The Balance Between Office and Remote Work

I didn’t think I’d be writing about this topic again anytime soon. I wrote a post on why companies needed to allow their people some flexibility when it comes to returning to the office. I also wrote a post on why people needed to return to the office. 

It was kind of a point / counterpoint couple of posts. I covered both sides of the issue and I was done. Or so I thought.

Except I received a ton of feedback in the form of emails, phone calls and even some hallway conversations. I’ve learned a bunch. One thing I’ve learned is that there are more than two sides to this issue. In fact, it’s not an overstatement to say that if a company has 500 employees there very well could be 500 sides to the issue. 

That makes it a wee bit complicated for companies. But as I wrote in my first post, companies need to figure it out anyway.  Especially if they hope to remain competitive when it comes to recruiting new employees. Going back “to the way it was” will not work anymore.

There is no doubt that at least some of the hesitancy to allow a flexible work schedule has to do with a misguided effort to “control” their people. Too many companies don’t yet understand how to implement the practice of “remote accountability.” That has caused problems during the pandemic. 

To assume that an organization’s leadership team could suddenly convert to remote leadership with no specific training in those skills, which are distinctly different than “in office” leadership, was a mistake often made during the core pandemic times.

Some employees clearly took advantage of the opportunity to work from home to slack off and they failed to earn their pay. They basically stole from their employers week after week. How frustrating do you think that would be for a company’s leadership team? 

That, as much as anything else, is driving companies to try and regain what they believe is control over their employees. Which is unfortunate for the people who really figured out remote work, often without a ton of support from their leaders. 

But I must say on balance right now if I had to pick a side I’d be on the side of the companies. Organizations big and small have made a much better case on why they need people in the office.

Companies are making compelling cases around the power of collaboration. Around productivity and teamwork. Companies are talking about coming together again to achieve strategic initiatives and growth goals. Their “talking points” are grounded in logic.

People have some compelling cases too. Child care issues in the short-term is a very legitimate concern. Perhaps some near term health issue would be another one. But most of the individual concerns seem to be built around the issue of convenience. Their “talking points” are sort of floating in emotion. 

I’m dumbfounded by the number of people who have told me that they had “made other plans” for the summer. Those plans didn’t include returning to the office. I’m trying not to but I just can’t stop myself from thinking those other plans might also have included doing as little work as possible. 

That by the way is something a leader trained in the skills of remote accountability could easily spot and quickly correct. Leaders need to understand that if the only place their people can be held accountable is in the office there are two possibilities. Either they aren’t leading or they have the wrong type of person in their organization.

I continue to believe the better organizations will find a way to strike a balance between full time office work and some level of work-from-home flexibility. I continue to believe the better employees will be accepting of that balance. 

As I wrote in my first post on this subject, the work from home genie is out of the bottle and no company is going to successfully force it back inside. Balance must be found. If your company made it possible for you to work from home during the pandemic then consider yourself very fortunate. There were millions of people who didn’t have that option and many of them lost their jobs completely. 

If you’re an employee who has an expectation that working from home full time will last forever then I’m sorry to tell you that except in rare cases you have some very unrealistic expectations. 

I’m as big a believer in work-life balance as you’ll find. But I also expect that sometimes work won’t be as convenient as I’d like it to be. I think that’s a much more realistic expectation. That could also be why it’s called work. 🙂

Model the Behavior You Desire

A whole bunch of years ago I was invited to speak at a conference for retailers of outdoor power equipment. I had work in some adjacent industries for years but I hadn’t worked with this specific group before so I didn’t know them well.

I was mingling a bit with them at one of the evening functions and happened into a small group of dealers. One of them seemed to be doing the majority of the talking. He was telling his peers about a new video camera system he had installed in his dealership. He had enough cameras that he could see every inch of his business with them. 

What made it really unique at the time was he could see the videos from his home over something called the internet. (I did say it was a WHOLE BUNCH of years ago.) He was kind of bragging that none of his employees could do anything without him knowing about it. Then he turned to me and asked what I thought of that. 

