide a hybrid team?

  1. Clear Expectations, Clear Accountability. What’s expected of whoever you’re working with, in any capacity. What are they accountable for, and who are they accountable to?
  2. Space to think, together. The best ideas for yesterday, today and tomorrow come from thinking, together. Not working only in a solo or siloed way. Time together, with a very high-level agenda or topic works – just not every meeting..
  3. The see-saw of Connectivity and Agency. With this space to think together there also needs to be some agency and freedom to do your work, your way. And think, your way. Again, this should not be 100% of the day.
  4. Belonging – being ‘in’ with the team. Belonging brings it together. Do people have an affinity for the purpose, the product, the people? Do they laugh, do what works, have their practices and intricacies that are ‘the glue’? How is that created for this hybrid team – and how is it held. How are leaders connecting, how are people connecting with each other. And how are you checking it works?

A Closing Mantra – Out of Sight, My Heart Grows Fonder

So, while we cannot predict the future, we can create the teams and models to react to it – whatever the situation may be. To navigate the future of work, requires a newfound flexibility from the masses, and the delicate balance of ‘heart’ and ‘mind’.

The future of work must not be out of sight, – it needs to be deeply connected, focused on what matters, with belonging and accountability.

To nail it the mantra must be ‘out of sight, my heart grows fonder’.