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In its time, the modern office was really a response to technological advancement. America transitioned from industrial fabrication to white-collar jobs, and the workplace was a natural reflection of that. It was also highly local.
To utilize international talent, companies were reliant on travel, which was temporary as workers’ visas expired and they returned to their own countries. Seeing the potential to leverage this talent and reduce cost, GE, for example, made an incredible leap forward and changed its operating model to include remote work from overseas.
This new form of collaboration was done without the connectivity of fiber optics, but in the bandwidth explosion of the ’90s, outsourcing of talent became mainstream and burgeoned forth a new era. The technology available created a platform that naturally affected the way business was conducted, and in so doing, a “hybrid” was created between the way things had been done traditionally and how they would be done in the future.
Related: What the World of Hybrid Work Will Look Like in the Future
We need better hybrid models now more than ever
We have advanced to a stage where we not only have fiber optics that provide an incredibly high-speed foundation on which to build, but also an astonishing amount of collaborative tools at our fingertips. This is what has allowed what most people call “hybrid work” to be a possibility in the first place. Just as the dawn of the internet necessitated a restructuring of business models, so the new digital foundation also calls us forward to something new. Beyond a simple balance between working from the office and working from home, a truly “hybrid” model is one that embraces both what is and what is to come.
Let’s say there are two companies in today’s world that sell camera equipment. One is a brick-and-mortar store reliant on local traffic, and the other is utilizing a digital platform, such as Shopify, Amazon or Alibaba, to sell the exact same products to a global market. Can you guess which one’s revenue is in a downtrend? This obvious example should cause us to ask critical questions about our own businesses.
Essentially, there are two groups of people: those running traditional companies and those who are adapting those traditional companies to tomorrow, leveraging a digital foundation. Which group are we in?
The obstacles to overcome
The current value framework leads many corporations to have a limited view of success that damages their ability to adapt. Smaller public companies don’t have a lot of surplus capacity, and thus have to carefully balance profitability, losses and valuation. Because of this, leaders get rewarded for their current profits and not what they could be in 10 years. With such a near-term measurement of value creation, leaders are not able to invest in the future.
As executives and leaders of companies, the reality is that investing in the future also means that we are actively working toward eliminating our own jobs. CEOs have climbed the highest ladder of the company, often working their entire career to achieve that position. Now, they can simply hire others to do their tasks if they so choose. Why would they want to jeopardize that? This perceived success creates complacency and fear, and having to do what many did early in their careers (innovate, create and even fail) suddenly doesn’t sound so appealing to most.
So we find ourselves in a precarious situation: seemingly having to choose between destroying the foundation of what we have built or creating something new for tomorrow. This is truly a Darwinian problem, but fortunately, with improved hybrid models, we no longer have to make this choice.
Related: 4 Ways to Build a Culture That Supports a Future-Proof Business
What business leaders need to do
Andy Grove reminded us that only the paranoid survive. Perhaps that ought to be adjusted to my version for current times: Only the paranoid and those willing to adapt survive.
If we are too comfortable in our positions, we need to be highly suspicious. If some of the greatest corporations in modern history, such as AT&T and GE, can stumble, so can our businesses. We need to learn our lessons from history, admit that a shift is currently taking place and begin to take action.
Prestige is not enough. Instead of relying on a Harvard degree or looking to hire Ivy League graduates, leaders need to make sure both they and their employees are equipped to change. This affects not only our talent acquisition process, but also our professional development. We need to foster discussions about what is to come and what we are doing about it.
What we are really talking about is giving our employees the power to create by leveraging the digital foundation that has already been established. This doesn’t mean abandoning what we have built in favor of an experimental startup, but we can certainly create a startup culture within our established organizations. Having two groups of people represented in our businesses is the true depth of a hybrid model: one driving what we are currently doing and one leading us into tomorrow.
Related: Why ‘Messy’ Leaders are the Future
Drive forward or be driven out
The history of business has been shaped by technological advancement, and we can clearly see that only the companies that have grown and adapted to this change are the ones that make it. That hasn’t stopped. Another era of transformation is upon us as the future is currently being built upon the new digital foundation.
Will we adapt to this future? Or will we be comfortable with the success we have already achieved? The option of a “hybrid” workplace is not simply employees working from home or from the office but rather our businesses growing today and building for tomorrow. Suits and jeans. New York and Silicon Valley. Defined structure and startup culture.
The new digital foundation offers incredible opportunities. Are you going to be one that’s driving change, or one that’s being driven out by change? We need to reinvent ourselves, and the time is now.