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Be More Podcast: The Challenge of Hybrid Work with Hung Lee

Be More Podcast: The Challenge of Hybrid Work with Hung Lee

Be More is a weekly one-on-one podcast about how everyone can thrive in the new world of work, hosted by Workday’s Patrick Cournoyer. This week we’re joined by Hung Lee, Co-founder and CEO of Workshape.io, who discusses the challenges businesses may face when adopting the hybrid work model.

By this point we’ve all heard about « The New Normal, » but what does that mean practically for employers and employees? A point of focus, certainly, is the emphasis being placed on remote working, and the potential for new flexible workplaces.

While many are singing the praises of hybrid models—where employees split their time between the office, co-working spaces, their home, and any number of other set-ups—some are more wary of the challenges companies may face as a result. Hung Lee is one of those cautionary voices.

Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.

As the curator at Recruiting Brainfood, Hung Lee hosts a live series on LinkedIn where he speaks with founders through specialists in HR, specifically focused on how business can recruit effectively. Through these discussions, he’s garnered a rounded view of the HR landscape, and the trials businesses will be facing on the horizon.

The best thing for early entry-level talent is to work full-time, on-premise in the office.

Hung Lee

If you want to learn more about the potential flaws in the hybrid working model, and how to tackle them effectively, then tune in, check out the key takeaways, or read the transcript below.

Key Takeaways

  • Explaining the « hybrid model »
    Hung defines the « hybrid model » as a mix of working at the office and remotely. What « hybrid work » means varies between different organizations—but it can even vary internally. Some departments, given the nature of their work, may need to be more office based, while others may be more flexible. Beyond that, employees may be able to choose between the two options depending on where they feel more comfortable and most productive.

  • The challenges of hybrid work
    Hung explains that many people assume they will have the same enthusiastic and dynamic experience that they previously had in an office environment when they switch to a « hybrid model. » However, it is Hung’s view that it will become less appealing for employees to come to the office over time. He also thinks it will become more challenging for managers to organize work processes, meaning that managers may reduce or even remove the options for flexible working structures for their employees going forward. 

  • The impact of the hybrid model on career
    Hung states that for a new starter, remote work and hybrid work are not optimal. He argues that entry-level employees need to learn new information and working practices quickly, and the best way to do that is to work onsite. He adds that where you work may even have implications for career progression.

  • What role will culture play in the hybrid model?
    Culture remains and will always be a crucial factor for effective organizations. However, as the hybrid model is more widely adopted, Hung believes that it will become more difficult to infuse these cultural elements using current structures. Hung predicts that businesses will hire social behavior specialists and anthropologists in the future to adapt and communicate the culture to the employees.

Transcript:

Patrick Cournoyer: The future of work is a hybrid work model. This statement is extremely common throughout the world right now, as organizations are figuring out their futures. At Peakon, we have seen an increase in satisfaction with remote work and flexibility with employees and how it has directly impacted employee engagement. My guest today believes that there are challenges with the hybrid work model and perhaps some significant issues that could derail the entire model. We’re going to dig into these today and understand his perspective.

Hung Lee has built recruitingbrainfood.com. He hosts a live series on LinkedIn every Friday and speaks with founders and specializes in recruitment. Hung, tell us a little bit about the live episodes that you have every week.

Hung: Basically, Brainfood Live is the Friday show, which is typically topic-led. In this, we’re just talking about whatever topic that seems to be needing to be discussed at the time, one of which might be the viability of hybrid work, for instance. Then we get a load of guests on the show. It’s a multi guest, two hosts, conversational– A group conversational type of approach. Founders Focus is slightly different. It’s basically narrower because the theory is, look, can we learn something from these leaders of HR tech businesses that have this vision of changing the way we work? I don’t think there’s an HR tech person that founded that business and doesn’t have that big picture vision. I think it’s fascinating to have conversations with people that have made them a little bit in all of that and see whether we can get to know the company and the product via a deep biographical interview with the founder. It’s like what can we learn about Microsoft if we sat down with Bill Gates for an hour and had a chat with him and that’s the theory.

Patrick: All live.

Hung: Yes, of course. [laughs]

Patrick: Perfect. Good. Hung, I’m really excited that you decided to join the conversation today. Thank you for that. Let’s jump in and talk a bit about the hybrid work model. I think a good place to start is how would you describe the hybrid work model? What is meant by that?

