It’s usually not a simple choice – for companies or for individuals. Companies are making very different decisions. If you’re unsure who should go back to the office, how many days per week, and to do what type of work… here’s a bit of help.
Companies are making very different decisions.
Many people are thinking about being back in the office and what post-pandemic work life looks like. They’re asking questions like “why do I need to be in the office? When do I need to be back in the office? Why aren’t we all back in the office?”
The answers seem as varied as the people asking them. We are hearing weekly what different companies are doing, and the decisions are far from consistent.
- The largest 4-day work week pilot to date is underway in the UK. For six months, 3,300 people, in 70 companies, across a wide variety of industries are testing the feasibility of a 4-day work week. During the program, workers receive 100% of their pay for working only 80% of their usual week, in exchange for promising to maintain 100% of their productivity. Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global says “More and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, productivity-focused working is the vehicle to give them that competitive edge,”
- Elon Musk made news because of a leaked internal memo to Tesla workersin which he says “Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla… not a remote branch office unrelated to the job duties.’ His reasoning seems to be that by not being in the office at least 40-hours per week, you are “phoning it in.”
- Akamai went in the opposite direction. Full disclosure – I’ve had the privilege of working with them several times. They announced that as of May 2022, 95% of their nearly 10,000 employees around the world have complete flexibility to decide whether they work at home, in the office, or both. In making this decision, they analyzed all roles in the company against the same criteria, regardless of location, and determined 95% could be done with complete flexibility. Flexibility has been part of their culture for years but never to this extent. The analysis bolstered their belief that employees should decide what is best for them.
- Nearly 20 percent of American office workers are back one day a week
- About 10 percent are back two days a week
- Just five percent are back three days a week
- Even fewer are back four or five days a week
- More than 50 percent do not use the office consistently every week.
The idea of everyone needing to be in the office or at the same site goes back to the industrial and pre-digital work environment. Materials were most efficiently used in a single location. Communication happened face-to-face or by phone. In my early consulting career, I worked for a firm where a large percentage of the consultants coded all day – onsite, in person. The technology was different then so there really wasn’t another option. However, these people spent 90% of their time in their cubes, working individually. With today’s digital environments, you could easily see that being in-person would probably be of little impact on their work.
Recent research finds that working collaboratively face-to-face (F2F) has an impact on creativity. A study of nearly 1,500 engineers in five different countries were randomly paired to create product ideas F2F or via video call. The study showed video conferencing had a negative impact on idea generation but did not make a difference in the ability to critically evaluate creative ideas. Since creativity begins with new or adaptive ideas, face-to-face could be critical to your innovation and problem-solving strategies.
What’s the right model for how we work? Different companies will have different needs, jobs will have different needs, people will have different needs. And, that’s a new way of thinking. Many roles are much more nuanced than the coder example I shared above, so the choice is not that simple. It will take months, probably years before we understand the benefits and drawbacks of any model. At the end of the day, the answer will probably be, it depends.
“It depends” is not a great response for people seeking answers. So, here’s a little help figuring things out. If you and your team are still deciding how to manage the Great Transition, you may want to start with looking at the nature of the work. Even if your organization is committed to a consistent hybrid model (i.e., everyone in the office 2 days per week), it may help you determine how to use those in-office days vs remote days.
You can start with a simple 2×3 matrix that allows you to map tasks to three task categories – creative, analytical, or transactional/process — and the degree of interactivity associated with the task – is it primarily individual or collaborative, and the amount of your time you spend on each task.
For example, if I am analyzing the data in a spreadsheet, it is primarily an individual task. If I am one of several people brainstorming a new solution, working collaboratively on this analysis will generate better results. Analyzing different solutions may work as well remotely as FTF depending on the nature of what’s being analyzed. Also, creative and analytical processes can be co-dependent and concurrent, so working collaboratively, FTF on this analysis might generate better results. Think of this as a continuum between Creative and Transactional.
