The Joy of Hybrid Work
In 1972 a book called The Joy of Sex was published. Obviously, people were having sex before then, but there was no manual for it. Believe it or not, there was the Sexual Official Secrets Act, which for the previous 200 years, had banned publications on sexual intercourse. This law had just been repealed, and The Joy of Sex author, Alex Comfort, saw the book as an opportunity “to undo some of the mischief caused by the guilt, misinformation and no-information.”
The early 1970s was a time of great social upheaval. Liberating movements such as flower power encouraged people to change how they lived, and focus on what brought them joy. Economically times were tough, with a long recession and an energy crisis.
This doesn’t just apply in our personal lives, but in our work lives too. First, there was The Great Resignation, then most of us realised we still had to earn a living, so we settled for The Great Reshuffle. We are all getting on with hybrid working, but for some, it feels a bit like pre-1972 sex; there is no manual for it and maybe there is “mischief caused by the guilt, misinformation and no-information” around how we are actually supposed to be doing it?
So how can we enhance the joy of hybrid work? It might be a tad ambitious to try to create, in Alex Comfort’s words, “a loving fusion”. But it would be great, if we could help revitalise the human connection we lose by not coming together so regularly in the office.
Do any of these things feel familiar in the early 2020s?
Recession – check
Energy crisis – check
Plus we have just survived the existential threat of a global pandemic, which has made everyone change how they live and focus on what brings them joy.
The Joy of Work before Hybrid
Ironically in January 2019, just before all the lockdowns happened, a book called The Joy of Work was published. It was written by Bruce Daisley, who is European Vice President for Twitter and has the podcast Eat, Work, Sleep, Repeat. Understandably Daisley didn’t focus on hybrid working, as it wasn’t so common pre-pandemic, so his book gives us an interesting insight into what has changed since.
Daisley talks a lot about the importance of human connection in work: “All the evidence suggests that humans derive joy from being in synchrony with those around us”.
Daisley mentions a few things that really improve human connection in the workplace. For instance laughter is great because it “cements a sense of positivity and it builds trust and helps us bond”.
When working remotely we can encourage laughter by telling a joke on a Zoom call, but it doesn’t replace the laughter of people reacting spontaneously to something funny right in front of them.
All the evidence suggests that humans derive joy from being in synchrony with those around us
Daisley also says we should energise inductions because first impressions count. But how do you energise an induction when someone is just a new face on a Teams call? If you are a newbie, it is very difficult to make those reassuring individual connections without water cooler moments. Without all the incidental chitchat you get face-to-face, how do you build that social credit, so if you do make a joke on a Zoom call, it will be taken in the spirit it was intended?
These two examples show how much harder it is to build that joyful human connection when you rarely meet your coworkers in person.
Energise inductions because first impressions count
The Joy of Human Connection at work
If we think back to the best places we have worked, the experiences most of us value were having a laugh with our colleagues, being part of a good team, or learning new skills from inspirational mentors. If we were the leaders, we tend to get satisfaction from creating an environment where people enjoyed coming to work, where they felt valued and could flourish.
Is there a danger of work becoming too transactional in a hybrid or remote set-up? Employees may feel that as long as they log on, and do the work they are paid for, there doesn’t need to be human connection with coworkers.This may be satisfying to some people, but in a 2021 survey 54% of us cited co-workers as the top source of joy in work; more than the 42% that cited the work itself, or the 40% that favoured the pay.
of us cited co-workers as the top source of joy in work
A new manual
A definitive manual that lays out the new rules of engagement for joyful hybrid working has yet to be written, but we figure it needs to include the following.
Where to do it
Making the real life interactions count. No one wants a return to presenteeism, but most of us value time spent with co-workers and don’t relish a future spent working alone. For some tasks, face-to-face time is most productive, and it’s often where the joy is. So how do you marry the two? By planning for productive office time where there’s a point to all being in the room together with your colleagues, that’s how. Making it purposeful might feel awkward at first. Creating different meeting styles, and engineering deliberate sociable time into the day won’t feel natural to begin with, but if it is enjoyable and it works it will quickly become a habit.
cited the work itself
Be clear about your expectations. Organisations that try to enforce a three/four/five days in the office rule are generally finding it harder to retain or recruit good people. However it’s also true that we’re more productive and happier when we’re in a routine and we don’t need to make too many decisions. So making it clear about when you expect people to come into the office, and giving them a good reason for being there on those days (e.g. not to complete tasks that would be easier to do remotely) makes sense.
Who goes where
The pandemic played havoc with our personal boundaries. Suddenly being with people = danger. Some of us embraced the end of restrictions with a big sigh of relief, others of us still associate close personal contact with trepidation. Thinking about office design and face-to-face meeting etiquette so that everyone feels safe being together is necessary if we’re to rediscover the joy of working together again. Like safe sex, is there a case for practicing safe office!
Cameras on or off? Being a silent observer? Multi-tasking during an online meeting? There are a whole host of new ways that our digital behaviour impacts our colleagues. If we’re to reach a point where we can feel relaxed enough to find joy in our work, we need to not be feeling irritated with our team members, or misunderstood by our colleagues. It’s all new ground, and we’re all making it up as we go along. Have an open conversation about what people expect and need from online interactions. Draw up a set of guidelines that everyone is happy to comply with.
It’s still early days for most of us when it comes to hybrid working, and we’re all pioneers in this new digital landscape. We’re exploring new models, and are curious as to which approaches are proving most productive and make people happiest.
Hybrid maturity and human connection
Gamma recently established a Hybrid Working Maturity Survey, to enable you to benchmark your organisation’s hybrid model. In the survey we don’t ask about the specifics of how often people come into the office, or what technology they use for collaboration. Instead we ask about more subtle aspects of hybrid working, so you can focus on the things that will lead to more joy for your people.
For instance we ask you how much you agree with the statement:
Our Leaders are setting a good example by modelling healthy productive hybrid working
A fascinating aspect about hybrid working was that leaders had as little experience as everyone else when it was thrust upon us in 2019. In fact you could argue that senior people were least suited to hybrid working, as they had spent more time than junior staff working “the old way”. Plus if they are part of Generation X they aren’t digital natives, and may struggle more than others to adopt the various methods of remote communication.
But with no manual or lived experience, how are leaders expected to model healthy hybrid behaviours? How are they expected to know how to cultivate the human connection remotely?
In the survey we also ask you how much you agree with the statement:
We have consensus within our organisation on our model of hybrid working