Hung: I think we’re starting to get more sophisticated now, understanding what hybrid work is and to throw a definition, I think to establish a common ground everyone can agree with. It’s the basic idea that yes, everyone works from home, but there is also an office which is available for people to come into work. Hybrid, meaning you’ve got, in fact, there’s multiple definitions. That’s probably the one that is the one that makes more sense for the availability of an office. The premise is still there but there is a percentage of people that will work some or all of the time remote from the office.

Patrick: Now, we’ve seen the past 18 months, 24 months in some countries that we’ve been jumping into the hybrid work model more than we’ve ever had. First, we were in the significant remote work model, right? The world is coming back. Now organizations are having the opportunity to open up again. The world is opening up again and we know that employees have figured out, a lot of employees have figured out the balance of working from home or having home life and work-life be very much at an intersection. It was a bit rough at the start for many employees, we got into a bit of a groove because we had to and employees have started to really enjoy the flexibility of working remotely, have missed being in the office, and missed personal connections but organizations now are planning for the future. We’re thinking two years down the road, three years down the road and flexible work hybrid work model is very much top of mind for every company because it’s out there in a lot of ways, but many organizations feel there’s no going back. There’s no going back to the old way of all the time in the office.

What are your thoughts on how we’ve evolved with the hybrid work model? Would you agree that a lot of organizations are thinking about how to make a hybrid work model work for them?

Hung: Yes. I think it’s actually the default position for most businesses at the moment. The idea that that’s not to say it’s the best idea, by the way, oftentimes we make decisions because it’s the first decision that’s easiest to make. I feel that the reason why the hybrid model has generated consensus is because it is the easiest thing to do first. In other words, we got shunted into remote only, we dealt with that as best we could. I think, generally speaking, most people reflect on their time in this enforced state and think, generally speaking, we did okay. Better than we expected is the feedback I seem to be getting from most leaders of businesses is say, you know what? It wasn’t brilliant but it was better than we thought it would be. That was the model.

Then we’ve got some really [unintelligible 00:05:48] type elements that say, yo, we’re getting back to the office. Goldman Sachs, very famously saying hey, a CEO came out a couple of weeks ago and said, « You know what? Remote working is a fad. Everyone back to the office. » We have that message also from politicians very clearly as well, who I think are beginning to see how important the office economy has been to the national economy. All of the things that people do to serve as individuals that commute into work and then commute back home. There’s like a trillion-dollar economy associated with that. The national interest or at least how certain governments are seeing the national interest is that we need to get back to the office where most businesses are, is the thing, you know what? Let’s have the best of both worlds as having an office environment, let’s make it so that people can work there if they want. Let’s make it so that most of the time they can work flexibly at home or wherever they need to be as they seem to want. We should be in great shape.

That seems to be the consensus right now. I’m a critic of that position as you know, but I also feel it’s going to be the thing we’re going to do regardless of my criticism of it or any teasing out of the issues. I don’t think we’re going to get there through theory, basically. We’re going to get there simply because it’s the easiest thing to do first and that’s generally how we’re going to go.

Patrick: First, talk about that. What is it about the hybrid work model that you don’t think works?

Hung: There’s any number of problems with it. The first thing to bear in mind is that let’s learn from companies that tried it. If you look at any of the remote-only businesses that are remote-only pre-COVID, right? They did make the move pre-COVID to go remote, only guess what? They all tried hybrid first, all of them. They all said that what companies are saying now, which is, you know what, we can have the best of both worlds. Let’s have an office that people can turn up at as they want. That’s where we’re going to put our HQ, but let’s say people want flexibility. They want optionality. Let’s provide that to them so they can work where they want. The offices are there if they need, etcetera, etcetera. Outcome of this, of course, no one turns up at the office. They don’t go.

In other words, what we say we want, we actually don’t really want when push comes to shove and no one wants to commute again and no one wants to or should we say people who say right now, let’s have an office assume they’re going to get the same office experience as they did pre-COVID, which is high energy, lots of serendipity, lots of people in the office, maybe the odd lunch, perhaps the odd drink after work, great social stuff, etcetera, etcetera, all wonderful things but if you teased just one layer underneath that and think how is that actually going to work? You realize that the synchronicity is often never going to happen, particularly if you want to retain optionality.

