The hybrid working revolution

❇️ Performance

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Nick Mackeson-Smith
Nick Mackeson-Smith
Chief Curiosity Officer, Founder and Director
September 12, 2020

TLDR: There is a lot to do, and it’s REALLY exciting.

There is so much that’s in a state of flux right now that the opportunities for change and growth and innovation seem unbounded and exciting.  I genuinely believe that  organisations who make bold changes to their organisational culture, strategy and ways of working to get this right now will be the ones who are still around in 10-15 years time. Those that don’t will find themselves towards the bottom of the pile in the war for talent.  

Here’s the thing: employees have been emboldened by new freedoms and flexibility in how they work, where they work, and when they work, and it’s increasingly unlikely that they’ll want to give up these benefits.  

Employees have embraced new technologies, new tools, and new ways of thinking.  Employees have developed new mechanisms for social support and connection, and experimented with new ways of collaborating.  Organisations who have historically railed against flexible or remote working have had no choice but to embrace these new ways of working, or face the prospect of little to no work being done, and limited business being able to take place.

It’s disruption at it’s finest, and within disruption comes the opportunity to grow something new - something better - something more appropriate for the world we live in today.

If you are looking for some social proof that this isn’t a fad and isn’t going away anytime soon, then you’ll be encouraged to see some seriously high profile organisations already starting to commit to making permanent changes to their ways of working.

Microsoft’s Chief People Officer, Kathleen Hogan, said this week:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all of us to think, live, and work in new ways… We will offer as much flexibility as possible to support individual workstyles, while balancing business needs, and ensuring we live our culture.”

Even back in May this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg made a huge commitment to embracing hybrid ways of working:

“We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale. We need to do this in a way that’s thoughtful and responsible, so we’re going to do this in a measured way…. I think we could get to about half of the company working remotely permanently.”

Also back in May, Shopify CEO and founder Tobi Lutke tweeted,

“As of today, Shopify is a digital by default company. We will keep our offices closed until 2021 so that we can rework them for this new reality. And after that, most will permanently work remotely. Office centricity is over.”

Work spaces

This is about so much more than a physical office, or a place. This is about creating spaces that embrace hybrid ways of working by design - promoting productivity and creating outcomes irrespective of where the employee is connecting from. Employees may choose to work from a central office, or their home, or a collaboration space (where I’m writing this article), or the beach. Physical location is no longer  a barrier to getting things done. If you want an example of the mountains that can be moved with a hybrid-enabled team, then read this. What this unlocks, is the ability for employers to hire people from anywhere in the world. We have the technology to be able to do this at scale now, and it’s no longer limited to large corporates who can afford expensive software and hardware.  The use of Miro, Teams, Zoom, Slack, Firstbase, Lucidchart, Planner, Mural, Monday, Wrike, Trello, Flock, Facebook Workplace, Calm, Headspace, Boords, Khan Academy (and so many more), allows organisations to blend what happens in the digital world with what happens in a physical place to create a hybrid space.

There are 8 spaces we recommend investing effort in implementing:

  • Social spaces designed for rapid and transparent communication
  • Collaboration spaces designed for problem solving at scale
  • Focus spaces designed for concentration and elimination of distractions
  • Impact spaces designed for customer connection and engagement
  • Wellness spaces designed for physical wellbeing, mental health and peak performance
  • Learning spaces designed for openness and growth and the promotion of freely sharing information and expertise
  • Innovation spaces designed for creativity and ideation
  • Personal spaces designed for safety and security


The trick here is that you don’t need fancy hardware to make all of these things happen. It’s not all about big 800” wrap around video walls or holographic interactive projectors (!). It’s about human connection. The software you choose to drive or support your work space should be universally available to all, and accessible to them in any location and on any device.  Got some software that only works on a computer in a back room of head office? Ditch it. Replace it with a cloud-based alternative that removes location as a constraint. Developments in platforms like Citrix also mean that if you do have a system that really does need to exist and has to live in a back room in head office (or there is no cloud alternative), then you can get access to it through virtualisation on any device and in any location.

