Why the future will be hybrid Julie Vens - De Vos - December 10, 2020

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“It’s not the same”. We, humans have a tendency to focus on the negative. “It’s not the same to have a virtual conversation”: 9 out of 10 people I talked to in 2020 offered me this reflection, explaining how they missed the benefits of the real life connections. And of course that’s true but very few pointed to the immense opportunities of virtual conversations.

Why is nobody celebrating that the world is just a phone or Zoom call away? Why aren’t we happy to talk to more people in one day? Why aren’t we engaging in more serendipitous connections with people we haven’t met but who can share their story without a X-hour flight?

Offline value

The good news? Offline will be back. Soon enough, we’ll be waking up in a world where we treasure being together so intensely (gosh, I hope we don’t forget). Together, in a room, figuring out a vision forward, designing the next strategy or simply sharing an anecdote about the kids. Our appetite for community, for belonging, has gotten tremendous momentum in the past decades. People used to find each other in church. They went to restaurants once a year. The canteen of the local soccer club almost resembled family-filled living rooms. The coffee machine became one of the most important places of influence in an office. Those were the moments in people’s lives. Then the pace accelerated. Our social agenda’s filled up with one after the other event. Church became increasingly empty and the out-of-home industry boomed. Introvert or extravert, you shall connect. All the time. Maybe too many times.

Online potential

“It’s not the same”. Yet e-sport industry statistics seem to show how people do connect and find community online. Formula one races turned virtual this year with tremendous success. The democratic convention was an online only event, a movement that did not involve an insane amount of logistics or catering but did succeed in creating community. Teammeetings in companies all over the world turned into Christmas parties, Star Wars galaxies and simply brought us very close to each other: home to home. Blazers turned into hoodies. Virtual office set-ups were highly in demand. However big the questions we have to answer regarding the social network platforms: we do embrace the ability it gives us to connect. And yes, it’s not the same, but it is a medium we shouldn’t take lightly. Let me explain.

They chose hybrid

During the 2019 Christmas holidays I saw Michelle Obama’s face in just about every bookshop. It was on every family’s giftlist. To be honest, I wasn’t’ impressed at first. First Lady writes book? It seemed a little boring. But as a huge documentary afficionado, I did decide to watch the documentary and boy, did I turn out to be wrong. This lady really understood the synergy of online merging with offline. Her powerful story - the right music always helps of course - knocked me off my seat, but I was even more in awe about how she brought this story alive. The book was one thing, but she also toured all over the US to create experiences. Experiences that people would never forget (yes, offline is different). Stadia with hundred thousands of people came to watch the Michelle show. The combo of the Book + the show + the documentary was only the beginning. She also launched smaller group community conversations, stepping down from those hugely populated stadiums, just to invest in intimate conversations with ‘normal’ people. And last but not least, her podcast helped bringing that conversation all over the world. It may seem simple, but it’s a flawless execution of playing on all senses, merging offline experiences with online connection in a beautiful way. You could simply call it good marketing. I call it understanding the world you live in and embracing its opportunities instead of focusing on what’s ‘not the same’.

Perhaps a little darker but just as useful, is the story of Stanley McChrystal. Maybe he was the real trendsetter during the Afghan war in merging on- and offline. Back then, zooming was just a way to make things you look at larger. And in a way that’s what he did. It was impossible to bring all his teams together and chat (let alone assume there could be coffee) about what they’ve learned and would do. This was war. But he did connect them - online. Digital stand-up calls were a daily, very disciplined meeting routine. Knowledge flowed through the regions without strict curation or moderation. One person’s perhaps ordinary experience sparked huge insights for other teams. Digital was the only way to have impact in the field.

The power of context

A third quest on today’s agenda goes beyond the mere connection. I call you, you call me but how do we capture this immense wisdom created at scale? How do we bridge the experiences into lasting knowledge? Just think of Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum ambition to log all knowledge around the world (cataloging the world). Google kind of successfully mixed the online factor into this purpose (they definitely did understand the opportunity). But one aspect we’re missing in this library is context. At nexxworks we basically bring selections of stories to people. They talk about it, online or offline, but the magic lies in the context in which those conversations happen. How is person X looking at this, what was the thinking trail for person Y? It’s in those conversational collisions, that a-ha’s or OMG’s emerge. We call it moderation and I haven’t seen a machine replicating this effect in a way that had a Michelle Obama or Peter Hinssen impact.

Go for better!

To conclude, I’ll leave you with one of nexxworks’ most quoted one-liners this year: “we’re an and-company”. Let’s shy away from black and white comparisons, from ‘or this or that’ discussions. Let’s create moments both online and offline. Both local and global. Let’s create futures for AND healthcare AND the economy. Let’s imagine what something looks if we embrace both sides. It’s not the same, it’s better.

Julie Vens - De Vos

Julie is CEO and partner at nexxworks since 2018. As a natural communicator with 5 years of experience in a corporate FMCG environment, she understands how organisations not only...