I run a large team for a media company. The CEO has a lot of strengths but is inconsistent and often irrational. My team is constantly on the hook to respond to endless PR issues, so we never quite know what is coming at us.
Before Covid we all came to the office early and stayed late—it was just a given. My job is global, so it is literally 24/7. Now the CEO has told his management team he wants everyone back in the office, but he won’t make it company policy because he is afraid people will quit en masse. Instead, he has tasked his management team with lowering the boom and insisting that people come back to the office.
My team members and I managed remotely through Covid. I think we are far more effective in person, but none of them have an interest in coming back to the office. In fact, they seem emboldened with their newfound freedom to the degree that they are now telling me what hours they will be working.
It would be so much easier for me if the company would just create a back-to-office policy instead of forcing all the managers to be the bad guys.
How should I approach this?
Hate Being the Heavy
Dear Hate Being the Heavy,
It is so easy to blame upper management for things people don’t like. I understand your resenting being left holding the bag on this issue; however, I think the opportunity here is to create a hybrid environment that works for everyone on your team. If your senior team won’t insist that everyone come into the office every day, you don’t have to either. You can’t be held accountable for something your senior team refuses to say out loud.
What was it, do you think, that made you more effective pre-Covid? It’s true that when working remotely you lose the opportunity for quick after-meeting chats and catch-ups in the hallway—so think about how you might build those into your remote day schedules.
It is not appropriate for your employees to inform you what their working hours will be—but it does make sense for you to speak with each team member to get insight into what would work best for them. You can be clear that you are gathering intel to make the best possible plan and you can’t promise your final plan will suit every individual perfectly. As long as your people feel heard and understood, and they trust you to use your best judgment, you should be okay.
Once you have heard from everyone, you can create a plan for your team. Maybe everyone comes in the same two days every week, each person can choose which day will be their third day, and everyone WFH on Fridays. Do whatever you think will work best.
You can make almost anything work if you follow these tips:
- Have at least one all-hands meeting in person per week. Maybe include a lunch to sweeten the deal. Use lunch time as an opportunity to socialize, letting people catch up on personal news.
- Make sure everyone is crystal clear about deliverables and deadlines. Provide ways for people to keep you up to speed on what they are working on. Anything you can do using technology to increase visibility into workflow will increase trust and communication.
- Create some rules about communicating and being available on chat during working hours.
- Have a dedicated office hours time each day where you can be free for a quick check-in with whoever might need one.
- Have team members choose one day a week to be on call, since part of the job is crisis management at all hours.
- Send the message that “showing up” can mean either in person or virtually—but showing up is an expectation.
Once people have a taste of the freedom that comes with remote work, it is hard to go back. In fact, I suspect there is no going back to the way things were. But this is an opportunity for you to get input and create something new that will afford some of the freedoms your people have become accustomed to even as you insist on some new norms.
A lot of leading indicators point to what we are going through as not so much The Great Resignation as The Great Switcheroo. People are taking advantage of the opportunity to move to jobs that are more aligned with their passions and values, with the kind of flexibility they have become accustomed to. So the more you can include your people in the design of your new work structure, the more successful you will be.
Do your research and then be bold and clear. You are the boss of your team, even if some of your team members may have forgotten.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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