The DNA of Work

Don't slide into hybrid

October 26, 2021 Season 1 Episode 12
The DNA of Work
Don't slide into hybrid
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Many organisations are grappling with their arrangements for hybrid working – trying to figure out what’s right for them. And that’s ok – nobody has a foolproof blueprint for the post pandemic world – everyone is finding what works for them, for now. You don’t need all the answers and living with some ambiguity and uncertainty is something we’ve all had to do since March 2020.

Things will change, and your response should evolve so that the agreements you have in place adapt to where you are and what your people need.

AWA has a 7-step process to help organisations navigate this terrain. We outline the steps, which form part of a change management process and we’ll explore why this is necessary to get everyone on board and feeling like they own the change and the way forward. 

The pandemic has been hard, but this is an opportunity to put some things in place that we didn’t have before, and we’ve probably needed for years – like Taco Tuesdays!


AWA Host: Karen Plum

Featured guests: 

  • Lisa Whited, Senior Associate in Change Management, AWA
  • Anne Balle, Senior Associate in Change Management, AWA


AWA Guest details:  

Author mentioned by Lisa:  James Clear: Atomic Habits



AWA contact: Andrew Mawson  

Advanced Workplace Associates:     


AWI contacts: David Smalley and Brad Taylor 

Advanced Workplace Institute:   

Music: courtesy of  

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00:00:03 Anne Balle

I think the main thing that my clients are finding tricky are actually finding the confidence in the solution that they've decided to go for, because I think no matter what solution they've decided on, this is a new situation for everyone. Nobody has tried to return from the office after a pandemic lockdown. There's not one right solution - you've got to try to find the solution that's best for your particular organization. 

INTRO: Welcome to the Changing the World of Work Podcast where we provide insightful, practical content to untangle and demystify workplace change. I'm Karen Plum, director at Advanced Workplace Associates, where we combine science with nearly 30 years’ experience, helping organizations change the way they work, for the better. 

00:00:58 Karen Plum

Welcome to this episode of the podcast where we're talking about everyone's favorite topic in the workplace world - hybrid working. This time we're going to look at some practical tips and explore why change management is so important in this area. My guests in this episode are two of AWA’s change management experts, so I'd like to give a warm welcome to podcast regular Lisa Whited, joining us from Portland, Maine on the East Coast of the US. Hello, Lisa. 

00:01:25 Lisa Whited

Hey Karen. 

00:01:27 Karen Plum

And for her first time on the podcast, Anna Balle joins us from just outside Copenhagen in Denmark. Hello, Anna. 

00:01:34 Anne Balle

Hi Karen, thanks for having me. 

00:01:37 Karen Plum

Great to see you both. So let's get started. 

Hybrid working seems to be on everybody’s lips at the moment and I'm sure there are lots of ways that it's being implemented in different organisations. But just to be clear what we mean, Lisa, can you briefly outline what it is in our world?

00:01:55 Lisa Whited

Sure, hybrid is really giving people choice. It's choice to work from home at times in the office at times. A mix. There are organizations that will say so many days in the office and so many days remote, but essentially it is choice of place. That’s hybrid. 

00:02:11 Karen Plum

OK. True hybrid is anybody can choose anything, but as you say, for some organisations they're prescribing what that mix might be, at least in the short term. 

00:02:22 Lisa Whited

Exactly, and that's the place spectrum. There's also the time. There are some that are also giving more flexibility on the time, time of day, day of week even right?

00:02:30 Karen Plum

Got it. So Anna, what are you finding when you're talking to clients who want to implement this sort of arrangement? What sort of things are they finding tricky?

00:02:39 Anne Balle

I think the main thing that my clients are finding tricky are actually finding the confidence in the solution that they've decided to go for, because I think no matter what solution they've decided on, this is a new situation for everyone. Nobody has tried to return from the office after a pandemic lockdown. And you can't ask the consultant and the expert - how do we do this and what's the right way, and how did you do it last time with the last client? 