Here’s an example, below:
Joy and happiness are two different things. Both impact things like creativity, individual productivity, and the company’s bottom line (yes, it’s true). But joy is more sustainable. Here’s a 5-minute per day, one-week plan for kickstarting your path to getting more joy out of work.
Are you missing joy at work? Or maybe, you’ve never even put the two words joy and work together in the same sentence. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Joy is important to mental health. Finding it at work is very challenging for many of us. However, finding it may be more important than ever.
Isn’t joy just another word for happiness? Not really. According to Merriam Webster dictionary joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune. Joy comes from being connected to our uniqueness, authenticity, to others and to something meaningful. Joy is something we create and more intrinsic. Happiness is sparked by an external event or situation. Research shows both joy and happiness impact our creativity, energy, productivity, health, ability to handle stress, and the company’s bottom line. Joy is more sustainable.
Interested in (re)gaining joy at work? After all, we do spend most of our days working. Creating joy needs to be an active pursuit made up of small steps we take every day. I challenge you to take the 5-minute, 5-day challenge to (re)gain joy at work. It works best when you implement it over 5 consecutive days and jot your answers down somewhere so you can look back on them.
Day One: 5 minutes: Reconnect to your North Star. What is your big why? Why do you do the work you do? How is it helping you live your values? How does your work connect with other important things in your life? What about it is driving you right now?
Day Two: 5 minutes: What is one thing you can influence or change at work that will allow you to align with your North Star more completely – even if it’s a small thing. What is one task you could do? Or stop doing? What is one opportunity you could take to give yourself a few minutes to focus on something more meaningful? Or to laugh? Or to take a deep breath?
Day Three: 5 minutes: What colleague could you help? Maybe you’re thinking you don’t have time to help a colleague because you have so much on your plate. What if you grabbed them a cup of coffee when you go to grab one yourself? Could you have a walk and talk to help them think through a challenge while you both go to pick up lunch (that you may be eating at your desk so you can keep working!)
Day Four: 5 minutes: What are your strengths? What energizes you? What is one way, in the next week, you could more fully use that strength? How could you craft your job so that you are able to do this more consistently and frequently?
Day Five: 5 minutes. Reflect and reward yourself. What accomplishment are you proud of this week? How did you live your big why? What one thing did you influence or change? Who did you lend a hand to? How did you use your strengths more fully? Do you feel more joy today than you did 5 days ago?
Integrate this challenge into your daily routine every week. Assess the impact at the end of 3-weeks and 3 months. Let me know what happens.
Three things you can do now to make accountability work:
- Align performance with client needs. It’s a lot easier to talk with someone about their performance if you explain how it matters to clients, including internal clients. “Lisa, let’s talk about ABC Pros. They’re one of our most important clients, so we need to bump up our performance for them. What do you think are the top three ways we can do that?” Add your views and expectations to the discussion. Making clients the focus of the conversation reduces the likelihood that they’ll take it personally. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what the client expects. The same is true about aligning expectations with business strategy. It reminds the individual how they make an important contribution. Connecting to their personal goals can make it even more powerful.
- Map accountability to your team members’ professional development goals. This is one of those areas where the art of conversation matters a great deal. Accountability can – and should – be framed up as an exercise in helping your employee meet both their business and development goals. “Mike, we talked last month about your interest in learning how to do more complex data analysis. Let’s look at what you’ve done on this project to see what you’re doing well, and where you can make adjustments that would aid in your development.” This can lead to a constructive discussion about the project goals and parameters you discussed with him earlier.
- Make accountability a two-way street. Good leaders know that trust and a sense of fairness are critical to developing a productive working relationship with others, regardless of their role. One of the most effective ways to do that is for you to be accountable to your team members as well. This could mean making time to meet with them on a regular basis, helping them overcome resource issues or other organizational barriers, or following up on your development commitments. When you’re trying to establish their accountability include what commitments you are making to support them. “Alisha, what can I do to make this easier for you to accomplish?” Or “What have I done that’s helped you on this project? What’s not been helpful? What else can I do?”
