Thanks to the pandemic, we have a once-in-a-lifetime reset on the way we work. After a forced evacuation from workplaces in March of 2020, 50% of employees now say they don’t want to go back to the office full time. The bird is out of the cage. We have tasted freedom — freedom from commutes, freedom from mandated “face time” at the office hours and too much air travel for work.
We now know what’s possible. We can work and get our jobs done more efficiently working remotely than we ever imagined possible. For a number of employees, being forced to go into the office every day is now a dealbreaker. More than a quarter of those surveyed in a recent McKinsey study said that they would consider switching employers if their organization returned to fully on-site work.
Many of us in the field of organization and leader development didn’t see this coming. But hybrid work, it appears, is here to stay. And we should all embrace it. We have a rare opportunity to make our work lives more purposeful, productive, agile and flexible.
I remember my first “remote” working experience. I dramatically quit my corporate job in 1991, halfway through a master’s program and started a consulting business. I really had no idea what I was doing. I set up an office over my neighbor’s garage in a small room with a window that overlooked our street. My young children were right next door with a live-in nanny. One day, after weeks of sitting at that desk from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm drumming up business, I decided to take a day off. But I felt paralyzed. I didn’t know who to ask. I didn’t know who should approve the request. I soon figured out that it was me, myself and I. To my surprise, I had become my own boss.
I’ve not had a “real job” in all the years since. Which is not to say that I haven’t worked extremely long hours and days to build a business I am proud of with a team of 24. But I am no stranger to this idea of “remote work.” Here’s what I’ve learned:
In her Harvard Business Review article, “How to do Hybrid Right,” Lynda Gratton notes that “Moving to an anywhere, anytime hybrid model will succeed only if it is designed with human concerns in mind, not just institutional ones.”
How do you find out what your team wants? Ask them. Are they on for remote or hybrid work going forward? Get creative and design what works for the people who work for you so they can be productive and engaged and produce outcomes they are proud of.
Most people want autonomy and choice about their lives. They want to choose when to work and have some say in how to get work done. This isn’t rocket science. Adults don’t want to be treated like children. They want to be trusted and engaged as fully functioning adults.
And they want flexibility. As Robert Glazer writes in his book How to Thrive in the Virtual Workplace, “If flexibility is becoming an increasingly desirable workplace trait, flexible and remote work is the best way to meet that need in a sustainable way.”
Experiment and Try New Things
Several years ago, at the request of one of our key team members, we implemented unlimited time off for an experimental year. I was so nervous about it. I hoped that no one would take advantage of the policy and essentially skip town for six months with pay! That absolutely did not happen, and my trust grew in our team. They are highly accountable and dedicated to doing what needs to be done for our small firm. I’m glad we said “yes” to the experiment called unlimited PTO.
Don’t Punish People for Wanting to WFH
I have already heard rumors of promotions being withheld as a way to pressure people back into the office. But pressure just isn’t a good idea. You don’t want a workforce that didn’t fully choose to be there. Don’t overtly or covertly punish those who choose hybrid work or working from home. Create a win-win, if you can.
We are moving leagues beyond the industrial revolution now. As leaders, we have the privilege of restoring dignity to our team members. Our task is to restore choice and flexibility, accountability and trust. These are the fundamental elements that make work a great place to be – no matter where you are working from.
Previously published in Forbes