'Cause this is new for us as well, so finding that confidence also in the face of pushback from the organization. Everybody has opinions about this. Everybody is talking about this. Is this the right solution for us and you know, one of those things is there's not one right solution. 

You've got to try to find the solution that's best for your particular organization, and that fits your mission and what you're trying to achieve in the world, and giving them the confidence and the support to be able to do that in a good and also a genuine fashion.  Because some leaders find themselves having to implement a solution that maybe they have concerns about themselves. So how can you do that in your team in a genuine and honest way, in any organization there will be different teams who have different contexts and also to some degree different subcultures. So how do you implement one solution in different teams in different contexts, in a way that makes one solution work for all those?

00:04:07 Lisa Whited

I just want to add on what Anna just said. It just immediately had me go back to what did our parents say to us? Mostly it was our mothers, but what did our parents say? Be yourself. No, Johnny's going to jump off the bridge. Would you go jump off the bridge? 

You know it's really interesting. It is our need to copy what others are doing instead of being who we are as an organization, as a leader and then making decisions that fit for that right, and having those conversations. 

00:04:34 Karen Plum

Really interesting, I guess there's no blueprint really at the moment for how to implement hybrid working and I think in the past clients have asked what are other people doing and we're all very conscious that that look to see what others are doing. And then they say, well, that's not right for us anyway. 

So to your comment, Lisa, we're not going to jump off the bridge because we know that's not the right thing to do. But although we don't have a blueprint, I believe in AWA we're using a seven step model and I wondered if you could briefly take us through what those seven steps are Lisa? 

00:05:09 Lisa Whited

Absolutely. So this comes on the heels of a discovery process where first we would have done a bit of investigation into how the organization works and get to understand it better through conversations and focus groups. 

Once we've got that discovery in hand, then the seven steps begin with agreeing what the work and workplace principles are. So that's through a conversation with the leadership. What are the work and workplace principles we want to work towards, then agree what that core working agreement says, so that's a second step. 

Then we get into the training and this is such an important part. Training managers and champions. They become the ones that then are training leaders through the next steps four and five, which are tightly facilitated workshops, led by managers, including their teams with champions being engaged. 

And they do the first workshop, then the second one leads to a team level working together agreement, so we've got the core level working together agreement that's more comprehensive. And then the team level that gets into how those team members need to be with each other.

And then step six is learning and living the new way of working. It's an iteration process.  We're trying it, we're testing it. So step seven is monitoring, evolving, refreshing re-energizing and tweaking as we go because we are all working through it together, but at least it's a guidepost in a way to methodically create a hybrid way of working. 

00:06:34 Karen Plum

That's great, so there are a number of steps there? And it sounds essentially like a change management process, which I guess is what it is. And Anna as a change management expert, why do we need a change management process? We didn't go through change management at the beginning of the pandemic. What's wrong with leaders just deciding what they want to do and just kind of getting on with it. 

00:06:56 Anne Balle

Well, there are several reasons. First of all, nobody wants to be told what to do, so involving teams in creating those working together agreements is super important in order to create ownership for those agreements. I mean, I could put together a great team working together agreement and use that. And you know people would read it and say, yeah that makes sense, and then they'd forget about it 2 minutes later. 

So we want to co-create those working together agreements because co-creation leads to ownership and it means they're going to stick, and we're actually going to use them because they make sense to us because we've been part of creating them. But also we want to roll new hybrid ways of working out in a consistent way across the organization. So having those team sessions in a consistent way, making sure we're talking about the right things, having a structure to have that dialogue around is really important, but also making it inclusive. 

Everybody has different unique circumstances. Everybody had different experiences of working from home. Everybody had different experiences of working from the office before, so having respect and leveraging that knowledge and experience that there is in the team to actually make agreements that really are going to make a difference. And people will say you know why do we need a working together agreement? Probably some have one already and it may be more or less implicit or explicit. 

