The “return to the office” media narrative is strong on personalities. Like the remote-work-hating CEO who is also a DJ, and sometimes works at his home in the Hamptons. Bring 'em all back!
Other stories focus on mechanics, like the number of office days in a maybe-ideal hybrid scheme. Or commentary on whether Culture and Innovation live in the office, or not.
The narrative is weak on safety and security. Some leaders must be attempting to make medically competent assessments of conditions that enable people to be safe together in offices. (i.e. distanced, masked, vaccinated, ventilated, and/or…) Or, developing home office setups that optimize for data security.
These are thorny issues that don't have easy, pattern-matchy answers. And elements of risk that executives may not want to discuss in public.
The stuff we're reading about is buzzier.
For executives, I can see the attraction of making a blanket decision about office presence. It's simpler. It requires less analysis and negotiation. If people don't like it, they can leave.
Executives don’t have to worry with front-line managers and HR spending time making calls, like, “Max’s job can be done remotely; Taylor’s can’t.” Or, this is what it means for Jamie to be successful; this component of Chris' performance requires physical presence.
In other words, companies don’t have to be better at managing people.
As I thought about this, I went down the rabbit hole of the Results Only Work Environment, a sexy business media topic back in the 00s. Famously, US retailer Best Buy launched a ROWE program. Workers at their corporate headquarters were, on paper, freed from reporting to the office, or working set hours. As long as they performed. Best Buy's program didn’t survive financial challenges the company experienced, a new CEO, or the layoff of 400 HQ employees.
If I could wave a weird magic Anne wand, I’d ask for an archive of interviews with the people who worked at Best Buy about what worked and what didn’t work, and how the tide turned. (After using the wand to achieve world peace and flourishing.)
Of course, we could be having these conversations, in our own organizations, right now. What has gone well in this whole mess? What has gotten, well, worse?
How we can be sure our co-workers are certain to be safe at the office? How can data can be safe in our remote offices?
And, why not stretch, and think, what could we change to make things better?
This Warm Take was written after coffee, breakfast, and lunch. Hopefully I've caught all of my typos and some of the loose thoughts.
Thanks to everyone who sent me thoughtful notes and questions after the last issue, Summer Reading 2021, On Management #47. And to the Supporting Members who pay to receive my newsletter.
If you like what you've been reading, I'd love for you to share On Management with your friends and co-workers. And I always welcome your questions, thoughts, suggestions and feedback.
May you and your loved ones be safe, healthy and free.
Whatever "back to the office" looks like for you, may it be safe, healthy and joyous.