Let’s speak English for a bit. Get rid of these long words. Basically, for an office environment to have the vibe, you basically need everyone to have been there at the same time in the same place, enforced, mandated. If you start saying, « Hey, you can turn up whenever you want. » Basically, you’re never going to get serendipity. People are going to show up when they need to show up when they want to show up. That means that suddenly everything becomes a lot looser. You’re going to end up a lot of people turning up to the office, wandering around and wondering why they’re not seeing their best friends there anymore is because their best friends are slightly different agendas to their day on their working lives, etcetera, that will prevent that experience happening.

It will be very similar to what we now know in social networks. They’re amazing for a time being when all of your friends are there, but when suddenly your friends aren’t there anymore, it suddenly becomes less compelling.

I think it’s going to be very challenging for anybody to have the same optimism of this, hey, the office is there, 6, 12 months down the road.

First things first, I think we are trying to imagine that we are going to have the same office experience in the remote world. I don’t think that’s the case. How are companies going to rectify this? They’re going to rectify it by saying, you know what? There is going to be specific days where you are going to be in the office. Hey, office, Monday to Wednesday. Then Thursday, Friday, remote or whatever or it’s open if you want. Everyone might then show up back to the office. I think this will be phase two of hybrid, right? We’re going to go with the first one, super optionality, but then as you notice, we’re going to start taking away the flexibility and trying to recreate synchronicity by removing the flexibility, which is Monday to Wednesday we’re going to be in the office. Then you’re going to start having that mission creep where people will start saying, you know what? Why don’t we do Monday to Thursday and then it’s going to start creeping further into what people want until some companies say, look, we’re going to go for on-premise again. Then it will eliminate this kind of utopian view of hybrid, I think.

I would say there’s two reasons there. Number one, look at the companies who tried it and didn’t work, and reasons why it didn’t work. They had the facilities, they produced the options, it’s simply no one showed up, they couldn’t replicate the experience. Secondly, have a look at the reason why the office was great was because everyone was there and if you’re saying that you want to give people flexibility, then everyone is not going to be there, which then leads on to further problems, which we can discuss a bit later, I guess.

Patrick: This idea of the experience in the office not being the same as it used to be, organizations are trying to tackle that by reimagining the workspace. If we look back to two years ago, prior to COVID when teams were in sections of the office, and for example, sales would be sat in one area with desks of all salespeople and then marketing is a section of the office, there’s been advancements over the past couple of months around the thought around reimagining the workspace and taking all of that out and creating these just areas where people that are coming in in the office work and maybe a couple of desks together or some more collaborative thought areas, but where people from different teams that are coming in the office are able to just be together because to your point, offices maybe will be at 25% capacity, 50% capacity for a while, but then even when they’re available to be 100% capacity and we have this opportunity of flexibility and there’s not 100% of people in the office, there’s this thought that if we reimagine the workplace to create a more collaborative environment for a smaller number of people, but mixing groups or teams to try to alleviate that kind of isolation of teams, as we classically had with 100% of the work population in the office as a bit of a solution to avoid some of that lack of office experience.

What do you think of that? Do you think there’s any merit in that?

Hung: It’s definitely something we’re going to try. There’s a long list of bad ideas we’re going to try, because we’re optimistic and we want to give it a shot but they’re clearly bad ideas. I think what you need to do is to think about what you’re trying to solve for. For instance, if one of the things we’re trying to solve for is this aspect of loneliness, people are lonely at home, and I get it. I live by myself and I’ve been by myself the last 12 months, can’t remember the last time I touched a human being. I get it when it comes down to loneliness. However, if you are lonely without the office, we need to really rethink our relationship with work.

Where are the relationships of the people that are your friends, and your family, and all those kinds of social relations? Have we driven society to such a point that the employer is the person or the employer is the entity that is the provider of these types of things? I think we need to rethink what we’re trying to replicate here. The second thing is, how are you going to try and do that in an enforced way? It’s very difficult for creativity to be engineered. In fact, it may be an oxymoron, if that’s the right term, I’m not even sure it is but you know what I mean, to try and engineer something that’s creative. I think ultimately, you just need to have creativity. It seems to spark when there’s lots of density, like lots of complexity together that isn’t necessarily planned but you have these people and ideas bumping around, eventually, something amazing emerges.