Let’s face it – the world of work is unlikely to ever be the same again. Most companies that have been remote over the last two years are unlikely to ever require 100% office attendance of all their employees. And that’s a good thing.
No two employees are exactly alike. They have differing capabilities for working productively at home, and different work-life balance needs. Companies are recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all. The best companies will find ways to accommodate the best talent. And every company will make decisions about how flexible they want to be. Likewise, every person will make decisions about which organization is the best fit for them.
Even with this increased flexibility, there are benefits to going into the office … at least a couple of days per week:
- Your career – good companies will work to create a culture where your work location doesn’t dictate opportunities. All other things being equal, there will still be an unspoken bias that favors those who come to the workplace more often than their peers. For most executives and managers, this won’t be consciously planned. It’s just human nature. People give opportunity to those they trust the most. And trust is built through relationships. Relationships that include face-to-face time are typically built more quickly and deeply. Grabbing lunch, a chance meeting walking down the hall, or popping into their office for a quick chat. That VP who just hired you? You’re sitting in her office and notice that picture off to the side with her golfing friends and begin a discussion about your favorite courses in the area. Those are meaningful ways that people develop closer personal ties. And they happen more effortlessly and more deeply face-to-face.
- Your sanity – some people don’t miss going to work one bit. Maybe it’s the commute. Or you’re a complete introvert and don’t need or want social connection as much as the next guy. It could be you’ve just gotten used to the convenience of crawling out of bed, pouring yourself a cup of coffee, and firing up the laptop. Most people, however, need social interaction to maintain their mental health. Covid has been difficult for all of us for numerous reasons and social isolation is a big part of it. Even if you have a bunch of friends that you’ve been able to stay close to for the last two years, being at work provides a greater variety and number of interactions – both of which are healthier for most people. And sometimes we just need to get away from our home because there are distractions that we need a break from. For some people, there are times when “quiet time” to reflect and get things done is more doable at the office than at home.
- Your options– being at work at least part-time opens up options that aren’t as easily available if you work from home full-time. Here is a partial list of things that are often done more easily, effectively, or enjoyably from the office:
- Collaborating on the fly
- Improving your health as you get up and move around. (It takes many more steps to go grab a coffee or lunch at the office than going to your kitchen.)
- Work / life balance: the kind where work ends when you walk out the door, not when you finally eat dinner or go to bed
- Networking before, during or after work
- Developing a new set of daytime acquaintances that aren’t tied to family and “weekend friends,” which promotes mental health
- Shopping for the perfect gift at that cool store around the corner
- Celebrating team and individual successes, holidays and birthdays, and important milestones like promotions and retirements
There is no question that returning to work will also be difficult for many people, and that’s to be expected. It was a big change when you abruptly started staying home and it will be a big change if and when you go back to the office, even if only for a day or two per week. There are steps you can take to help yourself prepare and adjust once you’re back. And make no mistake, your attitude toward going back will impact how hard it is for you to return.
No one is better at gauging how to best meet your personal and professional needs than you are. And that’s why taking a second look at what you’ve gained… and lost… over the last two Covid years might lead you to a more nuanced view of the benefits of going back to the office at least part time. Even if it’s not your choice, appreciating the silver lining is good for your mental health and probably your career.
Recently, I’ve been talking with leaders, including mid-level leaders, about the challenges they are facing with staff shortages, continued ambiguity from COVID, and end of year pressures. In these conversations, the underlying theme is the toll these issues are taking on their emotions and their continual effort to push those emotions away or to simply plow through them.
The context for these conversations is a broader discussion about leading with emotional agility. Susan David and Christina Congleton, in their Harvard Business Review article, define emotional agility as the ability to manage one’s thoughts and feelings in a mindful, productive way. When most of us get hooked by our negative thoughts, especially at work, we have one of two reactions. We buy into them (“I always do something stupid that gets in the way of my success.”) and avoid the situations that may evoke them. Or, we rationalize them away (“I shouldn’t have these thoughts. Just get on with it.”)
