The emergence of hybrid as the default way of working within the corporate world is one of the most important and long-lasting changes driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. In theory, at least, it’s a welcome change for employees, who have expressed a preference for hybrid models. Chief among the reasons employees give for this preference is the ability to balance the convenience of remote work with the collaborative, social, and cultural benefits of working in person.
But across a broad spectrum of enterprises, businesses are struggling to realize the potential that hybrid work affords. In some organizations, office utilization has atrophied, with employees ignoring orders to return to their workplaces. And in others, leadership has released hastily produced plans that leave employees frustrated and confused.
Hybrid work will likely be the norm for knowledge workers for years to come, so it’s critically important for organizations of all sizes that their hybrid workplace succeeds. But the CHROs and other talent leaders we’ve met in our consultations across industries—Bram as an evangelist for visual collaboration at Miro, and myself as a leadership trainer at Philosophy at Work—face a challenge with which we are deeply sympathetic.
Simply put, CHROs feel they need to deliver the future, now. But we’ve consistently seen that leadership mindsets, more than genuine operational constraints, are causing this pressure. To get hybrid right, leaders must bring a mindset of abundance to their planning, giving themselves space and time to solve this significant challenge.
Adopting an abundance mindset at the leadership level
A mindset is a series of beliefs that informs how we behave and solve problems. When we have a scarcity mindset, we operate from the belief that we don’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to solve the problem carefully. This mindset leads us to prioritize speed and cost, and accept outcomes that may be less than perfect, so long as they appear to meet the bare-minimum requirements.
In contrast, an abundance mindset is characterized by the beliefs that:
- We have time to find the best solutions
- We’ll find a way to make resources serve whatever the next phase of our business requires
- Our people are competent enough to be trusted to go on the journey with us
Viewing hybrid work with this perspective of abundance frames it as just another building block, albeit a significant one, in the business we are constantly shaping and improving.
Designing a hybrid model for a global enterprise is an example of what Oxford Professor Keith Grint calls a “wicked problem.” The best way to approach wicked problems, Grint says, is to lead with curiosity and creativity. And that’s where adopting a mindset of abundance comes in: If we believe that we have the time, resources, and talent needed to navigate the complexity of hybrid, we’ll be better able to operate from a place of curiosity, exploration, and collaboration.
The paradox is that those in senior leadership positions often climb the corporate ladder because of scarcity mindsets that drive them to work efficiently and avoid undue risks. That’s why shifting their mindset to one of abundance—especially in the face of an economic downturn that some predict will last a year or more—is no small task. But it’s going to be critical for designing hybrid strategies that drive the long-term success of an organization and the happiness of its workforce.
Avoiding the average-employee trap
Many CHROs we’ve spoken with about the shortcomings of their hybrid strategies have described a similar, one-size-fits-all approach to developing them. They’ve used surveys to reduce their workforce into a profile of an average employee, then implemented a plan that works for that mythical person. The flaw in this approach, as Todd Rose writes in The End of Average, is that there are no average people. In fact, by trying to meet the needs of an average person, there’s a good chance you won’t meet the precise needs of anyone.
As an example, imagine surveying employees about hybrid work and half say they want to work entirely remotely, one quarter say they want to be in the office four or five days a week, and the remaining quarter say they want to be in the office one or two days each week. When we average those responses, we might settle on a plan that requires three days a week of office time, which isn’t exactly what anyone asked for. With this approach in mind, it’s clear why so many employees feel their organizations’ hybrid plans aren’t hitting the mark.
The average-employee approach is one example of how a scarcity mindset manifests in CHROs’ actions as they try to build a hybrid strategy that meets the needs of their employees. They feel pressure to solve the hybrid problem quickly and follow what looks like the shortest and safest path to success. But in the case of a challenge as big as a hybrid, the shortest path is rarely the right one.
The first steps towards a mindset of abundance
We hope that viewing your company’s hybrid practices and policies with an abundance mindset will help you think differently about how you move your business forward. The first two steps towards adopting this mindset are ones you need to take on your own.
First, check which beliefs are driving your business’s approach to hybrid. Would it be appropriate to say those beliefs indicate scarcity or abundance? This reflective work can be done in a focused way by carrying out a Neural Map around the topic of “hybrid.” For instructions on how to use that mapping technique, watch this Philosophy at Work video.
Secondly, recognize that shifting mindsets is not a one-and-done kind of task and remember that some of the biggest barriers to changing mindsets exist within ourselves. High-performing people, by nature, expect a lot from themselves. It can be difficult for these individuals to give themselves permission to move at a slower pace, to work with curiosity, and to learn from failures as they work. As simple as it sounds, we as leaders must be kind to ourselves. We must step back, acknowledge that there are no simple solutions, and recognize that the process of evolving hybrid ways of working will involve experimentation, failure, and iteration.
Remember: “Nothing important comes into being overnight”
At the heart of the abundance mindset is a belief about value creation that goes back to the Ancient Greek philosophy of Epictetus, who said, “Nothing important comes into being overnight; even grapes or figs need time to ripen.” It is tempting to view hybrid work as a current challenge that must be solved as quickly as possible, but the abundance mindset reminds us that value creation takes time. By shifting mindsets in this way, you can better realize the potential of hybrid work.