  • Universal software, unbounded hardware - people should be able to access the core software they need to perform their job from anywhere - not by being forced to interact with a specific type of hardware in a location. The software you choose dictates where and how your people can work. Choose them wisely.
  • Input devices are personal - allow employee preference over the devices they choose to use for work. At a minimum, all software should be equally functional on a PC and Mac. No excuses. Gone are the days of saying “We’re a Microsoft organisation, and refusing to support Mac users - and vice versa. Supporting tablets and touch screen devices will also soon be expected as a minimum requirement, and with that comes an expectation for at least basic functionality using smartphones.
  • Every employee is connected - this is about providing full digital connectivity to all employees in the organisation - way beyond only setting up access for those who work in an office. One shared computer in the back room of a store or a distribution centre doesn’t cut it either. Practically all of us have smartphones - there simply is no excuse for not enabling connection between all areas of the business. I often hear leaders in offices saying “we don’t get enough information from the front lines”, or “why did no-one out in the field tell us that”. Stick barriers in front of people, and they encounter roadblocks. Take the barriers away, and you’ll start to see better connectivity and freedom to exchange information.
  • Digital employee way finding - with a proliferation of platforms, it becomes increasingly important to know which platform/location/work schedule each member of the organisation is on/in at any given time.
  • Digital tools for space availability - with physical space at a premium, the ability to people to have full visibility and access to book and use these spaces is essential.
  • Platforms enable access to all knowledge - nothing is hidden. Everything is discoverable. AI can help surface what’s relevant to the context that it’s needed.
  • Platforms enable asynchronous and synchronous access to all people - allowing people to connect when they are ready to do so, rather than having constant interruptions.

Performance and process

With distributed or hybrid teams, comes the necessity for everyone to be extremely clear on what work needs to be done, to what standard, and what the expectations for performance are. Many organisations still rely on job descriptions that describe the tasks that need to be done, but don’t set out the standard to which the tasks need to be completed. I recently read a job description for a retail assistant that listed “Handle customers” as a key part of the role. No indication of how they’d be expected to handle customers, what level of customer NPS (or other measures) were expected of them, or if the role was a sales or service (or both) role. It’s very easy to underperform if you don’t know what good looks like. Vague is unhelpful. Specific drives focus, accountability and performance.

  • Establish KPIs to set expectations for employee performance - they need to know what is required of them
  • Share performance against KPIs with employees - they need to know how they are doing so that they can make changes to how they are acting, and close performance gaps. Ditch your annual or half-yearly appraisals looking back on past performance - you can’t change what’s been done. By all means, use that data to inform future actions - have a weekly or monthly forward looking conversation about targets and desired outcomes. It’s WAY more motivating to talk about how you can improve, than to focus on where you fell short in times past.
  • Discontinue “time in office KPIs” - Face time in office has always been a horrible concept, and bears no correlation to the performance of the individual. Outputs should be measured - not hours.
  • Flexible working or job design for all - once KPIs are established for all roles, and a sense of understanding of where the organisation’s capabilities and expertise can be found, projects or opportunities requiring specific skillsets can be advertised. What stops a project manager who also has a passion and expertise for film and video production from also getting involved in a brand campaign that requires their production skills? The answer - of course - should be nothing.
  • Total transparency of information
  • Regular scheduled hackathons / innovationX - giving permission and encouragement for employees to work on a project that’s important to them can result in significant productivity gains, bug fixes, and incredible ideas that can result in new products that previously hadn’t been conceived. Hackathons tap in to an individual’s intrinsic motivation, which in my experience tends to lead to significantly more discretionary effort being applied. In Drive, Dan Pink talked about Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Hackathons hit all three of the magic motivating buttons!
  • Every employee given time to learn and grow. Many organisations fill their employees time with work, and then expect people to “learn in their own time”. The reality that can be confronting, is that learning isn’t a thing that can just be scheduled or packaged into a course - there is no silver bullet.  Learning happens everywhere. It happens every day. It happens at work, at home, in the car. The excellent work by Jane Hart in her Four D’s of Learning model (Discourse, Didactics, Doing, and Discovery) shows us that we need to cater for and embrace ALL of these possible modes of learning - not just training courses. Not just induction programmes. Not just elearning modules.
  • Remuneration linked to outputs - not inputs. If an employee delivers value to the organisation, then they should be appropriately and transparently rewarded for doing so. Having access to KPI data allows you to truly pay for performance - not tenure or past achievements.

