Stop Leading with Number of Days in the Office

There’s a lot of debate lately about how many days in the office is ideal for employees and employers. It’s accelerated as we slowly move forward from the past two years where many had to work from home 100% of the time. I’ve become increasingly concerned that narrow focus is causing unnecessary conflict and keeping too many organizations stuck. Finally, last week, when the Wall Street Journal published “The Optimal Workweek is Two Days In the Office, Not Three,” I felt I had to respond imagining all of the forwarded links landing in inboxes with the subject line: “Now it’s two days onsite.” As I wrote on LinkedIn, here’s the reality: maybe 2 days in the office is optimal, and maybe it’s not.This is what I know from two decades of experience executing flexible work strategies:The problem is you can’t lead with the number of “days in the office,” when trying to figure out the flexible way people are going to work “next.” Especially at the enterprise level.It’s arbitrary and begs the question, “Why?” And when there is no good/clear answer other than, “because that’s our policy and for our culture,” of course, people are going to push back and resist.And please do not make the mistake of going down the rabbit hole of trying to assign people to separate 100% remote, hybrid, in the office policy boxes. It doesn’t work, because once operationalized the reality will likely be more fluid than those boxes will reflect.Most importantly, if you keep leading with “days in the office” you leave out the hefty percentage of workers for whom “WHERE” flexibility is not an option due to their jobs. Not only does this lead to a toxic “have and have not” split, but it also shuts down considering potential “WHEN” and “HOW” flexibility for those roles, which in many cases, is possible.Pro tips for the day…

  • STOP LEADING WITH “WHERE” or “DAYS IN THE OFFICE”.
  • If you set enterprise flexible work guardrails of any kind, limit one-size-fits-all “policies” (which translate into “rules”) and keep the guardrails as broad as possible to allow the flexible way work is done to adapt to the realities of a particular department, job or person.

The CONSISTENCY IS IN THE PROCESS, not the policy…

  • At the department and team level, MANAGERS and their TEAMS start with the “work,” or “what do we need to do.” That includes tasks of the job, but also linking to the broader strategic priorities of the business, and identifying cultural “ways of being” that matter.
  • THEN, and only then, guided by the WORK, do they decide the HOW, WHEN, AND WHERE guardrails they will actively experiment OPERATING within (planning, coordinating and executing the work with strategic intention) for a specific period of time. See what works, what doesn’t and recalibrate from there.

I could go on…but I will leave it here: Pre-COVID when given the opportunity to decide how many days in the office supported the “work,” most teams chose between 2-3 days onsite with each other but for very specific reasons. They ended up where these “days in the office” policies are trying to land, but they did it in a way that linked “where” they worked to “what they need to do” as a business, as a team and as an individual, on and off the job.That process takes more time and effort than dictating from above “everyone comes into the office these days” not mention the patience to experiment, learn and adjust.  But the result is the shared buy-in and understanding that is foundational for flexible operating success that, in too many cases, is missing.