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Do bosses realize the world has changed?

Everywhere I look, from The Wall Street Journal to CNBC, managers – I hesitate to call them leaders – are demanding that knowledge workers return to the office. After years of freedom and flexibility, employees are, not surprisingly, pushing back.

From Alaska to Florida, from Disney to Apple, employees believe they are more productive, have better work-life balance and are happier with remote or hybrid options. And you know what? The data backs them up. Fortune reports that productivity jumped when offices abruptly closed in 2020, stayed high through 2021, then dropped in 2022 when bosses started ordering their charges back to the office.

Face it. The definition of work – how we get things done – has changed. So the definition of leadership has changed. Therefore, leadership’s role has changed. Remote leadership is a different beast than leading everyone in office/cubicle world, so leaders must adapt. Remote work begets higher productivity and less time on meetings and commuting. The definition of work is different; therefore the definition of leadership must be different.

My latest book Insightful Leadership has an entire chapter on this (“Paradigm Shift: Sorry Boss, Your Office is Dead to Me”). At Tompkins Leadership and Tompkins Ventures, we have onboarded two companies virtually in the last three years.

I long ago came to the conclusion arrived at by Fleetcor CHRO Crystal Williams. She told Chief Executive magazine that the “‘five-days-a-week, nine-to-five in your office’ cubicle model is dead – or at least, it’s dying. If you don’t provide some flexibility, you’re not going to attract the best and brightest.”

I want the best people in the best roles, unlimited by geography or commuting time. Today’s technology allows that. Really, remote/hybrid work could have accelerated years ago if the bosses had allowed it.

Work-life balance is not about the hours at the office vs. the time at home, but about the harmony and satisfaction people have both in work and personal domains. It is a balance between home and family, health and well-being, career and community. Spending hours commuting does not fit that model, and the free coffee and doughnuts at work do not change that equation. Free coffee vs. your family? Get real.

Many of the company executives interviewed by Chief Executive’s C.J. Prince seem to have it right. See what you can learn from AllState, Embrace Pet Insurance, Blue Yonder and others.

At home, I can wake up, prepare for meetings, fix tea, have breakfast with my family, and then walk back to the office. That’s a quality of life I did not have for years.

Tompkins Leadership, Tompkins Ventures and many other insightful organizations are not going back to the past. Neither should you.