Leadership and culture

  • Learning how to learn unlocks all future skillsets - anything can be learned with the right mindset, focus, effort, and desire to grow. Unprecedented access to information and expertise means that we can all become coders, or data scientists, or dishwasher repair technicians, or farmers, or actors. Whatever. We. Choose. A member of the Five team decided that she wanted to learn how to build an Artificial Intelligence - so she did it. Another team mate decided to learn how to create epic virtual facilitation experiences - so she did it. Another decided to learn to play the keyboard. Anything can be learned.
  • Growth mindset creates infinite possibility of thought - so much research has been done on growth mindset, and I’ve written about it before. Simply being open to the idea that problems or gaps in knowledge are opportunities to grow and discover, changes the way that people view their own levels of ability and performance. Leaders who unlock a growth mindset within their teams, unlock the ability to overcome any problem they face.
  • Employees become custodians of culture - values and behavioural expectations are important. Culture is the way in which employees apply those values and expectations in their day to day interactions and work ethic.
  • Total inclusion - with an increasingly diverse talent pool, leaders will need to work harder to suspend self-interest and create radically inclusive teams - where every perspective or experience has weight and value, and where every person can bring their whole self to the party - without fear of judgement, or discrimination. Remember - we are human beings… not human doings.
  • Leaders are upskilled to adopt an Anywhere Culture mindset and build deeper levels of trust, sustain meaningful connection, maximise inclusion, and ensure wellbeing within their teams irrespective of where they are. This crucial shift in mindset has a massive impact on how their teams learn, communicate and collaborate, and solve problems
  • Leaders empower and trust - in my formative years, I was taught that “out of sight, out of mind” meant that you constantly needed to be putting yourself and your work forwards for your leaders and stakeholders to see. With remote or hybrid working, many people will be “out of sight” more frequently and for longer periods of time, and that might be confronting for the leaders who like to control or observe their people. In some teams, you may not ever have an in-person meeting - relying solely on video calls or other communication methods. Organisations have already started looking at tools to monitor the work and effectiveness of their people whilst they are not in the office. For me, this feels less like trusting their people and more like spying on their people. Honestly - we’ve known for decades that outputs matter more than hours, and that when you empower people to be at their best, their outputs tend to happen at a higher standard and often in a shorter timeframe. Step away from the spy tools, leaders - it doesn’t matter if Dave has been online today for 3 hours or 17 hours… it matters what Dave has produced, and to what standard, and the impact it has had.
  • Embracing digital nomads - being unchained from the desk means that people are able to move and roam and work from anywhere. The ability to work from anywhere means that they can live and play and be anywhere. On the beach, in a cafe, in another country. Any timezone, and any location…. even on the moon in the not too distant future (looking at you, Virgin Galactic, Rocket Lab and SpaceX… get us there!!). Technology isn’t the only great enabler here - we need strong, flexible and inclusive leaders who are prepared to give trust unearned, invest extra time and energy and effort in building relationships with their remote workforce, and a deliberate focus on creating an environment where everyone in their organisations and teams can flourish - regardless of where they are working.

There’s a lot to do. The first steps are often the hardest - especially as it won’t immediately get you to your destination - but they are essential in ensuring that you begin the journey. It’s worthwhile. It’ll make a massive difference to how your employees engage with your organisation (or not). It’ll make a massive difference to your ability to perform in market, and innovate, and collaborate. It’ll make a massive difference to the type of employees you can hire, and where they are based. This is a moment that’s not one to miss.

Shall we take those all important first steps?


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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September 12, 2020
September 12, 2020

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