When we get hooked and choose one of these two common reactions, we are not giving ourselves the opportunity to respond effectively and intentionally. To choose to respond rather than react, the first step you must take is to recognize what is going on with you.
When I talk with these leaders, I ask them how many times a day they check in with themselves to assess what they are feeling. The overwhelming response is never. Some will say rarely. A very small fraction will say regularly. Then we do the following exercise:
First, we pause the conversation right there and I give them 30 seconds to just stop and check in with themselves.
Before the pause, I encourage them to work hard to accurately name what they are feeling. Don’t just tell themselves they are feeling stressed. Rather become more granular in the assessment. Are you angry? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Constrained? To respond, rather than react, the first step is to accurately identify and understand what you are feeling. You can’t create an effective response or strategy if you are unable to clearly define what you are responding to.
At the end of 30 seconds, I ask them about their experience. They often say it makes them feel more centered, have more clarity, and are better able to manage those emotions than have the emotions manage them. It provides them the space to choose a response.
We then discuss how pausing 1-2 times a day – taking 1 minute out of an 8, 10 or 12 hour workday– can significantly impact the ability to become more emotionally agile and the impact of that agility on their ability to lead in challenging times.
Over the next few weeks, take a moment or two throughout the day to check in with yourself. What are you feeling? How are you reacting to those emotions? What opportunities do you have to pause to make the choice of how you will respond?
These are stressful times. You’ll find that this technique also works quite well at home.
The Hard Truth: It’s Not Going to Get Easier. Here Are the Trends and What You Can Do…
Adapting to rapidly changing market, technology and client-demand trends will consume organizations in 2022. Which means that the risk of change burnout for employees and leaders alike is soaring. Leaders at all levels will need to improve their change leadership capability quickly and continually.
Consider the following trends:
- Hybrid work models are here to stay and will continue to evolve. 63% of high-growth companies already have enabled hybrid work models. While 69% of negative or no-growth companies are focused on complete on-site or all-remote models. McKinsey
- Hybrid models will fail for 30% of businesses on their first try. Why? According to Forrester, shifting to a permanent hybrid model won’t be easy. There are significant, competing demands between face-to-face and remote work along a myriad of dimensions: including roles, processes, and promotion opportunities.
- The “great attrition” will continue. 64% of workers said they are at least somewhat likely to leave their job in the next 3-6 months, according to PwC.
What talent development strategies are most organizations focused on?
- Skill building is the number one action taken by businesses to close pandemic-era skill gaps – for 69% of businesses. That’s 13 points higher than redeploying, 17 points higher than hiring and 33 points higher than contracting. McKinsey.
- Social, emotional, and advanced cognitive skills are the most focused-on development targets. What’s #1? Leadership and managing others. McKinsey.
- Top two priorities for 2022 according to 550 HR Leaders surveyed by Gartner? #1 is Building critical skills and #2 is organizational design / change management.
- Start with strategy. How will your organization respond to both the business and talent changes coming your way? Link team objectives and people development to your strategy. Be sure to set expectations that priorities will shift over the course of 2022.
- Increase engagement. Seems like you’ve heard this before? It gets more important in 2022. To ensure your hybrid model works, make sure you have a thorough DEI plan. Get a balance of both office and remote voices when you consider policy, plans, and assignments. Align your reward and recognition strategy with your DEI objectives.
- Don’t fall behind. This is not the year to be playing catch up. Your 2022 organizational strategy and planning must account for the massive market and talent changes taking place. Uncover what’s worked over the last 18 months, what hasn’t worked, and build some projections about how things will be different in 2022. And that includes assessing the leadership skills necessary to implement and continually adapt your hybrid model.
