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:
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.
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 have a hard enough time communicating with their team members. And doing so virtually is even harder. But there’s still good news for delivering that performance review virtually. A few basic techniques will go a long way to easing the difficulty.
Just like in-person reviews, the key to successful virtual reviews is to focus on the conversation. It should be a dialogue between you and your team member that is focused on helping this individual perform at the highest level possible, to build on their strengths and support their development. Here are 7 tips to make your virtual reviews effective.
1. Provide the review ahead of time. Give the person at least an hour or two to look at it prior to your conversation. That provides enough time for them to process the information and get beyond any initial reactions. They can “walk into” the meeting more composed, with thoughts and questions more fully formed.
2. Set the stage. Put aside your Zoom fatigue and use video (not the phone) so that the conversation feels as much like in-person as possible. If you usually rely on others to manage video calls, do a dry run so you’re able to focus on the discussion, not the technology. Know what you’re doing to do if there are connection issues. Reschedule as a video call, not a phone call.
3. Start with empathy. Begin the conversation by recognizing 2020 has been challenging and talk about specific challenges the individual has faced. Ask how they are doing (yes, even if you asked them that last week – you want to build empathy as part of the virtual conversation). 96% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention. 92% believe it remains undervalued. Empathy will make a virtual conversation go more smoothly.
4. Focus on strengths. Recognize their hard work. A great deal of research shows that managers and organizations should focus the majority of their feedback on a person’s strengths. The 80/20 rule on the ratio of positive to “corrective” feedback might look more like 90/10 this year. Of course, poor performers will require a higher ratio of “corrective” feedback. But if you go a bit easier on most people’s performance than you might normally, it will pay off in 2021.
5. Listen carefully. Active listening is harder on a zoom call. But it builds trust and shows respect. Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. Don’t interrupt. Allow the other person time to respond. Remember there can be video delay.
6. Don’t shortchange the review. We’re all tired of endless video calls. For many, they’re more taxing than face-to-face meetings. It will be tempting to create a shorter than normal agenda or rush through the meeting. Resist that temptation. Especially in a year that requires a little more managerial TLC.
Performance management is a source of some frustration for most managers, especially having the “dreaded” review discussion. There are ways to make that conversation both easier and more effective.
It’s that time of the year again. No, not the holidays. Performance review and annual goal setting time. Many people dread performance reviews. That dread is exacerbated this year by the exceptional circumstances we’ve all been living through. It’s too bad this sense of dread is so prevalent. Performance reviews and feedback could be easier and more effective, if we reframe our thinking. Here are 7 tips to make performance reviews easier and more effective:
1. Change the label. The term “performance review” or “performance management” conjures up images of passing judgement on a person’s performance, on their worth. A “performance and development conversation” is a two-way dialogue. We are sharing perspectives, insights and ideas. It’s a partnership. How we talk with our team members can put people more at ease.
2. Change the focus. Make the review all about developing your team member. The focus of performance conversations should not be primarily about the rating we are giving someone or justifying a salary increase. It’s an opportunity to help this individual perform at the highest level possible, to build on their strengths and support their development. According to McKinsey, superior talent is up to eight times more productive than average employees. The more time and sincere effort you invest in your employee’s development, the higher the return.
3. Start with empathy. Ask about the challenges and realities the person is experiencing – balancing work and child-care, caring for an elderly parent, managing remote or hybrid learning or just the loneliness of being remote. Ask at the beginning of the review. Even if you asked last week. You want to establish empathy as part of the review. Why? Besides being a good thing to do? Among employees who said they feel cared for by their employer, 94% say they feel personally engaged in their work compared to 43% of those who don’t. Furthermore, according to IBM research, organizations that score in the top 25% of employee experience report nearly 3x the return on assets and double the return on sales when compared to organizations in the bottom 25%.
4. Simplify. Start with a high-level narrative that summarizes past performance, development needs and goals. Then launch into the review. But don’t just read it together. Instead, think about using these five questions to drive conversation:
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- How well are you achieving your current goals?
- How do goals need to change to meet new business strategy or goals?
- How are your actions aligning with our values and culture?
