Monday, January 24, 2022

Editor’s note: The Jewish Link is pleased to welcome contributions from long-time columnist Eli Amdur. Amdur’s columns have appeared in newspapers around the United States, including The Record (now USA Today Network), for 18 years.

Never in the modern history of work has a set of circumstances so dramatically changed the way we work or affect that change so rapidly as the hybrid workplace. Literally overnight, we transformed from congregational to virtual organizations. It took a whole lot of getting used to, and a long stretch of hesitancy on everyone’s part, to accept that the hybrid workplace is here to stay. But it is and that’s clear.

What is not clear, though, is what it will look like, how it will be structured, how it will function, and what new norms and practices it will spawn. Let me share with you the research and observations I’ve made in preparation for a presentation to the national HR conference of one of America’s prominent utility providers two months ago.

If there’s one overarching truth, it’s that the hybrid workplace is far more complex, compound and complicated than we think. It’s not a one-dimensional issue about whether we work at home or commute to the office. If only it were that simple. In truth, there are four levels of hybridism, and they’re just beginning to garner the attention they will command. So let’s look at them.

The first is the obvious: where we work and who works where. Of necessity, working remotely became the 800-pound gorilla in the room in no time flat. Although it’s functionally simple, it has an undertow of implications. The technology was already here; we just had to get good at it. That was the simple part. (But imagine if COVID hit before we had an internet.) A succession of concomitant challenges, though—feelings of isolation, remote workers receiving less recognition (and fewer promotions) and more—are still being measured. But all in all, this hybrid is simple.

The second hybrid, which already had been in the works, is one that will have more sweeping effects than the first, already the case in several countries. It will not only change our work, it will change our lives. It’s the four-day work week—not temporary, not rotational, but forever. If you like your three-day weekends, think of 52 of them per year. Think about how that would support religious observances, travel and leisure, social and civic engagement, personal finances, and so on.

The four-day week is not fantasy. In Iceland, a five-year study (2015-2019) showed that in a four-day schema with 32 (not 40) hours of work and with no drop in pay, productivity remained at or reached above previous levels, morale skyrocketed, unions happily renegotiated, and 86% of the workforce has moved to the new arrangement (or will). Among many other plus points: less risk of burnout, less strain, better health, improved work-life balance, more family time, more time for hobbies, you name it.

In Spain, three regional pilots in 2017 and one national three-year pilot now underway have all yielded the same expectations. The four-day week is on its way to becoming the national standard. Unilever in New Zealand is in its final month of its study, the implications of which are huge: changing their workforce patterns in 132 countries. And when Microsoft Japan reduced work hours by 20%, sales rose by 40%.

Here in the U.S., the jury is still out. Companies like Microsoft, Ford and Google support it, while Apple, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are cool to the idea (for now).

The only major challenge of a four-day week? Scheduling. A mere technicality. As for the rest, its time has come.

The third hybrid, though not novel, is being renewed: job sharing. Popular in northern Europe in the 1980s, it means two workers share one job, are paid FTE wage rates, are each eligible for healthcare benefits, and complement each other’s schedules. With more two-income families than ever before, and with more opportunities for disabled workers, this hybrid idea has merit.

The fourth hybrid, more complicated and far-off, is the most intriguing: working with robots, not just as machines on the shop floor or drones in the sky, but as co-workers. Imagine a Watson-like robot in the conference room with your team, there to ensure that all information and fact gathering, upon which further discussion and decisions depend, is flawless and instant. Or to ask the right questions at the right times. My guess: If you have more than five years left in your career, you’ll be in that conference room.

So there you have it. Complex, compound and complicated, for sure. But hybridism is a beautiful thing—in all its forms.

Eli Amdur provides one-on-one coaching in job search, résumés, interviewing, career planning and executive development. Founder of Amdur Coaching and Advisory Group, LLC in Teaneck (1997), he is a respected career coach and job market observer.  Reach him at [email protected] or 201-357-5844.

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