What is a leader to do in times like these?

There are many discussions and debates about whether knowledge workers should go back to the office. Some advocates of remote work framed the issue in terms of racial justice and equity. “When geographical barriers are removed, location bias and relocation costs can be eliminated,” argued the content strategist Samantha McLaren in a blog post for LinkedIn. “After all, if you force people to be in San Francisco, you will hire only people who can afford to live in San Francisco in the first place.” The article invoked the social justice movement: inclusivity, well-being, empowered, unheard, invalidating, lived experiences. On the other hand, some news reports explained the reason executives want workers to go back to the office “is rooted in control and ego”, that they “missed daily ‘dominance performances’ over underlings cowering in barren cubicles”. Still, some news reports argue that, “the culture war is based on how we work, not where we work. Young people don’t want to live to work. They seek experiences, not things.”

Caught in between are the knowledge workers who simply want some clarity about how, and where, they will work. For the millions of us who spend most of our days sitting at a computer, the pandemic proved that remote work is just work. Unless your work requires physical activities at specific locations (e.g. a lab), the office feels like just another room with internet access.

With all these arguments going on, how should a leader view this topic? I’d suggest, don’t commute to compute.

“Every initiative that focuses on the whereabouts of employees instead of their well-being and productivity is a real estate policy and not a workplace policy and is therefore considered a terrible workplace initiative.” – Molood Ceccarelli, Founder & CEO of Remote Forever™

21st century management needs to change out of the 20th century thinking. Management is no longer about telling the employees what to do and monitor their progress like a hawk. It is about creating and maintaining an environment where employees feel safe and motivated to contribute to their fullest. People in management need to be leaders. Leadership is more than execution and productivity. To achieve high performance, the leader also needs to tap into the individual at a deeper level. Behaviours, emotions, thoughts, and values are the essence of motivation. The key to any team performance is to see and recognise the human beings and their differences. Go to the next level and tap into the whole person. Then, when leaders put the team together, they inspire performance. Not pushing performance.

As the pandemic continues, and when it’s over, leaders need to get used to “I don’t know”. Be open to experiment. Leaders also need to be empathetic. Care for your workers. Last but not the least, think more creatively about how you used to do your work. Can that be done differently instead of getting together in person?

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams

Are you a leader or a 20th century manager who lives in the 21st century?

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