Place, time, and ritual: establishing hybrid work norms

Jun 18, 2021

Earlier this week, Nomadic and Reset Work co-hosted our second virtual event on hybrid work: Rethinking place, time, and ritual: how to design new norms for a hybrid future.

We loved hearing the thoughts of our panelists, including Lynda Gratton from London Business School, Ashok Krish of Tata Consultancy Services, and Kevin Delaney at Reset Work. They spoke about how being intentional when it comes to place, time, and ritual can help leaders and managers establish productive new norms in a hybrid world.

Here’s the event video and a few great insights from the panelists.


Hybrid work is about more than technology

Krish, who is global head of digital workplace practice at an IT consultancy, pointed out how the transition to hybrid is a big shift even for an organization like his, where employees adopt new technologies quite easily.

That’s because the move to hybrid isn’t about the platforms. But rather about the company culture as a whole.

“This is not so much a technology shift at all,” Krish said. “This really is a cultural shift.” He explained that technologies like video conferencing, VPN, and others have been around for more than a decade. The new questions emerging today aren’t about which platforms and software to use, but rather, something more fundamental.

“What is the very definition of work?” Krish said. “Is it about presenteeism? Is it about outcomes? What is the definition of an employee?” Krish considers the chance to rethink these baseline definitions to be one of the most exciting aspects of the transition to hybrid work happening at many companies now.

Company culture and hybrid work: the role of rituals

Gratton called rituals a part of the “signature” of hybrid work. They must be specific to the company, related to an organization’s core purpose, and deeply intentional.

According to Gratton, this intentionality is even more important in a world of hybrid work.

“What’s your signature?” she asked. “And what, therefore, are the rituals that are going to be really important, that show your purpose, that are linked to productivity, and that differentiate you from others?”

As organizations make decisions about these rituals, their answers––and their model of hybrid, remote, or in-person work––will inevitably look a little different from everybody else’s.

Similarly, Delaney speculated that moving forward, companies will be defined not just by their industry, but how they envision work. As an example, he cited Goldman Sachs, which has leaned into in-person work in the past few months. This model is now one of the factors defining the Goldman Sachs culture, as well as a feature that might distinguish it from other organizations looking to attract high performers––and something those high performers may consider when deciding whether to accept an offer.

Breaking hybrid work up into tasks

Gratton said that when she analyzes how to help people stay productive in a hybrid model (or even increase their productivity), she starts by thinking about tasks. This means looking at different facets of a given task, such as energy, focus, coordination, and cooperation, and then using those qualities to decide how and where that task should happen.

For example, because the office is––in Gratton’s view––primarily for collaboration, tasks that demand a lot of collaborative work may need to take place there. And the office environment should be set up to help this work happen.

With all this in mind, Gratton believes it’s worth taking an in-depth look at how and where employees work best, and thinking creatively about tasks, place, and productivity overall.

“We’ve been very lax about the design of work,” Gratton said. “It’s all about the detail, all about the tasks. And once you start looking at the tasks, it helps you in a number of important ways.”

Even beyond deciding task location in a hybrid model, Gratton pointed out that this kind of granular analysis will also help an organization manage its talent ecosystem.

Likewise, Krish pointed out that these considerations will also have an impact on project management. In a hybrid model, managing a project won’t be just thinking about deadlines and milestones, he said, but also about optimizing where and when particular tasks happen, which project meetings need to happen in person, and more.

What is the role of managers in a hybrid work model?

Gratton believes that historically, companies have been lazy about understanding and maximizing the role of their managers.

“We’re suddenly realizing that the manager plays a pivotal role,” Gratton said. She noted that managers help people thrive and curate workflows, whether the work is happening in person or remotely. Given these key roles, it’s crucial for companies to invest in training them.

Companies often spend large amounts of money training their leaders, Gratton observed, but don’t always pay attention to their managers’ learning and development. Sometimes this is a cost issue, given the sheer number of managers at many organizations. But there are creative ways to lower the potential cost, such as opting for digital learning. And in Gratton’s mind, managers’ central role in the switch to remote work, and now hybrid, has made clear that the investment is worth it.

Many times, Krish said, a manager’s style may function differently with a remote team. (Or not function at all.) For example, the high-performing, extroverted manager whose leadership style is great for in-person work may struggle to manage their team remotely. Meanwhile, Krish’s organization has seen many introverted managers thrive in a remote environment.

One very practical take away from Krish’s research on helping managers perform well under a hybrid model is that managers who hold frequent one-on-one chats with their reports tend to have better outcomes. Similarly, managers with high levels of trust are more likely to avoid unnecessary large-scale meetings, instead relying on their reports’ ability to manage their own tasks and teams. The high-trust managers are thus able to prioritize those more fruitful one-on-one interactions, and often see better results overall.

Hybrid work and data

All the panelists highlighted that there’s been great thinking on remote and hybrid work happening for years. Yet Gratton also pointed out that there’s not a wealth of data about knowledge workers’ performance under remote and hybrid models. Yet.

“We’ve got to create more data,” Gratton said. She noted that many companies, researchers, and work experts are currently addressing this––and said that, as a massive number of companies transition to hybrid, it will be fascinating to see the data sets and people analytics that emerge from this unusual and transformative time.

Using hybrid work as an opportunity for change

Above all, Gratton called this an unprecedented opportunity to be really intentional about the future of work.

“I’ve seen nothing like it,” Gratton said. Given the moment’s unique potential for deep transformation, Gratton posits that one of the riskiest things a company can do right now is not be bold or imaginative enough.

Krish agreed. “We will start to see a breed of company that’s getting this right,” he said. And he believes those companies will be rewarded with a workforce that’s diverse, nimble, and highly productive.

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For more insights about hybrid work, check out Nomadic’s new Program, Hybrid Working. This Program explores current best practices for the hybrid office, including creating community on a hybrid team, reimagining how we use time, coaching and retraining staff in a hybrid environment, and more.

Enroll in the Hybrid Working Program now.

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Best practices for hybrid work

Leaders in diverse industries are thinking deeply about the future of collaboration both in-office and virtually as many companies transition away from the fully remote work models they used during the pandemic.