Workplace

[Video] What if your team (and you) don’t want to come back to the office but you have no choice?
[Video] What if your team (and you) don’t want to come back to the office but you have no choice? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

What do you do if your organization has decided that everyone is coming back to the office and your people don’t want to come?

And what if you feel the same way?

One of the most challenging times to manage is when you get stuck between a company decision (that you may not agree with) and your people.

It’s not an easy thing to navigate, but there is a path through it.


Upcoming Course Announcement

I’m excited to share that registration for my Managing in the Future of Work online course is now open. The next class begins on September 13.

5 Words to Help You Master the Future of Work
5 Words to Help You Master the Future of Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Some of the best advice I ever got came almost 30 years ago. I was in high school. 

Being a bonafide band nerd, I was spending a week of my summer vacation at the Clark Terry Jazz Camp hoping to polish my trumpet skills enough to become king of nerds—First Chair Trumpet. (Not sure that’s how I would have described it at the time, but I digress). 

As a high school trumpet player, getting to spend the week hanging out around and learning from accomplished professional jazz musicians was a head trip. These musicians seemed like musical gods to me at the time. 

That might be why I can still vividly remember a piece of life advice offered to me by one of those musicians (not coincidentally, a trumpet player)  so many years ago. 

A few of us were standing around in the hallway talking. And while I don’t remember what specifically was said that sparked the offer of advice, it must have involved one of us youngsters making some bold declaration about our future. 

What this trumpet player said next has stuck with me ever since:

Never say what you ain’t gonna do.” 

I can still hear him saying it. 

He went on to share how when he was younger, he said he was never getting married. Then, he got married. He said he was never going to have kids, then he did. 

He had a whole list of things that he’d been certain about as a young man, but that had gone a completely different way later in life.  

The real wisdom has grown with me over the years as I’ve thought more about his words. 

Our human instinct is to try to bring certainty to the future. So we make declarations about what we’ll do or not do and who we’ll be. 

If the future were a person, she would likely smirk and think, “good luck with that.” 

What does this have to do with the future of work?

Most organizations and leaders have spent several months trying to sort out what to do with the workforce they sent home in March of 2020. 

Bring them back to the office? 

Make work from home permanent?

Or pursue the mystical third option, the “hybrid” arrangement (whatever that means). 

This feels like a big decision, particularly given the increasingly hot job market and threats of a looming “Great Resignation,” where hoards of people will quit their jobs to move on to new, more fulfilling adventures. 

It’s unclear what the future holds. It’s hard even to get clarity about what’s happening right now. 

One survey will tell you 85% of employees want to return to the office. Another will say it’s only 10%. So, which is it? 

In all of this uncertainty after a year defined by uncertainty, it’s our natural human tendency to grasp for clarity and make declarations (just like the young camper in my story). 

Twitter was among the first to declare they are going to a work-from-home-forever policy. And on the other end of the spectrum, Goldman Sachs is requiring everyone to come back to the office

This is where the advice I received about 30 years ago is worth considering:

Never say what you ain’t going to do.

We don’t know what the future holds. And, we don’t really know what our employees will want or need going forward. 

Instead of grasping for certainty and making declarations, we should instead learn to use these five words to help us navigate the path forward:

I don’t know. Let’s experiment.

The future is unknowable. It hasn’t been written yet, and we play a vital role in shaping what it will look like. 

Sorting out what is going to be best for your organization or team is going to be complicated.

Chances are you’ve got employees within your organization who have very different needs and preferences regarding how they’d like to work going forward. And, you probably also have business units and teams that have different needs and requirements based on what they do. 

You don’t know the right answer now. 

Making some declaration today about what your forever policy is around “where” your employees can work might feel good in the moment, but you’ll inevitably end up having to revisit and change that decision in the future. 

Instead, when attempting to answer the question of what to do next, try saying this:

“I don’t know. Let’s experiment.”  

Employees crave certainty, so they’re probably calling on you for a decision. But, they also crave trust and flexibility, which you may inadvertently diminish by rushing to a conclusion.

