Hybrid: Are you Connecting Work or Connecting People?

Hybrid: Are you Connecting Work or Connecting People?

If you could choose to be with a loved one in person, or use a laptop to connect to that loved one, which would you choose? I’m pretty sure it’s not the laptop. Save for if there is no alternative, we rarely elect to use a laptop for “meaningful connection” with those we care for, which got me thinking, why is it considered acceptable to connect this way when it comes to connecting with people at work? Are the people I work with less deserving of quality human connection?

The simple explanation is, given the evolution of how we work, human connection was solved by the physicality of where we worked. Pretty simple really. However, perhaps a result of the influences brought about by the industrial revolution, the technological focus has been directed towards efficiency, more particularly the efficiency of work. As work evolved and we moved from the pen to the typewriter to the desktop computer, we arrived at the laptop as the preferred instrument for getting work done, with the smartphone and the tablet used to “fill in the gaps.” In parallel, workflow efficiency went from software on the device to software to the network, and the Internet opened new doors of opportunity.

We started to learn that we could take our work efficiency to a new level, and digital collaboration began, starting with email and then evolving to things like track changes in a Word document, for example. There’s much more, of course, and cloud has taken these capabilities to unimaginable heights. Suddenly we realised we could digitally connect people to other people doing the same work. We’re connecting work and we’re doing a great job of it, too. Understandably, our laptop computer serves us well and remains the chosen instrument, so all the feature richness and user experience is masterfully developed and engineered to be optimised for the laptop.

We’ve done such a good job of connecting work that when the pandemic hit, getting work done was pretty much a breeze. As our awareness to this form of work, which now has a stage and a spotlight and even a name, Hybrid Work, begins to mature, we begin to observe new challenges emerging. The instruments that we use to get work done, are designed for exactly that, work! Connecting people with those very instruments has become somewhat of an afterthought. The net effect of all this is the strength or values of human connection are being governed by how to connect work, not how we connect people.

The stickiness of work is not enough to galvanise human connection. I think this is being realised. Even the language around using those tools to connect work are uncharacteristic. Words like annotate, click to chat, co-author, track changes, meeting, mute, and update have developed, and we called this “collaboration.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t “collaborate” with my friends and love ones or use that kind of language in a social setting. High five, music, water cooler moment, bump (casual encounter), handshake, hug, back slap, etc, is the body language of friendship.

This is high empathy, human connection. It does not “end at the door,” and it’s not time-bound. It’s earned. Most importantly, it’s highly interactive. Quoting Becky Andree from a recently published article, “High-Quality Connections (HQC) are interactions that create energy. That energy is contagious.”

That same article goes on to say, “Research has shown that when HQCs are present, they broaden thinking, heighten learning, and build resilience. On the other side of the ‘energy’ continuum are Low-Quality Connections (LQC). We might think of LQCs as black holes that absorb all the light in the system without returning anything!”

When it comes to human connection, the laptop is merely temporary, not a destination and no different to when you need to rest your weary legs following hours of walking. A milk create will do. But sitting on a milk create all day? We cannot rely on this typewriter on steroids or an analogue workplace to satisfy this newly discovered user expectation.

The fundamental principles of human connection have been built into the fabric of our physical workplace and strategies. They are there to spawn human engagement and we’re rewarded with quality interaction. However, the challenge is not only recalibrating those workplaces to merely facilitate HQC, but also using the physical workplace to cascade the probability of spontaneous HQCs beyond physical boundaries, without the physical workplace losing its place at the heartbeat of this connection.

We aren’t merely blending how we worked with how we are working. That’s like connecting your Palm Pilot or Blackberry to the latest iPhone and thinking it’s good. We are taking the highly flexible, easy-to-use experience characteristics that come with digitally Connecting Work and infusing that simplicity into Connecting People and Connecting Workplace together. We are activating equitable High-Quality Interactions for our employees regardless of where they are, and that experience should never terminate at the laptop. Our employees deserve this and much, much more especially as convenience converts into expectation over time.

You have to start with getting the basics right but acknowledge that much more will be expected. You will need to architect your interaction ecosystem, so it can economically deliver, service, and scale that experience, horizontally and vertically across software and devices (this includes the physical workplace), all centrally and in sync.

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