Jan 19, 2023

Finding Clarity: Unlocking the Black Box

Unlocking the Black Box of hybrid work

Beware the black box. When we talk to clients about developing a hybrid strategy, this is one of our first cautions. Because it’s one of the most important. In fact, throughout our Living Lab, discussions around the black box and how prevalent it was stood out.

But first – what’s the black box and what impact does it have on hybrid work?

The black box is what happens when employees’ daily work goes in one end, comes out the other, but very few understand what happens in between. It’s caused by a lack of visibility into processes and decision making that comes when connections are diminished. It often occurs when people don’t work in close proximity. Lack of understanding how individual contributions connect to other processes and systems within an organization often leaves hybrid employees constantly trying to make sense of both their work and their standing within the company.

This seems to be universal. As the pandemic fundamentally altered where, and when we work, how we exchange information changed as well. The result over time has left employees feeling virtual vertigo and disorientation. Building a successful hybrid strategy means finding ways to eliminate the black box from daily work.

A little clarity goes a long way.

Throughout the Living Lab one aspect of hybrid work became abundantly clear: workers need greater clarity around several different aspects of work.

Achieving this type of clarity in a hybrid environment is easier said than done. That’s because organizations largely underestimate how much projects shift and change from kickoff to delivery, along with roles and responsibilities. These shifts have ripple effects across a project and keeping everyone aligned and in-the-know when they’re not working in physical proximity can feel like an uphill battle.

Clarity doesn’t just happen, it’s created.

In 2007, Deloitte published an interesting article on company culture. It turns out that culture and processes are inextricably linked.

The way a company conducts business can play a fundamental role in defining its culture. Among the worst mistakes any company can make is to focus on the benefits of a business process and the information system that implements it in isolation. There is an inextricable link between the design of the steps involved in the collective tasks of a company and the way people work together, or apart.

Eliminating the black box in hybrid work environments takes alignment. Aligning systems and processes. Aligning how people and teams work together. And aligning all of this to the organization’s high-level strategy, mission, and goals.

To do this effectively, organizations need to create a thoughtful strategy––because getting rid of the black box won’t happen on its own. Here are few ideas to get started.

Train, Train, and Train
Help employees to better understand cross-functional processes, tools, deliverables, and expectations.

Use Systems Thinking
Clearly present projects and initiatives through the lens of how each decision impacts the other.

Create a Broader View
Give employees insight into how decision-making works across divisions, departments, and the organization.

Build Feedback Loops
Managers shouldn’t assume employees know how decision making happens – especially when it comes to their individual projects. Consider building a cadence of feedback loops during the project process.

More Clarity. Less Anxiety.
Hybrid workers require a new level of understanding and training to be effective. And organizations need to adopt a higher level of transparency into the process. With more transparency, hybrid employees will feel more than a greater sense of autonomy – they’ll experience less burnout, a greater connection to your company, and a clearer understanding of how their work is received and valued.

For more insights from our Living Lab, follow One Workplace on LinkedIn and see the research overview here.