All the communal handwringing and bickering about:  The Return to the Office

We’ve been using the wrong model.

HINT:  think about the companies that dubbed their office “A Corporate Campus”

For those people that left home after high school to go away to college, what was the single most earth shattering change?

YOU DIDN’T REPORT INTO CLASS SEVEN OR EIGHT HOURS A DAY!

Prior to this, much of your success in education was tied to:  showing up.  If you didn’t, they called home. If you did this A LOT,  there were meetings with your parents, or Saturday detention: [cue the Breakfast Club soundtrack now …]

Heck, the local government even paid people to be Truancy Officers and look for kids playing hooky.

Now, you get to your college and depending on the professor, they might not even take attendance.  You might find out that there was absolutely no credit for attendance or participation.

As a lowly freshman, you got stuck with those 8 am classes MWF … or even worse, a 4 pm on MWF.

By the time you were a senior, you might have a seminar that met once a week.  Once a week? In a small class where you only had, what 12 weeks to impress your professor? Nowhere to hide … had to have all that reading done …

You might find out that you had a class where 100% of your grade was how you did on the final exam.

So how did those professors know if you were doing your work?

  • Did they stop by your dorm room at 2 am?
  • Did they take attendance in the library? Know which carrel was your favorite and check to see if their text book was open and highlighted in the appropriate chapter for that week?
  • In nice weather, did they stop by your spot on the lawn and make sure that you were reading text books?
  • Did they attend parties or scour the local bars to make sure that your reading was done for the next day?

Probably not.

They graded your papers and your tests.

They evaluated your performance.

How is this different from hybrid work?

Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots

This chart is eye grabbing.

Most reading this blog will easily recognize the vast majority of these logos.  You aspired to work at some, you DID work for some.

One logo immediately caught my eye.  In my days as a credit analyst, I signaled they were facing headwinds. In return, I got an extreme dressing down. The summation of that boss’s lecture? They were one of the largest companies in the country so how could I possibly even think to suggest that they were anything but stable?

The companies that have fallen off of this chart have done so for various reasons, for some it was hubris, for others an inability to pivot, in other cases, tastes change. A lack of innovation led to the demise of many.

Just yesterday, Jack Kelly had a piece in Forbes about the ultimate innovation: tailoring jobs to the individual needs of the various workers. Given the current labor and talent shortage in the U.S., this is exactly the right sort of solution for many organizations.

When firms can keep a clear focus on the deliverable, the output, where or how something gets done is less important.

Kelly says:

Consider how much better work would be if managers held conversations with their team, actively listened to how they’d like to work and then designed the job around their needs. Morning people could start early. Night owls can begin later in the day.

I lived this. Over 20 years ago at PwC, we had a well-oiled team that knew each other’s bio-rhythms and peak productivity hours.  We joked that there were probably only three hours that someone from our group wasn’t awake and available; one person was an extreme lark that got into the office at 5:00 am, while another was such an extreme night owl that we regularly got emails from him at 2:00 am, working remotely.  That is when I started experimenting with working from home … which one secretary dreaded because in uber-efficiency mode I banged through my To Dos, which then required her involvement.

As so many HR experts have reiterated: there are two ways to measure performance – inputs and outputs.  Do you want to measure the hours that you see someone in (or their jacket on) their chair? Or do you want to measure what they deliver? The RESULTS.

Go back to that left hand side of the graphic.  What happened to the temples those companies built? Big Stan in Chicago? GE Headquarters in Connecticut? The Sears Tower? They filled up with employees each morning and emptied every night.

Big buildings don’t matter.  That S&P graphic is based on results.

 

 

The headlines are filled with articles about the return to work, specifically, getting people back into an office. Some of the articles then focus on subtopics such as dress codes, flexible schedules, and mandatory vaccinations. At the core of these articles is an underlying assumption that either companies want to treat everyone the same, or feel that they must treat everyone the same.

With all of these articles swirling in my head, I reflected on the kudos given to Red Auerbach.  Reading the autobiography one of his protégés, who also became a coach, I have been introduced to his genius, his legend, and his insights on people. “I’ve never been around a man who managed … better than Red Auerbach. Particularly, the egos he had to deal with, the cross cultures he had to deal with and all the variations in the kinds of people that I saw him be associated with.”

That’s when it hit me that this is why the world of management has its collective basketball shorts in a twist.

The typical manager does not have a team any bigger than Red did when he led the Boston Celtics to nine championships.  If Red could find a way to coach, cajole, badger, and encourage his players … here’s betting today’s managers can.  Of course, just as Red needed to comply with NBA guidelines, today’s managers must not run afoul of the pertinent HR laws that pertain to their team of employees.

Stat sheets don’t lie, and a manager who sets clear goals will know quarter by quarter who is performing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

525,600 Minutes … how will you measure this year? AND the ones that follow?

525,600 Minutes … how will you measure this year? AND the ones that follow?

Our last blog shared insights on what activities will drive the workplace of the future. That concept of a workplace poses a huge challenge for many managers out there.

A recent podcast by GBH’s Innovation Lab addressed what organizations must build as they are dismantling cube space: management skills, competency assessments, and performance reviews to match the new workplace. Leaders having trouble coping with remote working will benefit from this program’s insights offered by experts, Professor Nicholas Bloom of Stanford and Liz Fosslein, head of content at Humu. Each organization will need to study and then tailor a return to work hybrid model that fits their organization.

Quite often when we start work on a compensation project, one of the first questions we ask is the state of the performance management program. Too often we get guilty looks followed by hemming and hawing. As Covid-19 began to shut down the world, CHRC probably had a better understanding than most as to why the majority of managers in the US would be very uncomfortable with a remote workplace. The reason many leaders fall back on MBWA (management by walking around) is either because their organization does not have a robust performance management system and/or they have never been trained to manage in the first place. 

At the end of the day, remote work is here to stay, and even when it is safe enough to return to large office buildings, hybrid remote and in-office work policies must be developed thoughtfully, in conjunction with robust performance management systems, versus being allowed to regress back to the routines of the MBWA practitioners. For those who thrive working remotely, if the majority of their coworkers return to the office, it could be detrimental to their career and could have a disparate impact on certain groups of employees who gravitate towards working from home. Professor Bloom is emphatic that organizations be prescriptive about “days the senior management are at home,” to ensure that people can be in the office to truly collaborate and innovate, not merely to posture and curry favor with the boss, and “to prevent a promotional advantage and stress everyone out.”

Office of the Future? One size does NOT fit all

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.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program(ming)

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