Let’s admit that we don’t know what’s coming or what will work best. Then, let’s invite our employees to experiment with us. Nothing says you have to solve this riddle today. You just need to be working on it. 

You just need to think like a scientist. 

How to Experiment at Work

If it’s been a while since you’ve been exposed to the scientific method, that’s okay. I’m here to help. (Fun fact: I have an undergrad degree in biology). Here are the basics you need to know to create a meaningful experiment.  

1. Start with a hypothesis.  

A hypothesis is simply a proposed explanation or theory that you can test. Creating your hypothesis is a critical first step of any experiment. The purpose of the experiment is to prove or disprove the hypothesis.  

You likely have some insight into your employee’s preferences regarding where and how they work. And you have some ideas about what’s needed to get work done the best way. Unfortunately, those two things may be at odds. 

A hypothesis is your best guess at how to create the best possible win-win solution given both sets of needs. 

An example of a hypothesis related to work location could be, “We think the best way to optimize employee performance and engagement is to work two days a week onsite and three days work-from-anywhere.” 

2. Test your hypothesis.  

This is what we typically think of when talking about experiments. You design a way to test if your hypothesis is correct. There are many ways to approach this at work. 

One popular way is to run a pilot. You might identify a division or two and ask those managers to implement the work plan you are testing (two days onsite, three anywhere). This allows you to test the approach with a smaller group to see how it goes.

If your organization is large enough, you might be able to run pilots testing multiple hypotheses at once. Every experiment gives you new information about what the right solution may be. So running several of them at once can be a way to accelerate towards a solution.

If your organization is smaller, another way to test is to deploy the solution to the entire organization for a fixed period of time. In this case, you’d communicate that as an organization or team, you were going to try out this approach for the next 60 days and then re-evaluate. 

3. Measure results and gather insights. 

The purpose of an experiment is to learn. So, it’s critical to determine upfront how you will measure the test outcomes against the hypothesis.  

In the example I’ve been using here, there would be two obvious ways to measure the test’s success. You could track measurable employee performance over the trial period. And, you’d want to gather employee feedback.  

If performance holds steady or goes up and employees are happy and engaged at the end of the test, then it seems like your hypothesis has proven correct. If one of these indicators goes the wrong way (i.e., employees hate it), your hypothesis fails. It’s back to the drawing board.

4. Go back to step 1 and begin again. 

Experimentation is a process used to solve problems and find truth. One experiment informs the next, and so on. It frees us from a need for certainty and gives us the means to explore our way to an answer.  

Master the Future of Work

By learning to embrace and use these five words, “I don’t know. Let’s experiment,” you equip yourself to successfully navigate forward into a wildly disrupted future of work. 

When you let go of the need to know the future and instead use what you know about the present to shape informed hypotheses that can be tested through experiments, you will find your way to success regardless of what the future holds.

 

Related Reading:

The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss

No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home

3 Big Things You’re Getting Wrong about Post-Pandemic Work

The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss
The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

While it’s been a long time since it first happened, I still remember the gravity of the responsibility I felt when first asked to supervise people at work. 

A manager has a profound impact not just on our experience at work but also on our life. When you get it wrong, there are real consequences for your people. 

How many times have you sat with friends and either complained or listened to someone complain about their boss? 

Nobody wants to be that boss. 

But the fear of being “that boss” can make it feel like you have to be perfect and not make any mistakes. And when you do make mistakes, it can feel risky to admit them.    

You are a complicated, emotional human being trying to manage other complicated, emotional human beings. That’s no easy task. 

You will make mistakes. 

One of the hardest things about being a manager is learning to balance that desire to avoid being a bad boss with the reality that mistakes are inevitable. 

The truth is that how we show up as a manager when we don’t get it right is just as important as getting it right in the first place.   

You Will Make Mistakes

After my burnout wake-up call last summer, one of the things I committed myself to as part of my well-being ritual was a daily meditation practice. 

