Future of Work: The power of hybrid


16 Mar, 2023

Denise Brouder is a workplace-futurist, a hybrid-work researcher and founder at SWAYworkplace. SWAYworkplace is a learning and development consultancy focused on optimising hybrid and flexible work models by driving behaviour change. SWAYworkplace deliver cohort based learning to develop insights on what new skills, techniques, concepts and mindset shifts are required to drive behaviour change that optimises the way we work in flexible work environments.

“To me, the future of work is as an industry vertical like telecommunications and healthcare, meaning within it we have [multiple stakeholders] clients, customers, innovators, funding people, VC's trying to solve a problem, but the problem we're trying to solve is ourselves.

The future of work is about finding our own potential in the way that work impacts each of us.”

When we think about how we work, and even why we work [including all the constructs of it], there are only two components. There is time and space.

Time-space compression is a theory developed by geographer David Harvey which conceptualises contemporary developments in capitalism which have led to the speeding up of the movement and communication of things, capital and people across increasingly wider geographic locations. This has resulted in the stretching out of social relations and the compression of time needed for these movements to occur over-time.

Time and space are the two variables that create the environment for us to be able to think about how we work but lets put time a side for the moment and focus on space.

“What I find really fascinating about the conversation around space is that when people are looking at the future of work they tend to be thinking about the built environment which is the four walls of a typical office - where we bring people together to get work done. Some people are looking at reimagination of the built environment: ‘let's move from a corner office to pods, let's move from cubicles to hot desks’. But to me this misses the mark because it's not really looking at the bigger picture,”

The singular office used to be the place where most people went to get their work done but we are in a very different world now where work has less to do with the built environment and more to do with the worker.

There are three key ‘places’ to be considered when discussing work:

1. Physical workplace
2. Digital workplace
3. Headspace (where the work comes from)

“If we're not considering the relationship between these three [key places], we're really missing the mark on space.”

The physical workplace is a location where we go to work. It could be a central office, a coworking or other third workspace. The digital workplace is all about the software and technologies being deployed to enable a sense of ‘distancelessness’ - this includes Teams, Slack or the metaverse. But most importantly, there is our headspace - the one that gets less attention. This is the place where all of our work comes from. Physical and digital places are already being changed to optimise ‘me’ [the worker], so if we holistically rethink the components of the ‘workplace’ we can better understand the future of work.

Location independence and choice.

“How do we adjust our mindsets to see what space really is and to close those gaps so that we're no longer location dependent and can find a connection with people everyday in the places where needed?”

Research by Harvard and MIT shows, low-income people rely on the ability to travel beyond their own neighbourhoods in order to access employment and opportunities. How powerful could it be to give a person the choice to work within their local community?

“There is nothing more powerful than hope. That's how the VC industry works: ‘I hope that the small idea is going to return 10X.’ Imagine instilling that in a local community.”

Freedom is our ability to choose. And if we have choice and flexibility to shape what we do, we have a better chance at life - creating an experience that lets us discover ourselves and define the work that we do. This is why choice is so important. The greatest human motivator is freedom. We know this is the case because the greatest penalty you can impose on a human is to take their freedom away by putting them in prison.

The challenge ahead.

“We tend to live and work through the prism of fear. We have a huge amount of fear, fear of missing out, fear of not being included, fear of not being promoted, fear of… You name it. I believe, a lot of it has roots in the Industrial era and the power exerted to collect people [to work] was applied through fear.”

But the other side of fear is trust. Senior leaders are afraid to trust people because they don't believe that people are truly ready to assume this amount of autonomy, responsibility and decision making. When we talk about being intentional, making decisions about where we are going and where we will work, what is really important is that the world has changed and power has shifted from organisations to workers.

Are you ready to assume that responsibility? A lot of people aren't and that's the kind of conversation that needs to happen at work in order to transition from fear to trust. It's a big shift, that will take a long time and it requires a different way of thinking - new ways of using time and space - in order for us to get to a better future.