- What do you need to continue doing because you are doing it well? What do you need to stop doing because it’s not effective? What do you need to start doing instead?
6. Talk about expectations and reality. Discuss how those expectations can be managed against the realities mentioned above. Ask for the individual’s thoughts on it.
7. Focus not just on what was achieved but how it was achieved. For example, in remote environments, collaboration is more important but can be more difficult. Make sure people are clear on what is important for success.
How are You Onboarding (or Re-boarding) Post-Covid?
One of the challenges of having so many people working virtually is creating and keeping a vibrant culture that helps everyone feel connected and driven by a shared purpose.
Among the earliest experiences our people have with the culture is during on-boarding. Working in the COVD and post-COVID environment, onboarding needs to be different. By assessing what works and what doesn’t in your onboarding, you can design an experience that’s adapted to a virtual environment and reinforces culture and connections.
Late last year – pre-pandemic – we helped a client design an onboarding process. The design focused on making the process a more powerful tool for creating culture in a dispersed team that had grown 200% in the previous 18 months. While few companies are experiencing that kind of growth now, the lessons are relevant in today’s environment, too.
This biotech’s culture was a key differentiator for them in terms of how they achieved results and how they attracted high-caliber talent in the market. Facing a period of unprecedented growth with geographically dispersed offices and remote employees, they were seeing a higher attrition rate, especially among employees who had been with the company for a short period of time. They were concerned that they were not creating an effective new-hire experience. After creating a highly experiential new-hire orientation program, our client believed there was still something missing for their recently added team members — the onboarding experience onto the new hire’s team.
- how onboarding was approached across the various functions/departments within the company
- the perception of how effective onboarding was
- how well it aligned with their corporate onboarding and overall talent strategy.
- A much more consistent and robust functional onboarding experience was needed
- The process needed to be scalable and adaptable
- We needed to develop resources that could be accessed by a dispersed workforce during onboarding and beyond.
During phase two, the client wanted to introduce gamification technology to deliver onboarding, manager support, and other HR practices. Our challenge was to create a functional onboarding design that worked within this platform. We knew this approach had to be highly interactive, feel personal, and provide information in bite-sized chunks across multiple formats.
The design of the functional onboarding included:
- Video welcomes received prior to start dates
- Visual tours of departments and office spaces
- Videos describing each department’s purpose and responsibilities
- A manager toolkit to lead conversations with new team member within 2-3 days of start and at Day 14.
- Day 14 online check-in for the team member to complete
- Gamified introduction to the company culture and how it looks in our department
- Create a unique and engaging new-hire experience that more effectively integrates new hires into the culture and their specific teams.
- Utilize technology to enhance the onboarding experience for all team members – HQ-based, field-based and remote
- Allow for adaptability and scalability as changes impact the organization
Top HR and Talent organizations, not only recognize the need for a vibrant new onboarding process, they are spending the time to assess and design a powerful experience for all internal clients.
Why Is It So Hard To Get My Organization To Change?
You know that change is hard. You’ve experienced it. Often, leaders feel that, with all the day-to-day demands on them, they just don’t have the time to be working on how to get to the future. It could be that the team is faced with a challenge so complex that it seems un-manageable, so they don’t face it head-on. Or it can simply be that assumption that people really don’t want to change.
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending 30-minutes with Jim Masters on the difficulty of change and related topics. We also talked about what leaders and organizations need to do to thrive through continual change, why we call our firm NextBridge and how I came to this place in my career.
What Role Does Purpose Play In Being Agile?
Being agile means asking people to step out of their comfort zone and into uncertainty. That can be a scary proposition. Purpose is the north star of an agile organization. Purpose creates the guardrails for action.
Trends, Bends and Opportunities
Dr. Loren Murfield, Pat Lynch and I discuss this topic and how to create agility in your organization. This daily Facebook Live podcast is a learning opportunity that helps you navigate your business in a rapidly changing environment. We discussed practical information everyone can use today to build agility and stay ahead of the competition.
As of today, 48 of the 50 U.S. states are ‘re-opening’. Massachusetts, one of the last to take the step, has decided to begin a phased re-opening next week.