One of the most powerful things you learn through meditation is to cultivate awareness. Awareness of the moment; awareness of how you feel; awareness of your thoughts. 

It sounds simple, but ask anyone who has tried—it’s much more challenging than it sounds. 

The benefit of cultivating this skill of awareness is that it allows you to be more present in your day-to-day experiences, allowing you to be more mindful of what you do and how you show up with others.  

One thing I learned right away about meditation is that you must let go of judgment in your practice. Mindful awareness isn’t natural for most of us, so meditation is a practice of trying and failing over and over again.

It can be easy to get frustrated if you don’t recognize that trying and failing is part of the learning. 

In nearly every guided meditation I’ve done, early on you will hear something like this:

“You may notice at some point that your mind has wandered and you’re lost in thought. That’s okay. It’s normal. Once you notice, just return to where you started and begin again.”

No judgment. 

Just validation that it happens and an invitation to return to your intentions and give it another shot. That’s the practice. 

Begin Again

As a manager, if your goal is to help others to do their best at work, support their well-being, and advance in their career, it will be challenging work. 

Managing is only easy when you’re doing it wrong. 

Becoming a good manager is like learning meditation. It’s not natural for most of us, so it requires lots of practice. And as you practice, you’re going to make mistakes.  

The list of mistakes I’ve made in my management career is long enough to be a book of its own. The goal isn’t to eliminate mistakes. They’re inevitable.

The goal is to cultivate an awareness of your actions as a manager so that you recognize when you’ve made a mistake.  

When you say the wrong thing. Or you shut down an idea before you’ve heard the person out. Or you avoid a hard conversation. Or you fail to set clear expectations.  

It’s what you do when you make mistakes that matters. This is where meditation guidance is valuable. 

  1. Recognize you’ve made a mistake. 
  2. Don’t judge yourself for making a mistake. It’s a natural part of the job. 
  3. Acknowledge your mistake. Apologize to the person if it’s warranted. 
  4. Remind yourself of your intention to be a good manager and what you learned through this mistake. 
  5. Begin again. 

Every time you do this, you’re not only becoming more skilled as a manager, but you’re also building trust with your team. When people know you will own up to your mistakes and make things right, it amplifies trust. 

Mistakes are part of the process. Don’t be afraid of them; embrace them and turn them into progress.

 

Related Reading:

Managing Through Love

The Other Side of Burnout – What’s Working for Me

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives

[Video] Do You Have This Management Blindspot?
[Video] Do You Have This Management Blindspot? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Over the past year, you’ve probably learned that when a team is “distributed,” it becomes more complicated to manage.

And we’ve focused a lot of attention on how being distributed out of a centralized office location has changed how we manage and work.

Distributed = greater management complexity.

But there’s a bigger lesson we should be learning.

Our teams have always been distributed, way more than we knew. And this distribution had largely been in our blind spot until now.

Ignoring it may be your downfall as a manager moving forward.

 

Managing Through Love
Managing Through Love 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, recently gave the commencement address to the UC Berkeley School of Public Health graduates. 

In his comments, he provided some interesting and compelling advice to these graduates, most of whom are entering into a life of service through public health. Among his closing remarks, he said something that struck me:

“Love is the world’s oldest medicine. Your ability to give and receive love is your greatest gift and your greatest power. It is what will sustain you on every step of your journey ahead.”

Love is your greatest gift. 

Love is your greatest power. 

Not medicine, math, or science. 

Love. 

While he was speaking to newly-minted public health professionals, these words also ring true for anyone who takes up the mantle of “manager” of other human beings.

The Pandemic’s Reality-Check for Management

One of the silver linings of the painful journey we’ve been on has been that many managers were confronted with an uncomfortable reality check. They discovered that their people are actual human beings with lives outside of work that dramatically impact how they show up for their jobs.  

This is particularly true for managers who were abruptly forced to move from working in the office to working from home.  

