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Change COVID-19 Human Resources Leadership Self awareness

Summer promotion! Back to the Office, or Else.

You can’t open any business article or newsletter without bumping into an article about the post-Covid, back-to-the-office strategy. There’s only one solution. Listen to each other and discuss your needs.

Let me start with a bit of a disclaimer. I only do this when I believe it’s necessary to warn you that you may be exposed to some opinions that may provoke you.

Overall, I think my insight today is a balanced rant.

You may think that a rant, by definition, is not balanced, but I disagree.

I disagree because I’ve done my best to include different perspectives while sharing what I believe.

The topic is WFO or Work from Office.

Which is now the nemesis from WFH or Work from Home.

You can’t open any business article or newsletter without bumping into an article about the post-Covid, back-to-the-office strategy.

You also can’t engage with any business leader (often recognizable by the acronym CEO), and they’ll start sharing their opinion about returning to work.

Most outspoken is probably the Morgan Stanley CEO, who introduced his summer promotion to his people with these words:

“Be back in the office by September, or else.”

CEO Morgan Stanley

This quote was preceded by the following quote from a week or so earlier:

“If You Can Go to A Restaurant In New York City, You Can Come into The Office.”

CEO Morgan Stanley

That makes me want to apply for a job at Morgan Stanley.

And I feel sorry for the Chief People Officer (or Chief Whatever Officer) of Morgan Stanley.

Back to the office is THE office discussion these days.

When, how, and who will go back to the office after summer?

But it’s mostly not a collaborative conversation.

Chief Whatever Officers complain amongst each other about the lack of willingness of their people to go back to the office.

And the office workers without an officer title complain to each other about the lack of compassion and empathy of their bosses.

There are exceptions.

I know of a few companies that have surveyed their people and ask them about their preferences.

They then installed a small committee from different positions and asked them for their recommendations.

And engaged in a collaborative conversation to come up with the best possible solution.

If both parties were sensible, then both parties realized the perfect solution does not exist.

It’s always a compromise of needs.

Unfortunately, unlike the exceptions from above, many managers (yes, I don’t call them leaders) have a problem trusting their people while working from home.

Many managers believe people are more productive in the office, need interaction, and provide better results when at work.

There’s a partial truth to that.

I do believe great ideas, solutions, and decisions are made with people working together effectively while in the same room.

Human interaction does count. Big time.

I also believe a lot of time is wasted in meeting rooms in one-way conversations without outcomes.

People who prefer to work from home believe they’re more productive at home.

They have experienced that the ‘zooms of this world’ can provide the required interaction and enjoy the freedom they have to organize their lives and work in the best possible way.

Office workers experience a lot of wasted time while being in the office.

Extra time (including the commute) they have found valuable for other activities in their lives.

Both parties have valid arguments, except for the one about not trusting people working from home.

Yes, dear manager, some people do take advantage.

But the majority of people are engaged and productive while working from home.

And even if you think they’re not, and there’s slack, then you have failed as a manager to provide your people with proper goals that need to be accomplished.

If people do the work and achieve their outcomes, what’s the problem?

That they take 30 minutes to go grocery shopping or have a coffee with a friend?

If you can’t trust your people, you should first and foremost look in the mirror and ask yourself what you can do differently.

That’s where the problem starts.

You have created an environment where you believe people can’t be trusted.

Threatening to fire your people is not the right solution (feel free to forward this email to the CEO of Morgan Stanley). Likewise, upgrading your time and attendance systems is also not a solution.

It’s too late to turn back the clock, no matter how much you want to, because you pay the paycheck every month.

People have experienced a different reality, that suits their needs better, and won’t give it back easily.

Just watch your engagement scores by the end of the year. Provided, you have the guts to hold a survey.

The right solution is to listen to your people and ask them what they need.

And then they will listen to you when you explain to them what you need.

That’s where you find common ground.

By listening to each other.

Because it’s a conversation, not an executive order.

Your turn: what do you need?

Do more of what makes you happy!

Erikjan

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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