Interviews

Professor Lynda Gratton: “I’ve seen a lot of fads come and go – I hope this won’t be one”

2 Sep 2021 By Eleanor Whitehouse

The future of work expert explains how HR can make sure the improvements Covid has brought to working practices aren’t just a flash in the pan

With the world of work not seeing anything like the current level of disruption in more than two centuries, if there’s ever been a more interesting time to be one of the UK’s foremost experts on the future of work, it’s now. As well as being professor of management practice at London Business School and founder of research advisory practice HSM Advisory and the Future of Work Research Consortium, Lynda Gratton is also the author of several bestselling business books, including The 100-Year Life and The New Long Life. Ahead of her keynote appearance at this year’s CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition, People Management sat down with Gratton to discuss the future of hybrid working and how HR can capitalise on this ‘new normal’.

How can we maintain the momentum of these new working practices as we exit the pandemic?

Focus on productivity and performance. I’ve seen a lot of fads come and go, and if this is going to stand a chance of not being a fad, executives have to look back in three years’ time and say ‘That was a great idea.’ Intentionality is going to be important – as an HR function, we’ve got to learn about work in a way that we’ve never had to before. The HR functions that are working well right now are those that are being intentional about the design of work. If most of your jobs are to do with focus, it’s fine for people to be at home. But if part of a job is to cooperate in a creative way, people need to be in the office for some of that time. But it’s also important this isn’t just seen as an HR initiative. It’s a cross-functional initiative where HR is a member of a team that could include premises, IT, marketing and strategy. 

The way we work has largely been cemented since the industrial revolution, and this is the exciting moment where we can really think about it again. This is the time when everyone got pushed into the deep end of the swimming pool. It would be very sad in five years’ time if we were to just go back to how we were. 

What should employers consider when implementing hybrid working?

At my company, we’re going through a fast learning process. We’ve learnt that implementation is about three things: co-creating with your employees so they feel their voices are heard; putting more emphasis on managers, because they’re being asked to design work, not just get on and manage people; and identifying how leadership and the company’s purpose relate to work. There isn’t a silver bullet and it’s way beyond ‘one size fits all’, but it’s a big opportunity for HR.

How can HR make sure any new ways of working are inclusive? 

It’s important to think about time as well as place and ask people what’s important to them. So many roles out there obviously aren’t able to work from home, and people are understanding about that, but we have to acknowledge that they have different opportunities to be flexible. And that doesn’t mean we should take away from the fact that we need to talk about that with everybody.

How should HR be careful around wellbeing and hybrid working? 

A downside of home working is you don’t manage your boundaries. We’ve been advising companies a lot on this. More intentional work means intentional scheduling, but at the minute every interaction is becoming a meeting, so people have Zoom fatigue. So we have to be much more intentional and decide when you need a high level of interaction, and when it would be fine to speak on the phone or over email. 


Gratton will be speaking at this year’s CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition on 3-4 November in Manchester and online. To view the conference programme and book your ticket, visit cipd.co.uk/ace

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