Like it or not, they had to become aware of all the challenges and issues people were facing because these “life” issues were interfering with their ability to do their best at work. And, perhaps most inconveniently, managers had to face the reality that there is no real separation between work and life, regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Managers were forced to care about their people’s lives beyond what they could produce at work. And, in many cases, they were forced to engage with their people in conversations about issues that stretched far beyond the traditional employee-manager relationship. 

What Happens When We Love Our People?

Of course, not everyone successfully managed this transition. Many did not, choosing instead to keep their head down and wait until things went “back to normal.” Then they could go back to ignoring employees’ real needs and pretending everybody’s fine. 

But for those managers who did make the transition, they discovered something powerful. When you invest in understanding and caring for your people and their needs, they will rise to the occasion, and performance will elevate.

To echo Dr. Murthy’s words, they used their power to give the gift of love to their people. 

When we love our people, we commit to understanding who they are and what they need to thrive. We listen to them more deeply. We prioritize their success above our own.  

When we love our people, we give them the gift of believing in them, often at a level beyond which they even believe in themselves. 

As a manager, love is your superpower—if only you chose to use it.  

4 Ways to Love your People as a Manager

If you’re still reading this, kudos. Talk of love at work is scary for a lot of people. Think of how many people you know who can’t even muster the words “I love you” for the people in their lives who mean the most to them. If that’s you, the good news is that you can fix it today. Right this moment. 

Tell your kids, spouse, best friend, significant other, family members—whomever you love—that you love them. And keep showing them too. Every day.  

Love is a renewable and endless resource. Giving your love to others will never deplete you. In fact, when you give love to others, it multiplies. It makes them feel more worthy of love and capable of loving. 

I think that’s likely part of the “power” of love that Dr. Murthy referenced, although I can’t speak for him. Our capacity to love is boundless once we learn to tap into it.  

Now, don’t get the wrong message here. It’s probably not a great idea to start telling your direct reports you love them—at least not right away. Freaking people out isn’t very productive. We’ll get back to this in a minute. 

What’s most important is that you show them love through your actions. If you aren’t sure exactly what that looks like, I’ve got you covered. Below are a few examples of what it looks like to demonstrate love for your people as a manager. 

Give people the benefit of the doubt and forgive quickly. 

I once had a member of my team who’d gotten tangled up in some office drama. She’d created some tension and hard feelings in the office to the point that some senior leaders were calling for her to lose her job.

When we sat down to talk about it, I tried to really listen to her experience of what happened. I asked some pretty hard questions about why she had chosen to behave the way she had. It became clear to me in our conversation that she clearly had no ill intentions and had just gotten carried away. 

She was heartbroken by the impact her actions had on others in the office. At one point, she broke down in tears. We talked through what had happened and where it went wrong. She understood and committed to learning from it in the future. 

Then, I gave her my commitment that I had her back and would support her 100% moving forward as long as she learned from this. She never got caught up in anything like that again and proved herself to be perhaps the most loyal team member in the office.  

Make sure they know that you love them.  

Okay, back to saying “I love you” out loud. You should definitely do this in your relationships with those you love. At work, it is probably a good idea to use different words (at least at first).  

Instead of directly saying “love,” use language to reinforce that you care about them and that you are committed to them. You can and should say “I care about you” and “I’m committed to your success here” and mean it. Yes, some people may be a little uncomfortable with those words on the surface, but deep down, it’s exactly what all of us want to hear from our manager. 

Saying this out loud to your people (or putting it in writing) does two things. First, it reinforces to your people that you love them. And, it creates accountability for you to show up for them in a way that strengthens these commitments. 

Invest your time in them. 

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me talk about the lesson my daughter taught me when she was seven years old. I’d asked her one day how she knows if someone loves her. One of the first things she said was, “they spend time with me.” 

Time is the currency of relationships. Time is our most precious and fleeting resource. What we do with our time says everything about what we value and what truly matters to us. 

My daughter understood this truth even at such a young age. People who love you will invest their precious time to be with you. There is perhaps no more powerful way to show people you care about them than this. 

As a manager, if your calendar isn’t full of appointments to spend time with your people doing things that matter or are helpful to them, you should fix that.  

