There is always a tension between the wishes of management and what employees are willing to do. The challenge is for those in authority to provide a means for employees to achieve the mission by following the organization’s strategic direction.
One such issue arising and worthy of study is the workplace’s future, namely whether work-from-anywhere will become our norm. If so, that’s not what CEOs are thinking. [Note: this survey covered employers where work could be done remotely.]
According to a new survey by the Best Practice Institute, 83% of CEOs want their employees to come back in the office. Only 10% of employees are interested. Of those who responded, safety was the prime concern.
“Over 60% of employees responded they wouldn’t be comfortable returning without trusting the company’s confidence in communicating co-worker illness, clear instructions on health and safety policies, and the option to work from home,” BPI said in announcing the results.
Management wants a physical presence
“Research shows that any change, especially during a highly volatile time, will most likely cause a great deal of stress,” Louis Carter, CEO of BPI, told me in an interview. “People are already very concerned about their health and catching COVID (and rightly so), and going into work present a huge amount of potential for additional stress. Those who did indicate they would come into work gave us clear expectations of what they needed to make it easier for them to come back to work.”
How can CEOs resolve this discrepancy between their wishes and the wishes of their employees? The answer is creating a sense of mutuality.
“Co-creation is critical for CEOs to meet expectations,” says Carter. “CEOs must develop their perfect move back into the office together with them, and not ‘to’ them.
“The more they are directed to make a change, the more push back will occur,” Carter continues. “Work with inside and outside coaches, facilitators, and contractors to meet the needs of employees and help you through this unprecedented time in world economic and business history.”
David Burkus, an organizational psychologist and author of “Leading from Anywhere: The Essential Guide to Managing Remote Teams,” says it is necessary “to recognize that it’s about way more than just where people work from during normal business hours. People had the opportunity to rework when and how they do their work as well.
“So even those who want to return to the office are unlikely to want to return for the standard, Monday to Friday from 9 to 5. There’s no way around a need for flexibility, so the best thing you can do is recognize that it’s not a binary choice,” Burkus continues. “Most people will end up choosing a little bit of time at the office and a little bit of time at home. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s probably better.”
Strive for win/win
For their part, employees must look at going back to the office as an opportunity for growth.
“Our brain is pre-dispositioned to have signal anxiety. Research shows that in the absence of choice, with signal anxiety, we are more apt to do nothing at all,” Carter says. “Employees have an opportunity to grow by expressing their preferences in a constructive rather than demanding way.
It’s easy to blame the CEO — it’s much harder and more of a growth opportunity to be a part of the solution,” Carter continues, “Stop blaming and getting mad at your CEO — it’s not their fault. They have pressures that are enormous. Have empathy and start the process.”
Going back to work in an office requires thinking ahead. “If you’re wanting to stay work from home, make a plan for when or under what conditions you’d need to be in the office and work to establish those boundaries right away,” advises Burkus. “In addition, make sure you’re documenting your productivity when you’re not in the office … as many managers may go back to assuming presence equals productivity for most of their people. And you don’t want to get stigmatized as the least productive just because you’re the least present.”
Working from anywhere is reality
The pandemic has accelerated the future of work. Trends toward employees working from home, or frankly from anywhere, are here to stay.
“It started before the pandemic, was boosted by the pandemic, and will continue long after the pandemic. BUT, having been forced to work along for so long … wanting to bring everyone back together is a powerful emotion, and one leaders should be thinking about,” Burkus says. “But they should also be thinking about when and why they’re bringing people back together. Team meetings, discussions, bonding time all happen better in person. Solo work is done in a cubicle alone under the hum of fluorescent lights. There’s no reason to force people back to that when they’ve spent the better part of a year learning how to do that work somewhere better.”
The challenge is for managers and employees to come to a solution that ensures equity and opportunity. Employees not in the office need to have the opportunity for promotion, even if it means returning to the office for a new position.
Accommodation on both sides is necessary. Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, once said, “Unless you are willing to compromise, society cannot live together” — or work together either.
John Baldoni is a globally recognized executive coach and leadership educator. Inc.com ranked John a Top 50 Leadership Expert and Top 100 leadership speaker. Trust Across America awarded John its Lifetime Achievement award for Trust and Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of Top 30 leadership experts. John is the author of 14 books, including GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us.