The term ‘hybrid’ has seeped into our lexicon in the past year. I’m simultaneously pleased and irritated by its arrival.
Pleased, because our working lives will be increasingly hybrid. Accepting that and recognising it in our language is important.
At the same time, irritated because the current definition feels such a narrow one. Hybrid in its contemporary use seems to be a shorthand for ‘my-company-might-want me-to-work-some-days-in-an-office-and-let-me-work-some-days-from-home-but-my-job-won’t-change-much’. We seem to be fixated on the rights and wrongs of who chooses if it’s 3+2 or some other form of in-out/office-home #remotework. In reality, anyone that works in a company that has more than one office, or is spread across two floors, already works remotely most of the time.
By limiting our definition of hybrid to the wfh/office dichotomy, we’re missing a trick. By fussing around the edges, we ignore the big picture and the real disruptive potential of hybrid work.
In its broader sense, hybrid work makes the boundaries of the organisation more elastic. ‘Workplaces’ are becoming more open, less closed. Talent models are becoming more dynamic, less rigid. In the future, many of our colleagues will reside outside the walled garden of the traditional workforce. And that doesn’t mean they’ll be less committed or less productive. Some will be contingent workers — hired through a talent platform, via the crowd, as an agency worker, or an outsourcing partner in some other part of the world. Fewer of them will sit beside us. Some might work from home some of the time.
Added to this mix will be robots and AI-enabled software that interprets data, responds to requests, fixes problems, or manages processes on our behalf.
In this sense, hybrid is multi-dimensional and offers huge scope. It gives us access to vast new constituencies of workers — some of whom have been historically marginalised because of their location, disability, and childcare commitments, or have been discriminated against for other reasons. Hybrid organisations will be better at tapping those pools of talent, bringing more people into the workforce. In doing so, those companies gain competitive advantage as they become more agile, shift the balance from fixed costs to variable costs, and add firepower on a just-in-time basis rather than keeping bench strength ‘just-in-case’ it’s needed.
The shift to hybrid isn’t new. COVID-19 restrictions have supercharged a trend that was already underway and brought it into the mainstream. Let’s embrace it in all its glory.