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. 🙂

How Important is Control to a Leader?

Many people in Leadership positions believe leading is about control. Especially controlling the people they are supposed to be leading. People in leadership positions who don’t actually lead are really struggling with this great corporate experiment happening around the world that is called “Working from Home.”

Because they don’t actually lead they have little influence over the actions and attitudes of the people they are supposed to be leading. They have so few leadership skills that rather than attempt to earn the commitment of their people they seek to force their compliance.

But compliance requires control and that’s much harder to come by in a work from home environment. That’s why “leaders in title” only have so many issues with their people not being in the office and directly under their thumb. They can’t wait for a return to “normal.”

But they will have to wait because working from home is the new normal. The pretend leaders who hope to order their people back into the office have one of two choices. The first is to grow into an Authentic Leader and actually lead. The second is to join the growing heap of failed “leaders in title” only who couldn’t let go of the need to control every aspect of their employees workday.

People will eventually return to the office, in some form. Likely they will spend at least as much time working from home as working in an office environment. There will never be a time when rush hours look like the rush hours of “the before times.” There will never again be a time when large companies pile a few hundred employees into a large conference room simply because they can. Things will never again be exactly as they were.

This work from home experiment has been going on long enough that real data exists regarding productivity concerns. Most people are either as productive or more productive than when working in the office. In many cases where productivity has suffered it has suffered due to the “leader in title.” They attempt to reach through the phone or computer to control their people as if they were still in the office.

The people who are actually led while working from home seem to do just fine.

There was a time when “work-life balance” was the goal. That goal is gone. The new goal is “work-life integration” where employees have choices about when they get their work done. “Work-life integration” means the employees can run an errand in the middle of the day. It means they don’t have to make up some cockamamie excuse about why they didn’t immediately answer the phone.

“Work-life balance” is full of controls. “Work-life integration” focuses on positive outcomes. It eliminates the need for many of the tradition controls.

Here’s the deal…Authentic Leaders already know they control far fewer things than they thought they would before they became leaders. They have also learned they don’t have to control anyone to earn their commitment.

Control is unnecessary for an Authentic Leader. They have influence into the attitude, activities, and outcomes of each member of their organization. If you’re in a leadership position and your struggling with the “work from home” thing then it’s very possible that you’re trying to control things…and people beyond your control.

Stop trying to control people and start building relationships with them. It’s those relationships, built on trust, that will allow you to influence your people to productivity heights that control freaks can only dream of.