Is the recession about to rebalance the WFH discussion?
also podcast: how a table changed a culture
Is a recession about to rebalance the WFH discussion? I was on a call with the leadership of a major retailer last month, the tone was exasperated. ‘We’ve tried to be fair but people are coming in less than we want them to’. They went on to explain that ‘we’ve told them they can choose their own days, that they only need to be in three days a week’ but the end result is that the offices are empty and the bosses were getting increasingly annoyed.
There appear to be a number of issues with firms taking this approach. Firstly the company is failing to articulate what research company Leesman call ‘the workplace why’.
Irrespective of any checks a lot of employees are deciding that they will go in for something important that is face-to-face but not to merely show facetime, especially when there seems to no one around to even notice their presence. If a worker comes to the office and no one hears them, did they make a sound?
Secondly there is a growing disillusionment with a ‘three days in’ (or even ‘two days in’) model of working. It is clear that going into the office needs a clear point of difference. We’re going into the office to collaborate/connect in person. Not just to show that we really are working. This brings an uncomfortable reality that the retailer hadn’t been willing to tackle. Using the office a tool, as a place for experiences requires coordination. Coordination is compromise and as everyone who has enjoyed the joys of a relationship knows well compromise means that both people get what they didn’t want. It seems likely that this will end up at a place where coordination means you need to go in (probably on fewer days) but on a day not of your choosing.
Firms have been reluctant to attempt this laying down the norms (or have attempted in on a three day in model of work that doesn’t feel reasonable to most workers). Rather than the No Man’s Land of 3/2 model that no one is observing strong leadership will be recognising the need to reduce expectations and adapt quickly. Firms like Yelp have announced their response is to go fully remote. 1% of their employees were using the office each day so they’ve decided to shutter most of them. (More on Yelp’s decision here).
Meanwhile Derek Thompson in The Atlantic takes time to articulate what a few of us have been questioning: will a turndown in the economy allow frustrated bosses to get more restrictive in their demands of employees? (Alternative link). A small number of companies have issued Elon Musk-like insistences for workers to ‘get back to your desks or resign’, and Thompson wonders if we’re set to see more of this. In the UK The Daily Telegraph claims that one in ten companies are planning to slash salaries for home workers.
Not to spoil Derek’s piece but he ends up believing such decisions will precipitate a decline of old business models. As one economist tells him, ‘Some might be happy for 20 percent of the workforce leaving. But others might be really protective of their top talent and willing to bend over backward to keep them.’ And this is precisely the reason that the guest on the last podcast Professor Raj Choudhury says that remote working is likely to continue to increase.
A favour, would you consider pre-ordering my new book?
In a couple of months’ time my new book, Fortitude, comes out. The book takes the readers on a journey, firstly questioning some of the substance behind the model of resilience that we are sold, scrutinising the proof for ideas like ‘growth mindset’ and 'grit’, carefully examining the substance behind the resilience training that is offered in schools and workplaces across the world. The results are astounding.
It concludes that the real route to resilience is sitting right before our eyes, but we just need to open up to it.
The book brings together meticulous research with captivating storytelling - it is incredibly readable. Early reviewers have repeatedly been in touch to say they’ve found a new favourite part of the book, or a new revelation that have shared with friends.
It matters hugely to authors to get pre-orders - it encourages bookshops to display copies and to give the title more prominence. If you want Fortitude to be your late summer read I’d ask you to consider pre-ordering it today.
Oliver Burkeman said ‘An important and well-timed book’
Dr Pippa Grange: ‘A fantastic contribution’
Gary Lineker: ‘A book that confirms what I've always believed, that we can't be resilient on our own. In fact resilience is about all of us being stronger than any of us’
Alastair Campbell said: ‘A fascinating analysis of resilience - what it is, what is isn’t and why, when we develop it together, it becomes something better and more important, fortitude. It seems that resilience is a team game.’
Final chance to get my free workplace culture course
Early access to my free workplace course closes on 8th July (next Friday). You can join the hundreds and hundreds of people viewing the short video lessons by pre-ordering my new book Fortitude and sending your pre-order receipt to me. It matters hugely to authors to get pre-orders on the books for new releases and this is my way to encourage this.
The Pret Index (the coffee shop owner’s index of how busy its stores are compared to pre-Covid) was published for June. Summary: airports manic, suburbs popping, other international cities quieter than London
Toxic culture, condescending leadership, an employee ‘vote of no confidence in senior leaders’: this article about the cultural implosion at Coinbase is compelling reading
I’ve got a couple of podcasts coming up that really try to give colour to the book that I’ve written. In Fortitude I talk about how true resilience, fortitude, is found through a combination of control, identity and community. Today’s podcast illustrates the themes of identity and community beautifully.
It’s a wonderful discussion that I think has got an immense amount of richness to it. I chat to the boss of St John's Ambulance Martin Houghton-Brown (Martin on Twitter). I was struck with the power of the lessons about connection and identity - we often find ourselves throwing these terms around casually but Martin's testimony brings them vividly to life.