To continue to be successful, organizations will need to do some or all of the following:
- restructure jobs
- figure out how to organize work processes differently
- rethink how your teams need to work together
- build trust and rapport with your employees
- work hard to maintain or recreate a better business culture
- address the change burnout problem we’re all facing
- develop new leadership mindsets and skills
Could You Use a Partner to Help Boost Your Team’s Leadership Capability and Business Culture?
We’ve been working with our clients for over 20 years to help solve these kinds of challenges. As your leadership team develops your 2022 plans, we’re here to partner with you.
In recent months we’ve seen an uptick in inquiries into how we can help leaders and their organizations work, lead, and organize differently. Our clients have been benefitting from our newest suite of programs and consulting services, Solving the Hybrid Puzzle.
Most organizations are either operating in a permanent hybrid model or they’re planning to go there early in 2022. That means redefining who you are as an organization and as a team. How will you do that successfully?
Lots of Questions
How’s your team adjusting to hybrid work or planning for a hybrid future? This next-new-normal way of working will be most successful if you start the transition by deeply reflecting on who you are now and, often, redefining who you will be
Recently, I had the pleasure of working with two executive teams. Their businesses are very different. One is over 20 years old with almost 4000 employees. The second is a start-up driving towards commercializing its first product. While different, both of them were exploring a common question…
Who are we today and who do we want to be?
In both cases we started with who the team wanted to be so we could frame that sometimes more difficult conversation – who are we now?
Answering this question requires that these executives become aware of and more comfortable with the answers to several other, deeper questions about themselves and the team:
- Do we fully understand who each of us is? Do we understand how each of us filters information, makes decisions, and communicates?
- Are we aligned around a common vision of where this company or department is going? And how are we, as a team, are leading it? This may seem obvious, but misalignment amongst leadership is a common cause of organizational dysfunction and average performance.
- Are we role-modelling the characteristics we want this organization to exhibit?
- How are we pushing each other to step out of our comfort zones in a productive and effective way? Innovation doesn’t happen when everyone is comfortable.
- How do we provide impactful feedback to each other so that we increase the team’s effectiveness rather than diminishing it?
- What about when the inevitable happens – when we’re sometimes annoying each other? Are we avoiding certain people? Aggressively confronting them? How well is it working? Is there a another option that gets better results.
Is your company considering hot desking as it returns to the office in a hybrid model? Hot Desking is a flexible workspace arrangement similar to hoteling. It saves companies a lot of money. It can also have unintended consequences.
There are benefits to hot desking. On a macro level, it provides flexibility and cost-savings for the company from a facilities perspective. Optimally, space will be used based on what kind of work needs to be done that day. If a team needs to do highly collaborative work, they could grab a collaborative workspace. If someone needs to do work that requires more individual focus, they would choose an individual workspace. Facilities costs are adapted to the hybrid model, saving the company money and leveraging the desire for flexibility.
On the flip side, it can have unintended consequences on engagement, productivity, and team performance – all predictors of increased revenue and higher returns. When I think about the execution of this model, based on my 30+ years exploring how to create organizations that allow people to be as engaged and impactful as possible, I wonder about potential unintended consequences:
- Is it detrimental to diversity, equity and inclusion? Humans are naturally social creatures who tend to think of the world as groups we belong to and groups we don’t. When given a choice, most people will gravitate towards people they are familiar with or who seem, in some way, to be like them. Will this natural propensity actually get in the way of great diversity, equity, and inclusion? Even putting aside the most obvious forms of diversity, could hot desking make it easier to exclude the team member who is shy or difficult to get along with, or allow certain people to choose those workstations that give them greater visibility to senior leaders or decision makers just because they got to work first?
