Moving Forward Post Pandemic: A Rebuttal To HBR.

In case we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting, my name is Lorne Rubis and I am one of the co-founders and the Chief Belonging Officer here at Belongify. Recently, I read an HBR article: A CEO’s Guide to Planning A Return To The Office and frankly, it made me a little edgy. I think it is flat out pandering to CEOs, and I think it is misguided.

What’s really positive is that leaders and employees at every level are talking about getting past the pandemic. I am seeing two kinds of conversations and I want to encourage you to lean one way versus the other way of talking about the post-pandemic situation.

Some people are talking about “returning to work”, and if you frame it that way you might not end up in a gratifying position. If you think the other way, which is, how might we “move forward?” That’s how I suggest framing it: moving forward vs returning to.

So let me talk about why this HBR article ticked me off.

One, it’s suggesting that CEOs be very close vested about this issue about remote working, and to be cautious about listening to employee surveys that are, frankly, overwhelmingly in favour of remote work. The reason it’s overwhelmingly favorable for employees is they want to have autonomy and flexibility to be able to work in ways where they have more control of where they show up and when they work. I’m talking about knowledge workers mostly. I’m opposed to the concern that “they’re not as productive”, or “we can’t see what they’re doing”. That’s a misguided, one-sided employee view.

I think thoughtful, caring employees want to create value, they want to do a great job, and they want to have more control around when and how they can do it. And they realize there’s a lot of waste for many of them on mindless commutes to and from a workplace. 

The second part of the article that really bugged me, was that it suggested that CEOs should listen to their managers more than their employees: 

“... don’t put too much stock in data gleaned from employee surveys....leaders must look at employee surveys as one data point. They should also distinguish the views of their employees by polling managers separately... Managing people is always more difficult when working remotely. So what managers think about the return-to-work plan should carry special weight, and count for more than the views of people who report to them.” 

Dan Ciampa

Dan is a former CEO, an adviser to boards and chief executives, and the author of five books, including Transitions at the Top: What Organizations Must Do to Make Sure New Leaders Succeed (with David L. Dotlich, Wiley, 2015) and Right from the Start: Taking Charge in a New Leadership Role (with Michael Watkins, Harvard Business Review Press, 1999).

Because “it’s so hard for them to manage remotely”, you know, “it’s just tough to try and create collaboration”, and “it’s so hard to really bring people together”. And “it’s easier when managers could just count cars in the parking lot or see heads crunched over cubicle row after row”, because then they really know people are working, don’t they? And I’m being kind of a smartass and that’s not really very nice. But anyway, it kind of ticked me off a little bit, because I think, yes, it’s more challenging in some ways, but it also can be more productive. You can get better results.

For a lot of your team members, they’ve got an extra hour at the end of each day to get work done. Or they’ve got other ways that they can take care of personal time without having to go and book time off. Or they have a bit of a cold, they still work, but they don’t come in and get everybody else sick. So you get the drift, they have more autonomy over their work.

Be careful about making these assumptions that everyone is “returning to work”, real work, that somehow that is the only way to do it. It’s worth a lot of conversation. And of course, leaders and managers have a viewpoint. And the question might be: how might we not? Should we or shouldn’t we? How might we ask team members the same question? How might we as leaders find what is the best overall experience for our team because it’s people that make our businesses phenomenal.

I hope this fires you up about the kind of conversations you’re going to have in your organization. It’s important for you, you’re part of the organization, and you help craft that path forward. And I hope you’ll come to understand the importance of creating conditions belonging, how it puts the ME back in WE in the right way, and how it’s a way to achieve greater results. 

If you haven’t already, you can evaluate where your culture sits in regards to creating conditions of belonging,  by completing our free Belonging Quiz.  You’ll discover where you are on the scale for creating greater conditions of belonging in your organization.

Think remote, start small, act now (remotely), 
Lorne Rubis


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