There seems to be a great divide in visions of the future of work between employers and employees. Companies are struggling to get workers back in the office, while workers are fighting for more time to work from home.
Last spring, Apple CEO Tim Cook was ready to demand Apple employees spend at least a few days each week working at the company’s headquarters in California. An employee group called AppleTogether responded with an open letter protesting and detailing concerns such as time lost to commuting, open offices limiting “deep work”, and the fact that rigid work schedules are childish: “Stop treating us like school kids who need to be told when to be where and what homework to do,” the letter states, according to the New Yorker.
The Future of Work
The pandemic has led organizations to challenge the basic how, when and where work takes place. That has led to a new hybrid work model which has been a reality for many months now, where employees spend a portion of their time working from home as well as the office. According to the 2022 Deloitte Millennial and Gen Z Survey and the Deloitte Women @ Work 2022 Outlook:
- 75% of Millennials and Gen Z and 65% of women prefer hybrid work
- 31% of American workers would look for another job if they were told they had to return to the workplace five days a week.
According to that same Millennial/Gen Z survey, the top reasons for choosing an employer are:
- Work life balance
- Learning and development opportunities
The top reasons for leaving an employer are:
- Mental health
Flexibility is Key
There’s no argument there are pros and cons to both remote and in-person work. Networking, problem solving and apprenticeship work best in an in-person collaborative environment, while productivity, speed and quality ‘heads down’ time seem to thrive while workers are remote.
But some leaders are being resistant to remote work. 71% of leaders indicate that managing remote teams has added a great deal of stress to their role. And I’ve seen some old-school companies lose top talent because they aren’t being flexible enough in their return to work plans.
Other organizations are doing their best to figure out how to navigate this new workplace of the future. For one of my executive coaching clients who works in the insurance industry, it’s a difficult journey because there are so many factors to consider.
For instance, each department has different requirements based on how it supports the organization. Customer-facing department employees must be in the office at least two to three days a week, IT and some other groups every day, and just one day a week for all areas that are not customer facing – it simply depends on the person’s role. Each department head decides the structure for his/her team, but the ultimate goal is that people are working in the office more than they are not. This makes it very hard for organizations to come up with a solution that is fair and equal to everyone.
There is also a huge divide between upper management, department heads and workers at this company. A thread I’ve heard repeatedly is that top leadership isn’t practicing what they are preaching. They believe people need to be in the office to maintain productivity, connectedness, and culture, but they don’t model it. They are living in their vacation homes while working remotely, while their employees aren’t entitled to this option.
A generational gap is also at play, where older people believe very rigidly in in-person office work whereas younger people want more flexibility and feel like it doesn’t matter whether you work in the office or not. So far, the two sides haven’t been able to align.
It’s been almost three years since the start of the pandemic, so why can’t we figure this out? I believe the discrepancy is not only an age discrepancy, but a result of holding strong perceptions and beliefs despite growing research to the contrary. So even when multiple research studies show how employees are more productive at home and that they are also working longer hours, if you don’t want to believe that, then you believe it isn’t true. You dismiss it because it doesn’t confirm your beliefs. I’m aware of four companies that have stopped doing internal employee surveys because they repeatedly show results that don’t want to be seen or taken action on.
A Huge Chasm
Another study by Microsoft confirms the divide between management and worker perspectives. The survey of 20,000 people in 11 countries revealed that 87% of employees say they are productive at work, but 85% of leaders are less sure of that.
The study also found that 84% of people would be motivated to come into work more frequently by the promise of being able to interact and connect with their coworkers. But instead of using human connections as leverage, most bosses are relying on corporate policies to force them back. This spring, a survey by GoodHire of 3,500 American managers showed 77% managers believed there should be severe consequences to employees who refuse to return to the office.
Meanwhile, some companies are having success by creating set times of the week where workers have the opportunity to be with each other – and strongly urge everyone to be there at that time, while acknowledging that there will be a sacrifice on the employees’ part.
I use sports analogies a lot to talk about mental fitness and the benefits of working out your brain. But there’s no better place than a hybrid workplace to instill and hone a team mentality. Leaders need to find a way to align their workers to feel like they are a team. In that process, they need to impart that, just like running drills in practice, there will be times where we all have to do things we don’t necessarily want to do, such as commuting to the office.
Leaders will Need to Adapt
There are some management shifts that are proving helpful in today’s flexible work environment:
- Manage performance through outcomes. When a manager focuses on the outcome yet allows the employee to manage their own process, it creates a sense of ownership for the employee. Of course, it’s necessary to set clear goals and milestones and check in often to hear about roadblocks and offer support. But ultimately, the employee is held accountable to achieve the designated outcome.
- Foster trust and togetherness. It’s certainly a lot more difficult these days when we have fewer working lunches and conversations at the coffee machine, but it’s up to managers to continue to foster an environment where the employee feels he/she can be open, heard and accepted.
- Make your meetings interactive. Have you checked email or turned off your video to let the dog out during a Zoom meeting? Our home distractions can be pitfalls to engaged meetings. Managers should keep their meetings short and use interactive tools such as chat, polls, etc. to engage team members.
- Boost problem solving. When you teach your team how to problem solve, you increase buy-in. Adopt team problem solving as a mindset – for yourself and the entire team.
- Lead with authenticity. Walk the talk. Follow the same rules as outlined for your employees in this hybrid environment.
Our executive coaching services can provide the support you need to become the ultimate hybrid team leader.