So what are the things that we need to explicitly agree as a team going forward, that this is how we're going to work together and very often we make the mistake of having things implicit. If you're new to the team, you've got to sort of try to figure it out. We want to make them explicit. So this change is an opportunity for some teams for a long overdue discussion about how do we work together. It's a great opportunity to have that conversation and we should be having them regularly and often, whether we're moving to hybrid or not. 

00:09:04 Karen Plum

I was interested - you were talking about you could give people a working together agreement and maybe that's what people initially will ask for. It takes longer to go through the steps and to do the thinking, doesn't it? So, is that a difficult thing to get people recognizing the importance of doing it themselves?

00:09:25 Anne Balle

I think so definitely. I mean, I think very often they do ask for, you know what's the cheat sheet? Can you just give us the answers? But then we're not change managing, we're not creating ownership. First of all, we're not creating sense making, but I think more importantly, we're not leveraging the experience that is in the team. 

We're not exactly bridging that knowledge and the experience that's going to make that working together agreement so much more rich and relevant. 

00:09:53 Karen Plum

And it's not going to stick, is it? You know I'm not going to sign up to something that somebody else has come up with. If I don't buy into it and don't agree with it. But Lisa, you know, Anna talked about making things explicit rather than implicit, but most organisations didn't have them before the pandemic, so why do we need them now?

00:10:13 Lisa Whited

In the organizations you know, for about 10 years that I've been working with, we've made it a very important part of how you create a healthy work environment and the reason to do it is because just as Anna said, when people come into a workplace, they're guessing what the culture is, right? 

The culture and the way we do things is often the unsaid, right, it's - so we always start meetings 5 minutes late. Well, where are you gonna find that written down? Who wants to say that's our culture? But when you can make it explicit, as Anna said, it's the opportunity to have people have the conversations together early on. How do we want to be together, how can I do my best work?

So it's important because we come from different backgrounds, experiences, families, cultures and until we can understand how we are going to work together, there's a lot of guessing going on. There are a lot of assumptions made and it's crazy, that the little teeny irritations in the workplace. Ask any HR department, they'll tell you this - they can blow up to be the most major issues. Well, geez, if you could nip that in the bud and have those conversations early, wouldn't that be a healthier way of being together?

And I've got a couple of examples. So the working together agreement can be based on values around health and wellness. “We believe that health and wellness are important and encourage people to move throughout the day and get outside”. Notice it doesn't say where you're working - you could be working anywhere, but that is part of their working together agreement. “We respect each other and know that others are trying to do their best work.” Again it's based in values and then you can get much more granular into the etiquette of how we leave meeting rooms or “all video on” or what have you. 

00:11:58 Karen Plum

Yeah, and I guess that one of the key things about this is it makes the whole thing very inclusive, doesn't it?

00:12:05 Lisa Whited

100%. It needs to be all voices engaged and they're with each other in small groups and talking. They're building empathy and understanding with each other. It's relationships, right? Our relationships at work are often broken. We're in dysfunction, and so this is an opportunity. A really low barrier opportunity, I think, to have these conversations, to have something real and tangible come out of it, that can make the organization better because it's focused on the people. And as you said, it's written by the people, it's not written by somebody, in an office who’s saying this is what you need to do. 

00:12:39 Karen Plum

So it might be about using the pandemic as a springboard to do something that we should have done years ago because it's going to give us a better platform for engaging with each other and getting some of those, like you said, those little irritations out on the table and addressing them and making it valid to address the things that have been bugging us for years. 

00:13:00 Lisa Whited

Yeah, exactly. 

00:13:01 Anne Balle

I love what Lisa is saying. Like a value driven process and value driven agreements and being aware of that. And I think it's also because we need to be aware that change is a team sport. I mean, in order to do a successful change, this is not us as individuals going out and implementing a change. We need to do it as a community. 

So this is an opportunity not only to come up with specific agreements, but also actually create a shared understanding of what's happening and how to navigate that as a community in a team. 