I think that situation is going to be super difficult to replicate and I suspect what might happen is that early stage ideas or startups coming from early stage, I think they will end up working very closely together physically in the same place but these will be very small units. These will be the founding team-type units or if you’re looking at product-type stuff, maybe you would lock a developer where you’re the designer with a PM at some point and say, right, don’t emerge from this room until you have this kick-ass idea. Maybe that will happen, I don’t know but the idea that you can bring in people and suddenly be creative, I think is going to be difficult, because your time is not going to be a perfect optimizer for everybody.

One of the big challenges of having a semi-optional type of way of working is that whatever you choose will be problematic for a percentage of the population and here you run into some huge ethical issues and probably legal issues at some point because if I say you know what, the optimal time for the most people is 3:00 PM in the afternoon, that makes sense for us to go to be in the same place. It makes sense for us to have an innovation meeting at this point and sorry for the folks that can’t make it. Then all the folks that can’t make it happen to be parents that need to drop off their kids. Then are you discriminating against this person’s personal responsibilities? Are you then expecting people to spend money on childcare or what the devil is going on?

You’re not going to create a situation where that is ever going to be equitable, finding a spot in the daily calendar that’s going to be worked perfectly for everybody doesn’t exist. Now, all of these things were true in the on-premise era when everyone was locked in but it wasn’t problematic because no one had a choice or we didn’t think we had a choice. We just rolled with it. It’s not optimal to have nine to five in the office for your parents picking up the kids but we roll with it because we didn’t think we had the choice. It’s different now that we know we have choices.

Patrick: Another aspect that organizations are struggling with right now is growth and career progression. We looked at data at Peakon last year in how different aspects, what we call drivers of engagement, were trending like the level of satisfaction with these different drivers of engagement. One of the drivers of engagement that decreased last year was growth and individual growth and career growth and satisfaction around how organizations were supporting that and focused on that. Understandably, I would say last year many organizations were really focused on staying afloat, resiliency through a pandemic but now, we are obviously working towards the future and there are high expectations of employees around career development, individual development, particularly, with younger generations in the workforce. How do you think the hybrid model impacts career progression and career advancement?

Hung: Two things here to talk about. If I don’t split these off accurately [unintelligible 00:17:19] because I think they’re both important. Firstly, early entry talent, remote work is a disaster for early entry talent, no doubt and hybrid work is suboptimal. The best thing for early entry talent is on-premise in office, there’s another great discriminatory thing going on here. Imagine you’re a young person coming out of college, university, whatnot. Huge amount of your learning is at desk, across the desk, listening to your manager, getting involved in a team, getting involved in all of that immersion is how you learn as a young professional.

I mean, Patrick, you and I probably have a similar generation if we rewind back or 20 years when we started 25 years however long it was. We were just green. You’re rolling into the office, you have no idea what to do, even basic stuff. How much of the stuff that you know that is important in your career was actually formally trained compared to all of the stuff that you know that you’ve learned simply through the immersion of being in the on-premise.

Huge problem for early entry talent. I think there is a case to be made that you might want to stratify who is actually on site and who is remote or hybrid based on your career trajectory or where you’re at in your career maturity, should I say. In other words, young person coming in, I think they would strongly benefit for a period of time on-premise and maybe as a condition of hiring young talent and perhaps the hiring managing and the surrounding team needs to also be on-premise for that period because I think it will be very, very different working in a remote scenario when you have early entry talent, first job even, where they simply don’t have the proximity to have that help.

Interestingly, certain companies again pre-COVID, they may have changed their posture on this because all kinds of PR management we need to do but it was quite widely known for a lot of famous remote only businesses that they would only ever hire experienced people that were themselves had previous experience of remote.

They didn’t hire early entry because of these reasons because they couldn’t do the enculturation they couldn’t train and they couldn’t do all of that stuff via the remote toolings that we have. Now, obviously, there’ll be technological progression on all of that AR/VR and all that kind of stuff. That’s going to help but we’re not there yet, 10 years out, right? I think that early entry talent we’re probably going to end up having to do some sort of full-time on-premise for those folks coming in. Almost like an extension of college, actually, so we can anticipate that.