Well I couldn’t exactly tell him my first thought. That’s because my first thought was I was really glad I didn’t work for this guy. So I shared my second thought. I said it was actually only fair that he should be watching his people that closely. 

He asked why that was “fair” and I told him it was fair because they are watching him that closely too. I said that they watched every move he made. They weighed it against every word he said. They try to determine if what was done matched what was said. I said they were watching him to determine if they can trust him. They are watching to see if you’re the kind of leader worth following. 

I added that they are watching that closely because every leader leads by example whether they intend to or not. 

That’s as true for you as it was for that business owner. Your people watch every move you make and listen to every word you say. If those two things aren’t in sync they merely toss aside what was said and follow your actions. They do want you do about 100 times faster than they do what you say. 

Whatever you want your people to be you need to be first. However you want your people to think, you need to think first. However you want them to behave you need to behave. If you want them to have a positive attitude then you must have a positive attitude first. If you expect them to care for customers then you need to care for them first. 

As a leader you are your people’s model for the behavior they will exhibit. If you’re modeling successful behavior then you can expect the same from them. If you’re modeling behavior that will lead to something other than success then don’t be surprised when they do the same. 

What you model for your people you get from your people. If you want some changes from your people it’s more than likely those changes will have to start with you.

When Employee Development Stops

Authentic Leaders never have to guess when one of their followers is fully developed. That’s because they know they never are. They know that because they understand that their own development never stops. 

But some leaders and organizations haven’t exactly figured that out. Their “development” programs and training classes are intended for some but not all of their people. Some people are deemed “worth” an investment and some are not. 

Some organizations have what they call their “talent pool” where the people most preferred by the leadership team is invited to swim. The rest of the organization remains beached, figuratively and literally. They are left high and dry when it comes to their professional development. 

But here’s the thing; not every rose blooms on the same day. Not every banana ripens at the same time. Not every person matures, learns, and contributes at the same pace. 

It is normal and in fact necessary that leaders and organizations make judgments about their people. Hopefully, they can do that without being judgmental…but that’s another blog post. 

They need to make judgments about their skill levels, “fit” in the organization, potential for advancement, and the probability of becoming a leader themselves. 

That’s all okay. Where the problems start is when they make that judgement one time and it becomes permanent with no further assessment of the individual. The person is effectively “pigeon holed” as someone who the organization sees as “future less.” 

The reality is that person’s future is limitless IF they are led by a true leader. A leader who invests in all their people. An Authentic Leader who puts their people in a position where they can excel. Sometimes that may mean moving them into a position where they will be uncomfortable for a while and sometimes that may even mean helping them transition to another company entirely. 

Either way it’s done with the best interest of the individual in mind. 

So…when was the last time you invested even a few moments to reevaluate the people you’re responsible for leading. Have their skills changed? Has their attitude changed? Have the job requirements changed. Has your perception of them changed? 

When you periodically evaluate your teams with fresh eyes you may find some budding superstars up on that beach where you parked them. You may also find that some of your previously anointed “talent” are nothing more than clown fish in your talent pool. 

Authentic Leaders do not make permanent judgments about their people based on temporary circumstances. They also understand that all circumstances are temporary. 

Evaluate your people for who, where and what they are today. Your earlier judgment may have been a little too early to see them for who they really are.

Why You Need to Return to the Office

So…my last post was focused on why companies that think returning all employees to the office all the time is a good idea. To sum it up…they are wrong, all the time.

But the post also included a comment that those companies needed to find a balance between returning employees to the office full time and allowing some level, maybe a big level, of work from home flexibility. 

If you liked that post, as many of you did (Thank You) then you likely won’t like this one quite so much. Cause this one is about getting your rear in gear and returning to the office. 

I don’t take back one word of my last post but that “balance” comment applies to employees as much as employers. 

Even if your employer allows full time remote work you would be silly to accept it. LOTS of good things happen in an office environment and they happen ONLY in an office environment. 

You’ll learn more in a week of being in the office then you can learn in 3 months of video calls. Those hallway conversations are literally priceless when it comes to learning. I think I’ve used every video platform ever invented over the last 15 months and I’ve yet to find a hallway in any of them.