- Will hierarchy undermine the model? Even the flattest, most egalitarian organizations have a degree of hierarchy. In the hot-seat model I experienced in the consulting firm, partners and managers had dedicated offices. Consultants were able to use one of the manager offices when we were in the office, which was somewhat infrequent. Of course, if all the manager offices were full that day, there was a problem. Let’s fast forward to 2021 and a purely hotseat model. What happens if a senior leader arrives at the office to find that the type of workspace they need is already filled? If you modify the hot-desk approach and have advanced reservations for space, is it first-come, first-serve or do some people get priority? If hierarchy influences the decisions too much, does it lower trust and feel unfair? These are two key components of high performing organizations.
- What impact will the need for confidentiality have? Some people in organizations have highly confidential information and highly confidential conversations. Think HR or Finance. It is reasonable that these roles would require dedicated spaces of their own. People managers also often need to have confidential conversations. Do they also get dedicated spaces? If not, how will your model account for that need? Will managers be expected to schedule space based on planned confidential conversations? That works some of the time. Does your model have enough private space for unplanned confidential conversations that can pop up at any time? Otherwise, it forces managers to choose between delaying important conversations and having them in a semi-public setting.
- Does it penalize those who can be less flexible? If someone chooses a space when they get to the office, the ‘prime’ spots typically go to those who arrive earlier in the day. Does that penalize those who are tied to a particular train schedule or need to drop a child at school or simply prefer to come in later and work later? Does it create a less equitable model for some, at least on the days they are in the office?
These are just a few potential unintended consequences that need to be considered if hot desking is part of your hybrid model. We can help you think through your model and get your team ready for Day One.
What other potential consequences could you see?
It’s the dreaded phrase all parents hear that makes them want to pull their hair out –“I’m bored.” Boredom isn’t just a complaint of many an eight-year-old. It’s emerging as a key contributor to what people are calling “The Great Resignation.” Proactive leadership can make a difference.
Chances are, You’re Not Alone
The BBC recently had an article about the rise of a condition they call “boreout.” We’re much more familiar with its fellow work ailment, burnout. Boreout is defined as being bored by your work to the point that one feels it is meaningless. It can be created by an environment that feels demoralizing, by feeling underchallenged for a prolonged period of time, and, yes, from being confined to Zoom and the same four walls for months on end. Burnout and boreout have very similar impacts. Among them are higher turnover, checking-the-box behavior, lost productivity, decreased strategic thinking and innovation, and lost opportunity.
The difference between the two is that burnout can be seen as a badge of honor. You suffer from it because you’ve really been driven and making things happen. Suffering from boreout is perceived as not being motivated enough.
We probably can sense boreout quickly when (or if) it happens to our high performers and we will jump into to help them re-engage. For our poor performers, we assume they lack motivation. It can go unrecognized in the core of our team – those 60-80% who are good, solid performers who are less likely to actively voice what they are experiencing. Boreout among this group is going to have the most significant impact. That’s because of the sheer volume of that segment of our workforce… and because it goes undiagnosed for a longer period of time. But make no mistake, if you miss the signs of boreout with your top tier talent, or don’t address it effectively, it’s impact is obvious and has long-term leadership consequences. Top performers are more likely to leave because they know they have more career mobility.
We shouldn’t assume that boreout only happens to front-line team members. Senior leaders sometimes confide in me that they feel a strong need to find something new because they aren’t challenged by their role anymore. Our conversations then focus on how we can make that happen within their organization.
No matter what level of leader you’re managing, making it okay to talk about prolonged boredom or lack of challenge has to be the first step in addressing the issue. It’s not a sign that they are unmotivated. Actually, quite the opposite. Boredom means they’re motivated to do more. So, create relationships built on high levels of trust. Make sure there is the safety to talk about tough issues – boredom being only one of them. Let people know that you don’t see boredom as their failing, but as an opportunity to expand or change their role so that they have new challenges. The organization gains from their increased engagement, productivity and impact. Some people will still perform well, for a certain period of time, when bored. But don’t wait to check in until you see a drop off in performance, or worse, see talent walking out the door. Be proactive about it.
NextBridge partners with you to create and execute pragmatic, sustainable business solutions focused on building your organization and culture, developing talent and navigating change.
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