As we get closer to the July 4th holiday, if you are a leader, you will likely face the question, “How many people need to be physically in the office on Friday, July 5th?”
Many employees will want to work remotely on Friday from wherever they celebrated the day before. But, for you as the leader, the level of in-person coverage required on July 5th may not be so clear. This simple “Problem, Policy/Precedent or Preference” protocol can help you come up with a fact-based solution that works for you, the business and your people.
Here’s how I walked a leader through the protocol’s three questions after she’d arrived at the office on the Friday before a July 4th holiday to a sea of empty desks and freaked out, “Where is everyone?!” She wanted to be better prepared to determine the best level of onsite coverage on the Friday before Labor Day when it would inevitably become an issue again.
Question #1: Is it a problem?
I asked her if it had been a problem to have a skeletal staff in the office on that Friday before July 4th? Did her staff still provide a high level of customer service? She concluded that it had not been a problem since they could easily manage their work remotely, especially on a slower day.
Had she received complaints that people were unresponsive or hard to reach? No. Everyone had been working, albeit remotely, and were reachable. She decided it wasn’t a problem for the business to have only a few people present onsite.
Now, that might not be the case at other times and for other businesses. The answer would be “yes” to the question, “Is it a problem we need to solve for?” During certain business cycles, or if in-person, face-to-face interaction is required to do the job well, a leader could find that people do need to be in the office even on the Friday before or after a holiday. If so, it’s imperative that everyone—not just the leader—sit down and coordinate on-site coverage beforehand so there are no “where is everyone” surprises.
Question #2: Is it a policy or precedent?
Then I asked the leader, “If people were working and responsive, why did the lack of bodies in the office bother you so much? At some point in the past, had there been a policy or precedent that limited remote work before or after a holiday?” She responded that, at one point, there may have been a policy, but not any more so that wasn’t the issue.
Maybe ten years ago a policy or precedent limiting remote work on the days before or after a holiday made sense. Back then, it was harder to stay connected, remain productive, and put in a full day’s work from another location. For many jobs, that’s not the reality today, especially if your employees, teams, and managers have mastered the high performance flexibility process. Yet, in some organizations, those outdated policies remain.
In other cases, a formal policy no longer exists, but the “precedent” prevails because no one ever officially and publicly disputed it. Another leader I worked with, who considers himself very supportive of flexibility, once told me that he didn’t realize there was confusion until a top performer showed up in the office on the Friday before a long weekend. She wanted to work a half-day before leaving on vacation, but instead, she lost more than three hours of productivity commuting to and from the office when she could have worked those hours remotely. When he pointed this out, she said, “I thought it was the policy we couldn’t work remotely before a long weekend.” The next business day he sent an email clarifying.
Question #3: Is it a preference?
Finally, we got to the third question and the leader admitted, “Honestly, this comes down to a preference on some level. I am a Boomer, and I still struggle with preferring to see people physically here to know they are working. Look, I didn’t even need to be in the office that Friday before the 4th, but I was. I need to challenge this preference with facts. And the facts are that the work will get done even if most people decide to work remotely before (or after) a holiday.”
If you’re a leader struggling with, “How many people need to be physically in the office on Friday, July 5th?” ask yourself, “Is this a problem we need to solve for? Is it a policy or precedent? Or is it a preference?”
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