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:
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.
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?
You may have heard the story of the truck that was immovably stuck under a bridge and how the solution came from an unlikely source. If you don’t know it, I’ll share it at the end of this newsletter.
The speaker noted that these assignments have this profound impact because they challenge your perceptions and perspectives of the world. These different perspectives allow you to be more nuanced in your thinking about how different parts of a whole interact, the variables that impact it, and the resulting implications. Your competitors are increasingly global, not just national or local. Therefore, such experiences help you to think more like (and outthink) your competitors, to anticipate trends, and to consider solutions and strategies from a broader array of possibilities.
How, then, can you stretch your perspectives to help develop your strategic thinking when working globally isn’t a possibility (or, at least, not yet)?
- Regularly interact with people in a different function or area of the company. Marketers and engineers don’t think alike. Operations people think differently than researchers. See how someone different from you may experience the same issues or the organization itself.
- Interact with those outside your industry. For years, benchmarking was the buzzword when you wanted to get a more strategic perspective and to gain some competitive advantage. Benchmarking is often practiced with a closed-system approach. Life science companies benchmark other life science companies. Tech firms benchmark other tech firms. That’s important, but it’s also somewhat limiting, especially in a world where industries and disciplines are bleeding together like never before. The perspective of someone in a different industry about your issue or situation will cause you to think about the variables and interactions more broadly, more strategically. One of the things that made Steve Jobs so successful at product design was that he included perspectives he gained from things as diverse as digital animation, calligraphy and architecture.
When we hire people who are mostly like ourselves we multiply our strengths… but also our weaknesses and blind spots.
- Hire people who are different from you. We’re all familiar with research which shows that diverse organizations are generally more successful. In addition to the typical diversity categories we’re used to thinking about (gender, race, age, etc.) we should look for diversity of thought, experience, and education, among many other factors. When we hire people who are mostly like ourselves, we multiply our strengths… but also our weaknesses and blind spots. Make sure to regularly ask those you’ve hired for their perspective and input on the business issues you are working to address.
Thinking about your daily business interactions expansively will help you develop the broader perspective needed for strategic thinking.
Everyone wants a competitive advantage. In our last article, we talked about the critical nature of purpose (a North Star) and strategic clarity. They provide much needed direction in a time of change and uncertainty. The third key to better results in 2021 is culture. And it’s considered by many to be the most important.
- Companies with strong cultures saw a 4x increase in revenue growth compared to those with weaker ones.
- A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 9 out of 10 CFO’s believe improving company culture would increase their company’s business value and performance.
Culture is what bonds people together (or doesn’t) – and it usually determines how effectively you pursue strategy. Whether your organization or team will be remote, blended or back in the office, one of your 2021 priorities should be ensuring your culture is positioning you to take advantage of opportunities.
Just Words on a Page?
Culture is a Reflection
Build, Maintain and Adapt Intentionally
Start with your North Star and strategy: Purpose and strategic clarity need to be defined and communicated regularly. They provide the context and direction for the culture choices the company makes.
Align it with the company’s brand: Your brand is how your company is perceived and experienced by the customer and other stakeholders. David Matting, Head of Trends and Insights for TrendWatching notes “There’s really no such thing as internal culture anymore. Your culture is always public, and it’s your most powerful, public-facing asset or liability.” It’s difficult to tell the market you are, for example, positioned around an outstanding customer experience when your business doesn’t support an outstanding employee experience.
Define the behaviors that epitomize values. Values are often stated as words or phrases like ‘act with integrity’ or ‘delight the customer’. What does that look like? Define the behaviors that epitomize those values. By watching how people behave, what they say and what decisions and trade-offs are made, any leader or employee should be able to say what your culture is.
Connect roles and work to purpose. What does a salesperson, developer, machine operator or the CEO do (and not do) that represents the best in your culture? Go beyond traditional job descriptions and define how that role connects to the purpose and culture. Hire for those attributes; expect them, celebrate them and reward them.
Actively and regularly assess. Whether through surveys, focus groups or an assessment by an external consultant, regularly take a step back and assess how well people in your organization understand the cultural goals.
According to Gallup, Only 41% of employees strongly
agree that they know what their company stands for
Leaders also should be asking how well their teams reflect the stated culture. It’s easy for employees and leaders alike to become unmoored from cultural goals. An honest look will continue to position your culture as a competitive advantage, including when it comes to attracting talent.
Adapt in real time. Change can’t wait. When the culture no longer represents who the organization or team should be, adapt it to meet changing needs.
Boost Your Team’s Engagement
Employee engagement is a challenge even in the best of times. This year, Gallup shows only 36% of US employees are engaged. Why does this matter? Companies with high levels of engagement are 21% more profitable and 22% more productive.
One of the complicating factors this year is the unprecedented change in the economy and how work is getting done. So, what does employee engagement mean in a virtual world? How do I, as a leader, meet the challenge of engaging my team at a time when stress and distractions are so high?
In this interview, Edith talks with Bob Kelleher, a leading expert in employee engagement, and founder of The Employee Engagement Group.
Here’s our conversation!
To learn more about Bob Kelleher, click here.
Most managers and employees don’t know their own organization’s strategic goals. So, whether you’re reviewing a middle manager or a front-line supervisor, there are good reasons to make the discussion more strategic. For starters, you’ll have more productive and effective leaders on your team; along with higher engagement and retention of key talent. Here are 4 ways to make that happen.
