Using the concept of anticipatory innovation, LOTI proposes the following three steps to help create and implement the best hybrid work programme:
Every employee has a stake in the future of work within their organisation. So, in order to create a meaningful programme of work that seeks to anticipate and move towards particular desired futures, it should be multidisciplinary and collaborative by design.
Formalise multidisciplinary collaborations from the pandemic
COVID-19 impacted our work environments in many ways. As a result, teams from different departments, especially Digital, HR, Organisational Development and Facilities, collaborated to ensure that their organisation had a joined-up approach to workplace decisions.
Many organisations set up internal working groups to help identify areas for collaboration. At Camden Council, a group met on a weekly basis during the initial throes of the pandemic and then once a month as the situation progressed.
LOTI suggests that this kind of multidisciplinary collaboration should be the foundation of hybrid work programmes going forward. For example, Facilities and Digital departments could team up to create an integrated digital desk booking system and HR and Digital departments could collaborate on the development of healthier work practices when staff are working on their computers all day, every day, at home.
LOTI also recommends that this kind of working group includes someone from the central Strategy team who is involved in setting organisational strategy and direction, in particular around a ‘return to office’ or ‘agile working’ plan. These strategies should directly feed into the activities of the hybrid work programme and give it greater institutional legitimacy and longevity.
Ensure the right stakeholders are present
It is vital that organisations always consider who the future workplace will benefit. First, so that they do not make decisions that might negatively affect current or future employees and, second, because the golden insight about what the future might look like may only be apparent to someone who has already experienced the office in their own unique way.
Wherever possible, a hybrid work programme should include the full diversity of employees in terms of demographics and job roles. This might mean allowing staff representatives to participate in a permanent advisory group or, at the very least, be involved in regular consultation.
Alternatively, a hybrid work programme can be designed that gives staff the option to participate. For example, at Barnet Council, staff can choose to take part in a Future of Work programme and help to shape different pillars according to their interests and insights.
In particular, the core working group should try to engage the following employees:
The first step towards actively shaping the future of work is understanding what that future might look like. This is done by building on the imaginations, wants and needs of current employees, along with an understanding of the future trends that are shaping the workplace.
Explore staff wants and needs
To understand what you want your future workplace to look like, you need to engage with the full diversity of employees in your organisation to understand their perspectives and gain their insights. There are a number of tools to do this and LOTI recommends a combination of approaches to capture different types of insights.
Surveys can be very useful at revealing organisational-level insights about how staff are feeling (e.g. when they were compelled to work at home during COVID-19 lockdowns) and what they want in the future (e.g. a return to the office). There is, however, a risk of survey fatigue and, if this happens, the survey results will have diminishing value as the same people are likely to complete them each time.
An alternative approach, which has been used successfully by the Greater London Authority (GLA), is to run hands-on workshops and focus groups in line with the recommendations at the beginning of this guide. The GLA conducted ‘user research’ to understand how different staff groups ‘use’ the organisation. This helped it to understand how it might make better decisions about the future of work to benefit employees who are all too often not prioritised.
Scenario planning and foresight workshops
Fortunately, a whole field exists that can help develop people’s imaginations so they can consider what alternative futures might look like in the workplace. It is useful for organisations to consider these different futures – from utopian to dystopian and different shades in between – in order to gain a clear understanding of where they want to get to and what they want to avoid.
To do this, LOTI recommends using external facilitators and including a diverse group of people from across an organisation in any workshops.
One of the most popular methodologies is the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, which helps organisations to understand the opportunities, threats and challenges facing them, and what they can do to influence these things. Alternatively, there are practitioners in the UK with expertise in ‘collective imagination’, such as Cassie Robinson, who have helped multiple organisations and communities work on their shared collective imaginations.
Capture weak signals and track trends
In addition to using the techniques outlined above, hybrid work teams should be trying to collect the weak signals that indicate the direction an organisation might be moving in and should also be aware of the long-term trends shaping the workplace. One of these trends is digital transformation and this is one of the areas that makes tracking more possible than ever before.
All the data that organisations generate (from conversations, emails, messages, Teams, Google Workspace and other platforms), makes it possible to do ‘digital telemetry’ in order to understand how employees are interacting with each other. One of the insights that this approach has revealed in broad research is that soft connections to colleagues outside of an employee’s immediate team have weakened during fully remote work. A hybrid work team might seek to understand how they could mitigate this weak signal or trend.
The final step is to take action to reach your organisation’s aspirational future. This includes experimenting with different solutions and identifying training needs.
Run pilots and experiments
A hybrid work programme is perfectly placed to run and evaluate pilots and experiments within an organisation. LOTI proposes that London boroughs share the results of their pilots so that experiments are not needlessly replicated and everyone can learn from each other. Although individual organisations will differ in their aspirations and contexts, there should be enough overlap in what they want their Future of Work to look like to make sharing results extremely valuable.
Change process flows for the organisation
If staff identify that a particular problem is emerging (or might emerge in the future) and might transcend multiple departments’ direct responsibilities, a hybrid work programme might be a suitable vehicle to ideate and find a solution and rectify an internal process flow.
For example, Barnet Council’s Health and Safety team worked with its IT team to ensure staff could procure IT equipment, chairs and desks effectively whilst working from home, by ensuring that online risk assessment forms were available on the staff intranet.
Identify and offer training for future skills
A hybrid work programme might reveal that certain skills are lacking within an organisation and determine how best to help develop those skills. Two areas that have come up in conversations with boroughs where this might be particularly useful are a) mental health and wellbeing and b) support for managers.
It is clear that remote working has had a negative impact on many employees’ mental health. Organisations should therefore consider offering training to staff to help them manage and prioritise their wellbeing in this new work environment. This should include providing support for managers who may no longer see their team every day so they can continue to have a personal connection and understand their wellbeing needs.
In more general terms, managers will need assistance adjusting to different management styles in the new work environment. A hybrid work programme could determine what the different dimensions of help might be.