The Slippery Slope – Do I Have to Come In or Not?
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It was the business dilemma of 2022. Companies spent hours upon hours debating their strategy about hybrid work. Leadership teams went on retreats, read studies and employee surveys. And then they called the shot:
- Some said come in two days and stay home for three…
- Some said come in three days and stay home for two…
- Others said come in all days…
- And a few said remain virtual and remote.
The only thing that seemed consistent in policy setting was that every company set a policy.
But it didn’t bring immediate change.
Because while senior leaders set the policy, they relied on people leaders to enforce it. Teams were given leeway to build their own working model and set their own guidelines. Conceptually, a good idea. But actually, it’s been pretty confusing because nothing seemed consistent from one manager to the next, and it still isn’t consistent today.
In the same companies, some people leaders are following the strategy, and others are saying “we don’t need to come in.” Some are setting a few meetings as guardrails and then allowing employees to interpret the rest for themselves. And unintentionally, we’ve ended up in a tug of war between employees and managers which is why the most common sound bite from employees is: “Do I have to come in or not?”
The data shows that most employees need to.
Senior leaders will tell you that initial pandemic insights showed that people were working effectively and efficiently at home. Projects were able to stay on task, and employees actually worked more without distractions and commutes.
But leaders should have also considered that employees didn’t have much else to do. Now that everything is open, distractions are limitless. Those same employees have built new schedules and lifestyles that work best with a lot of flexibility. So, the tug of war continues.
Do people really need to return to offices? Most companies would say yes for reasons that benefit employees more than they’re willing to admit.
Culture, development, connection and trust aren’t happening easily without people being together. If you just cringed, consider this. You may be an outlier. You may be the person who has made all of the team elements work without sitting in a room together. But the data says something different. Overwhelmingly, most companies are seeing that they didn’t deliver on many of the ingredients that sustain a company culture and propel employee growth. And even if you are an exception, companies need to guide a work environment that promotes best practices for all.
Is there a chance that leaders will give in to the employee resistance? Will companies ease off their hybrid strategy and go back to “Just do what works for you.”
Senior leaders can’t let that happen. At this point, it’s not a matter of whether companies are moving forward with a hybrid model. It’s a question of who’s going to buckle down and nudge employees to get there.
Once again, the expectation is on people leaders.
Not the senior leaders. They set the strategy and put the wheels in motion to adjust company norms, company space and everything needed to make a culture conducive to hybrid models. It’s the people leaders who will have to make it work now. We’re back where we were when the pandemic hit, and people leaders were asked to manage so much more than work results. They balanced mental health, personal fears, illness and lack of connection. They spent twice the amount of time on individuals as they had in the past, and they are the key reason we all got through rough waters.
And now, every people leader needs to shift from the needs of individuals to the priorities of teams. It’s a 180 from the direction they took before, and some people leaders are avoiding it. Others are struggling with it. It’s the crux of the problem with resetting. Companies won’t have a vibrant, hybrid culture until people leaders lean in and make it happen.
As we’ve coached individuals and small groups of people leaders to do this, we understand the resistance. We also understand that the success of moving ahead is counting on it.
So, whether you’ve already embraced the ideas below or feel your shoulders tense up as you read them, this is what we’ve coached people leaders to do to step up to the task at hand.
People leaders need to:
Know your own blind spot. The hybrid strategy is one company policy where some people leaders are letting their own desires get in the way. It’s OK to admit it. And it’s essential to recognize it. But it can’t be about you right now. It’s about a group of employees who need to feel like a team. Be careful that you aren’t assuming what worked during the pandemic is still relevant today. Those were different times, more restricted times, and your employees aren’t staying at home. They’re just not coming to the office.
Course correct by example. The analogy of giving 110% has never been more important. If you want people to show up more, you need to be there every day to greet them. If the guidance says to come in two days, you should be there for four days so that your team always sees you. It isn’t fair, and it may not even feel right. But it’s the number one excuse employees are giving for why they aren’t adopting the hybrid model. “My manager isn’t even there.” To change their behavior, you need to go well beyond it until the team hits the cadence you’ve prescribed. Then, you can settle into the same schedule.
Explain the why, not the what. Most messaging around the hybrid strategy wasn’t very good. It explained what companies were doing but didn’t prove out why they were doing it. And employees took away a mandate that felt restrictive, not beneficial. It wasn’t your message, but it’s your mess to clean up. You need to believe in and communicate the value of a hybrid strategy and make it real for your team.
Build a model for a new way of working. In our workshops, we’ve coached people leaders to be intentional about talking through how a team works. It is a reset and deserves discussion to get to an understanding. Every team has tasks that are independent, and tasks that are interdependent. Employees need some help remembering that.
Deliver on development. Many people leaders are leaning on external resources, like us, to develop programming that adds meaning to their monthly or quarterly meetings. That’s a good idea. It allows you to deliver employee development without shouldering all of it yourself.
Expand perspectives. Employees are stuck on proving that they work well remotely. Don’t fight their perspective. They may be right, and they aren’t feeling heard. Instead, expand their perspective to the team view which they can’t really see. That’s the unique view you have and the reason to bring people together.
All companies are dealing with resistance to the hybrid strategy. It’s a key ingredient in the evolving company culture, but it won’t take hold without the efforts of people leaders. It’s a tall ask, and companies need to find those who are willing to step up and make it happen.
A little support through coaching or a group workshop is proving to be a big help. If your people leaders could use a boost and some guidance on moving ahead, we’d welcome a chance to help you accelerate your efforts.
Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!