The Great Office Debate (Part 2 of 2)

15 May

The Great Office Debate (Part 2 of 2)

So, what do we do now?

Following up on last week’s post highlighting the arguments for “work from home” and “work from office,” it’s clear that neither model will suit most organizations in their entirety all the time (though there are arguments that can support either model for functions or departments within the organization).  

The question not “should we continue “at home” work?”, but rather “what does the new remote work model look like?”  Getting to a new hybrid model is no small task, and here’s an approach to help you get there:

(1) CALL IT LIKE IT IS.       

If some overarching reason (perhaps Vision/Mission or Culture?), truly dictates that the entire organization can only operate in one model or the other, then call it like it is and don’t waste your time thinking about this.  Be very thoughtful and honest though that this is really so … and beware of the ripple effects of your decision on attraction, retention, culture, efficiency, customer service, etc.  Communicate the decision, and why it is so … and move on to something else.  If that’s not the case, read on.

(2) DEFINE AND UNDERSTAND the distinct pieces of “work” from the top-down.  

Identify, prioritize and break down key work processes.  Be clear on what purpose they serve, what they deliver, what parts actually need to be done (or eliminated) to get there, and who they interact with.   Get specific about each role within it.  Understand what’s a collaborative project and what’s an individualized project.  Identify which value-adding activities are done more efficiently and effectively, where and why.  Articulate, and get in words, the rationale for being in the office (or not) for specific work activities.  This is a herculean task that results in a true diagnosis by looking in the mirror. Carefully facilitated and coordinated sub-group think-tanks are an efficient way of getting there.

(3) IN PARALLEL, LISTEN… really listen and learn. 

Ask your people what they want and why.  Only your employees can tell you how they have changed as a result of the pandemic, and what they want moving forward. Deaverage input not only by function or department but also for example by young, mostly city-dwelling people who may have differing views from older, suburban-living people.  Learn with an open mind:

  • Foster honesty – make it safe to know the WHOLE truth.
  • Be collective – hear from the cross-section of employees across the organization.
  • Be internally public – so people know you care enough to ask and want the unvarnished truth.

Tell the truth about what the company needs to have done and engage people in the hard work of creating solutions together.  Dream big.  And, btw, all this means that just a “survey” is far too superficial alone.  Excellence requires structured think-tank input and 1-on-1 conversations as well.

(4) DRAFT the policies – for the overall organization and for specific groups.  

There are many (many) options to consider.  It’s a complex task, with interrelated parts and it’s unique to your organization.  Get your senior team together for a work-a-thon to tackle it.  It may take a day or two.

  • Clearly articulate and prioritize the “next new” question(s) you are going to answer, for which types of “work” and why.
  • Note that “Away” works best for relatively independent tasks, codified and shared at a distance.
  • Note that “In Person” matters for relatively dependent tasks, coordinating tacit knowledge in fluid ways, and coordinating in unpredictable ways.
  • Get in the details.  Conceptual simplicity still gives rise to operational complexity.
  • Incorporate flexibility as much as you can.
  • Consider hybrid policies that can increase both retention and recruiting pools.  
  • Remember that structure is important.  An unstructured hybrid approach does not work if left to individual choice to come in when people feel like it.
  • Make sure that performance systems are based on output and value delivered.
  • Beware that there are motivation and compensation impact to everything.
  • Look at both effectiveness and “fairness” across groups.
  • Be creative and learn from others.
  • Group like-policies by department together for simplicity where possible.
  • Ensure there is a cohesive plan.

Once done, share it with the Leadership team.  Adjust.  Align.  Proceed.

(5) CRAFT the message.  

There has been a subtle but significant shift in the employer-employee relationship.  In the “pre (covid)” world, employers set standard rules of employment and the worker acquiesced.  Now, employees expect their employers to consider their individual circumstances when designing their specific roles and evaluating their performance.  Come from a “what’s in it for me?” perspective.  Get specific and be prepared to answer questions (e.g., who works remotely?  On what days? Etc.).  Also, be aware that employees’ relationship with employers has shifted, putting more focus on individual employees’ health, well-being and personal needs.

(6) REMODEL your walls.  

Real estate holdings often need to be reevaluated for what kind of physical space best enables a fluid workforce in the next new.  The shape and feel of the office experience must suit the purpose.  Structure the place to ensure that time in the office is optimized for face-to-face time. Many yearn for meaningful connection, social community, flexibility, and safety.  Consider the:

  • Reality of casual conversations that come before or after a meeting.
  • Importance of “water cooler” talk, walking in the halls and bumping into people.
  • Need for larger interactive, properly equipped “collaborative innovation spaces” for group brainstorming, hackathons, demo hours, etc.
  • Insight that trust and working relationships are often nurtured over coffees and lunches.   
  • Expectations that people who are on-site are not just there for in-person meetings or closed doors.
  • Need for time and place for people to just sit together and work.

(7) OVERCOMMUNICATE the next new … loudly and often

In the absence of communication, we all connect the dots in very imaginative and often delusionary ways.  Get specific.  Enlist those with “megaphones,” and address those who are “wrench-throwers”.

(8) CORRECT.  

None of us are geniuses, and we don’t have crystal balls.  Take solid action, then figure out what’s working and what’s not.  Gather data and feedback; gauge the productivity of people and of teams and their connection to your organization.  Make yourself and your senior team accountable to the organization and its people.  Then repeat the process periodically.  It’s unlikely that we’ll nail any model perfectly on the first try.  And if you don’t get it right, someone else will.

Bottom line:  we’re not returning to the “old” and we need to define the “new” in a thoughtful and methodical way. 

I welcome your thoughts and am happy to discuss your particular journey to the “next hybrid new.”

Anna Minto

Founder & CEO, Transformational Change

AMinto@trchange.com

LinkedIn.com/in/annaminto

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