The second thing on career progression is not only everyone cares about that and this is what I think probably the biggest crisis for hybrid is that you’ve bifurcated the culture and there’s going to be people that want to spend more time in office and compared to people that want to spend more time remote. Now, when you have two modes of communication, two modes of operating, you’re going to get different impacts in terms of who is doing what. In other words, the people that end up working more on-premise, they will inevitably sync up and they will inevitably trust each other more and inevitably build up stronger relationships than those folks that work remotely. I think that has a huge implication for career progression because how do you make the decision who to promote or to demote, or to do what not? Some good research to suggest, I forget where it is, someone corrects me if I’m wrong, but I can pick this up a bit later if people are interested in this study. This study says something about how physical proximity to your boss is actually the most important factor for your career progression.

You just got to be in line of sight [laughs], just be there all the time and overtime, inevitably, that person, your boss will end up just trusting you with stuff because if you’re above a competence bar, you can do your job, and your boss can see you doing your job, they’re going to trust you with doing your job. Compare that someone who’s out of sight out of mind, then you may actually be completely forgotten. Huge impact to remote. Obviously, this is not a problem for remote-only businesses, because everyone is in the same playing field. Also, not a problem for on-premises, although not as heightened a problem because obviously, your proximity to your boss is going to be different on-premise. You’re not rotating the boss around, you probably should actually, but when you have a hybrid model, you’re going to disadvantage certain groups of people compared to others. I think that’s a guarantee of litigation coming up.

Patrick: How about the situation where you’re an international leader and you have a team of people that are located in Singapore and London and New York, and you’re headquartered out of Los Angeles. People may bring up the fact like, well, even in an office location and 100% office environment, my team that works in London and Singapore are never in my line of sight. It’s always remote with them because I’m always on video calls with them and they’ve had career progression, how do you see that being different than what we’re talking about today?

Hung: Yes, I think so, you can definitely have proximate proxies to physical proximity. I totally get that. That’s a fair point. I would say this, whenever you have two modes of communication though, you automatically create two cultures effectively, this is quite interesting. Again, you look at companies that experimented with this pre-COVID. There’s a French business called [unintelligible 00:22:34] I think it’s called if I can do the French accent but they’re basically the Parisian Uber and they had a hybrid model. Pre-COVID, they said, « Look, work from anywhere, here’s a cool office, you can come in if you want. » They actually ended up rolling out some really interesting rules, which I think is a study in how we might be able to do this.

One of the rules that they had was that even if you were– All meetings, for instance, had to take place on video, even if they were in the same room, even if you and your boss were sitting at the same desk. If you wanted a meeting, you had to go into separate rooms and do it via video. Now, why did they go through what looks like a super illogical way of doing it? They did it because they wanted to make sure that everyone who ever had a meeting would be having it in exactly the same conditions of information.

If you want to understand a little bit about cultural toxicity, how to create a terrible culture, which by the way, you can totally do, you can deliberately do this. I’ll urge everyone to experiment in a controlled manner if you want to test it, but try communicating to some people in your business 100% of the information, and then communicate to another group of people in your business 60% of the information. Do that over a couple of days, a couple of weeks, see what happens. I assure you, you will start injecting some toxicity into your culture because the people who are denied the 100% will start wondering why they’re out of the loop. What is it about them? Why doesn’t my boss like me? How come these guys are laughing about this thing and I don’t know anything about it? What is going on? Is my job at risk, etcetera, etcetera.

That will automatically happen when you have a hybrid model. What each did was basically yes, well, hybrid, but effectively, we’re all remote, [laughs] because we’re all rushing into these rooms and doing these video calls. Now, you’re going to do that for a period of time, but then you’re going to realize, « Okay, why are we actually going through this? We might as well be physically disparate if this is how we need to communicate. » There’s some interesting experiments that we’re going to have to go through. I think in the next 12-18 months or so it’s going to be super interesting anthropologically. I do think we’re going to end up in a space where we’ll end up being more remote than not.

Patrick: How about the challenge with compensation? That’s another area right now that organizations are trying to figure out like your role is based in this city, classically, this city XYZ and so I’ll take New York. New York is a high cost of living city. Usually, pulls in some higher salary levels, London as well. Organizations are saying, « Okay, how do I level my compensation? If a role is based out of our office that is located in New York, for those companies that are going into the hybrid model, but the employee is working remote from a much lower cost of living area, perhaps a different state or a different county, depending on how your nation is set up, tax implications, how do you see all of this unfolding?