This doesn’t mean that you should smother your folks by micro-managing and constantly being up in their business. What it means is that you should have regular, dedicated time on your calendar for them individually each week. And, when they need time with you, you find it for them.  

Model Accountability

The most significant thing people misunderstand about loving your people at work is that they think it means avoiding the hard stuff, like having tough conversations or providing feedback when things aren’t going well.

It’s exactly the opposite. 

When our teenage son took actions that endangered himself and his future, as his parents, we had to take hard and heavy steps to hold him accountable for that behavior BECAUSE we loved him, not in spite of it.  

In any meaningful relationship, accountability goes in both directions. That means we must do the hard work to ensure our expectations of one another are clear and be willing to do hard things when things go off track. It also means that as managers, we’re accountable to each person we manage and that we accept that they should hold us accountable when we don’t live up to our end of the deal as well. 

Love requires mutual accountability. That accountability is the necessary fuel of healthy, trusting, and lasting relationships. 

Good Management Requires Love

We are entering a new era of work. 

We will be more distributed and separated by time and space than ever before. Trust can not be assumed—it must be earned. And, a new generation of employees will continue to rightfully demand a different kind of work experience; one defined by equity, inclusion, and community.  

This will require a different approach and mindset about managing and what it means to be a manager. If you want to thrive in this new era, start with love. If you can learn to love your people, you’ll be well equipped for the changes that lie ahead.

 

Related Reading:

Management, Parenting, and Love

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives? 
How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?  1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Over the past several months, I’ve been working hard to spread the message that what managers need to successfully navigate this new future of work is compassion. 

Compassion connects an awareness of the struggles and suffering of employees with caring actions to help them through it. It’s a big and important step beyond empathy, and I believe it’s imperative to support the well-being of others (and ourselves). 

Since compassion isn’t something you typically find in the standard deck of management advice, I’ve been getting some fascinating questions from people who are intrigued but slightly uncertain about its application in their organization.  

Recently, after a presentation I made about compassion as a new core competency of management, I received a question from an audience member that cuts to the core of why compassion in management feels uncomfortable for many. It also helps illuminate how we got to a place where so many employees are suffering through work experiences that more often harm their well-being and performance than help it. 

So, I’m going to share the question that was posed to me, along with my response. After you read both, I hope you’ll join the conversation and share your thoughts. 

The Question

While I agree that compassion ought to be front and center these days, and it’s important for managers to know what’s going on in their people’s lives, I guess I’m still struggling with how far that should go and would love to hear more from you about it. 

There are so many factors involved. From the comfort level of the manager and how experienced they are managing, to how comfortable people are sharing personal info with their manager (and all the baggage people tend to have from previous jobs when that didn’t go well), to keeping a level of professionalism and accountability to the work that needs to be done, to managers not overstepping scope to take on what should be another professional’s role (like a therapist). 

So, I’m curious what your thoughts might be on how to think about where to draw the line, or if you would suggest that there shouldn’t be one at all. 

My Response

Your concerns are the same ones that HR has been concerned with for as long as managers have existed. Where’s the line between knowing enough about your people and knowing too much?

In the way I approach this work, I start with the foundation that work is a relationship and that everything that happens at work should be seen through the context of relationship. When you frame your question through that lens, the answer to the question about how much a manager should know or how much an employee should share is…it depends. 

If it’s important to cultivating the relationship with that employee in a way that makes it easier and more fulfilling to do the work effectively, then it’s probably okay even if it goes past the traditional lines we’ve drawn (or what the manager is comfortable with). 

The heart of this issue is teaching people, both managers and employees, better relationship skills—compassion being key among those skills. 

When we teach people how to communicate more clearly, how to articulate expectations and demonstrate accountability, how to listen more actively, how to establish boundaries, how to trust and be vulnerable—then we don’t have to spend so much time worrying about how far is too far. The individuals will sort that out. 

They will disclose as much as is appropriate to make the relationship work in a way that meets both their needs. 

What do you think? How much do managers need to know? 

