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Who’s Going Back to the Office? Who *Should* Be Going Back?

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.
So, who’s doing what?  A Robin survey of more than 10,000 offices globally found that:
  • 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:

We’re working with leaders, teams and organizations right now helping them be successful in the new world of work through customizable programs and consulting engagements.  How can we help you?

5 Minutes. 5 Days. (Re)gaining Joy at Work

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.

Worried About Accountability During the “Great Resignation?”

Record numbers of people are leaving their jobs and it’s putting a strain on businesses and their leaders. When you’re concerned about holding onto your best talent (who are usually the first to leave because they have the best options), it may seem like the wrong time to really hold people accountable. To be honest, we have become a little fearful. For many, the thinking is, “if I push my people too much right now, they’ll be even more likely to go.” Losing more good people is a legitimate concern. But here’s how accountability can actually work in your favor and increase your ability to retain and engage your best talent.

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?”
All three of these elements of accountability were important before the great resignation. The stakes are higher now, so doing these things well will pay even greater dividends.