Hung: I think this is a huge challenge, very interesting, and ethically a huge question mark. The reality of global inequality is because the richest places in the world have just got richer and got more expensive, therefore requiring higher salaries to be there and the richer get richer as a result of that. It’s an agglomeration effect. This has been problematic for many countries over the last two dozen years, I would say, two dozen years is probably accurate and it’s become extremely prominent and even manifests itself politically in these spaces. If you remember Sarah Palin, that wonderful politician of the United States, when she said, « Talk about the real America. » What was she talking about? She was talking about the bits of America that basically needed to relocate to New York, or San Francisco or Boston, in order to get on. Those were the left-behind regions, so to speak, that lost their talent because the talent went to go where the opportunity was physically located. Same everywhere in the world, London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona just became these increasingly large cities absorbed by the gravitational pull for economic wealth and talent.

Now, what this remote work does, it potentially pushes those jobs back to those regional places. It offers a vision of a world where maybe you don’t need to uproot your life and relocate and go into the rat race, perhaps that can not happen. Maybe you can stay at home, in your home place with your friends and your family and you don’t need to move them around the place and you can actually earn very well in your job and get on with your career where you’re at. Sounds wonderful.

I don’t know whether this is happening in the US but I think it is the idea of you need to do some national leveling, where yes, we understand it’s too ridiculous why you need to pay a software engineer a half-million dollars in San Francisco when in fact that person is effectively $150k candidate in Missouri, I say, why we have this discrepancy? Let’s level it up so that we don’t have this degree of insanity. I think that’s been a political project in Europe also. However, COVID-19 hits and actually offers a way out to do it, which is remote work. This leveling will occur by tackling the fundamental reasons why the unequal situation occurred in the first place, which was the agglomeration effect from these metropolitan centers.

Which was by nobodies designed, by the way, there’s probably some complexity science behind this, where even gravitational science maybe goes into physics, where something gets heavier or more mass, it simply attracts greater gravitational pull attracts more mass, and it just keeps going like that. It’s the network effect. Now, what COVID-19 has done or potentially might do is to reverse that network effect at national level, which has caused some concern in terms of how you price your candidates. We’ve seen two options, certain companies have said, « Look, we pay this price per [unintelligible 00:28:32] wherever you’re located. » Basecamp did that very early, they did not pre COVID and they caused all kinds of shocking scandal by saying they’re going to pay San Francisco [laughs] salaries, irrespective where you live. Then you have companies that say, « You know what, we’re going to factor in cost of living into this. » I think we’ll all go factor cost of living in the first instance, because we need to factor it in all kinds of problems, of course, because people are going to move.

What do you do? Are you going to take money down on people? Yes, you’re going to have to. The biggest problem from all of this is actually not leveling at the national level, it’s not leveling at the global level. Now, let’s not forget that the last 500 years is basically the story of European-based people acquiring most of the resources on the planet, the majority of the resources of the planet, and majority of the wealth. The history of the last 500 years is basically being that of European expansion into the countries of America, Australia, and all those kinds of places.

Now, what does remote work on a global level really mean? It means pushing the jobs to where it can be done most efficiently, which means that maybe it isn’t Missouri, maybe it’s Sao Paulo, or maybe it’s actually Kinshasa or maybe it’s all of those places. We start pushing those jobs out there, which from an equity point of view, we talk a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion in our business, I think we’re about to really come up to a very big look in the mirror everybody, do we really believe in diversity, equity and equality, because if we do, then we have to accept job flight and we have to accept that the relative standard of living that we’ve enjoyed in the Western world will decrease relative to others out there. We should see the improvement of living conditions of people living in Africa, for instance, Latin America, the Middle East, and all those kinds of places.

Will we accept it? Answer, obviously not. We’re going to end up seeing national legislation, which will basically resist job flight as it’s actually an essential requirement for political systems or political parties that are subject to democratic vote in order for them to literally stay in power, they’re going to end up putting up the walls and using legislative tools to stop companies from pushing the jobs out of the country.

Patrick: We’re coming close to the end of the conversation today, and I’d like to talk a bit more about the role that culture plays in a hybrid model. Does culture become more important, less important? How do you see culture evolving with hybrid or do you see it evolving at all or are there challenges ahead for culture evolution as well?

Hung: Whenever you ask me about culture, Patrick, I’m tempted to say the most contrarian thing ever [chuckles]. I need to pull myself back though because maybe I’m just being contrarian for the sake of it. The obvious answer is, okay, culture matters more than anything now and I think that is true. What is very interesting is how do you actually communicate culture if it is a remote scenario or how do you communicate culture when one of the big cultural foundations of any culture, should I stay, is a consistency in how you communicate. You can create a caste system by the way, that’s also cultural.

