Hybrid Working Is Not About Where You Work

by Daphne van Beek

August 9, 2021

We are all learning as we go, but one thing we do know for sure is that flexible work is here to stay. The work landscape has fundamentally shifted and organizations around the globe are planning a new combination of remote and on-site working. The hybrid workplace: a blended model where some employees return to the workplace and others continue to work from home.

This hybrid work model is inevitable and promises the best of both worlds – flexibility and freedom for employees to work where and when they want, along with the facilitation of in-person time with teams. But, how do we adapt to this way of working and why does it seem like most leaders don’t have a true hybrid mindset yet?

Trying to approach the solution with a lot of discussion and theory will only result in a generic application. The reality is that there is no single answer to what a hybrid workplace entails, and we have to experiment our way towards what works best.

Most Organizations Are Still Figuring It Out

Although nine out of 10 executives envision a hybrid model going forward, McKinsey’s research shows that most of these executives have, at best, a high-level plan on how to carry it out—and nearly a third of them say that their top leadership team lacks alignment on a high-level vision. 

Practical attempts to move forward in the hybrid workspace also lead to challenges. Google recently stepped back from its plan to force employees to return to the office after employees objected. Apple’s plan to force its staff back into the office three days a week was received with significant internal objections.

It simply does not make sense to tell your employees they have to be at the office every Tuesday and Thursday, or create the rule that 50% of time has to be spent in the office. This will not enable them to solve any real problems, because, what happens to a ‘home day’ when a client wants to meet in the office that day? Or, when there is a project deadline on Tuesday that requires a physical meeting on Monday – which happens to be a home day? What if some employees do wonderfully well with working from home 80% of the time, while others crave at least 70% office time?

Semco Style Deployment: Forget The Hybrid Thing

If you start focusing on what your employees are doing instead of when and wherethey do it, you can re-contract on the one thing that makes sense: results. We now have the unique opportunity to create extreme stakeholder alignment in our organizations; to find a new way to contract for result, and to do away, forever, with the issue of asking whether people should be working at home or not.

How To Get Started

So, the idea is to simply not regulate how much people can work from home or from the office. That’s too simplistic, too unnecessary, and at the same time it’s not enough. It’s actually falling back into control mode. Instead, we’d like to focus on a shift in mindset and offer the supporting tools which will help you understand what you want from your people in the first place.

Here are five key Semco Style practices that can be used to step away from a command-and-control structure and to enable teams to succeed in the hybrid environment:

1. Co-creating Social Contracts

The social contract isn’t a business negotiation, and neither is it a legal document. Instead, it is a tacit agreement between members of a group to behave in a certain way with certain privileges and duties. If every person on the team is to perform to the best of their abilities, then the team needs to follow certain behavioral principles and guidelines. So, it’s highly important to explicitly discuss the terms of the social contract and have them condensed into an easily understandable format that everybody agrees with. There can be no room for hidden thoughts or doubts when it comes to the social contract and the only way to make sure it’s effective is to co-create the document with the entire team. Read more about this practice here.

2. Boundaries For Action

There is a great connection between the degree of participation and the degree of motivation. In other words, employees are more motivated if they’re given the opportunity to actually participate in, at least a part of, the decisions made by the team and organization. If people are allowed to participate in the decision-making process, they also ensure those decisions are carried out. The additional advantage is that as a team, and company, you become more agile when your people can do their work in any situation that presents itself. To organize this properly, you have to organize a platform on which employees can make as many decisions as possible. As a manager you offer, as it were, a helping hand with which the teams can make their decisions. Try to describe, along with the team, “what” the results should be. Read more about this practice here.

3. How you work is up to you

When companies learn to treat adults as adults and give their employees flexible hours or the autonomy to decide the ways in which they work, it benefits not just the employees but the company too. When people are given free-reign on how they handle work, they are better able to structure it around their other responsibilities and be more productive overall. They are also able to fulfill other goals along the way, making them feel like they’re developing themselves personally as well as professionally. It also helps them build important decision-making skills and creates a space for new leadership and talent. The benefits of letting people work the way they want to are increased productivity, a positive office environment and greater transparency. Read more about this practice here.

4. Empowering Remote Work

Define the results and outcome expected from remote working employees, but give them the freedom to define how they want to work. There are three main pillars that sustain a well-oiled remote work infrastructure: mindset shift, technological support (that enables remote work) and proper alignment on the rhythms of work. When leaders and employees have a clear alignment on the outcomes and understand the need to change some behaviors and mindsets, remote work has a huge impact on employee morale and overall productivity. Read more about this practice here.

5. The End of Headquarters

Agile organizations are almost nomadic in their mindset – they hold onto exactly what they need and treat everything else as burdens that will hold them back when it’s time to move on. A large, fancy, downtown central office, is literally one of the biggest things that kill agility. Besides draining money, they symbolize traditional power, hierarchy, and centralization of work. And that’s too bad, because the world’s moving towards reduced power distances, horizontal leadership and decentralization of resources and people. Read more about this practice here.

The Answer Lies Within The Employees

The pandemic is far from over, but if there are several lessons to be learned about the workplace from the experience:  

  • Successful relationships all begin with trust  
  • It doesn’t make sense to have everyone in the offices every day  
  • Having people in the office from 9 to 5, doesn’t necessarily mean they are productive during that time  
  • It was actually silly that offices were largely working on a one-size-fits-all model. 

It’s time to realize that taking up control over all these things is like taking a step back. The time is ripe for making a real shift towards a culture built upon trust and autonomy.  

“People have a reservoir of talent worth discovering. They just have to be given the opportunity to discover it in themselves.” – Ricardo Semler

Only if we stop caring about the insignificant things, and remove restrictive rules and bureaucracies are we ready for the main issue: how do we create synergy by putting everyone in a focused mode? How do we get them to launch that next new idea, fix customer issues, enhance product, develop focused content and so forth? Only then will teams begin to take ownership of their work environment (the when and where) and focus on creating results. Then, over time we can find out how many people actually use the offices, for how long, and for which purpose – instead of trying to determine how to get more people back at the office and what rules apply to the hybrid workplace. This will allow companies to figure out innovative ways of using old office spaces to enhance collaboration and create a place where employees want to be, instead of have to be! In short, the new hybrid model is really the license to create freedom for people to concentrate on what matters.

This article is written by:

Daphne van Beek

Daphne van Beek

SSI Global | Marketing & Country Partners

Daphne has an extensive background in marketing and brand positioning. Over the last 10 years, she developed and successfully executed internal- and external marketing campaigns for companies including Microsoft, HP, Rabobank, and KPN. She strongly believes that work should and can be done differently. Within Semco Style Institute, it’s her main purpose to spread this mission on a global level. To grow the worldwide community, and to reshape the way work is done. Daphne takes care of the global brand positioning, and international expansion and she supports Country Partners with successful go-to-market strategies.


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