Please stop calling it ‘hybrid’ working

Héloïse Ardley
Change Strategy Lead, LovedBy Consulting

‘Hybrid’ implies a forced merger of opposites. We need to design a way of working which reconciles the new reality of blurred boundaries between work and home, online and offline

Last week I facilitated a board meeting at Oxford University, where we were trying to name a new course format which would have online and offline elements. When the word “hybrid” was suggested, one of the board members interjected with, “oh please can we stop with the word ‘hybrid’? It’s horrible!”

Indeed it is.

After 18 months of ‘hybrid working’, ‘hybrid learning’, and even ‘hybrid living’, it’s time to stop being scared and embrace a much-needed reconciliation.

When the world was suddenly forced into lockdown in March 2020, many of us had to pivot very quickly to a new way of working and living. We reshuffled our homes, set up offices and classrooms on kitchen tables, tried to fit a few hours of work before 9am whilst making breakfast, before heading to the world’s largest gym class, AKA Joe Wicks’s YouTube channel.

We ran real life experiments on flexible working, prioritised our health and our communities, making bold statements that we were ‘slowing down’ and caring more.

But now, as we have entered the ‘new normal’, where the experiment doesn’t end but continues evolving, and no one seems to have the answer as to what the new model should look like, I would like us to at least try to design it purposefully and with empathy.

A creature made of irreconcilable parts

The beauty about studying etymology is that it gives you a true appreciation for words and how to choose them carefully, especially when, like me, English is not your first language.

In Latin, hybrida is the offspring of two dissimilar animals, specifically a tame sow and a wild boar. I’ve nothing personal against pigs, but it sounds somewhat monstrous, like something to be afraid of. A creature made of irreconcilable parts.

Hybrid implies two opposites trying to merge to create something new. But, as we emerge tired and burned out of this constant fight between work or life, family or clients, office or home, offline or online, should we not redesign a more peaceful, holistic way of being? An ‘and’ way, not an ‘or’ way; where individuals can adapt and live in a way that fulfills them and brings them joy, regardless of what we call it or what time of the day it takes place?

Laundry to fold

I have been a working mum since 2012, seven years before the pandemic. I’ve worked full-time, in senior positions and demanding jobs, as well as a freelancer, running my own business. I am a school governor, I volunteer for charities, I have ageing parents with cancer to look after, and friends I want to see. I am trying to stay hydrated and learn new things. And I have laundry to fold.

I don’t ‘want it all’, I just do it all. I adapt and flex constantly. I take my son to swimming lessons and call a client. I write a presentation and speak to my sister. I watch TV and chat with my partner.

I don’t feel burned out because this is too much; I feel tired because of other people’s expectations that work should fit neatly into a linear sequence of eight hours followed by another sequence of ‘life stuff’. Anyone who has sat at their kitchen table trying to answer emails while supervising a maths lesson on part–whole models will know this is simply not a reality anymore.

Working parents were juggling the collision of work and home life long before the word ‘hybrid’ was bouncing around every boardroom. In that regard, we make natural change agents. But we need environments that are supportive and understanding of how challenging this high-wire act can be.

A forced merger, not a reconciliation

We can design experiences that are empathetic, kind and respectful, rather than hybrids, born out of necessity.

‘Hybrid’ doesn’t mean ‘best of both worlds’ – it feels more like a forced merger than a reconciliation. Forcing polar opposites to work together will not work without shared values and integrity. Combining a wild boar and a tame sow creates hybrida, not harmony.

If we take a non-binary view of the world we genuinely can be inclusive of the emotions, needs, people and systems around us which can coexist and thrive alongside each other.

This is what Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars remind us with their dilemma theory: that integrity is creating wholeness through the integration of opposites.

With integrity, kindness and empathy, let’s design a way of working for people and organisations to transition towards which reconciles the new reality of blurred boundaries between work and home, online and offline. After all, organisations are just made of relationships.

At LovedBy, we’re actively designing these new ways of working, and we love learning more about the challenges faced by organisations everywhere as they try to reconcile different models of remote, in-person and flexible working. If you’d like to discuss how we can help your team, please get in touch.

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