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Office of the Future? One size does NOT fit all

This past year has turned our idea of the workplace inside out, upside down, and cattywampus. While many look at this year as productivity lost or teamwork put on pause, there’s also much to be gained from rethinking the idea of the workplace. Are people really most productive while sitting in their cubicle all day—sans distractions? Distractions happen wherever you are. Distractions used to be colleagues talking about fantasy football picks, latest cat photos, or extended group lunches. Now distractions are crying babies, Instacart deliveries, or unstable Zoom connections. There is no evidence that productivity suffers if not in the office. 

Workplace should mean just that, the place in which you do your work. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a cubicle, your kid’s room that has the best Wi-Fi, a Starbucks patio, or on a conference call in line for a COVID-19 test.  The pandemic has forced most of us to figure out where we get our BEST work done. 

As this fantastic article mentions, organizations must shift from “who” should be in an office to “what” should happen in a shared space. Client phone calls, creative brainstorming, cold calling, brief writing, Excel spreadsheeting—as we reimagine what the workplace is, let’s focus more on the quality of work and less on where the work is being done. Technology has allowed us to rewrite the entire premise of the office. As we move into a new year—and a continuously morphing workplace—management skills, competency assessments, and performance reviews must evolve to match.

Business up top, pajamas on the bottom!

By Lisa Aggrawal

I really thought that I was prepared.  

As a Catholic school student, I endured endless detention threats regarding dress code violations. As an HR professional, I have mediated endless dress code disputes. I’ve coached clients on how to appear more professional via their attire. Corporate offices were previously “business casual,” now they are “CASUAL casual.” It seems that so much of our culture is linked to our external appearance. We are even taught to dress for the role we seek. I thought I had nailed how to dress for success. 

But this is a new day. Just as Chicago has issued a new stay-at-home advisory for the next 30 days in response to rising Covid-19 cases, I get hit with these two articles. On the same day, within five minutes. 

We know that video conferences and remote work have opened a gateway to a more casual corporate uniform–but are sweatsuits the new power suit? Sometimes I will throw a blazer on to give the impression I mean business (all while wearing my yoga pants)…but now I need one with shoulder pads? Maybe I should just keep a “Zoom shirt” in my office (by office, I mean kitchen) for video conferences and call it a day. Hopefully I don’t end up like one of my countless friends who accidentally have stood up during an online meeting only to expose their pajama bottoms. 

Today, it seems that most of us are just seeking comfort, in any form. Perhaps this will cause a subliminal shift to pay less attention to external appearance and more to an employee’s value and contribution. Or one can only hope!

How has your business handled dress codes, or lack thereof? 

Lest We Forget

Every last one of us is experiencing COVID-19 Fatigue, and we’ve only been at this eight months.

A year ago I was in Australia for Remembrance Day.  When I realized I would be there on the 11th of November, I knew where I had to be at 11 am. At the Cenotaph in Sydney, an older female veteran caught my attention, medals and all.

I first became aware of the outsized sacrifice of Australian and New Zealanders (ANZACs) in WWI, when I heard a folk song called “The Band played Waltzing Matilda.”

What the soldiers had to deal with when they came home in 1919? A pandemic. A year ago, I nodded in historic empathy, “Imagine, after nearly four years of war, all that sacrifice, for a small nation of 4.5 million when war broke out.” Nearly 62,000 soldiers died, to then come home and have an additional 15,000 people die from a pandemic? 

It is November 11th again. We want to complain about pandemic exhaustion, but what we label exhaustion will never begin to compare to those that survived WWI only to battle through the 1918-1919 pandemic. We may go to war for the last roll of toilet paper, or battle with our loved ones to stay in or wear masks, but in the face of true sacrifice, it truly dims. 

Nightmare at the Office: Budget Time

By Margaret Jungels

Halloween’s upon us, but it’s not just ghosts, ghouls, and goblins that are keeping us up at night. Even without Covid-19, these recent months of wildfires, social unrest, politics, hurricanes, and murder hornets are enough to push even the most zen among us over the edge.  

