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With the world now starting to adopt the mindset equivalent of ‘walk it off’ towards Covid, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the ‘hybrid work’ discussion is playing out, both online and in-person. There are several themes I frequently see:

  • “I can work from anywhere, so why are you making me come into the office.”
  • “People have competing priorities in life, and organisations must be flexible.”
  • “Leaders and CEOs need to be empathetic and support employees in how they work.”
  • “Working in offices is an outdated notion”, which is often followed by public proclamations from various organisations about adopting a 100% WFH policy.

I’ll share my thoughts about ‘hybrid work’ later, but the thing that I find the most striking in these conversations is what feels like an almost adversarial attitude to the notion of ‘work’. For instance, the comment that ‘I can be just as productive working from home so why should I come into the office’ feels like quite a transactional approach to work, and glosses over all the other aspects of working life (relationships, culture, community, etc.

Or the commentary around: “I have different priorities in my life and work needs to accommodate” seems to suggest that ‘work’ is this rigid 8-10 hour block of obligation that demands 100% attention from people, all the time.

Now I want to heavily emphasise that this Ko Lab is not about to argue for people going back to offices full time; I completely accept that people have different needs (especially parents) and competing priorities (such as myself and the wearing of multiple hats), so I’m all for flexible work.

What I am reflecting on though is how it feels like so many of these conversations around ‘hybrid work’ seem to have framed work as more of a ‘chore’. Thus one of my hypotheses is that the pushback against returning to the office is because mandating a return to the office may be perceived as asking people to do their chores in an office.

Re-framing the notion of ‘work’

‘Work’ is inextricably linked to our lives. Except for the privileged few, pretty much everyone needs to ‘get a job’ at some point in their lives. I fully accept that for some people, work is simply a means to an end, to put food on the table. However for many others, ‘work’ can be a series of highly defining moments in life. It’s an activity that can allow people to learn, to develop, to achieve, to socialise, to create change, or to build a legacy. These aren’t strictly for the benefit of work either; I think of all the life lessons that I’ve learned or the friendships I’ve built through work.

Going even further, some people find purpose and joy in their work, and the discipline and ritual of work can have a not insignificant impact on people’s overall health and lifestyle, as presented this collection of research seems to indicate. At this point, what I’m basically describing is a ‘career’. A few of you may also be thinking that if we sprinkle an element of ‘purpose’ in here, what I’ve now described is a calling (or ikigai).

But I also want to put my ‘management’ hat on and look at this from the other side of the coin, especially as I feel that ‘leaders’ are somewhat maligned in this discussion. I really want to challenge the notion that management sees work as people rocking up to punch in timesheets. For me, I look at a team as a collection of individuals ‘working’ together in different ways to achieve a goal, whether that’s financial, operational, or social. And thus as a ‘leader’, my job is ultimately to align the goals and needs of the organisation, with the myriad goals and needs of the individuals.

So to riff on this, what if we reframed ‘hybrid work’ as ‘hybrid purpose’? Or ‘hybrid alignment’? Hybrid impact? Hybrid outcomes? Hybrid goals? If this has triggered any new thought bubbles for you, hit me up because I’d love to evolve the thinking on this.

Hybrid work Places of gathering

To briefly return to my thoughts on ‘hybrid work’, I’ll point you in the direction of this LinkedIn post I shared the other day, which lightly touches on the themes I’ve been exploring above. In short, my argument is that instead of the office being seen as a place where people come to ‘work’, what if we reframed it as a place where people ‘gather’?

In particular, I was inspired by a recent visit to the Willum Warrain (‘Home by the sea’) gathering place down in Hastings (on Bunurong / Boon Wurrung), who describe themselves thus: It is a gathering place where Aboriginal people come together to realise community aspirations and forge shared identity.

To build on that inspiration, what if we created better reasons for people to gather? What if:

  • Teams visited the office to undertake activities that help forge a shared identity
  • We had a day where people ‘learn from the elders’? Imagine a day that is purely ‘mentoring’?
  • People only gather for the purposes of ideation, problem-solving, and creativity?
  • There’s a day purely focused on mental and physical health?
  • And perhaps most controversially, what if people go back to the office and are not allowed to ‘work’? They’re there to just play?

Separately, I gave a talk for Hoban Recruitment in late 2021 exploring the question: “If hybrid work means ‘bringing work to home’, then what does it mean to ‘bring home to work’?” My 15-minute talk starts at 5:20.

If you have any more suggestions for gatherings, I’m all ears. Incidentally, go check out Willum Warrain. They offer cultural immersion tours for groups (corporate and community alike) that are totally worth checking out.

In closing

If you enjoyed this Ko Lab, I’d really appreciate it if you shared it with a friend or two you think would get a kick out of this. You can send them here to sign up. Time permitting, I’ll try and make it the most engaging and thought-provoking newsletter you get!

And if you come across anything you’d like to ‘Ko Lab’ on, send it my way! I’m equally keen to learn about and share new perspectives and thoughts.

Have a great week!

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