Spaces   //   April 15, 2022

Bookshelf: Lynda Gratton on why design is central to making hybrid returns work for everyone

This article is part of the WorkLife Bookshelf series, which features interviews with authors of recently-published, notable books tackling topics relevant to future of work trends.

Hundreds if not thousands of organizations have revealed their hybrid working strategies in the last few weeks, with varying volumes of fanfare. Clearly, these plans are works in progress, given the colossal shift — for many — from the old normal. And it’s also apparent that there is no blueprint for success. Or is there?

Lynda Gratton, a professor of management practice at London Business School and the founder of HSM, the future-of-work research consultancy, is known for her work on organizational behavior. And in her latest book, “Redesigning Work: How to Transform Your Organization and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone,” she offers a four-step process to success: understand what matters: reimagine the future, model and test and, finally, act and create. But perhaps the most crucial advice is delivered in the book’s dedication: “To all those who are bold enough to redesign work.” 

Penguin Business approached Gratton after someone at the British publishing house read her essay, titled How to Do Hybrid Right, in the May-June 2021 edition of the Harvard Business Review. It sparked an intense four months of writing, with both author and publisher realizing time was of the essence.

WorkLife spoke to Gratton to glean her top tips from the book, published in the U.K. in March and due to launch in the U.S. May 3, and her thoughts on working trends that will shape the world by the end of the decade.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You spent most of last summer writing “Redesigning Work,” so it was published at speed — why is this book important now and what are the main takeaways?

We are experiencing the greatest global shift in work for a century. And it’s come at a time when much was already transforming. What we wanted from work and from companies had already dramatically shifted. “Redesigning Work” is fundamentally a call to action: to cultivate and trial new ideas, to listen to new perspectives and, crucially, to make the leap from the rhetoric of ideas to the action of creation and implementation. I’ve created a playbook to support organizations on their journeys of redesigning work.

Speed was so important because we realized that for it to make a difference, it had to be in people’s hands as they were making decisions about hybrid working — and I figured that around about now, leaders would be thinking: ‘What are we supposed to be doing, what are my options?’ A couple of key points are really resonating with readers. First, leaders can’t just keep thinking about place; we’ve also got to think about time. Experiments around time are beginning to emerge, such as the four-day week and job shares. Secondly, there are no best practices; the design of work it’s a process you have to go through, and each company’s got to design their unique signature.

What advice would you give to leaders about how to be bold?

They need to engage with the four steps I talk about to understand what their people want and what their networks want. When people said, ‘We want to go back to the office because of serendipity and the water-cooler conversations,’ they were talking about networks. Employees are looking inwards and at social pioneers. And leaders are looking outwards and saying: ‘What is everyone else doing?’

First movers will influence them, but they also need not lose sight of their inward-looking employees. There will be bumps along the way, but as Satya Nardella, executive chairman and CEO of Microsoft, said the other week, this is a ‘learning process.’ Risks have to be taken, and things will go wrong, and this is why a design mechanism is crucial. As long as you keep focused on the questions: how are you going to help people do their jobs better? Or how are you going to serve your customers better? — that will be your guiding light.

What do you think the world of work will look like by 2030?

There are three interest areas right now. One of them is these ecosystems of talent. More people ask themselves: ‘Why am I not working as a freelancer, or starting my own business?’ I believe fewer people will work in conventional jobs and want more control. For me, job sharing is an exciting area to watch — more interesting than the four-day week. Secondly, how will technology enable alternatives to physical, face-to-face meetings?

The metaverse concept is fascinating, and I will closely follow virtual reality experiments. Finally, I think the rise of flexible working will allow neighborhoods and communities to flourish and be more robust. Ultimately, having neighborhood friendships is vital for being a resilient human being.

Redesigning Work: How to Transform Your Organization and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone is published by Penguin Business.