Maybe there will be a de facto caste system and that’s not to say remote workers are necessarily lower caste. It might flip, but you might have a scenario where yes. Whatever degree of formality it might be described, there’ll be a group of people that will be treated this way, and a group that’ll be treated that way, could be a viable way to play it. Most people will instinctively reject that because that’s terrible. We want to have equity. I want to be treated the same. How do you do that? I don’t know. Some of the elements of culture I think we’re going to be more anthropological for sure. We’re going to end up employing anthropologists.

Folks that previously had to go into academia, into fieldwork, or whatever, those skills are going to be massively premium. Individuals that understand how communities foster, how toxicity emerges, how to create a culture that is cohesive and resilient? We’ve assumed that hiring managers and line managers know how to do this. No reason why they do. We’ve assumed HR knows how to do this. HR has no clue and there’s no training to get there. There’s no ideological or academic training to get HR to those places. I think we’re going to end up getting social psychologists into the business. We’re going to get anthropologists and philosophers as employees into the company. That’s probably a good thing.

These are people that may end up almost playing a shamanic role within the business where their role is not in the hierarchy per se. There may be a formal hierarchy to communicate decision-making, but there may be this figure or a group of figures that stay outside there and operate as a cultural guardian to try and nudge all of the space, all of the units of that culture into the scene direction. Yes, it’s going to be fascinating how that emerges. I come from an anthropology background, so I’m very excited for my fellow [unintelligible 00:33:26] anthropology, maybe they’ve got a career path ahead of them that doesn’t involve [unintelligible 00:33:30] It’s going to be exciting.

There’s no direction we turn that there isn’t going to run into challenges. One of the big challenges is how do you actually enforce or create a culture that is cohesive that is nonetheless inclusive? Here is where we might run slap back into a paradox or a contradiction in a lot of the modern ideas that we have about workplace culture is that maybe you do need to be particularly intolerant about certain ideas that exist outside of your company ethos as arbitrary as they may be. Again, that could be subject to complaint and social media [unintelligible 00:34:10].

Patrick: Organizational anthropology, that’s potentially going to become a new team within companies moving forward.

Hung: I think so, I think so.

Patrick: Hung, your perspective is very interesting. I appreciate your thoughts and how you’ve articulated your perspective. It’s helpful for the audience to understand, as you say, some contrarian views or contrarian perspectives, but the way how we move forward is by looking at all aspects of perspective for the future. We appreciate you sharing your thoughts and also the information or the knowledge that you’ve gained not only from personal experience but also from doing quite a bit of research into organizations that have struggled, potentially failed, succeeded in some of these areas and being able to articulate that to the audience I think is very helpful in many ways. I thank you for that.

It would be interesting for us to have another conversation a year from now and see what happened, where are we at? What happened with the hybrid model? Maybe even sooner than that, actually, to see where the progress is going, but either way, I appreciate you taking the time with us today. If the audience wants to understand a bit more about your perspective and your insights, how can the audience find you?

Hung: Thank you very much, Patrick. It’s been a thrilling conversation and booked me in for part two of this. I should add, by the way, a lot of the theories that I’ve discussed here are theories. I think what will happen is ultimately, we’re going to charge through and forget the theory a little bit, and I think that’s absolutely right. We’re going to learn this by doing it. I believe there’s bizarrely going to be opportunity through the inefficiency of doing hybrid. In other words, we’re going to do hybrid. There’s going to be a whole terrible mess, but that’s going to mean a lot of work required by professionals trying to fix it. I think there’s going to be really exciting technology innovation around it. Going to be really exciting career paths emerging for people in HR and TA trying to basically make hybrid work. We’re going to go ahead and do that despite my criticism of it.

Okay, where can you find me? Anywhere online, Hung Lee, just Google that and just connect with me anywhere. Sign up through Recruiting Brainfood, that’s probably the best way to connect with me or you want ideas of this type communicated to you once a week.

Patrick: Very good. Hung, again, thank you for the enlightening conversation, spending some time with us today and I look forward to our next conversation.

Hung: My pleasure.

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Auteur/autrice - Patrick Cournoyer

Categories Podcast