To top it off, amidst all this uncertainty, it’s time to start planning next year’s budgets! How do you predict anything about next year while still in a year full of “unprecedented times”? What costume or cape can you put on to possibly help with this task? 

Good advice for our kids, is good advice for all of us right now:  focus on what you can control and things that matter.

As your leadership team contemplates 2021, the things that you can control, and the things that really matter, reflect on how you have been able to survive 2020—your employees and their ability to adapt, innovate, and pivot weekly, if not daily. So, when thinking about how to budget for salary increases in the coming year, what should you do? What can you do?  

  • You can put together a process. Document the process. If you have a process from a previous year, review it, update it, and share it with everyone who touches it—people managers, finance, HR, and payroll. Make sure that people know what is expected of them, remind them in advance of due dates, and update the plan as you go. (This you can control)
  • There’s a lot to think about when determining how to allocate your salary budget. How have labor markets changed in the past year? Do some departments or roles compete for talent differently than others? Has Covid-19 created hot or hard to fill jobs? But beyond all this, the issue of pay equity is here to stay. Allocate your salary budget in a way that advances pay equity.  Let an analysis of current pay equity direct your budget allocation and drive changes to the way you pay, develop, and promote. Even with a relatively small budget, you can make sure that pay changes are advancing pay equity.  (This matters) 

And even though the world seems topsy-turvy, there’s still a lot that hasn’t changed. According to Willis Towers Watson’s 2020 North American Compensation Planning Pulse Survey, 84% of companies plan to deliver their pay increases on schedule. And while some companies (approximately 35%) plan to lower salary increases next year, the survey predicts a 2.6% average salary increase for non-executives—not so far off previous years. According to PayScale Market Trends the Technology and Transportation sectors remain strong and lead annual increase trends, but most other sectors are still doing relatively well. In some cases, even in Entertainment and Hospitality who have seen many layoffs, market rates of those who remain employed have been driven up.  

Finally, two things we can promise you—we’re here to help you navigate these tricky times, and, we’ll save you some fun-sized Kit Kats for when we can meet in person again!

How flexible has Covid-19 made you?

It might seem obvious to speak about three women upon whom I am dependent for my body not seizing up on me from sitting for seven months—but it is not THAT stretching I am referring to.

One of the best business books I picked up in a long time is Stretch – Unlock the Power of Less – and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined. One of the things most appreciated is that the author, an organizational development expert, provides research to back up many of my own theories from years of observing. A key theme in the book is resourcefulness—making do with what you have at hand versus waiting for the perfect desk, office, or moment.

In my own life, one of the best examples of the resourcefulness that I’ve experienced during this pandemic comes from three people who have spent the past several years teaching me how to stretch, literally. Using different modalities, Stephanie, Kathleen, and Sarah have stretched, and strengthened me, using different aspects of PT, Gyrotonic, and Pilates. In the midst of a national pandemic, I was not ready to give up my own stretching, especially as being confined to quarters made me feel like I was shrinking.

Exactly as Scott Sonenshein describes, these three women on whom I have come to rely on for my physical well-being, quickly figured out how their other clients and I could improvise without a studio and equipment. Anyone who is familiar with Pilates or Gyrotonic understands that they typically involve elaborate equipment, but I quickly sourced some additional foam rollers and my physical therapist sent out therapy bands to several of her clients. Being an early lover of Zoom, I was able to lend a hand in coordinating us all online. One day we decided that the screen definition was a little too good when one of the instructors could detect a muscle group that was not engaging!

All three of these lifesavers have invented new techniques, improvised equipment for clients who didn’t have weights at home (soup cans are just fine!) and focused on what was most important—the physical health and well-being of their clients.

Where are places that you have stretched?

You are braver than you believe

… smarter than you think. – A. A. Milne

But perhaps only if you work in the right environment?  

It is an environment in which the best leaders are going to foster, sustain, and reward innovation. 