00:13:35 Karen Plum

To actually really take the opportunity to make the whole working relationship aspect of work just be better and be more fulfilling so that we can do our best work. And we're not constantly trying to tiptoe around each other or avoiding arguments, or avoiding the elephant in the room, right?

00:13:54 Lisa Whited

Yeah, and to remember that it's iterative you do it, you test it, you check in 6-8 weeks how's it going? What should we tweak? Continuous improvement, continuous feedback. And reflect that things are going to continue to change and so we can't just cast it in stone so - these are our ten, you know, commandments for work together agreement. Nope, that's not gonna work. 

00:14:15 Karen Plum

They shall not change!

00:14:16 Lisa Whited

That's right. 

00:14:18 Karen Plum

Once they're there, we don't change, no more change!!

Well, at this point we're just going to have a quick break and we'll be back with more on hybrid working after this message. 

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As we emerge into the hybrid working world, what are the skills and capabilities that line managers need in order to be able to manage the transition effectively, inspire people with the confidence they need to embrace hybrid working and ensure great work gets done?

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I will be joined by AWA Workplace and Change management specialist Philippa Hale, Sue Warman, Vice President People at the AICPA and CIMA and Catherine Lamson, Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at the MEMIC Group. 

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00:15:59 Karen Plum

Welcome back. So before the break we were talking about working together agreements. These agreements that will help us to identify the things that are really important in our specific team - what do we want to include in those agreements? 

So Anna, in your experience, what sort of things do teams typically want to prescribe in terms of how they're going to work today? 

00:16:23 Anne Balle

You see, this is what all the clients ask me, Karen – “Can you give me some examples of that working together agreement? What that could look like?

00:16:30 Karen Plum

Oh dear, fell into that one, didn't I?

00:16:31 Anne Balle

Yeah, you did! Would you give me your cheat sheet? And I just typically - I'm very hesitant because I think the working together agreement generally needs to be what the team explicitly needs to agree. And that would typically be where they're struggling, so you know that's where we need to have explicit agreements. That's where we need to explore how we're going to do things. 

So for example, I would very rarely expect that we have a working together agreement in a team that says “We do not slap each other in the face when we get annoyed with each other”. Because we all know that we don't have to say that - that IS an agreement, but it's implicit and it can stay that way because we all know that the stuff that's working really well, because we've got it down because we don't even have to think about it anymore. 

We're working, that's just working habitually for us. We don't need to explicitly have agreements around that. So the agreements will differ very much from team to team, depending on where they're struggling.

Now, some teams are struggling with some of the basics – “We come to our meetings on, on time”. “We don't eat lunch at our desk.” “We tidy up after ourselves” - because that's the most important thing for them at that point, getting those basic mechanics working. 

Whereas others will be more value driven like the ones that Lisa talked about. You know about, “We give honest feedback.” “We take care of ourselves and each other”. “We listen attentively when other people say”, you know things like that. 

And the interesting thing again, back to this, “it's not written in stone”, 'cause when we've had those agreements for a while, that gives us the opportunity to focus on - this is where we need to get stronger, this is what we need to do. 

And that's the cool thing about change management. If we do focus on that, well, slowly, that just becomes habit, that just becomes the usual way of things and we don't need to be explicit about it anymore. Maybe now we need to be explicit about something else, and that's what change management is all about - is about changing behavior, so that it generally starts to become new habits that we don't even think about. It's just business as usual, so we'll want to revisit our working together agreements and look at what are the agreements that we need now, further down the line. 

00:18:53 Karen Plum

OK, so if we had a cheat sheet and we gave this to a client that said, you know “You will always come to meetings on time” and blah blah blah and they're thinking to themselves, well, we always do that anyway, but perhaps we'll put that in anyway. Then it becomes something which isn't about their challenges. 

My thought about that is that perhaps somebody new coming into the team, who wasn't privy to all the things that we do already, and we were good at already, they might bring in some conflict or some tension. So I guess that's when we would review over time to see if we were starting to drift into that sort of territory, right?

