As VP of Marketing here at Robin, I talk about hybrid work with a lot of brilliant, influential thought leaders, and I’m definitely looking forward to even more great conversations at the the Hybrid Work Conference, happening October 3 to 5. As we all transform work and life, we’re all learning, experimenting, analyzing the results, and (most importantly) building a strong community that can help each other.
I had the pleasure of chatting recently with Jeanne Meister, one of the most influential and smartest voices in the Human Resources and Future of Work spaces. Meister is Executive Vice President of Executive Networks, a San Francisco-based firm that offers HR services to client companies. She’s also written some great books (including the must-read “The 2020 Workplace” and “The Future Workplace Experience”) and contributes articles regularly to Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
Meister works with a lot of companies on hybrid work approaches and she began our half-hour chat by mentioning that “the question I hear most from our Executive Networks clients is ‘how can we provide choice to our workforce, but with some guardrails to ensure people’s success?’”
She says that companies must begin by understanding that hybrid work is here to stay: “9 out of 10 workers want flexibility,” she tells me, “not just in where they work, but in when they work.”
And people overwhelmingly want hybrid work, Meister says it’s also “the most difficult work model to get right.”
Why Hybrid Work is So Challenging, and How to Get It Right
Meister explains that there are four specific strategic issues that must be addressed with hybrid work – “they revolve around: (1) technology, (2) defining the purpose of the office, (3) using data to guide decision-making, and (4) developing new leadership mindsets.” None of those four strategic issues are easy to resolve, so I asked her to tell me more about each one:
(1) “Strategic investments in technology are simply essential,” Meister tells me, “because giving people choice requires a new set of enabling tools that people can access both in their home office and at the physical office to support productivity and employee experience.” She notes that Robin is among those enabling technology tools companies should consider investing in.
(2) In order for hybrid work to, well, “work,” organizations must “define the purpose of the office,” Meister tells me, “which could be for onboarding new employees, for collaboration, for conferences, for all-hands meetings, programming, product launches, and other purposes.”
Meister and I agree completely on two major issues:
- first, the office is no longer the default workplace and therefore must “earn” its occupancy
- second, virtual tools like Zoom and MS Office have an important role to play but will never replace the energy and unique feeling of face-to-face, IRL human interaction
(3) Like the entire team here at Robin, Jeanne Meister is a massive believer in leveraging employee data to make decisions around hybrid work. “Companies must understand employee sentiment and collect data regularly around it,” she tells me, “and the data should be segmented by how people work, in order to guide decision-making and strategic investments. Some of those strategic investments could be in benefits, while others might be in technologies like Robin, as well as office reconfiguration.” My head nods in agreement as she says this.
(4) Mindsets must shift. As this blog has made clear from its start back in May of 2021, hybrid work can never be a “one-size-fits-all” proposition for organizations. The questions are hard, the answers are often messy, and organizations must keep adjusting over time.
“Business leaders today need to have a more experimental and iterative mindset,” says Meister, “and the companies that are doing the best are creating “future of work” initiatives to transform how people work, re-defining the role and purpose of the office, and more.”
Meister believes, as I do, that a ‘test and learn’ mindset is absolutely critical for ongoing success in hybrid work, as we build ‘the mother of all experiments’ (the phrase Apple CEO Tim Cook uses to describe hybrid work).
That experimental approach “requires humility from business leaders, who have to admit that they don’t possess all the answers. Those leaders must instead analyze incoming data from employees and make decisions based on that data.”
What came across clearest from my conversation with Jeanne Meister was not just how smart she is, but also how valuable her insights are for anyone thinking about the present and future of work.