Yet easier said than done for leaders for whom this is a whole new paradigm. So, imagine the thrill when the Harvard Business Review published a wonderful “how to” article this week. The article not only reinforced the theme of last week’s blog—but the author was clever enough to give seven concrete ways to create the kind of environment in which people are going to feel comfortable taking chances. Experimenting. Improvising. Innovating. Being Creative. All the things that the Autumn of Covid requires.  

The author, Timothy R. Clark, announces at the outset of his article that once you stop innovating, you die. He dubs the required culture one of Intellectual Bravery, a superb concept and phrase. Who is responsible for creating, cultivating, and sustaining this culture? The leader.

All seven of the techniques or behaviors he points out are wonderful, but if you could only do four, CHRC prioritizes these:

  • Take your finger off the fear button – credit once again to John Cleese; sorry, Machiavelli
  • Assign dissent – rotate the role of Devil’s advocate
  • Model vulnerability – if a leader cannot do this after the last seven months … question his humanity
  • Weigh in last – Probably the most valuable tactic of all. As consultants we have watched an entire day’s worth of desperately needed information and input get instantly silenced by a leader who airs his opinions first.   

History rewards the brave, and apparently, so does innovation.

And now for something completely different …

The Larch

No—but a laugh. And some humor. And why should that be so completely different at work?

A recent article in The Economist focused on the importance of humor in the office. Your first response: 

What is funny right now? 

and 

No one is IN the office!

But it took me back to an article that must be well over 30 years old. It was an interview with John Cleese about management. John Cleese, who I associate with Monty Python and providing the serious segues between silly segments, made two points that have stayed with me three decades later:

  1. Don’t create a culture where people are so scared to make a mistake, that when you ask them what time it is, they will say between 1:00 and 2:00 rather than tell you it is 1:10 for fear it might really be 1:15.  He asked:  one is a right answer, one is a wrong answer, but which answer is of more use to you?
  2. Humor is a useful tool because when people laugh, you know that they understand. 

Humor is essential if you are going to build a creative environment, because for that sort of environment to thrive, people have to take chances and yes—make mistakes.  When mistakes are made, chuckles, not chastising, are required. 

As we begin whatever phase we are entering in this Autumn of Covid, creativity will be required. Again. Just when everyone feels like they have used up every ounce of the creative juices they have, taking chances, making mistakes, improvising … is all going to be required of everyone. The best leaders are going to have to know how to foster it, sustain it, and reward it. 

Yes, Zooming makes office humor a bit more complicated. Nuance and timing are definitely more challenging. But you can find ways to send reminders of past office hilarity—be it a physical gift or a meme that summarizes something unique about your workplace, or what you enjoy about working with your colleagues. 

These unpredictable times call for out of the box solutions and the ability to improvise. It calls for wrong answers and exercising new muscles. Have you set up your organization to do any of this? Or laughed at yourself when you get it wrong.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program(ming)

It’s mid-September, when people should be getting:

  • Back from vacations
  • Back to school
  • Back to work

Except 

  • Vacations? Very few people took those, certainly not the ones they had anticipated
  • The whole school thing—depends 
  • Back to work … or back to Zoom?

Yet, there is a sense that people feel like they should be getting back into a routine, like there should be some sense of normal to return to … that normal most of us left in mid-March. 

We have been collecting articles and prophecies on the post-Covid world, especially the post-Covid workplace since April. Yet we are nowhere near that. Standing in line for an elevator the other day, I was speculating that perhaps printers of large, durable floor stickers are the winners in this Covid-economy. 

So how do those at the helm of businesses, be they large or small, attempt to strategize for this new world? You need to have a monocle on one eye and a telescope on the other. Even to survive in the medium term will require innovation, and that requires your best people.  

Right now, all your folks are stretched and stressed, so assume your best folks are as well. Your best folks might be the most stressed and stretched because they are probably conscientious at everything they do. So, value those capable of driving the innovation, and be aware of what will make them productive right now. You might never know about the immuno-suppressed partner or parent that prevents that healthy looking employee from coming to work each day. Your employee may have successfully hidden an auto-immune issue for years and does not want to disclose it now. Innovate your management style and develop new management skills in order to retain your key talent. 