My argument is that we are due for an overcorrection. The past 100 years of management practice have been designed around what makes life easiest for the manager. As a result, we wrote policies and created norms about keeping the “personal stuff” outside of work boundaries. 

And despite how ridiculous that is in actual practice, we all played along. But then along came a global pandemic, and the charade was up. The fake walls between personal and professional came crashing down, and we realized that humans don’t compartmentalize like that. 

So, the old rules about what’s “work related” and how much a manager should know about an employee’s life outside of work are no longer relevant. It’s time to recalibrate.

If we equip managers and leaders with better relationship skills and give them permission to be compassionate and genuinely care about their employees, they will figure out the right balance.

When we start caring more about employee well-being than we do about managing risk, we’ll finally see the path to unleashing employee potential fully. 

And, if we over-correct a little and care too much, that’s probably not a bad thing. 

Do you agree?

 

Related Reading:

Relationships and Accountability

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset

 

 

work-from-home post-pandemic work - group of colleagues walking in an office with masks on
3 Big Things You’re Getting Wrong about Post-Pandemic Work
3 Big Things You’re Getting Wrong about Post-Pandemic Work 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

We’ve officially entered the part of our pandemic journey where we can start planning for how our teams or organizations will work once this virus is under control. To wrestle through sorting out what changes to keep and which to discard as we try to find a new equilibrium.  

This is particularly true for teams whose employees have been working from home for the past year or more. The debate over whether to bring people back to the office or continue a distributed work-from-home strategy will only grow more urgent and heated over the coming months. 

As I’ve had discussions with people about this, I’m worried that there are a few things decision-makers are overlooking. Here are the big ones.

1. You aren’t really in control of this decision.

In the pre-pandemic world, organizations and managers might have been able to get away with requiring people to work in an office to satisfy their need to “see” people working or based on some misguided idea about how ineffective people are when working from home. That lie has been revealed.

People now know what is possible. They know they can work effectively from their homes, often even more effectively than in the office. They know that many of the limitations placed on where they worked pre-pandemic were not based on any real reasons beyond leadership preference or a lack of desire to satisfy employee preferences.  

If organizations force people into working in ways they don’t prefer, they will vote with their feet (or laptops) and leave. Your work-from-home employees have more job options today than before because they can work for anyone, anywhere—from their home. These same people are frequently some of your valuable and expensive as well. 

If you aren’t putting them at the center of the decision-making process about how you move forward, you are putting your team and organization at great risk. 

2. Put an asterisk next to any feedback where employees tell you that they love or hate “working from home.” 

I’ve been working out of a home office on and off for over a decade now. 

Pre-pandemic, working from home meant having an office or space in my house that served as my primary place to store my work stuff, take video meetings, or make virtual presentations. But, I also spent much of my week working from coffee shops or meeting people in person for coffee or lunch.  

I would get up early to do some writing or other focus work for a few hours before helping get the kids ready and off to school. Somedays, I’d head to the gym after that. Others, I’d move to a different couch to do more writing.  

I didn’t like working from home for the first few years because I was still approaching it using habits and mindsets I’d picked up working in offices my entire career. It took a few years to learn how to make WFH work for me. 

And when the pandemic hit, even I had some pretty significant disruptions to how I “work from home.” No more coffee shops. No more gyms. No more in-person coffees or lunches. And, no more travel to provide a change of scenery.  

Here’s my point. Those employees who were forced into working from home for the first time during the pandemic don’t have a complete picture of what working from home could look like without the shackles of pandemic restrictions. 

If you ask employees to provide feedback right now on whether they want to work from home or return to the office, you’re probably getting tainted data. What they’re reacting to is working from home during a pandemic versus working from the office before a pandemic. It’s choosing between two unequal options. 

Instead of obsessing about where people are going to work, it would be far more productive to investigate what people found valuable and satisfying about working from home, what they missed or craved about working from the office, and then marrying that up with the needs of the work and employee.  

