Redesigning work to make hybrid work for everyone

Professor Lynda Gratton’s new book shows how employers can capitalise on the opportunities of Covid ways of working.

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The Covid pandemic has created a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink work and address some of the many bad habits that have built up over the decades, from long commutes to endless meetings that sap people’s productivity. Now is the time for action to “harness the real momentum for a radical shift in how we work”, says Professor Lynda Gratton in her new book, Redesigning work: how to transform your organisation and make hybrid work for everyone.

Gratton is a seasoned expert in new ways of working. She launched the Future of Work Consortium in 2010 to bring together companies to debate and share ideas about work. In 2015 she created an MBA Elective, The Future of Work, which gave her the chance to hear the views of thousands of management students on the subject. From 2020 she has been keeping a daily journal to note what she has witnessed during the pandemic. She says: “It is clear to me that there has never been a better time to act.”

The book is a playbook for how to make the most of the Covid gains at work. Some businesses had already realised the need for the kind of changes that were implemented en masse during the pandemic, the results of greater use of technology requiring more rapid and continuous upskilling of the workforce as well as automation and demographic changes, such as the increasing number of women in the workforce and the fact that people generally are going to have to work for longer. They had realised that these changes necessitated shifts in how we work and that, if these were intentionally designed, they would result in greater productivity and a more motivated workforce. Covid accelerated all of that thinking and made it more of a collective experience.

A four-step process

Now we are seeing that it is not just a question of shifting the things we did in person into virtual formats and that different ways of working involve trade-offs which must be thought through. Gratton says that “new technology and ways of working rarely bring the anticipated productivity advantage unless and until they are combined with best-practice organisational techniques.”

There have been many gains from Covid working  – the acceleration of digital skills, the ditching of needless bureaucracy and hierarchies to focus on what matters most and on agility and a better understanding of the benefits of flexibility. Yet there have also been challenges – the blurring of the line between work and home life and worries about the loss of face to face connections and networking as well as concerns about how knowledge flows through organisations, for instance, from old hands to young recruits.

These are extraordinary transformational times. We face real challenges, yet also real opportunities. We have a chance now to fundamentally change our relationship to the work we do, to our colleagues and to our organisations

Gratton’s book outlines a four-step process to address these complexities: understanding what matters, reimagining the future, modelling and testing ideas and acting on the model to create new ways of working.

Understanding involves taking a deep look at your organisation – because each organisation is different and has evolved its jobs and culture in its own way – including its jobs, productive capabilities, people – their needs and experiences, networks at work and how knowledge flows. Without that deep understanding it is impossible to progress to the next step. to ensure that everyone is involved in the transformative process and that all aspects of work work together.

Next comes reimagining how, where and when work takes place for the best results in your organisation. Gratton says that whether it is automation or the move to greater virtual working “it would be a lost opportunity to simply replicate the assumptions and ways of working currently in place”. Modelling and testing involves checking that the way of working that has emerged as a result of taking the first two steps, including a recognition of the trade-offs that some changes may infer, is future-proofed, that it supports technological transitions and that it is capable of being fair and just.

Lastly comes acting and creating change – the implementation process and the need to involve all members of the organisation, get executive level buy-in, train managers for change and develop team-level agreements.

Gratton suggests the creation of a multifunctional design team to lead this process, including HR, but people from other parts of the organisation, depending on its particular identity. She has developed resources such as a downloadable redesigning work playbook and a redesigning work learning community where people can swap ideas and experiences.

Gratton states: “These are extraordinary transformational times. We face real challenges, yet also real opportunities. We have a chance now to fundamentally change our relationship to the work we do, to our colleagues and to our organisations. We will transform this relationship by redesigning work.”

*Redesigning work: how to transform your organisation and make hybrid work for everyone is published by Penguin, price 14.99. 



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