Hybrid working? Look outside first

Dom Hawes | February 17, 2022

Hybrid working is a hot topic. In early January, Camilla Cavendish wrote a bold opinion piece in the Financial Times titled: “It’s time to admit that hybrid is not working”. Ouch! As a leader, this is a tricky topic to navigate. All good, modern leaders want maximum flexibility, an attractive culture and personalised working conditions. We also want creative productivity, superior execution and fully engaged, committed people. You may think we want a lot?

I guess we do if you look at us from the inside out.

But, that’s the wrong lens through which to gauge a creative agency group. The right one is What Really Matters (WRM): outstanding delivery to clients. That’s thinking outside in, not inside out. Instead of asking what we all ‘want’, you and I should be asking what our clients ‘need’, then designing our working environment around that.

Are you a dinosaur?

The loudest voices on LinkedIn are telling us that the future is hybrid, that the world has changed and if you don’t get that you’re a dinosaur. These are the voices of people thinking inside out. They’re looking at what suits them personally instead of what works best for their clients. Does an individual’s needs trump both team and task at the expense of WRM?

When these folk talk about hybrid, their starting point is how many days they are going to work from home. That’s flawed thinking in my opinion. If a person can genuinely do their job from a home office in Dorking, why wouldn’t I put that job in Durban? Be careful what you wish for and what you ask for. You may find out you have rather more leisure time than work time at home.

Having said that, the future of work in our industry is very definitely hybrid. Am I contradicting myself? No. The future is hybrid, but not in the way most people currently think.

Me first is a sentiment that’s spreading

Cavendish wrote: “The pandemic has spawned a huge literature focused on employee wellbeing, but rather less about the wellbeing of the customers and organisations they serve. In 1970s Britain, it was often said that nationalised industries such as British Rail were run for the benefit of their staff, not their customers. In parts of the public sector, it feels like we are back there again.”

This is the curse of individual first and I’d say it’s not just public sector. Many in the private sector are overly internally focused at the expense of their customers and clients. But why?

Covid-19 couldn’t have arrived at a more culturally appropriate moment. Or maybe I’ve got it the wrong way around? Maybe we all reacted to the pandemic the way we did precisely because we are where we are sociologically. Intersectionality, critical race theory and the triumph of ‘personal truth’ over ‘the truth’ are the inevitable result of Western society’s obsession with the individual. Time to change. I say it’s time to think team first, not me first.

The future is hybrid working, but not how you’re thinking

The future is most definitely hybrid, but the fusion will be between client and agency teams; between client and agency workspaces; not just home and the office. We will all get to work from home – certainly more than we did pre-pandemic – but home working isn’t a permanent gig for most and it’s not where we should be focusing.

Those that used lockdown well… to plan for the future, might already have gamed how they’re going to win in the future.

I believe there are [at least] three reasons why we need to change how we’re thinking about hybrid. I’ll go into detail about these in a future blog. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your views. What’s the most effective way of hybrid working in the future?