Working entirely remotely will hamper your career development. You need to be noticed in ways you never will be on a Zoom call. You need the opportunity for even a brief interaction with people high up in your organization who may never see you on a video call. 

It’s tough to “pop-in” to someone’s office on TEAMS. It’s really hard for someone else to stop by your cube for a quick insight on WebEx. Short spontaneous in-person conversations can change a career. They can change your life. 

Those kinds of conversations virtually (pun intended) stopped over the last 15 months. That’s a huge casualty of remote work. 

Now many of you are saying to yourself that you’ve been every bit as productive working from home as you’ve ever been while working in the office. For some of you that’s true but I’d remind you that building your reputation and advancing your career requires more than being productive. 

For those of you who have convinced yourself that you “haven’t missed a beat” in 15 months of working from home I’d remind you that denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. You have to be honest with yourself. 

You, as it is with your employer, need to find a balance between working from home exclusively and investing some time in an office environment. I’m pretty sure that if it’s possible to work from the office exclusively and possible to work from home exclusively then it’s also possible to split time between the two. 

Companies that want to succeed in the future will understand that. People who want to excel in their jobs and advance their careers will understand that too.

The Remote Work Genie is Out of the Bottle

At last! Finally people are returning to their places of work. Office buildings are coming alive with the sounds of collaboration and spontaneous conversations. It’s an awesome sign that at least in parts of the world “things” are returning to normal.

“Normal” however is a relative term. It would be a terrible waste of an unprecedented time of learning if everything went back to exactly the way it was before turmoil overtook almost every business.

But some companies seem determined to return as close to pre-pandemic working conditions as possible.

It won’t be possible!

It won’t be possible because their employees won’t allow it. There will be a mighty battle for control within organizations that try to return completely to the way things were in the “before times.” Make no mistake about it, organizations that insist on having all employees in the office full time, all the time feel that is the only way they can control their people.

The truth is Authentic Leaders need neither compliance or control because they have the commitment of their people.

Employee survey after employee survey shows those organizations will be fighting a losing battle. Literally losing. Losing people by the droves. When you average out some of the bigger surveys you discover that 39% of an organization’s employees say they will consider quitting rather than returning to the office full time. Companies that have been among the first to attempt returning their people back to full time office work are discovering that half of that 39% are doing more than considering, they are in fact quitting.

If your organization is considering returning your workforce to full time office work there are a few things you may want to consider.

First, you have no control over who returns and who quits. You will lose some very talented people. The least engaged and least productive people are in fact the most likely to stay. You will negatively impact the productivity of your organization…all in the name of “control.”

One of the greatest resources a company has when recruiting new employees is it’s current employees. They can be constant “ambassadors” for your organization. Or not. Which one do you think is the more likely case if you’ve forced them to return to old, in many cases less productive ways? All in the name of control.

As you lose employees you will likely want to replace them. Good luck with that. Some surveys show over 80% of Millennial and Gen Z employees would not even accept an interview with a company that doesn’t offer flexible remote work options. You will struggle mightily to hire new employees…all in the name of control.

There are some people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot work remotely. There are some people who simply should not work remotely. But over the last 15 months most office employees have proven that they can. Their expectation is that they will be allowed to continue that at least part time.

The remote work genie is out of the bottle and no one is going to get it all the way back in.

There is no doubt about the power of collaboration and spontaneous hallway conversations. Face-to-face meetings allow people to connect and communicate in a way that Zoom and Teams never will. Every organization needs people back in the office at least sometimes.

They also need to find the balance that allows a level of flexibility for their people.

Nothing will go back to exactly the way it was before the pandemic. It won’t because it can’t. Organizations that learn to adapt to that reality will have a huge competitive advantage when recruiting new employees. They will also be far more likely to retain the talented ones they already have.

People Leadership

Leadership is about people and it’s only about people. No one can lead a company, they can only lead the people who make up the company. There are no “team leaders,” there are only leaders who lead the people on the team. 

Stuff, businesses, buildings and budgets need to be managed, people need to be led.

