I have genuine respect for Walt Disney
CEO Bob Iger and JPMorgan Chase
CEO Jamie Dimon, but I think they are flat-out wrong to insist that workers return to the office full time.
This is bad for employees, and it’s bad for business. Companies thrive on trust and understanding. Edicts to get into the office or else ultimately undermine everyone, from the top down. Employees have said they would be willing to take a pay cut to keep working remotely, and executives concede that such flexibility has allowed them to moderate wage growth.
“ The unplanned work-from-home experiment forced by the COVID pandemic created new work norms and reshaped employee expectations. ”
While the decision is, of course, a company’s prerogative, it’s backward-looking rather than forward-thinking. Survey after survey show that workers not only want more flexibility and less commuting, they demand it. As it turns out, the unplanned work-from-home experiment forced by the COVID pandemic created new work norms and reshaped employee expectations. Few people who have since proved they can successfully fulfill their work obligations from home embrace the prospect of being shoved back into cubicles.
How many days in the office, which days, and who needs to show up at what time aren’t even the right questions to be asking or the right conversation to be having. In fact, it’s harder to manage hybrid employees than ones who are all in or all out.
Instead, we should be exploring how to help employees thrive while working from anywhere, what communication tools work best to keep in touch, and why so many executives are afraid of the autonomy that comes from letting their staff work from home. Out of sight does not mean out of control.
Work from anywhere
So how do executives operate effectively in a work-from-anywhere world? How do they open their hiring to the whole country, or world even, and also open their minds to the idea that these are best practices?
It starts with trust. Simple as that. Hire well, find people who fit with the existing ethos and have the required skills and experiences to do the work. Create and run a great onboarding process (our company’s process takes three months). Provide all the support necessary up front. Then trust people to do the job they were hired to do.
If they prove untrustworthy, fair enough; deal with that when it happens. But if you’re mistrusting employees from the get-go, that’s a leadership or a hiring issue and not a work-from-anywhere one.
Of course, this requires real, and sometimes difficult, conversations. There is no hovering over work-from-anywhere workers (which requires some letting go of ego, which can be tough, too). Leaders have to know their company’s needs, turn expectations into agreements and get buy-in during the hiring process. Don’t be afraid to talk about time allocation, the occasional need for extra hours or your company’s core values. After all, the key to valuing work from anywhere is in the word itself: work.
“ If the boss disappears every day for a two-hour hike with the dog, why wouldn’t employees assume they are entitled to do the same? ”
Next up is leadership and coaching and, frankly, leading by example. If the boss disappears every day for a two-hour hike with the dog, why wouldn’t employees assume they are entitled to do the same? Employees see higher-ups traveling and still checking in. Why wouldn’t they want that freedom for themselves?
These aren’t hypotheticals. The days of one set of rules for bosses and another for everyone else is dated and, yes, uncool. Anyone who can do the work should be able to do it from wherever they please, as long as it works for the company and the way people work together.
With the right communications systems in place, this can happen. Most employees still crave — and require — connection, which might happen through weekly team meetings, weekly one-on-ones with their team leaders and annual companywide gatherings, whether in person or on Zoom. Some people might talk daily, others weekly and still others only on an as-needed basis. Get your Slack channels going and put communication protocols in place. And unless there’s a real emergency, there should be no texting or emailing after a certain hour.
At my company, Ninety, we have just over 100 employees, all working remotely. During the hiring process, we emphasize work-life balance and the expectation that employees give us a good 40 to 50 hours weekly. We don’t track time off and we coach employees about allocating their time smartly. We have more than 20 meeting types that help keep us all on the same page, including weekly team meetings, weekly one-on-one meetings and quarterly company meetings that are optional but always well attended. We also have “lunch and learn” get-togethers twice a month.
My company has been 100% remote since its founding in 2017, and I believe we are far better than the average company in terms of our ability to recruit. Last year, 93% of our job offers were accepted. In the past three years, we have lost one person we wanted to keep, and in the past quarter, our senior leadership team took on 40 goals and delivered on 39 of them. Over the past 90 days, we grew 5% month over month, so we believe our structure is working.
There’s no question that Iger and Dimon are smart leaders and that they sincerely think workers will be more creative and more committed if they’re in the office. That might be true for some employees, but I’m betting it makes a lot of them feel distrusted, which breeds disloyalty. Moreover, insistence on office time will cost them great people who would otherwise want to work for them and could be top contributors.
Also read: Quiet quitters make up half of the U.S. workforce, poll shows.
Maybe the only upside to COVID is that the pandemic brought the future of work to us 10 years early. We’d have gotten here anyway. Working from anywhere has so many advantages for so many people: working parents, rural residents, anyone who lives a long drive from that big building where they used to spend eight to 10 hours a day. Three years on, people already have a sense of where they want to work. Companies need to catch up with them and commit to this new age of work.
Mark Abbott is the founder of Ninety.io, a cloud-based business operating system.
More: Three perks businesses can offer to attract — and keep — good workers
Plus: What do remote workers do with their extra time? Many of them do more work.
Also: ‘We don’t want to work for jerks’: A bad boss can take a toll on your mental health. (It’s the equivalent of being in a bad marriage.)
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