Episode #28: Say You'll Come Back to the Office...
... most of the time.
A recent article in Fortune magazine reported that three out of five managers expect workers to return full time to the office by end of year. To add some bite to this expectation, if workers say no, a pay cut or dismissal is likely to follow.
As someone bilingual in the foreign language of corporate-speak, here’s the bottom-line covered in the article:
For many managers, blue sky thinking on WFH is over. At this point, if you’re still hoping to remote work permanently, you’re flogging a dead horse. The team sees it as mission critical that by EoY you get all your ducks in a row and tee-up your plans for returning full-time to the office. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.
Got it? Good. Now that we’ve looked at the situation through the lens of corporatese, let’s look at the situation through the lens of Productive Conflict.
There are two clear sides with two clear objectives. Sometimes, oftentimes, these objectives are incompatible. Managers want workers to return to the office and workers want to work from home.
The easy to spot space for compromise lay in the middle— a mix or hybrid schedule of some WFH and some WFO. One notable hybrid approach has been identified as “3+2,” meaning three days in the office and two out-of-office.
However, it is a mistake to think that the only productive outcome from conflicting perspectives is to compromise or meet in the middle.
Sometimes the middle-way is the least productive way and despite what many negotiation theorists may say, it isn’t always a good thing if everyone leaves the table not getting what they wanted…
In the case of managers wanting workers back and workers wanting to stay at home, both parties can look behind the vale at what is creating conflict in the first place.
Workers are comfortable at home and enjoy the freedom to work at their own pace with less micromanagement.
Mangers are used to working from an office and enjoy having a cleaner separation of “work” and “home” life.
If managers have to manage from home they are likely to be frustrated and unhappy as oing so poses all sorts of communication and leadership difficulties.
If workers have to show up to the office they are likely to be frustrated and unhappy as doing so equals a radical change. Workers put in hard work during the pandemic to establish a happy equilibrium in their work-from-home life; they are unlikely to let the outcome of their labors to be thrown away with ease.
Beyond a 3+2 Model, What’s a Business to Do?
Drawing from Productive Conflict, where individuals are asked to confront the sources of conflict rather than run from them, I offer the following rhetorical strategies:
FOR MANAGERS: Recognize that the world has changed and while the facts may be that it is indeed easier to manage people in person and while those people are in the same building, those facts don’t necessary mean that those people recognize, or even value, those facts. Use your managerial energy to lead them back versus ordering them back.
Here are some quick questions managers can run through to get started:
What can you offer at the office to replicate the work-from-home options people found comfortable?
What sort of financial incentives can you offer to help your colleagues re-adjust?
How can you become more of a leader and less of a micro-manager, and, in doing so, create a space where people learn and grow (and thus want to show up)?
FOR WORKERS: Recognize that the world you are working in was, is, and has been, a temporary adaptation to an external condition. That external condition is waning and the world is readjusting to norms that were in place pre-pandemic. Yes, the world has changed permanently no doubt, but the pendulum of work culture is swinging back to the office and some things, like the physics behind a pendulum, are out of your control. Use your experience working-from-home to speak with your management team about what works best for you and how the office can do better for you. As the office space gets jump started again, the time to ask for specific changes you want is now when new norms have yet to be fully ingrained in your company culture. You can contribute to shaping what the new norms look like by speaking up.
Here are some quick questions workers can consider when returning to the office:
What do you like most about working-from-home? Can any of those “like most” qualities be reproduced at the office? It is likely that management may not even be aware of what conditions and options you’re interested in.
Do you have a communication channel in place to speak with your managers about changes and how the return to work transition can better entice you? Don’t make it a mystery; speak to your superiors about what you want and help create the space for you to return in a way that motivates you to do so.
If you truly cannot fathom the idea of returning to work, then consider looking for a permanent remote position elsewhere. No one wants to do a job they don’t like, and no one wants to manage a worker who doesn’t want to be there. While we don’t always have the luxury of choosing our jobs, as the world transitions back to office work, if a non-negotiable for you is work-from-home, make it your priority to find a new place. And if it’s not a priority for you, then you have a duty to adapt best you can and share your perspective on what will be most helpful to you and others like you.
There you go! A little tip sheet for mangers and workers on how to embrace the conflict you might face as you take a ride on the pendulum of returning to the office.
Thanks for reading! If you know someone who might be interested in some of these ideas, click the button below to refer them to this article.