We’re in “a phase of trial and error that comes with staggering stakes.”

This past week a sentence from a terrific article by Emma Goldberg in the New York Times entitled, “Office Mandates. Pickleball. Beer. What Will Make Hybrid Work Stick?” struck me:

“Business leaders are in a phase of trial and error that comes with staggering stakes.”

Why “staggering stakes”?  Whether or not it’s done with intention, organizations are defining how, when, and where they will execute their strategic priorities from now on.

That’s a big deal.

However, defining your flexible operating parameters is going to take a lot more than mandates, pickleball, and beer to make that “flexibility” (because that’s what it is–not “hybrid”) stick.

Leaders and employees need to get on the same page about what that go-forward flexible work model looks like and why it matters. Right now, they are not.

The article accurately depicts many leaders’ current, top-down approach and why it won’t close that leader-employee gap.

The main reasons can be found in this one paragraph:

“They (leaders) are figuring out how many days to call employees back to the office, and on top of that, how strictly to enforce their own rules. While some companies are in five days a week and others have gone remote forever, many more employers have landed on a hybrid solution, and as they announce these plans they are facing fierce resistance.”

Let’s break it down:

⚠️ LEADERS on their own can’t figure out how, when, and where their people will operate and expect buy-in and understanding. You must involve line managers and their direct reports in that process knowing one-size-will-NOT-fit-all.

⚠️ Solving for “how many days” only defines days work happens onsite and remotely but does nothing to determine what is actually happening on those days in the office together and what is going to happen on the days people are remote.

⚠️ When you are “calling people back” versus involving them, as trusted adults, in defining how, when and where high levels of performance happen best going forward, it’s not surprising that “fierce resistance” is the response.

⚠️ You won’t have to wonder “how strictly to enforce,” something people have a say in determining.

⚠️ “Their own rules” again, “their” “rules”–Not a recipe for engagement, understanding, and buy-in.

What would be better?

👏👏👏 Involving all levels of the organization in answering the question “What do we need to do?” and then “how, when, and where do we do it best..next?”

It takes longer and requires more effort than a one-size-fits-all, top-down mandate but ultimately, you’ll arrive at a new flexible way of operating faster and with more buy-in.

How long will leaders keep trying mandates, pickleball, and beer before they realize they have to…