1. Lessons In Leadership

The office isn’t dead yet

It’s not about the office, it’s about the relationships.

Remote work vs. in-office? I’m a bit put off by the high-temperature arguments on both sides. For starters, there’s a lot of entitlement in this conversation, because it ignores the majority of people for whom remote work is not an option — event staff, medical workers, retailers, first responders, house and lawn services, painters, construction workers — and all of the other people who slugged it out during the pandemic.

Working from home, when it’s a choice and not something enforced, is a privilege. It certainly makes the commute easier, which has positive implications for the environment. It eliminates exposure to office germs. And it makes it possible to juggle tight schedules because a virtual meeting is only a click away.

On the other hand, we have all experienced that it’s harder to collaborate when we are denied the relationship-building moments that happen in face-to-face situations. Certainly, we are getting better at meeting virtually and optimizing digital tools. But consider the plight of  support people within an organization who aren’t routinely invited to zoom calls but still rely on the cooperation of others to accomplish work. Case in point — when we all worked in an office, we could easily run down the hall and make a friendly request without engaging a bunch of people in multiple emails or phone calls. We could get a response right away, because we had a relationship with that person — we had shared snacks, chatted over coffee, admired photos of their kids, and commiserated with them about the weather.

These simple interactions help us connect in a way builds trust, be better collaborators, and produce better outcomes personally and professionally. I believe that this is more likely to happen in person. But this isn’t about me, it’s about what brings true value to the organization.

If, as leaders of our respective companies, we want people to spend some amount of their time in the office, it is incumbent upon leadership to articulate the value proposition of a hybrid workspace. I believe this is the obligation of every leader who wants to mandate in-office work for people who have already adopted a remote-work lifestyle. This requires a level of organizational agility that might be uncomfortable at first. But we need to think like a program manager — like a community builder — and uncover or invent meaningful reasons to come together. And yes, we need a plan to integrate team members who are in other locations because they live in different places. The experience design, however, needs to make people look forward to the time they will spend with their colleagues in the office.

And we have to demonstrate the value proposition in a way that creates grassroots buy-in. We have to create an office environment that incubates positive relationships, delivers on equity and inclusion, and inspires people to collaborate on solving the latest challenges. We need to make it easy to work together, innovate, and discover new solutions.

How we make this happen will be different for every company and every field of work, but clearly it’s time to rethink the office experience. The office is dead; long live the office.

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