I’m curious about what you envisioned re-opening would be like when we all starting staying home about 8 weeks ago. Until recently, I’ve been so focused on trying to master the current reality that I hadn’t given it enough thought. But now, my focus is mostly on the future.
Right now, we have Zoom fatigue and would welcome being able to focus only on work instead of our work, kids, dogs and parents. That said, we’ve settled into this way of making it work and, dare I say it, it feels sort of normal. But as our workplaces start to think about re-opening, we should acknowledge that re-opening won’t put an end to leading through disruption. Going back to our workplaces is going to be disruptive all over again. Soon many of us will be pulled from our current uneasy normal into the next one. Who will go back first? When will I go back? How will that be determined and how do I help my team manage all of this?
In addition, when we go back to our workplace, they won’t be the same place we left. Some, perhaps many, of our colleagues will no longer be working. We may have to go through screening on top of badging in to get into the building. Only a small percentage of us may be allowed in our offices at any given time. Hand sanitizer and overnight sanitizing will be de rigueur. And, how exactly will we all have socially distant meetings in some of those small conference rooms?
When you’re leading your teams through this next transition, remember that you have some resources and tools to rely on – like our 10 Tips For Leading During Disruption. It won’t be leadership as usual when you walk back into the office. There will be new and different challenges. When you find you need support, reach out and let us know how we can help you.
Most leaders I know have a degree of comfort talking about the nuts and bolts of change – things like what’s going to change, what process is being put in place to make it happen, and when it will happen. This article shifts the focus from “what the change is” to “how are we doing with it?” That makes most leaders a lot more uncomfortable.
However, don’t despair. There’s a structured approach you can use with your team to discuss how change is affecting them and how they, in turn, can affect change. It’s called The Listening Post.
Here’s an excerpt from my 2019 article “5 Ways to Help Your Team Be Open to Change” that originally appeared in the April 3 edition of Harvard Business Review online.
Change stirs up emotional responses that often cause people to pull back rather than to lean in. Inspiring and enabling your team to affect change requires having conversations that move people from reaction to action. Try having 30-minute meetings to discuss both the emotions related to change and the actions participants can take to affect change. I call these “listening posts.” Listening posts were originally facilities that monitored radio and microwave signals to analyze their content. Like that original definition, your listening post can help you understand key information, and can help others take action. Listening posts consist of:
- Table setting: Define the purpose of the meeting for your team. Encourage them to discuss how change is affecting them. For example, “We’re here to talk about the change we are experiencing and understand how it’s impacting you personally and us as a team.” Invite everyone to define actions that the group will take to influence how change is happening.
- Listening: Encourage individuals to start the conversation by sharing their experiences by using metaphors or adjectives. This gives them a safe way to talk about emotions. Share your metaphor first to break the ice. For example, you may feel like a juggler trying to keep all the balls in the air. Share that with your team. As people share their metaphors, remember to listen for who is dissenting or significantly challenged by the change. The voice of the outlier can provide key insights.
- Consolidating: Ask the team what common themes they are hearing. Use questions like, “What does it seem like we all have in common? What is different for each of us?” Summarize key themes and confirm what you’ve heard.
- Acting: Identify actions. These ideas need to come from the team, with you as the facilitator. Ask questions like, “What do we control, or can we influence?” “How do we want to change this?” “What role will each of you play in making this happen?”
Two things to keep in mind about this approach:
1) Your honesty and candor about change will set the tone for this conversation.If your metaphor is that you are skating on smooth ice, your team will not feel like they can share their challenges and real feelings. If you are completely on-board and having an easy time of it, save your metaphor for last.
2) When talking about actions, be neutral in how you discuss any corporate mandates. Phrase them in terms of what is controllable and how your team can make decisions that affect change. For example, if people are frustrated by the change in priorities from the organization, you can say something like “Yes, the organization is shifting priorities based on what they see as critical business needs. We can’t change that. What we can decide is how we will shift our work to support those priorities. Let’s review what we have on our plates right now and make some decisions.” This response reaffirms that everyone does have some control in this situation and enables the team to make decisions about how they can move forward.
Would love to hear how you engage your teams in dialogue to move them from reacting to change to acting to make change. Let me know at email@example.com.
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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