what's in a word

by Kevin Eikenberry

As I look ahead at the murky future of work, I know that words and how we choose them will play a role in what unfolds and how successful we are.  Here are some examples.

The Words We’ve Chosen

When organizations sent their people to “work from home,” for many that became the phrase they used.  On social media hashtags like #Workfromhome and #WFH were all the rage.  And while we were working from home, that wasn’t (and isn’t) the most effective way to think about our work. 

Think back to two years ago. If someone asked you what you did for a living you explained it.  You didn’t say “I work in an office.” Saying that made no sense, and neither does “I work from home.”  Rather than work from home, how about I’m a remote teammate? (This is a big idea in our new book The Long-Distance Teammate.

Similarly, now there is a lot of conversations about going “back to work.”  Um, if we haven’t been working all this time, what have we been doing?  Back to the office, or re-entering the office, maybe, but not “back to work” ok?

Making New Word Choices

Now you are beginning to make plans for the future of your workplace, and I believe you have a chance to label what you are doing in a way that serves you and your team.  What will you call a working situation where some people are in the office and others aren’t, at least not every day?  What will you call your new policies that outline how, when and where individuals will be working?

We have discussed this within our team. As folks who work with and consult leaders and organizations on these questions – we aren’t completely in agreement on which words will win – or become most popular – in describing this future workplace.  

My Thoughts

For us we may be able to have some influence, but ultimately, we need to use the words the word picks in order to market our work and ideas.

You don’t have to worry about that – you can choose.  We chose the phrase “hybrid teams” to describe this mixed working scenario over three years ago (before our book The Long-Distance-Leader was released).  While we don’t know if the word hybrid will be the “winner,” here’s why we picked it.  Plant breeders have been trying to improve plant characteristics by cross-breeding (i.e. creating hybrids) for centuries. The idea is to bring the best of each plant together into a new, stronger, more vibrant, and productive offspring.

This is why we originally chose the phrase hybrid in our work.  We love the idea of the hybrid team, or hybrid working arrangement as a way to bring together the best of face-to -face working with the benefits we have now seen in working as a remote team.  Focusing on finding the best of both will yield better results for everyone.

Regardless of what word becomes synonymous with this new way of working, we encourage you to choose your words and descriptions wisely.  They can convey messages both consciously and unconsciously to your teams and customers.  Giving this thought and communicating your choices will help create the future success of your teamwork, collaboration, and organizational culture.

If we can help you think through these decisions, the process by which to make the decision, or even how to prepare your leaders and teammates for the future, let us know.  As always, we are here to help.

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Kevin Eikenberry is a recognized world expert on leadership development and learning and is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He has spent over 30 years helping organizations across North America, and leaders from around the world, on leadership, learning, teams and teamwork, communication and more.

Twice he has been named by Inc.com as one of the Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference. The American Management Association named him a “Leaders to Watch” and he has been twice named as one of the World's Top 30 Leadership Professionals by Global Gurus. Top Sales World has named him a Top Sales & Marketing Influencer several times, and his blog has been named on many “best of” lists. LeadersHum has named him one of the 200 Biggest Voices in Leadership in 2023.

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