3. Face-to-face interaction is important, but it’s not a justification for requiring people to work in an office. 

Just this week, I reconnected with a friend who was sharing with me how she’s desperate to get back into the office. She craves the face-to-face connections and random chats that only happen when we share a space. 

She hates working from home (during a pandemic) because she’s been stripped of all her face-to-face interaction. In her mind, working from home equates to isolation and loss of relationships. 

Years ago, when I was an executive recruiter, most of my clients and candidates were people I’d never meet face to face. I’d spend hours with them on the phone, but because of geography and the way my employer viewed this work, I didn’t have the opportunity to go see them in person. 

But once in a while, I’d have a project or a client in Omaha, where I lived. And I would try to meet with those people in person. What I learned was that even a short meeting in person completely transformed the relationship. It was as if our relationship got a trust injection. In fact, 20 years later, I’m still in touch with some of these people, which is not something I can say about the phone-only relationships I had. 

In his book, The Year without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, Scott Berkun describes how he took on managing a global team that had no office. One of the things that stuck with me about his journey was the importance and power he described of bringing that team to a common location for a week to work and play together. 

According to his account, that one week of face-to-face time together provided the foundation for them to work together exceptionally well the rest of the time despite being spread across geographies and timezones. 

Face-to-face time together matters. But that should not be a justification for requiring people to return to an office every day where they know they don’t do their best work (or that requires hours of commute time). 

Instead, in-person facetime together should be carefully and intentionally designed into the work experience for every employee and team, regardless of where they work. If we aren’t going to pay for as much office space, we can reinvest that money into opportunities for distributed employees to come together with a purpose.  

Also, for employees like my friend who equate working from home with isolation, we need to encourage and design social connections into how we work. I used to spend many of my lunches with colleagues even when we worked together in an office. Why wouldn’t we meet for lunch or coffee now? 

It’s not about Work From Home or Return-to-Office. 

We are getting trapped into debating and choosing between false choices. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that our lack of imagination and courage constrained the way we were working pre-pandemic. These cannot be our excuses moving forward.

Instead of wringing our hands over whether to bring people back to the office or let them work from home, dig into what we’ve learned about how and where work can happen. Spend time with your people finding out what’s working, what’s not working, and together, envision what an optimal future might look like. 

The only thing limiting us today in reinventing work for the better is our ability to let go of the past and embrace that the future must be different. If we can be brave enough to keep exploring and trust our people, the possibilities are endless. 

 

Related Reading:

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

How Has Employee Experience Changed?

Why Employee Well-Being is Vital to Work Performance

Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset

 

 

Employee experience blog - woman holding compass and looking at mountains
How Has Employee Experience Changed?
How Has Employee Experience Changed? 1080 1350 Jason Lauritsen

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense of things over the last year. 

So many things changed so quickly. It was disorienting. 

Very little has felt certain or settled. 

And maybe the one thing that has felt the most uncertain and beyond our grasp is, “what comes next?”

The future has always been uncertain and unknowable. It’s not been written yet. 

And now, change has accelerated. Old ways of doing things are shattered and lying in pieces on the floor. And the path forward seems to be both hopeful of better days and treacherous given the presence of violence, illness, and inequity that seem to be lurking around every turn.  

How do you make sense of what’s happening and what to do next?

This question has felt daunting as we’ve navigated decisions about school, socializing, youth sports, and even shopping. 

But, these are relatively small decisions compared to the decisions many of you are confronting in regards to your future workplace.  

As I’ve written many times before, there is no “back to normal.” Normal as we knew it is gone forever. And why would we even consider turning back? We’ve come so far and learned so much. 

A Resource to Help

Earlier this year, my friends at Limeade asked me to write an eBook that could be a resource to those struggling to make sense of how work has truly changed and what that suggests about how we move forward.

In the eBook, I rely on data and trends to paint a picture of some of the most critical ways things have changed for those responsible for creating the employee experience for others. 

You can download the full eBook here.  

