A biological hybrid results from mixing the genes of two different species like a donkey and horse (mule). Many breeds of domestic dog are also hybrids. And, of course, botanists experiment with plant hybrids all the time – mixing traits to produce more colour/perfume, pest resistance, etc. A hybrid vehicle has come to mean one that runs on a mixture of fuels. So, if we were tasked with describing hybrid in just one word, it would surely be mixture.

In 2021, we will be faced (formally) with hybrid work as employers learn the lessons of 2020. There will be a mixture of employees who want to work from home and those who prefer the office. Those who will want to adopt both options on a mixture of different days. There will be a mixture of opinions on what works best. Welcome to the world of the mixed-up, hybrid workplace!

Hybrid work will apply to a mixture of industries. A recent McKinsey report signals that only 35% of jobs can be productively accommodated outside of the traditional workplace. That leaves 65% of workers with no choice. But the report accepts that technological innovations could radically change these parameters.

For example, we assume that operating surgeons have to work in a hospital; but modern robotic surgery is carried out with the physician in an adjoining room looking at a computer screen. In reality, the “adjoining room” could be anywhere. The workers monitoring dials in a nuclear power plant or a water treatment plant or a food production facility would surely have to travel to work! Could the same dials not be viewed from remote computer screens?

The challenge for businesses will not be facilitating hybrid workers but rather in providing effective communications between both groups. Video-conferencing has progressed in recent years but it continues to lag significantly behind real one-on-ones. This means that workers at home will suffer because in-office communication will be so much better. Remote meetings do not capture the nuances of face-to-face encounters. Eye-movements and body language just don’t transfer accurately on camera. And the final sign-off is traumatic. Those online are disconnected. Those at the meeting in person can reach the real conclusions.

HR and personnel functions will have to re-focus their skills. The temperament and ambition of employees are difficult to gauge at a distance. Cunning and connivance are even harder to spot. Employers will require new techniques for evaluating hybrid work and hybrid workers.

Expensive offices are another important consideration. Traditionally, offices have centred around transport hubs to facilitate workers commuting to work. Many offices are exclusively used by one company. A mixture of shared office space will undoubtedly prove attractive. All of this is going to prove tough and will call for perseverance and patience and perhaps a mixture of several other virtues.

We all know that humans are adaptable but the seismic shift in working disciplines has been extraordinary. Hybrid work. Hybrid workplaces. Hybrid humans. Mixtures and fusions like never before; proverbial dolly mixtures!

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