The next phase of the new normal: balancing FOMO and FOTO

Wednesday 21 July 2021
HItachi’s Stephen Pierce shares the company’s approach to developing a hybrid working model in April. He explains the lessons learned over the past three months.
People with face masks, hard hats and high vis jackets on in the workplace



It’s been three months since Stephen Pierce CMgr CCMI, Hitachi’s deputy managing director and chief HR officer, started working to define ‘hybrid’ for the future operational model of the company. On the surface, it seems like little has changed – staff are still working remotely, the offices are open to a limited capacity – but the thinking has moved on significantly.

“Our thinking has become clearer when it comes to where we're going. The focus has been on the future and evolving what happens next.”

Although restrictions have been completely lifted at the time of writing, Hitachi has made the call to maintain limited office working with stringent social distancing and sanitisation measures in place. A fuller return to the office is planned for September, depending on the number of COVID cases, but with social distancing still in place. This is where the Hitachi hybrid model will be put into practice. It’s all uncharted territory, says Pierce.

“When we use the term hybrid working, none of us are quite sure exactly what we mean because we haven't done it. Some companies maybe have, but most organizations haven't. The devil is always in the proverbial detail. What does it mean in practice? How do you do certain things that you take for granted right now?”

Many of these things have emerged through conversations with staff. Back in April, the company did a wide ranging survey to get a feel for how employees wanted the company to operate post-pandemic. Since then, Pierce has been engaging with staff directly, giving them the chance to answer questions about how things will work. This has uncovered considerations that hadn’t been considered before.

“This morning, for example, someone raised the question: how will we run a virtual meeting when half the team are in the office and half are not? Will we all sit in front of our laptops and not look at each other in the room? Or will we have everybody joining virtually on a big screen at one end? It’s not a question that we know the answer to, yet, but we’ll figure it out.”

One of the biggest learnings that Pierce and his team have gleaned from this ongoing planning exercise is the need for a compelling narrative for why staff should come back into the office. People have a range of views as to why they should or shouldn’t be in the office, but if they are going to return, there has to be a purpose behind it.

“You need purpose to drive presence. And you need presence to drive purpose. You don't just want to be there for the sake of it.”

Examples of that purpose include collaborative team meetings, job interviews and to prevent walls to build up between silos. It’s Pierce’s hope that different teams will be present in the office at the same time to ensure interdepartmental communication remains strong. “Our teams have done well working remotely, but we haven't always been able to interact with other teams as well, because we've sat more in silos.”

There will inevitably be some sort of inertia and resistance to this level of change; it’s human nature, says Pierce. It requires consistent leadership and a careful consideration of the different feelings and viewpoints. Pierce wants to make sure that staff fears about returning are addressed fully.

“We face the competing pressures of FOMO, and FOTO: fear of missing out versus fear of the office. Those two forces are acting on people. Right now, FOTO probably is higher than FOMO. By creating a purpose for office working, you hopefully make the FOMO stronger, but you’ve got to make sure the FOTO is also under control.”

The answers won’t all be in place by September, so Pierce and his team are prepared to adapt and react accordingly as issues and opportunities arise. It will be a journey, says Pierce, and that must be clear to everyone in the organisation.

“We need to be clear with our staff: this is a journey phase, and we need your input to help us through it. We all need to work our way through this. It’s not something that senior management can do. We're on this journey together.”