Transitioning from the Forest to a Garden

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What to Consider Before Diving Headfirst into Hybrid Work 

Here we are, nearing the midway point of 2022 and the state of work has fundamentally changed around the world. Just as the advent of affordable automobiles created suburban neighborhoods and bedroom communities outside of bustling cities, the pandemic has shifted mindsets and policies on where and when people can be productive at work. Organizations that previously took up floor upon floor in urban skyrises and even sprawling office parks are eerily quieter than they have ever been before. And the mass exodus of workers has created a talent pool that is more concerned about work culture and flexible schedules than corner offices and beer fridges. All signs seem to point to the importance and need for a hybrid work environment but is that what is best for your organization and teams? 


One Size Doesn’t Fit All 

Many organizations are setting arbitrary in-office policies, requiring their people to be in the office two to three days a week. The reasons for this range from management not trusting work can be done outside of the office to a desire to rebuild the culture the organization had before Covid. (If the latter sounds more like your situation, I recommend reading this article right now.) But is this “style” of hybrid work what people are really looking for and needing?  

According to the Future Forum Pulse Survey (October 2021), 76% of people want flexibility on where they work; however, 93% want flexibility on when they work. Not to mention, 57% of workers now report being open to new jobs, which is critical to organizations looking to hire in 2022.  

But there’s zero consensus on what the optimal number of in-office workdays are. In other words, every organization must set standards for themselves.  

Many organizations are struggling with the decision to balance allowing teams to weigh in on where and when they work versus doing what’s best for the organization. Choosing a hybrid workstyle and being flexible in our work doesn’t have to mean we are allowing everybody to dictate and rule their own work schedules. Organizations can still keep to their goals and cultural standards. Once we define what great work looks like, we can give the freedom for people to work where (and when) they want to.  


Forests vs. Gardens 

Neil Miller, host of The Digital Workplace podcast, talks about the levels of digital work and the core systems that support them:   

  • Technology: What systems support our work and how do we leverage them more effectively?  
  • Collaboration: Who needs to be involved and how do we include them?   
  • Productivity: How do we know if people are getting the job done when we can’t see them in real time?  
  • Leadership: How are our leaders evolving to lead teams more effectively?  
  • Culture: What does it feel like to be part of our organization and how do we cascade feelings of connection and belonging throughout our interactions? 

Miller digs into the importance of culture and how when we have in-office culture, it often grows like a forest. If you let it be, it tends to naturally pollinate itself. As long as it has the right environment, it can grow and expand. Kind of like having the right leaders, values, and systems. But a digital or hybrid workplace is more like a garden. Within a garden, there are separate flower beds, each with its own design. While an in-person work environment allows for a greater culture to evolve and grow, much like a forest, a hybrid or remote style of work requires the intentional “planting” of flower beds or pockets of mini cultures.  

Consider your organization as the garden center. The organization can dictate which tools are available but each of the individual teams can determine their “garden experience”. It’s okay if one group says, “We want something that feels wilder, with a little less structure.” Because, at the end of the day, every group or team goes to the same garden center for support, supplies, and direction.  

That’s where we start to talk about what technologies we’re using, what systems we are using for communication and collaboration as well as productivity metrics. Those are all those things that would come from the organization, but each of the individual groups need to start thinking about how they are going to be successful as a team, continuing to interact with one another and achieve goals that lead to business results.  


Intentional Culture from the Ground Up 

Now is the time to rethink what organizational culture looks like. And for those of us shifting to a hybrid or remote environment, it’s crucial to understand the culture is not going to build and grow as quickly as it once did when we were all together, 40 hours a week or more. The digital workplace requires us to be intentional about making connections, because those things aren’t happening organically anymore. For example, you don’t realize that somebody loves wearing red tennis shoes to work if you don’t see them every day. And you can’t ask them questions to better understand some of those nuances if you can’t see what’s happening in their world. We must be more deliberate going forward and create the space to really get to know our teams. 

As we continue building in the digital workspace, with over 50% open to new work, we need to be attracting them into a new culture: one that clearly outlines success, leverages people’s greatest strengths, inspires creativity and commitment, and has the systems, tools and processes to support it all. Let’s take time to become our cultural landscape architects⁠—shaping, planning and growing our organizations with vision, focus and intention because the days of the forest, for many, are gone. 



Looking to read more from ADVISA Leadership Consultant Stephanie Murphy? Check out “How (and Why) to Grieve Your Pre-Pandemic Work Culture”.

You may also be interested in this article on work culture from fellow Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett that was featured in the Indianapolis Business Journal.