Work was not good before the pandemic for many. Lockdowns forced a change to remote work, often with the sentiment of getting back to normal as quickly as possible. The prolonged nature of the pandemic empowered some to reimagine work. Managers fear a return to the old ways may not be in the cards, and they are afraid of what they see ahead.
Management has been likened to orchestration. The manager conducts a team toward an outcome. With everyone in one place, work is more jazz than a symphony. People riff off one another, small mistakes get taken up or played over. Melodies wander off and return.
That can still happen in a hybrid work environment, depending on the team’s goals, but for those with work to deliver on schedule, managerial orchestration is critical. Orchestration does not imply micromanagement—it is not the manager’s job to ensure that every task is overseen and accomplished on time, but it is the manager’s job to put in systems that deliver results.
We need to keep in mind that bringing people to a central location to do work was an unproven (at the time) consequence of the industrial revolution. Scientific management and assembly lines brought back a concept that ceased to be common after the fall of Rome.
Managers need to change the way they manage as much as individuals need to change the way they approach their workflows.
What scares managers most is the need to not only change the way they manage but to become better managers. Managing in a hybrid organization will be different and harder. Things hidden, ignored, allowed to just happen will become explicit. Failure to manage well will lead either to stagnation or to chaos, neither of which should be acceptable in such volatile conditions—conditions that call for passion, authenticity, innovation, perseverance, and resilience.
Hybrid work will likely not be much like previous work in the short term. Those who return to the office will spend their first several visits reacclimating themselves to their spaces, and to their colleagues. They will test boundaries about safe behavior—how often do they disinfect their hands, do they shake hands or hug, do they wear a mask even if it isn’t mandated and what message does that send their peers.
As you read through this post, it will become obvious that hybrid work practices are also good work practices, and they will offer value regardless of how organizations decide to reintegrate offices into the work equation. The real battle going on is not between the past and the future, but against institutionalized practices that reflect poor management—and good management practice based on respect, co-creation, and dignity.
Many of the most complex organizations already practice some form of distributed work, be it working from home or working from a customer site. I remember many years ago visiting the cubical of an AI consultant with Digital Equipment Corporation. His cubical was likely no more than 5×5 feet. Most of the space was consumed with a chair. The desktop surfaces were littered with seemingly abandoned magazines, reports, and books. I asked why it was so small, and he said, “because my boss never wants me to be in the office.”
– Daniel W. Rasmus, Serious Insights
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