00:19:32 Anne Balle

Yes, absolutely, and I think again, and I'm glad you brought up the new starters because again, how many times have we heard from new starters that they come into a new culture, and again, they're trying to navigate and guess on - what are the rules here?

But again, those rules are not explicit, so the more that we can say to our new starters and it's interesting because a lot of the clients I have, they have hundreds of new starters that have actually started remotely and have just come to the office for the first time or are doing so at this moment. And of course, for them it's important to understand these are the ways that we work together as a team. This is what we're focusing on right now. This is what's most important for us. 

00:20:16 Karen Plum

OK. So bearing that in mind - that we should always be starting with a clean sheet - I guess Lisa, do you have some cool examples of things that have kind of maybe come out of left field onto a working together agreement that have maybe taken you by surprise?

00:20:34 Lisa Whited

Yeah, one of my favorites is working with a group about 10 years ago and they wanted Taco Tuesdays! That was important - they're like, we believe in Taco Tuesdays. that's part of our culture. And they actually put it into their working together agreement. So that was a really fun idea that made its way into their working together agreement. 

The other opportunity with the working together agreement is go back and think about the leadership organizational priorities. This is an exercise that we do with leaders when we have them clarify why they're making a change, what's important from their perspective. How many times I know you've all seen it, it's breaking down cross departmental silos, and it's allowing people to build stronger relationships. 

When that is a known goal of the organization, that can find its way into the working together agreement. If that is shared with the employees in the workshops, say you know this is one of the things we'd like to achieve, what are your ideas on how we can strengthen our cross departmental connections?

And then watch the creativity and brilliance flow and that's the thing with this work, we're just teasing it out. The answers are already in the people sitting in the room. We're just facilitating the process and getting that to see the light of day and getting them to hear each other. So I think it's such an effective tool. 

The other thing with onboarding new people, they are often grateful that something like this exists because it's giving you information that maybe would have taken six months, especially in a remote world, to really get what the culture is about. 

So it's a very healthy process. And the last thing I will say is, you know Anna to your point, they're like, give me the working together agreement. What do we need? No man, it's all about the process, it's all about the process. It's like me going in and doing a strategic planning facilitation with a group and saying here's your plan, you know, make this work!

It's not the end result, it's the process to get there. You need the end result, but you need the conversations and the ownership that people will have, to get to something that's effective. 

00:22:29 Anne Balle

I love that Lisa, and also because it's kind of like saying can you change manage this? Like give us a change management pill and it's kind of like if I went to a dietitian and I said could you lose ten pounds for me, please? You know, no I can't. You gotta do the work yourself. 

00:22:50 Karen Plum

And I guess the thing I'm really taking away from this is that the agreement isn't some dusty checklist that we just put together for the sake of having something, for the sake of ticking the box. You know, if it becomes a tick list, you know for anybody that's listening to this, if you end up with a checklist that you're just going to kind of go, there, done that and put it in the dusty corner of your PC somewhere. Just don't bother because this is really, to guide people’s behavior. It's not about just ticking boxes. 

00:23:22 Anne Balle

And I think actually whatever agreement the team ends up with, they're probably going to put it on a really nice slide with nice colors and stuff like that. But that actual agreement, whatever comes out of that, the output, the document is not the important thing. The important thing is actually the conversations that have formed that document. It's the shared understanding, it's the empathy that Lisa was talking about. That's the real gold. It's not actually the agreement. 

00:23:50 Karen Plum

Or actually, in the case of the organization, Lisa had talked about working with, the important thing is the tacos. 

00:23:55 Lisa Whited

The tacos baby, on Tuesday, yeah!! But I will say a physical manifestation is the commitment to it as well. And so what I would do when people were in a physical office is let's print it out on a large piece of foam core and have people actually sign it as a commitment, not a legally binding document, but sign it as your commitment to do your best to try these guidelines. Because I think we need that, when you know we build a new habit through the work of James Clear and Atomic Habits, we've got to commit, we've got to commit to building, and we're really talking about new habits in a lot of these examples. 

