Now we have proved we can work from home, why should anyone bother to return to the office?
A new ‘hybrid’ culture is predicted – two or three days a week in the office, the rest at home. Some people will slip gratefully into this new rhythm. Others may take more persuading.
Every conversation about future plans boils down to commuting and flexibility. As Harvard’s @ashleywhillans says: “the commute is the ultimate time suck.”
Why should we trade off two hours or more extra work, family or even sleep time to commute into the office?
We know that people are happiest and most productive (HR goals, tick) when they are in control of where and when they do their work. We’ve spent over a year establishing effective remote-working routines. Whilst there is a huge appetite to reconnect with colleagues, how can businesses persuade people that they need to be in more than say, once a week, for the fun stuff? They will compete for their employees’ presence against the comforts of the new home office.
The lever for all this is trust
- That the office will be safe: visibly cleaned regularly.
- That each team will have a plan, regularly communicated, checked and recalibrated. What happens if you schlep in for a meeting and everyone else dials in? How do you have an equal voice if you dial in and everyone else is present?
- That your time will be optimised, not wasted. If you come into the office for a day of meetings, how will you use the downtime in between? Those 15 minutes or so, when you will probably be scrolling through your phone and emailing, add up to precious hours across a week and a month. Can you use that time for quick conversations to network and rebuild relationships instead?
- That the business won’t ruin your sprint days at home with increased bureaucracy or interruptions. We must get permission to de-connect. A reasonable time lag between communication should be normalised, stopping constant synchronous working. How often is it really necessary? Daily black-out times when we go off grid to plan and think without distraction should be encouraged, or better still, mandated.
- That their career aspirations will continue to be considered, irrespective of where they work.
How should businesses navigate this?
Listen. Get focus groups and surveys to understand what people need and value. What do they want to recreate from their ‘old’ office and what changes would they like to bring forward from the last year? Don’t over-promise, that’s an iron-clad way to destroy trust and increase flight risk. Once trust goes people won’t stick around, particularly if they aren’t sitting with their team anymore.
You simply cannot over-communicate your intention to bring back people safely. Their well-being must genuinely be at the heart of all re-entry plans. This is new for all of us, so it’s fine to admit you don’t have all the answers (yet), whilst reassuring people that their individual needs and working preferences will be listened to. There’s no one-size-fits-all.
As you know, I’m a zealot for eliminating everything superfluous to doing great work so that we can lead happier and more fulfilled lives. This could be a game-changer to ditch the crazy busyness: let’s not waste it.
In partnership with Zena Everett, www.zenaeverett.com. Zena’s latest book, ‘The Crazy Busy Cure: a productivity book for people with no time for productivity books’ is out in July and available for pre-order now.