The Hybrid Workplace – Our quest for freedom, and our need for habit

As far as Myers-Briggs indicators go, I am a very high “P”. That stands for “Perceiving”, as opposed to “Judging”. As far as that model goes, that means I see a lot of grey, rather than black and white, and don’t make decisions quickly or forcefully. (I know MBTI these days is not in fashion, but just go with it for now…)

It is true that I am not forceful; I tend to listen to views and don’t act quickly. I have often been referred to as “too soft” and “too nice”. Yet I have had a long career as an expert consultant which has put me in countless situations of having to be strong, decisive and highly organised and planned. So, what of this contradiction?

This got me thinking of how we run our businesses, our jobs and our lives. How do we find the balance of having space to contemplate, dream and reflect – as well as being highly effective, productive and making decisions? Do we need both? Does one feed the other?

The answer is yes.

Flexibility, but not at any cost

In the new hybrid age, it is always interesting to read about organisations who provide ultimate freedom to their staff – work anywhere, anytime and take as much leave as you want. However, hardly any of us will have that sort of workplace. Most of us appreciate flexibility, but also require habits to keep us on the straight and narrow. As an example, if you are like me and work from home most days, it is a positive habit to start and finish work at approximately the same time every day. In the excellent book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, he explores that the absence of positive habits will quite likely lead us to negative habits, such as excessive gambling or drinking. Having flexibility combined with positive habits is a great recipe.

The family friendly trap

I once had a senior manager who wouldn’t book meetings until after 9.30. This stood out, in an ambitious and aggressive company culture that expected 6.30AM starts. I once asked him why and he said “My parents never had the time to take me to school – spending time with your children is more important than any meeting”. This was insightful, but still all these years later, uncommon. We see firms having “family friendly” policies, but senior leaders ignoring them by starting early, working late, sending emails at all times and rewarding staff by “working all weekend to solve a problem”. This is confusing and leads people to think that if they take advantage of “family friendly” policies, then they will never get ahead. Leaders must champion such policies, not just tolerate them.

Not everyone has families either, and any flexibility afforded to those with families must also be available to others. If not, then resentment and other negative behaviours will arise.

Use technology to provide both freedom and structure

Tools such as Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, and Basecamp give people an opportunity to collaborate and discuss work (and non-work) ideas in an unstructured and informal way. Their use should be encouraged to give people the freedom to express themselves which they would not do in a meeting, or even via formal email.

Yet technology is also vital to providing the structure your business or team needs. Effective use of electronic calendars is essential to let people know when you are available, and even what location you are in. A habit of updating your CRM everyday will keep you on top of your customer and sales data. A proposal tool will save you hours in turning around your quotes or proposals. Project management software will help you organise your project-related tasks and responsibilities.

Be kind to yourself and others

Over 40% of Americans have responded that they have had a mental health issue because of the pandemic. Given our reluctance to admit to mental health issues, you could say that the real percentage would be even higher. All the flexible policies and modern software tools in the world will be redundant if you have a team that is mentally and/or physically unhealthy.

The pandemic has taught us to be more open about our mental health – our feelings of loneliness, of being disconnected and disengaged. We may be dealing with the pandemic better these days, but being kind, trusting and supportive or others (and yourself) is just as important now as it has ever been.

Whether you are an introvert, extravert, high “P”, high “J”, hater of MBTI, in a team of one or an organisation of thousands, we need flexibility and freedom in our workplaces and in our lives. However, we cannot let that overtake the structure and habits that we need to keep ourselves on track and accountable. Finding that balance will lead us to greater productivity and happiness.