To Work in the Office or Not – Is This The Right Question?

To work in the office or not

To work in the office or not seems to be the question of the day.  It is coming up as we end the restrictions imposed to combat the pandemic.  After being forced to work remotely for over a year, employees and their companies are considering what to do now.  Continue to work remotely, head back to the office or follow some hybrid of the two.

Productivity studies show better results working remotely, and yet some CEOs insist staffers come back to the office.  What a mess.  What is going on?  It is the question of the day but it misses the point completely.  Rather than where we work, shouldn’t the focus be on delivering results?

Focusing on delivering results?

Some leaders will say that is exactly what they are focusing on.  People working in the office deliver the best results.  This argument reminds me of the time I thought I knew best.  In fact, as the leader of an organization I thought I was expected to have the answer.  If I was asked where people should do their work I would know the right answer.  Fortunately, I learned (the hard way) that wasn’t my job.  My job was to support the people around me to do their best work.  My role was to set clear expectations of the results we needed to deliver and then support the teams to achieve them.  That didn’t involve telling them what to do or where to do it.  My teams were capable of figuring that out and they delivered exceptional results.

Contrasting approaches

I read this week in the WSJ that JP Morgan Chase is requiring employees to work in the office on Mondays and Fridays.  The only rationale I can see for this is fear that employees won’t work on these days if they work remotely.  By not holding employees accountable to deliver results wherever and whenever works best for them they are sending a very clear message.  We don’t trust you.  I’m pretty certain this approach will not get the best out of people.

Contrast this approach with how Tope Awotona, the founder and CEO of Calendly is approaching the same situation.  “We want to be what we call a remote-first company, but not a remote-only company,” he says. “We want to eliminate the expectation that anybody has to be in the office. All we care about is that you get your job done from anywhere, you hit your goals and you make yourself available.”

I know the sort of company I want to work for.  How about you?

Comments (2)

It’s a great question you are asking there Andy.
And maybe, as you point it out, the question isn’t as simple as that.
We might not know yet which questions we have to ask to give a proper answer. It seems to me that it actually will be a set of questions. Questions that come to mind are: “what are we willing to change to make sure the expected results are known to our team independently from where they are working?”, “how will we adapt our processes to support our teams in their effort to achieve the desired result?”, and “what do we, given our culture, need to do, to prevent our teams from drifting apart when moving into a hybrid mode?”

Hi Francoise, I agree with you. There are many important questions to ask about how the company can best support remote teams. Ideally, this will be a dialogue with the teams rather than a tops down directive in the form of ‘we know best’. 😉

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