Remote Work Is Not Going Away …

Some of the corporate behemoths mandating return-to-office policies are at least starting to pay attention to the fact that forcing everyone back five days a week is bad business. But they’re still not getting the memo that the reinvention of work means the best leaders hire people they trust, give them discretion over where and how they are most productive and inspire them to use that freedom to ride new waves of success.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Meta, Google, Grindr and even videoconferencing software maker Zoom are requiring hybrid work schedules. They all cite the same rationale – providing flexibility while allowing for greater in-person collaboration between teams, in-person office work was the norm before the pandemic and will (eventually) become normal post-pandemic, better integration into company culture …

Hybrid-Remote Work Mistakes

However, CEOs are making three big mistakes …

  1. They are mandating a certain number of days for a hybrid work schedule – i.e., two days a week, three days a week.
  2. Some – Tesla, JP Morgan, Blue Origin and others – are calling themselves “work-from-work” companies and mandating full-time, five-day-a-week office attendance, Entrepreneur magazine reported.
  3. Others regret giving up their office lease and mandating that everyone work from home. They have had trouble building the company culture necessary for growth.

So, if hybrid work, a complete return to the office and forcing all your employees to work remotely are all wrong, what are bosses missing? That variation of the word “mandate” in each bullet point above. The old school command-and-control must give way to trust and inspire.

As Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy for workplace management at Gallup, pointed out, forcing employees to come to the office under the threat of discipline leads to disengagement, fear and distrust. Gallup finds that “the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60 to 80 percent of their time – or three to four days in a five-day workweek – working off-site.” The Integrated Benefits Institute found in an October 2022 survey that employees who work remotely or in a hybrid environment reported being more satisfied (20.7%) and more highly engaged (50.8%).

Don’t Mandate the Zoom Return-to-Office Plan

The problem is Jane. You might require Jane to be in the office two days a week, 10 days a month or never. But Jane’s work projects have different collaboration requirements, different teammates, different timelines, deliverables and needs.

Some months, Jane needs to be in the office only one day. Some months, she needs to be in the office 15 days. If Jane has a major project with a new team, perhaps she needs to co-locate – but that could be at the office, at a local coffee shop, at a hotel on the beach. While the team’s families play in the surf, the team can hole up in the conference room and power through what needs to get done.

And a week at the beach is not that expensive compared to a downtown Manhattan office lease.

When Return to Office is Appropriate

On the other hand, Charlie, that 24-year-old Jane is mentoring, might need to be in the office full time. Face-to-face engagement increases the acceptance and trust that Charlie needs to build, helps Charlie understand corporate culture and learn the skills and knowledge he did not learn in college. (Mentorship also might mean Jane needs to be in the office a few extra days a month, too.)

What’s more, if Charlie is in a small New York City apartment, he might want to walk three blocks to the office every day. (Jane might, too, for that matter.)

The Most Productive Work Schedule Involves Choice

All of those options – optionality in your work schedule design – can give your organization a competitive advantage. Companies that offer flexible work options are able to fill vacant positions at nearly twice the rate of those that require their employees to return to the office full time, The Wall Street Journal reported.

If you have 10 people in your department, being an insightful leader might require you to recognize that they have 10 different work requirements. And if you have hired the right people and coached and trained them well, they will know when and where they are most productive. Sometimes that might be a week in the mountains, sometimes that might be in the office, sometimes that might be in a hotel conference room.

Want to discuss how to reinvent work to meet your future leadership and organizational development goals? I would love to help. Contact me to learn more.