The Hybrid workplace shouldn’t just be managed; it should be leveraged. This moment is an opportunity.

Photo by vadim kaipov on Unsplash

Here’s something you already know: the past 18 months have totally changed the game and organizations will have to adapt to a new way of working.

Here’s something you probably realize but haven’t really acted on yet: the great disruptive wave of hybrid work is already here. But the truth is we’re not even ready for what’s already happened.

And now for something that isn’t common knowledge: “Hybrid” is actually a liminal state. It’s a placeholder term to describe where we find ourselves right now, in between the world before COVID lockdowns and the one that comes next. We’re not actually at the beginning of the end; we’re at the end of the beginning.

Wondering what to do now? The first step is realizing that this will require a complete mindset shift. It’s not ambitious enough to replicate the office virtually. You need to redesign your entire organization to capture what I call the “Hybrid Dividend”. The true opportunity isn’t defined in comparison with what we are leaving behind; it’s what we are going toward.

The Hybrid Dividend

I describe this as the unexpected benefits of the pivot from a placed-based office environment to a Work from Anywhere one.

In finance circles, they call this “Alpha”. It refers to when one achieves excess returns on investment above the benchmark rate. In other words, it captures how you are beating your competition. Seizing the Hybrid Dividend will enable you to achieve alpha in your industry, too.

Right now, most organizations are only focused on the many challenges that this new reality places on workers as well as leaders.

I get it. All-in-person was easy. All-remote was harder but manageable. Getting hybrid right is hard. There’s good reason to be apprehensive.

If you manage this poorly, you run the risk of:

  • Lower employee engagement
  • Lower retention and even loss of valuable human capital
  • The emergence of new problems exacerbated by Hybrid such as “proximity bias” and sub-optimal “collaboration equity”
  • The corrosion of your carefully nurtured organizational culture
  • Lower overall productivity

But if you can get past the pitfalls, on the other side lies the potential for a more inclusive, innovative, engaged, and even hyper-productive workplace. In other words, if you solve the hybrid puzzle you don’t just achieve surprising office-less performance — you can actually achieve superior performance.

If you seize the Hybrid Dividend, you can expect the following benefits for your organization:

  • More bottom-up innovation
  • More opportunities for leadership from people without titles
  • A more inclusive, equitable, and more level playing field in the competition of everything from ideas to opportunity
  • Lower staff turnover
  • More cognitive diversity
  • The ability to tap true “collective intelligence” from your workforce
  • Enhanced culture
  • Better group performance and productivity
  • Higher quality decisions and outcomes (as a result of all of the above)

Moreover, the firms that embrace this are poised to win the war for talent. Your team members will enjoy the following individual benefits if you embrace this opportunity:

  • The mitigation or outright elimination of common pain points such as long commutes, introverts having to work in an open-plan office
  • Greater flexibility and sense of autonomy over how they perform their roles
  • Increased work satisfaction and even motivation
  • Better work-life “balance” (I prefer the term “integration”) and overall quality of life
  • BIPOC communities and working mothers — segments of society that are traditionally under-represented in many organizations — will have new access to opportunities as they have more control over how they work

Finally, we all win when this new model of the workplace takes root:

  • Fewer commuters and shrunken demand for office space will be better for the environment
  • Making work location-agnostic will remove the absolute requirement to live in a superstar city like London or LA in order to do a specific job. In turn, this could help reverse the brain drain from small towns and rural locations and even emerging markets as professional opportunities become more evenly distributed geographically.

A well-managed Hybrid workplace creates a more democratic environment that allows the best ideas to break through. In turn, this results in more of your workforce participating in innovation, problem-solving, and opportunity-spotting. This will almost certainly be a huge boost to your organization’s performance as well as its bottom line.

Those that succeed in meeting this moment will reap enormous rewards in the three marketplaces of ideas, talent, and customer share. On a macro level, the world benefits when more people are doing fulfilling work, collaborating more efficiently, creating more value while wasting fewer resources, and being more environmentally responsible.

In sum, the Hybrid Dividend brings payoffs that are individualorganizational, and societal. We should be rushing towards this moment rather than resisting it.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re in a race

This isn’t just important; it’s also urgent. There is a huge opportunity for the first organization to get hybrid right. If managed thoughtfully, Hybrid workplaces can excite your workforce and turbocharge an organization’s performance. Given the primacy of talent and human capital in our information economy, the organizations that do this first and do this best will become the leaders in your sector or industry.

All companies now need to re-imagine their ecosystem, culture, and workflow — in other words, they need to upgrade their entire organizational Operating System. But we have to start by letting go of the past and jettisoning antiquated models. To borrow a metaphor from virology, we don’t just want to replicate; we now need to mutate.

In Part II of this article, I will describe how organizations can harness the Hybrid Dividend. But the predicate to making that pivot is to accept some hard truths.

Productivity and performance are about aligning people, purpose, and process in your organization. It’s not about place anymore.

This moment is less about inventing remote work models and more about reinventing work itself.

As you try to navigate this pivot point, don’t settle for trying to reproduce the office in a virtual environment. Instead, embrace this is as an opportunity to leverage a host of individual, organizational and societal advancements that hybridity makes possible.

Once you’ve done that, congratulations: you’ve taken the first and most important step in reaping the Hybrid Dividend.