Hybrid working approach to success
While we want the best of home and work, too often we end up with the worst of both. Employees show up at the office for a number of days to find a ghost town. They travel long distances to spend their time alone and on Zoom calls. Likewise, working from home days can feel robotic and blur the lines between work and life. Without clear boundaries, work takes over home and high performers can burn out.
Leaders believe they are implementing a hybrid approach that values both sides. Instead, in-between options just split the time between locations and rarely do it well.
After studying what we call “both/and think” for 25 years, we’ve known there’s a better way. Rather than bland compromises that make everyone worse off, thinking both/and allows for creative integrations in which each option benefits the other.
Joe Lemay (CEO) and Jacob Epstein (CIO) knew they wanted this kind of integration when they launched Rocketbook (now a subsidiary of BIC). JThe Rocketbook team is on a mission to move the world to reusable paper. They know that serving their customers and the best in the world means having exceptionally talented, high performing, energetic and committed people. They also know that the where as good as How? ‘Or’ What and Why work counts. In fact, their hybrid approaches started long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lemay and Epstein enjoy working from home. They like flexibility. They appreciate the WFH as a space for deep work and “lowering your heads”. They also cherish its opportunities to spend more time with children and life partners while minimizing travel and providing autonomy over schedules.
They are offering employees enough time to work from home, as they recognize the value of this approach. Yet they also ensure that time at home is truly flexible.
At Rocketbook, people are measured by their output, not by their schedules or time in the office. Team members make their calendars transparent to each other. They work together to organize collaborative meetings around the needs of team members.
Outside of these meetings, people can do what they need in the middle of the day, whether it’s running errands, picking up kids or taking a nap. Early risers can start work at dawn, while night owls can work late and limit early meetings.
Employees keep everyone informed with extensive communications on collaboration apps like Asana, Google Docs, and Slack. Virtual work also has many advantages for the company. As Lemay shared, “Companies have a better competitive advantage if they can source talent globally.”
Lemay and Epstein also know that fully virtual work can be exhausting. Epstein noted, “It’s dehumanizing if we reduce our team members to Slack channels.” The best ideas in business emerge when a group of people brainstorm together around a whiteboard. More importantly, in-person interactions build trusting relationships, a key ingredient to employee productivity and happiness.
With a global workforce, Lemay and Epstein decided they needed to get everyone together in person on a quarterly basis. A good number of employees live close to their Boston headquarters. They started having bare-knuckle meetings on Wednesdays in the Boston office and offered free lunch on those days. With more people in the office, Wednesdays have become prime times for team meetings and collaboration. They also know that trust and relationships are strengthened through social connections. They have created many opportunities for people to connect socially, from ping pong tournaments to karaoke and Red Sox games.
The solution found by Lemay and Epstein may not be suitable for all companies. Yet our research suggests that the thought process both / and they applied works across challenges and contexts, helping leaders develop more creative and sustainable solutions.
Embrace the tensions
In our to research, we find that companies provide better solutions when they name the stresses they face and value their stresses as opportunities for growth. Viewing the tensions as paradoxes – persistent interrelated contractions – they can then draw on the yin-yang of opposing forces, recognizing that the organization must engage with both rather than choose between.
Epstein and Lemay were clear that choosing any virtual work could be dehumanizing and demotivating, while any office work could be rigid and limiting. But to truly embrace the two, they had to want their synergies.
As Epstein summed it up, “There are so many advantages to being distant; there are so many benefits to being in person; but the sum of the two gives you much better options than either individually.
Lemay and Epstein stopped thinking about whether they should be a virtual business or an in-person business. Instead, they asked, “How can we make virtual and in-person work better?”
To research shows that moving one question at a time / and motivates us to think more creatively about possible outcomes. In fact, both / and the thought pervades Rocketbook. Lemay and Epstein sought to connect the old and the new, the rigid and the flexible. Rocketbook offers traditional cloud-connected handwriting and physical products. They combine traditional in-person connections with digital connections.
Understand the differences and find synergies
In our research, we find that better integrative solutions start with separating and understanding the different options. We talk about it like to separate. At Rocketbook, executives have listed all the benefits and challenges of working from home. Then they did the same for office work. It wasn’t rocket science, but they found their yin-yang.
They realized that working from home meant people had more control over their own schedules. So they made sure to give them as much flexibility as possible.
They also recognized that the challenge of working from home was collaboration and did everything possible to create tools and cultures to improve this. Ditto for working from the office. The collaborative power of working together has benefited from intentional opportunities to come together in the office and socially.
By being clear about the differences between these options, they could find better ways to implement each and take advantage of the synergies between them.
Be willing to experiment and change
Situations change. This means that the way we work also continues to change.
Our to research shows that both/and thinking depend on experimentation and agility. As Lemay pointed out, “Being experimental is at the heart of business and culture.”
He and Epstein are constantly surveying their employees, seeking feedback, then asking how they can adapt. For example, they tried various things before coming up with the idea of ”discount days”. They found that with such an energetic and engaged workforce, people weren’t taking breaks. They were burning.
One thing people were asking for was a series of days when everyone was away so no one felt pressured to join a meeting after the holidays. They tried mandatory vacation weeks, but found those times were difficult to coordinate with people’s personal schedules. They tried a policy of no meetings on Fridays, but that didn’t work either.
FEventually, they settled on composition days. The company chose several days per quarter, often tied to other holidays, when there were no meetings and people weren’t expected to respond to communications. If people took those days off, they didn’t miss anything. If they had a lot of work to catch up on, they could do it without interruption.
Hybrid work options are the new norm. They are here to stay. The question is not whether to be hybrid, but how we can use both/and thinking to better work from home and work in the office.
Embracing both/and thinking helps us move beyond a simple but often destructive formula and develop more creative and productive solutions.