The Big “Return to Office”

I find myself curious about a hot topic these days.

It’s a supercharged topic for its widespread impact, number of variables, and therefore opinions. 

It’s on the minds of the teams, corporations, and decision makers I serve – and it’s something I think about as a founder with a team myself. 

Leaders, teams, and organizations are struggling with how to deal with where and how their teams should get their work done.  

And while it’s not a new issue, the parameters of Covid certainly made us think about where we’re “supposed” to work in brand new ways. 

We all experienced the fast-evolving aftermath of the pandemic, and for many places of work, the rule book and corresponding assumptions associated with that went out the door. 

In a historical shift, we all found ourselves at ground zero, playing a new game with no rules. For better or worse, leaders had to navigate how to create them in real time. 

Three and a half years later, most leaders are still trying to figure this out. And it’s not going so well. 

The swirling questions we are all asking on some level:

  • What’s working and not working right now?
  • What should work look like right now? 
  • Where should it live – at the office or at home? How often?
  • What is most productive?

AND most importantly…

  • What does our company need?
  • What do our teams need?
  • And what if those two things are at odds?

This is such a heavy concept.

A LOT hangs in the balance here. 

AND at the end of the day, at its core, the decision of how to handle where and how our teams function isn’t different from any other decision leaders are making on a daily basis.

In his book, “Managing the Gray: Five Timeless Questions for Resolving Your Toughest Problems at Work”, Harvard Business School Professor Joseph Badarracco speaks specifically to the murkiest issues that seem to have no clear solution.

Leaders tend to struggle with these types of issues for a few reasons: 

  • Facts may not be clear or complete. 
  • It’s not clear how to frame the problem. 
  • The people involved disagree. 

To deal with this, he boils it down into one powerful statement: “When you face a gray-area problem, you should work through it as a manager and resolve it as a human being.“

When I look at that statement I see two important perspectives.

You need to be skilled in analysis, or it could be catastrophic to the organization. 

The second part is what gets my attention most. It’s the part of us that requires a level of judgment set apart from an idea…it’s the ability to consider the impact of a decision, from a human perspective. 

For the leaders who tend to roll their eyes at the human side of the conversation, this is all in service of getting you the results you want most. 

And even if you’ve made the best decision possible in a scenario, without a human approach, you’ll lose total influence (and results).

To work or not to work from home – is nuanced and layered and charged as hell. 

And the reality of this topic is that everyone seems to have a different perspective. 

What’s productive to some, may not be productive to others. 

What’s needed for some teams, may not be needed for others. 

Opposing schools of thought are everywhere you turn on this issue. 

And with so many opinions, judgment inevitably abounds. 

Judgment creates distractions and division. It’s also standing in the way of the number one thing leaders and employees BOTH agree they want more of. 

The ultimate driver of a business’s success is engagement. Leaders want it for their people and employees want it for themselves. 

(A note to dominant leaders: the key to engagement is not control. You may win the battle, but you’ll lose the war.)

The key to real engagement? Curiosity.

Whether it’s working from home or another hot topic, according to HBR’s Business Case for Curiosity, a posture of curiosity creates better job satisfaction, motivation, innovation, and high performance. 

For the leader navigating this situation, flex your curiosity with the following questions:

  1. What is most important about having my team together in an office?
  2. What’s in it for me/them/the organization? 
  3. What is most important to my employees about the way they get work done? 
  4. Where are we aligned in our perspectives? Where are we off?

People who weigh in are more likely to buy in, even if they don’t agree with your decision. Incorporating curiosity into your approach could mean the difference between success and failure. In any case.

Want to know more about developing curiosity in decision-making, or how to build a more curious team culture? We love helping teams get better at this. Message me here at [email protected]