If you think your organization can go back to "normal" - you’re in for a dose of suffering.
The root of suffering is attachment.
- The Buddha
Photo by: Christopher Michel
If you fail to internalize what your organization learned from a year of remote work and attach to the concept of ‘what work should look like,’ pretending you can go back to ‘normal,’ you’re in for a dose of suffering.
The time to be intentional about changing your workplace based on evidence of a year of remote working is now. Taking no action other than ‘time to go back to the office, guys’ will result in a wasted opportunity to innovate the way you work (at best). Most likely, doing nothing or trying to ‘go back to normal’ will create conflict with your people, who know exactly what happened to productivity, collaboration and innovation during lockdown.
Your Year-long Experiment
At the beginning of the Covid lockdown, I wrote in the blog “This is an Unrepeatable Time to Experiment and Innovate” that the (Covid) crisis has created a unique set of conditions for a short window of time (hopefully) that will likely never happen again in your lifetime. These conditions present the perfect opportunity to push the limits and do experiments that can boost your innovation, experiments you will not be able to repeat at any other time.” My colleague, Kristine Moe Sirnes, also wrote at that time “6 Reasons Why This Crisis is Also a Great Opportunity” that “A crisis is truly a dream scenario to kick off a long-term focused cultural project.”
Both of us were pointing our readers in the same direction: use the crisis to experiment AND to internalize what you learn after it is over. Whether you knew it or not, you’re now done experimenting. It is now time to be intentional about what your organization learned from a year of remote everything and how you will move forward.
Going back to where you were is not an option. In fact, there is no evidence that working remotely had a negative effect on collaboration, productivity or innovation. Quite the contrary, because of all the empiric evidence we all saw when working from home, going back to ‘normal’ seems quite irrational and may be a proof that an organization is not internalizing what it learned from the covid days.
Case in Point: The People at Apple Revel
If you’re having issues internalizing what you learned from the lockdown and creating a new working culture based on it, you’re not alone. Take Apple, who most of us regard as one of the most innovative corporations in the world. An article published this week in the BBC tells the story of rebellion inside the company as a reaction to CEO Tim Cook’s directive to ‘go back to normal.’ Specifically, he ordered employees to return to the office, for at least 3 days a week, by September 2021. People at Apple did not like that. As the BBC article tells the story:
“Staff are demanding more flexibility”, according to an internal letter obtained by news site The Verge. Apple’s policy has “already forced some of our colleagues to quit”, it said: “Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our wellbeing, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple […] Over the last year we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored,” it also reads, accusing management of a “disconnect” with employees on the topic of remote or flexible working.
This is a reaction to the demand of going back to the office 3 days a week only! In the article, it is quite interesting to read that employees are trying to force the CEO to provide evidence and to internalize the learnings from a year of remote work.
Specifically, they are demanding management to take the following 5 actions:
- Apple to leave remote working decisions up to individual teams
- A company-wide survey on the topic across teams and the whole company
- Exit interviews to specifically ask about “employee churn” because of remote work
- A plan to accommodate disabilities through both remote and on-site working
- Information on the environmental impact of in-person on-site work compared with remote working
In a nutshell, what Apple’s employees are asking their CEO to do is to innovate the workplace based on what the company has learned from their year of remote working. Their shiny new office – which can be seen from space – is not enough reason, in their minds, to ignore the new reality. Unlearning the important lessons they all got while working from home is not an option they will accept, despite their CEO saying that he misses “the hum of activity” of in-person working, and that he knew “I’m not alone”.
Innovate Your Working Culture
Attaching to your old ideas of what work should look like, what an office is, or what in-person working does for a company, will only create conflict between what you say work is and what a year of evidence indicates. The time to be intentional and innovate your working culture based on what your organization learned from the experiment we were all forced to take is now. If you pretend the last year was only a pause, and try to return to ‘normal,’ you will have wasted an irrepetible opportunity to advance your culture to the next level.
Skip the suffering, let go of your attachment to what work is.