If You Are Asking Staff to Come to the Office, They Need to Understand "Why"
As the fog of uncertainty clears, the contours of a new work paradigm are coming into focus.
In our experience working with client companies, several key themes have emerged: Most (not all) leaders aspire for employees to return to the office with greater regularity (typical target of 3-4 days a week subject to sector). Meanwhile, most employees (not all) enjoy the freedom of remote work and while willing to come to the office at least once a week, are resistant to more frequent mandatory attendance. Caught in the middle, managers grapple with aligning company expectations and employee preferences. In conversations, managers and employees often, rightfully, claim that productivity has risen, sometimes even surpassing pre-pandemic levels. The relief from commuting and the financial benefits are well-received. Managers are keen to sustain their team’s motivation, while company leadership believes that physical presence fosters resilience. This raises the question: Why do leaders advocate for 3-4 days of office presence, and why do they struggle to articulate the reasons?
In just three years, we’ve entered an entirely new paradigm. Where leaders once dictated work arrangements through boardroom decisions, the balance of power has shifted. Staff, perhaps for the first time, possess a substantial say in their work lives. Rather than issuing directives, leaders must now persuade, provide comprehensive information, and offer compelling rationales to support their plans. Without a compelling explanation for the need for office attendance, employees push back. Managing this resistance thoughtfully becomes essential, as it’s unlikely to dissipate on its own.
While the reasons for advocating office attendance seem evident to most leaders, they struggle to convey these reasons coherently and convincingly. In some cases, their own thinking hasn’t fully evolved to form a persuasive argument. However, more often the challenge is in execution and communication. In the absence of awareness of why it is essential for an employee to return to the office, it is unreasonable to assume that the desire to do so will exist.
It is evident that there’s a gap between leaders’ and employees’ perspectives on the path hybrid work should take. Leaders must grasp that employees anticipate a mutually beneficial outcome, and thus, leaders must address the “What’s in it for me (WIIFM) aspect of hybrid work. On the flip side, employees should recognize that the company’s prosperity is integral to everyone’s success.
While aesthetically pleasing offices equipped with new and impressive amenities can initially attract employees and new talent, their value wanes over time if the time spent in the office lacks meaningful engagement with colleagues and activities that differentiate it from remote work.
Research consistently underscores that people yearn to excel in their roles, receive recognition, and advance in their careers. For many, they believe remote work doesn’t hinder these aspirations. They perceive their professional lives in a new light, where they can achieve excellence without sacrificing work-life balance. The symbiotic goals of leaders and staff align, they just envision different paths to success.
Leaders and staff are on the same side, they just don’t seem to know it.
September 19, 2023
As a Principal, Stacey is responsible for consulting services. This includes research, strategy, advocacy, and advisory for clients in the areas of the future of work, change management, remote and home working, transformation, and related services.
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