Really think through who must return to your physical office despite the September instinct we all have. Would you rather Zoom with a trusted, vital resource, or have to start recruiting for their replacement? Read More Here 

It wasn’t all hot air

A deflated basketball sat on Coach’s desk to remind every player that basketball glory could be fleeting; they were one injury away from having to pivot from the sport. If they had nothing else, then what? 

When I started college, I couldn’t have imagined that one of the greatest teachers would be a professor I never had, nor a subject I never studied. It is easy to forget that in 1982, college basketball was still a local sport. No ESPN, no CBS Sports. All I knew was that Georgetown had a basketball team, and I heard that they had a strong coach. 

No talented young man was going to go play for Big John unless they were willing to play by his rules. They were going to be a student-athlete, emphasis on the student. They sat in the front row in class; not always convenient for the rest of us. They didn’t miss class; not unless they wanted a 5:00 am practice the next day! Study hall and tutors were not optional. The discipline he expected off the court could be summed up by why he never wanted his Freshman talking to the press: “[these are] dumb college kids.” Not pejorative, but realistic. In the early to mid-1980s, many outside of the Georgetown community were skeptical of Thompson’s tactics, but Coach Thompson had a longer-term strategy; he was building a culture.

“I don’t coach their team,” Mr. Thompson famously declared, “They play on my team.” 

After a sports injury, I saw this culture first-hand in the training rooms of Georgetown Athletics.  I observed many examples of how Coach’s expectations of his players meant that they treated others with dignity and respect. One example especially stands out:  One day postseason, I witnessed a 7 foot player cower when the 5’ 7” female trainer told him he wasn’t working hard enough. He respected her authority and expertise–and got back to work. 

In 1994, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras wrote a book called Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. One aspect that the authors highlighted was that organizations with strong corporate cultures had higher returns.  I have seen this time and time again in business, and one of the first places I had seen it work well was with John Thompson’s Hoyas. The management term for this is self-selection. When you create, build, and sustain a strong culture, you typically only attract those that want to be a part of that culture. In turn, they succeed in that culture; and therefore, continue to sustain it. 

Coach Thompson built that culture and success followed. Georgetown won an NCAA championship under Big John. While some players made it to the NBA, others went on to successful non-sports related careers and lives. That’s because Coach understood that playing basketball was part of the journey, not always the destination. His job was to accompany the young men along this journey and create success not just on the court, but for the rest of their lives. 

In college, I never imagined a career path in Management or Human Resources. I had no idea that these players and coaches I watched would become powerful examples of good leadership. This week, I have been stunned by all the articles and commentary about Coach; it is amazing to see how far and wide his influence stretched. While others continue to herald all that John Thompson, Jr. did for the game, the players, and the hearts (and heart attacks!) of fans, I will personally always hold the coach in high esteem for the management lessons he was teaching me—without me even realizing it. 

After all, I was just a dumb college kid, what did I know?  Read More Here

Finding a way out of the childcare desert

Everyone predicted it back in the spring. We even addressed some of the childcare issues that concerned people back in May on our blog.

But, we’re still here. Summer is ending, some schools have started (even if only virtually), and the picture isn’t any prettier. Are you willing to lose one of your best workers over two hours a day? Have you ever had someone resign when their mother died? Well, get ready…

An executive was stunned by the number of times that female employees resigned when their mother died. He couldn’t figure it out. Fortunately, other females connected the dots for him:  their mothers had provided essential childcare; without mom/grandma, they could no longer work. This executive then connected other dots too. Leaving children at home, with no way to get to and from school, or no way to get to after school activities, was worth losing income and childcare.  

And all of this was Pre-Covid.

This article from HR Executive provides some ways to start thinking differently, so that you and your company might be able to be as prepared as possible, and put all those agile thinking skills to use when your star performer comes in ready to quit. Read More Here