So I think that's an important action. And what I've been saying in the digital world - share it on the Intranet and have people put a little emoji next to their name, or something that just reflects - I've read this, I know I was part of making it and I'm committed to be successful. 

00:24:43 Karen Plum

Just to go back to the tacos again. The thing I really love about that is that you know this doesn't need to be a serious, boring, dry agreement. It's about bringing the team’s behaviors and the things that are important, to life. And if being social and having lunch together is a part of who they are and really gives them that sort of cohesion then it's so important that they don't lose sight of that. 

And you know, maybe during the pandemic times maybe they've been having their tacos sitting at their desk, but they're still doing it, because it's not even about the fact that it's taco's probably - might be! - but you know it's about what makes us who we are. 

00:25:19 Lisa Whited

It's a social part right? Yeah. 

00:25:26 Anne Balle

Everyone loves tacos!

00:25:27 Karen Plum

Yeah, who doesn't who doesn't? Well somebody in our audience won't, but anyway. 

00:25:32 Anne Balle

I'm hungry now, I'm just saying. 

00:25:34 Karen Plum

OK, OK so our working together agreement should be that we don't discuss food when we're recording podcasts, 'cause it's very off putting!

So just to wrap up, I'd like to ask you just for a top tip. So when you're working with clients and you're tackling this sort of stuff, obviously it's going to be really important and helping people to understand why they're doing it and why it's important and that it's not a box ticking exercise. 

What's the top thing that you're going to be saying to clients or to the people involved in doing these agreements? Lisa, do you want to go first?

00:26:11 Lisa Whited

What I always say - all voices matter and this is such a good, healthy way to have all voices engage. It doesn't matter if you have 5000 people, you can have them do this and have a conversation one-on-one. And I really do believe the importance of a one-on-one conversation. And when somebody is asked to share, how do you have what's your most productive day, what allows you to be really productive? And they're talking to one other person who's listening and they're sharing with each other. 

And then after they listen to each other, then you're told, OK so come up with a guideline that would help your partner. You just heard what allows her to have a great day at work. What's a guideline you could create that is two people having a very short conversation, listening to each other, building connection and empathy and understanding. 

That is what our workplaces need. It is such a low barrier way to get some healthier dialogue going and have all voices heard and it does not take a lot of time, at all. 

So that's my tip. Know that your people have good ideas. Know that they need to be heard, and be listened to, and then know that you can end up with something very tangible that can help your business do better because you're going to allow your people to be more productive. 

00:27:28 Karen Plum

Fantastic thank you for that Lisa. Anna what about you?

00:27:32 Anne Balle

I think my top tip and the most important thing right now is, I mean at the moment the people managers and leaders that I'm talking to are under a huge amount of pressure. They are typically in the process of returning to the office, everything is new, they are busy as like they've never been before. 

So one of the things that's really difficult is prioritizing their time to equip them to be able to drive this, and it kind of feels like we don't have the time, but you've got to stop up and take the time to equip the leaders and the people managers to actually implement this. Equip them to – “How do I manage in this new world” and it just makes the whole difference. They make the whole difference for a successful change process. Finding that time is really difficult, but it's going to be a really good payoff on the other end of that. 

00:28:30 Karen Plum

A really good investment. OK, great tips ladies. Thank you very much indeed for those and for what's been a really fun conversation. Great to see you both and thanks for coming onto the podcast today. 

00:28:43 Anne Balle

Thanks Karen, 

00:28:45 Lisa Whited

Thanks Karen. 

00:28:46 Karen Plum

So if you're grappling with hybrid working, I hope we've given you some food for thought, perhaps in the way of Tacos! This is a great opportunity to set your organization up for success.

And that's it for this episode, see you again soon. 

CLOSE: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Changing the World of Work Podcast. Please follow or like the show so you don't miss any of our content. You can find more information on this episode in our show notes, including a link to the AWA website, if you'd like to know more about us. Hope to see you next time. Goodbye. 


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