These tips are designed primarily for immediate impact with your team members in their upcoming reviews, not for how you conduct the entire performance management process. But if you carry these ideas into your ongoing feedback and coaching regimen next year, you’ll continue to build a team that delivers more value for the organization and helps each of them build more fulfilling careers.
Make business strategy and priorities central to the discussion. Even executives sometimes lose the forest for the trees when it comes to appraisals. In a conversation there is a tendency to focus on specific goals or behaviors rather than how they contribute to achieving the strategy itself. Create an opening narrative for your discussion that provides an overview of your team member’s performance in light of your organization’s strategy. Then keep referring back to strategy as you break into specific content.
Have a conversation. Shared responsibility for the discussion feels more engaging and will increase ownership of the results. Asking questions is always an effective leadership skill. Here it pays extra dividends. How clear is your direct report on the business strategy and her role in making that happen? What you’re looking for here is a way to frame up the discussion of their performance in a strategic way, even as you’re gaining information on how they perceive their performance and its alignment to strategy.
- What business priorities do you think you made the biggest contributions to this year? Why?
- Which of your goals do you feel was most aligned with (for example) client retention, and how so?
- Which of next year’s business goals do you think our team will impact the most? How do you see yourself supporting that goal?
- What skill development would help you be a more strategic asset to the organization?
Motivate with strategic involvement. Explain how their future performance will impact their ability to advance to projects and roles that increasingly have more impact on strategy. Link their ability to develop key skills to becoming a more valuable asset to the organization. Ask them what part of the strategy motivates them the most. Ask what roles, projects, and skills they think will help them get there. Provide your input and agree to a plan.
You want your team to not only understand business strategy, and how it aligns with their work. You want them to internalize it as part of what drives them to succeed. You want to help them make it a part of how they develop skills and reach career goals. This feeds into three of the biggest needs we all have… knowing what’s expected of me, knowing that my manager cares about me and knowing that what I’m working on matters.
COVID has taught us that we can and must be able to change rapidly, to transform on the fly if need be. We’ve had no choice but to go more completely digital, transforming our customer, employee, student and supplier experiences. Truly listening with empathy, and being agile became key not just for leaders, but for everyone. Change can’t just be a priority for a few people at the top. It needs to be a priority for everyone. And, honestly, that’s kind of exciting.
Now as WFH is becoming ‘normal’ and some of us begin to go back to the office, we hear that people are reverting to older ways of thinking and behaving. Employees are waiting before they invent or experiment. People are holding back new ideas. There’s a return to more rigid hierarchy. Leaders are beginning to do more telling and less listening. And that’s not good.
As we’ve talked with clients and colleagues, we’ve heard that building the capability for continuous change is more crucial now than ever. But old habits are hard to break.
We’re committed to helping you break those habits. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing 7 tips to help you build a team with the continuous capability – and energy – for change.
Lesson #1: Change Your Mindset – and Your Team’s
Most leaders and teams approach the balance between executing on today’s priorities and continuous change as a problem to be solved. However, it’s not just a problem. There is no single or easy answer. If we focus too much on executing today, we will lag behind where the market is moving. If we focus too much on change and innovation, we will not meet today’s priorities. What we are facing is a dilemma
In a dilemma, you have two, interdependent poles (or forces) that create a natural and ongoing tension. Choosing to pursue too much of one and too little of another doesn’t provide a long term solution and leads to additional problems. Instead, we need to find new ways to manage the challenge; one that leverages the advantages and mitigates the disadvantages of both. Rather than either/or, we need to think both/and. And unless we’re prepared to lead entirely on our own, we know we need everyone to be thinking the same way.
One way to operationalize both/and thinking with your team is to use a dilemma mapping tool. This tool provides a format to discuss and capture the advantages and disadvantages, allowing you to determine an approach that maximizes the positive aspects of BOTH while avoiding the disadvantages.
COVID has provided us with many dilemmas. I was recently speaking with a leader of a large learning and development organization about one of hers. When COVID moved people to work primarily from home, they needed to adapt quickly. Her organization created a solution that maintained client relationships and drastically changed their delivery model to meet the new reality. They involved clients in the assessment and design of a new delivery model. They quickly triaged their development services, focusing on the most critical ones. That allowed them to transition to an all-remote-delivery process and speed up their program design cycle time. They also amped up the development and use of tool kits and tip sheets to fill in learning gaps that the COVID crisis had presented.
Harming their client relationships was not an option. Just delivering as they had been, but doing it remotely, also wasn’t an option because it was ineffective. They created a solution that maintained client relationships and drastically changed their delivery model to meet the new reality. Their approach modeled both/and thinking.
I’m sure that over the past few months, you’ve also had situations where you’ve needed to apply both/and. As complexity grows, so will dilemmas. Organizations that continue to apply both/and effectively will succeed not only during a crisis, but on an ongoing basis in our fast-paced world.
In this podcast, Change Management Review Editor-In-Chief Theresa Moulton interviews Edith Onderick-Harvey, Managing Partner of NextBridge Consulting, LLC.
As change leaders and change professionals, you naturally embrace, engage in, and affect change. Personal leadership and engagement, however, is not enough. You need to help leaders engage their teams in new thinking, creativity, and innovation. Innovation only happens when people are able to work in the gray space — where ambiguity is okay, risk is essential, and business principles, rather than hard and fast rules, apply. How can you help create a culture of change makers?
Based on her Harvard Business Review online article 5 Ways to Help Your Team Be Open to Change, Edith Onderick- Harvey will discuss 5 daily practices you can put in place to inspire, enable and accelerate a culture of change makers.
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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