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Before the pandemic, one of the most pressing questions about work was whether working from home was feasible. Now, with the crisis having accelerated the adoption of newer technologies by up to seven years, the question for most businesses is not whether working from home is possible but whether working from home or going into the office is better.
Employers have many points to consider in this decision, such as their budget, the nature of the work, and the number of employees. But the most important factor that weighs into the equation is trust.
Workers are adults, so treat them as such
Consider a parent and their child. If the parent didn’t trust their child, they might not send the child to school or let them explore the world. Instead, they would micromanage and tell the child what to do about everything.
Good parents want to build a trusting relationship that matures to a level where, even though the parent and child eventually might not be together, the parent knows the child is doing well and has learned enough to be successful on their own.
The employer-employee relationship is much the same. Employees are already at their own level of success. They have learned enough that they do not need the employer to micromanage everything for them. So, why would an employer want to make the employee dependent on the employer to make the work-from-home decision? The employees are capable of making that decision for themselves. The simple answer is trust. They need employers to trust them if they are going to keep growing and doing their best work.
Underneath this point, there is a difference between micromanaging and mentoring. Micromanaging means that the person in authority forces someone to act or think a certain way and gives them no choice. But with mentoring, directives and boundaries are respectfully done. The person being mentored has clear guidance, but they are free to make their own decisions and learn from their wins and losses. A mentoring employer would clearly explain to workers the pros and cons of each setup and trust that workers will make the decision that gets good outcomes for both the workers and the employer.
Finding the truth about what’s happening
Employers have many legitimate reasons why they might want to bring workers back to the office. People need emotional and physical contact — workers might genuinely miss each other. There might be some gap in digital communication that cannot be felt until people see each other — perhaps they are missing the water cooler effect.
Many employers have said their plan to bring employees back into the office is due to productivity. But even looking at productivity can be misleading. An employer might be convinced that the organization is not getting as much return as it would if workers were in the office. They might think that, by bringing people back to the office, they can train, supervise, and make those people better employees.
But it could be that some of the workers the employer is measuring may not have been that productive initially. It’s just that having the workers work from home forced the employer to do a formal measurement of productivity, which made the lack of productivity from those workers more obvious. Employers need to examine their situations holistically and be open-minded to alternative explanations for what they see to ensure their assessment of what is going on is accurate.
Challenge, connect and collaborate
Even though the senior-most person might not have enough experience to make a decision, they often do make the decision because it is expected. With work-from-home, this might mean that an executive who has never handled a work-from-home setup decides workers should return to the office only because many companies are doing it.
But in an open-minded organization, other people are allowed to brainstorm with the senior-most person. They will examine and challenge the executive’s decision, not to denigrate but to improve the outcome. Collaborative brainstorming allows leaders at all levels to properly articulate who should consider coming into the office, when, why, and so on, rather than simply handing down the decision.
To grasp why this is so important, think of an employee who loves their job but has moved two hours away because the employer said they were okay with a work-from-home setup. If a leader then says the employee has to come back to the office, that employee might be scared they are going to lose their job. They might say to themselves, “I don’t want to sell my house. I don’t want to uproot my family and move.”
So employers need to understand…