In the wake of the pandemic, the world of work has been irrevocably changed. The traditional office model has been upended, and in its place, a new hybrid model has emerged. But as we navigate this new landscape, it’s crucial to remember one thing: mandates don’t work as well as magnets. That’s what I tell my clients when I help them transition to a flexible hybrid work model.
I gained new insights on this approach when I interviewed Jeetu Patel, EVP & GP, Security & Collaboration at Cisco, a leader in the field of hybrid work. He believes that instead of mandating a return to the office, we should be creating environments that attract employees. This approach, he argues, is far more effective in positively impacting productivity and morale.
In his words, “Mandates don’t work as well as creating magnets where people want to come into work, because there’s certain scenarios where they can’t fulfill those requirements from being at home and remote.” This perspective is a refreshing departure from the traditional top-down approach to office management. Instead of forcing employees to adhere to rigid schedules and locations, Patel advocates for a more flexible, employee-centric model. This approach recognizes the diverse needs and preferences of today’s workforce, and seeks to accommodate them in a way that benefits both the individual and the organization.
The Network Effect of the Office
However, Patel acknowledges the network effect of the office. The office becomes worthwhile when many people are present, creating a network effect that increases productivity and value. But this doesn’t mean a dictatorial mandate is the answer.
Instead, he suggests creating guidelines and venues that encourage people to come in at the same time, fostering a network effect without forcing it. This approach respects employee autonomy while still promoting collaboration and productivity.
This concept of a “network effect” is a powerful one. It recognizes the inherent value in bringing people together, not just for formal meetings and brainstorming sessions, but for the spontaneous, serendipitous interactions that can spark new ideas and strengthen team cohesion.
The Danger of Quiet Quitting
When mandates are enforced, a phenomenon known as “quiet quitting” often occurs. This is when employees disengage and their productivity drops. They may physically be in the office, but their minds and hearts are not.
Patel suggests that a more effective approach is to recognize the different modes in which we work. Some tasks require deep focus and minimal interruptions, which can often be better achieved at home. On the other hand, collaborative work and non-transactional idea bouncing are often more effective in person.
The concept of “quiet quitting” is a stark reminder of the importance of employee engagement. When employees feel forced into a work model that doesn’t suit their needs or preferences, their motivation and productivity can plummet. This not only impacts their individual performance, but can also have a ripple effect throughout the team and organization.
The Future of Hybrid Work
The future of hybrid work lies in its flexibility and inclusivity. It allows us to access talent pools from anywhere in the world, breaking down geographical barriers and creating a more equitable global economy.
The next generation of leaders will need to be adept at building deep relationships virtually. As Patel points out, “If we always require that [relationships] can only be built when we meet in person physically, then I think we’d be far too myopic in the way in which we’re thinking about this thing.”
This perspective is a powerful call to action for today’s leaders. In a world where remote work is increasingly the norm, the ability to build meaningful, productive relationships without face-to-face interaction is a critical skill. It’s a challenge that requires us to rethink our traditional approaches to communication and collaboration, and to embrace new tools and technologies that can help bridge the physical divide.
Embracing the Benefits of Remote Work
Remote work also offers the convenience of more accessible interactions. It’s often easier to schedule a video conference than an in-person meeting, making people more available than they might otherwise be.
Moreover, the flexibility of remote work can lead to increased productivity. As Patel notes, “The combination of being able to have the flexibility to do that makes me superbly more productive than what I would have been if I had to just be in the office the next day.”
The benefits of remote work extend beyond just productivity. It can also lead to improved work-life balance, reduced stress, and increased job satisfaction. By eliminating the need for a daily commute, employees can reclaim valuable time in their day for personal pursuits or relaxation. And by providing the option to work in a comfortable, personalized environment, remote work can help employees avoid the distractions and stressors of the office, leading to improved focus and efficiency.
The future of hybrid work is not about mandating a return to the office. It’s about creating an environment that attracts employees, fosters collaboration, and leverages the power of technology. It’s about recognizing the different modes in which we work and providing the flexibility to accommodate them. And most importantly, it’s about embracing change and looking forward to the possibilities it brings.
As we move forward into this new era of work, it’s clear that flexibility, inclusivity, and innovation will be key. By embracing these principles, we can create work environments that not only attract the best talent, but also foster creativity, productivity, and employee satisfaction.
The future of work is here, and it’s hybrid. Let’s embrace it, not with mandates, but with magnets that attract the best and brightest to our organizations. Let’s create workplaces that are not just places of work, but hubs of innovation, collaboration, and growth. And let’s leverage the power of technology to bridge the physical divide and bring us closer together, no matter where we are.
In the words of Jeetu Patel, “The true benefit of hybrid work… is being able to access talent pools from anywhere in the world.” Let’s seize this opportunity, and build a future of work that is truly global, inclusive, and flexible. The future is hybrid, and it’s brighter than ever.
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Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on May 26, 2023