THE RISE OF ‘THE HYBRIDS’

As we slowly but surely move away from the imminent dangers of the pandemic and the drudgery of lockdown (he says with real optimism), the natural question on everyone’s lips is “what will post-COVID life be like”?

Many press column-inches have been filled with talk on the topic, with predictions ranging from the second-coming of the roaring twenties to a more gloomy dog-eat-dog world where we will need all our wits to survive.

Regardless of what the exact future looks like, one thing we know is the pandemic has dramatically accelerated many macro-trends that were already evident before COVID-19 became ‘a thing’. One of these was the move towards greater hybridisation across the many aspects of our lives. Enabled principally by new technologies (and the confidence to use them), it is a term that we are going to be hearing a lot more of in the months and years ahead.

HYBRIDISATION — GOING BEYOND JUST CARS AND DOGS

It’s perhaps worth clarifying what exactly a ‘hybrid’ is. Essentially, a hybrid combines 2 or more distinct elements in a way that the desired properties of each starting component is retained or even enhanced by the other. In short, it’s a combination of positive attributes.

This term is commonplace in biological sciences, indeed most pure-dog breeds are a result of specific physical characteristics being prioritised during the breeding process. In the case of hybrid cars, manufactures are looking to combine the mileage and efficiency of the internal combustion engine with the environmental advantages of an electric motor — and in turn leverage the benefits that both provide.

THE WORKPLACE HYBRID

For a year or so now, people have had little choice but to work from home, and whilst some have struggled, a large number now claim that they would like to work from home more even after the pandemic is lifted.

The advantages for the individual are obvious: fewer hours lost commuting, better work-life balance, environmental benefits etc. Many companies have embraced this trend, believing that happier, more fulfilled employees will translate to higher productivity and, ultimately bigger profits. Spotify is a good example of a company embracing this movement, having recently unveiled a global “work from anywhere” policy. And unlike the Facebooks of the world, they have not stipulated a decrease in pay based on their employees’ living situation.

But not everyone is on board this particular train: David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs recently described the idea of working from home as “an aberration” and doesn’t envisage a policy like that of Spotify’s either working or being desirable in that company. He argues that remote working doesn’t suit the culture at Goldman Sachs. “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us.”

Whilst you have to wonder about an innovative culture that doesn’t want to change, he is hardly alone in his opinion.

Taking the middle ground between these two extremes is BP, who are set to allow staff to work from home two days a week. The suggestion was that this ‘hybrid model’ would offer a “more flexible, engaging and dynamic way of working”. One that combines the human-first and collaborative benefits of in-person working, with human-first and flexibility advantages of working remotely.

The best of both worlds, surely?

THE ENTERTAINING HYBRID

The entertainment industry was hit very heavily by the pandemic and cinemas around the world closed their doors for an extended period. Online entertainment subscriptions rocketed, with Disney+, in particular, doing very well. (Launching your home streaming service at roughly the same point as the world goes into lock-down is timing gold!).

But what about all those Hollywood films that were “in the can” and ready to be released? Many have been delayed, with studios and distributors preferring to wait the pandemic out rather than risk a substandard launch. Disney decided to launch their big-budget live-adaptation of Mulan on Disney+ (charging £20 for the privilege). Warner Bros has announced that all their 2021 slate will debut on HBOMax and in cinemas, giving viewers the option of where they choose to watch.

We had already seen this blurring of the small and big screen worlds before the pandemic. 2018’s Oscar-winning film Roma was a Netflix production that was released in cinemas (albeit briefly), but this seems likely to continue beyond 2021. If nothing else, the gap between cinema and streaming is set to reduce dramatically under new proposals put forward by Hollywood executives.

MISSED HYBRID OPPORTUNITIES

In addition to millions of people working from home, many have also had to cope with the joys of homeschooling. Many parents suddenly found themselves overwhelmed by the thought of having to educate their children (especially if they also needed to work.)

When you add to that the political pledges to get kids back into schools as soon as possible, it is easy to understand why there has been a headlong rush to return to the status quo. But was this a missed opportunity?

Whilst there are advantages to having children in communal education facilities, it doesn’t suit everyone. Various conditions can make working in a classroom a difficult experience. Additionally, if someone’s individual learning style requires peace and quiet to absorb and process information, then loud, over-filled classrooms are hardly conducive to this.

Despite this, in the headlong rush back to classes, little or no thought seems to have been given to the potential benefits of a hybrid approach to education. Blended learning — where education is given in a combination of classroom and online lessons — is shown to allow a more tailored learning experience which results in more engaged students. Given that educating the next generation is a priority for almost every government in the world, it is strange that the default system for under-18 learning is the one-size-fits-all classroom approach.

SO, ARE HYBRIDS THE SOLUTION WE NEED?

When done well, hybrid systems offer us the chance to get a better balance across many aspects of our lives, enabling us to find solutions that work best for us as individuals and collectively as a society.

As we see in many of our projects, there is often resistance to change, with the status-quo seen as a safe space and there is therefore a reluctance to break away from it. The pandemic swept all resistance away and forced us to do things differently. Of these new behaviours, the things that are likely to outlast the contagion are those that offer us the largest tangible benefits for the least amount of inconvenience.

Challenges arise when there is subjective debate about the size of the benefit (e.g. David Solomon on working from home) or the level of inconvenience (e.g. home-schooling when parents need to work). The debates will continue, but regardless of where you stand on the argument, the smart money says that the hybrids are here to stay. This is also true in the world of marketing consultancy and we’ll discuss this in an upcoming edition of HX.

Marc Edwards is a director at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With nearly 20 years of agency and client-side experience, Marc is an insight and innovation specialist, with and a track record of driving value in brand and products through strategic planning and creative ideation.

Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics www.brandgenetics.com