It seems, rather, we are rapidly moving into a new frontier, the era of hybrid work.
Out of disruption comes change. And this new hybrid approach to work is perhaps the biggest change to come out of this global health crisis. I have heard so many clients in my clinic delineate their satisfaction with working from home.
The lack of long commutes, no office politics, and not having to deal with difficult colleagues were just some of the reasons people want to continue working from home.
And yet, to think that we can just enter into this new way of working without understanding what it means for us all might be slightly myopic.
The hybrid model will suit most workers. You’ll get to work from home and be in the office for important meetings.
What could go wrong? Well, we encounter our working environment as a social experience, so the big question is: Will this blended approach have a deleterious impact on our wellbeing?
We are mammals, which means we are social beings. Being connected to each other is hugely important. The last 15 months have elucidated that point very clearly. When we feel disconnected from each other, it negatively impacts our wellbeing. So, what will happen when some of us stay at home and others decide to go to work?
Office politics can be a sinuous old landscape to traverse at the best of times.
This new model of work has the potential to make some of us feel excluded and alarmed, as we watch new cliques form and feel we are losing our relevance, because we are not physically at the meeting. That part of the brain that warns us that we are in danger fires when we feel we are being excluded.
We all know what it’s like after a meeting: There are many discussions about what was said.
Often, it is the casual, post-meeting conversation where things get decided. When you hit your hand with a hammer, the dorsal portion of the anterior cingulate cortex fires to let you know you have experienced pain. This same area fires when you feel excluded. It comes from our evolutionary past. To be outside a group or tribe, in the early days of this human adventure, meant certain death.
So, we developed a warning system to alert us to imminent danger. Managers have to choregraph this new world very carefully, because there are many traps waiting around the corner.
Research shows that when workers feel isolated or out of the loop, it significantly impacts on their productivity. That alarm system will be firing and they will become consumed with thoughts and images of how they are not important anymore or how they are losing their relevance.
It is paramount that whatever shape this new way of working takes that it is well-defined. A free-for-all type of hybrid working model will be counterproductive and cause huge stress to its employees.
We crave structures, because they help us make sense of very complex working dynamics. It is clear that technology will play a very important part in getting this hybrid model right.
Apps for scheduling meetings and high-spec video conferencing will become the norm of every working day. It is also very important that managers discuss the concept of presenteeism with their staff. This caused huge stress for workers over this long year, as they believed they had to be constantly available for work.
This is not healthy and will make the hybrid approach unsustainable, going forward. We need a separation point, time anchors, so that we know our work ends at a particular time. Not being online is very important for our wellbeing.
Managers must talk with their staff on the importance of good work hygiene.
Just rolling out of the bed and onto the laptop and staying supine for the day is not good practice and will have a negative impact on health. Workshops on how to work from home in a healthy way need to be provided for staff.
This new era of hybrid work is here. We must not enter into it blindly and we must make sure we develop good habits early, so that we can flourish.
Richard Hogan: Happy 80th birthday, Bob Dylan – keep raging into the night