That’s why interpersonal skills are so critical for effective leadership. If you cannot relate to the people you’re leading then you won’t be leading them for long. Effective leaders know that communication is vital when attempting to relate to others. That’s why their efforts to improve their communication skills is never ending. 

Many people occupy leadership positions but it seems these days as if fewer and fewer of them actually attempt to truly lead. They issue edicts and write policies without so much as a thought of how it may impact the people they supposedly lead. 

Whether intentional or not the actions they take and the statements they make build barriers between them and the people they need to grow their organizations. 

Effective Authentic Leaders don’t merely occupy a leadership position, they actually lead. They build bridges between themselves and their people. They use their interpersonal skills to break through barriers. Once the barriers are down their excellent communication skills come into play. The seek first to understand the people they lead. They talk with them, not to them. They listen twice as much as they talk. They listen with more than their ears, they listen with their heart as well. 

Edicts and policies attempt to force the compliance of people. Interpersonal skills combined with thoughtful communication build the willing commitment of people. 

What amazes me most is how many people in leadership positions don’t even like the people they should be leading. They often refer to them with words and phrases meant to “put them in their place.” Poor leaders want the people who work for them to know that their “leader” is smarter than they will ever be. Poor leaders sentences are laced with I I I, as in I want, I will, I did this and on and on. 

Authentic Leaders not only like the people they lead, they care for them. Immensely. They refer to their people with words and phrases meant to build them up and help them see their full potential. Authentic Leaders want the people who work with them to believe they can accomplish anything, even one day surpassing the leader. Their sentences are full of words such as, we, ours, and us. You’ll seldom hear an “I” come out of their mouth. 

The next time you’re speaking with your team record what you say. Then listen to it with a critical ear. If your message is short on “we” “ours” and “us” then your people may perceive you as a person in a leadership position who doesn’t really lead…or care about them.

If that’s the case you’re costing your organization an opportunity to grow and you’re limiting the potential of the people you could be leading. You might be fine with that but if you’re not then you have work to do. 

That work will begin with a decision to change your thinking. You can reap the many rewards of actually leading people or you can suffer the unending consequences of treating your people like things. 

The choice, as always, is yours to make.

Don’t Start Unless You Have a Plan to Finish

Starting a new project or task is easy…at least when compared to finishing it. I think the vast majority of people start a project or task with the full intention of finishing it. The problem is that the road to failure is paved with those full intentions. 

You don’t need any intention of finishing what you start if you have a plan to finish it before you start.

Step one in that plan should be a decision. The decision that no matter what, the project or task will be completed. If you’ve begun looking for excuses to delay the completion of something you started do not allow yourself to start anything else until what you’re working on is complete. The longer your list of things “in process” the harder it will be to complete any of them. 

Don’t be afraid of saying NO when someone asks you to start something new. Don’t be worried about saying NO to someone who asks for your help if you already have 12 balls in the air you’re trying to juggle. 

Remember, “NO” is a complete sentence. No explanation should be required.

The plan should include what actions you will take each day to move closer to the completion of your task. Even a huge task can be divided up into doable daily tasks. If you can only afford 15-30 minutes a day towards a task you are still making progress and building momentum towards completion. 

Be sure to block that time in your calendar and neither take or make any excuses for using that time for something else. 

Be sure your first 15-30 minute block of time begins immediately. Not tomorrow, not next week, begin immediately. If you’re not sure what I mean by immediately I mean begin in the second after you have made your plan. 

Add a completion date to your plan. You need to be realistic here. You can’t allow yourself 53 years to complete a task that should take a couple of weeks of focused effort. Put a “drop dead” date on your calendar and complete the task by that date. If you don’t then that task is likely as dead as your chances of success. 

Share your plan and progress with a mentor or an accountability partner. Nothing is more helpful in completing a difficult assignment or task as having someone hold you accountable for the commitment you’ve made to get it done. 

You must know that you have the ability to finish what you start. You can create within you the discipline required to do it. You can have tremendous success in all areas of your life as a result. 

The one question that only you can answer is….will you?