In the book, I highlight and describe six disruptions from the past year that have changed employee experience forever: 

  1. The impossible became possible. 
  2. Executives were confronted with the reality that our traditional model of work is broken. 
  3. Our sense of safety was lost. 
  4. Employee experiences varied widely across and within organizations. 
  5. Equity and inclusion became urgent issues. 
  6. A mental health crisis is building, and organizations seem dangerously overconfident. 

Each of these six disruptions is supported by meaty data and real trends. When viewed together, they paint a picture of both possibility and threat. 

The future, though, has yet to be written. This is why I follow the trends with five suggestions for approaching employee experience today and moving forward. 

Download your copy here. 

My goal in creating this wasn’t to predict or prognosticate about the future, but rather to help you get a clearer picture of what’s happening to inform your actions moving forward. 

I’m personally bullish about the future of work. As long as people like you seize upon what we have learned and refuse to turn back, we can create a better, more equitable, and engaging future of work together. 

For those of you who prefer to listen over reading, I also did a recent webinar for Limeade where I shared the insights from the eBook. You can request access to that recording here. 

Please email me or leave a comment with your thoughts. 

  • Which disruption feels the most significant based on your experience? 
  • What other disruptions do you think were incredibly powerful? 
  • Is there anything I got wrong or left out?

Let’s seize the opportunity to create a better future together. It starts today. 

 

Related Reading:

Getting Smart About Employee Experience (Resources)

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

Designing Employee Experience (A “How To” Series)

employee wellbeing discussion
Why Employee Well-being is Vital to Work Performance
Why Employee Well-being is Vital to Work Performance 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

There’s a lot of talk about employee well-being right now. 

Apparently, suffering through a global pandemic is enough to finally get us thinking about our well-being more seriously. The consequences of a lack of well-being have been laid bare over the last year.  

But employee well-being isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been lurking in the shadows, affecting work performance for as long as the notion of “work” has existed. 

Today, my goal is to caution you against dismissing the emphasis on employee well-being as only being related to the pandemic. Instead, we must recognize it as an opportunity to re-tool management to improve both productivity and engagement moving forward. 

What is Well-being? 

Twelve years ago, I was hired to lead the corporate human resources team for a regional bank. To their credit, they’d been investing in employee well-being programs for years before I arrived. They even had a full-time wellness coordinator on staff (uncommon then) who was on my team.

I’ll be honest that prior to taking that job, I’d never really understood wellness programs. The most I’d brushed up against wellness in past organizations was through periodic health fairs at the office that seemed out of place to me.

This was something different. They viewed wellness as an employee benefit, a way to help the employee get or stay healthy. And the employees seemed to embrace it. I was intrigued. 

Workplace wellness programs at the time included things like steps challenges, weight-loss competitions, and programs to help you quit smoking. They often incorporated an outsourced Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hotline, but it seemed few ever used it. 

Employee well-being was almost entirely focused on physical health. And physical health is an important issue. But as we’re coming to understand now, well-being is so much broader than that. 

Well-being at Its Core

Well-being at its most fundamental level is literal. It’s about “being well.” The work of well-being is taking intentional steps to feel better (or less unwell) in all areas of our lives.  

There are a lot of different definitions and models of well-being out there. I like the ones used by The Center for Spirituality and Healing and WELCOA personally, but what’s more important than a specific definition is that you recognize what well-being feels like and how it affects your life.

What helped me finally grasp the importance of well-being at work was to focus on my own experiences when I was either feeling really well or really unwell in my life and how that affected my ability to perform my job. 

The most obvious experience we’ve all shared of unwellness is being sick. When we are suffering from a cold, COVID, or any other illness, our ability to perform at our best in any area of our life is diminished. 

Well-being and Performance

When we are ill, our body rallies its energy to power our immune response, which directs it away from other things. I know that I can’t think or concentrate with any effectiveness when I’m sick. At best, it takes me twice or three times as long to get things done. 

When we are physically diminished for any reason, our work suffers. Hungover, tired, hungry, or any number of other issues can cause us not to be at our best. 

A lack of physical well-being is probably the easiest to see and notice, which I think is why most wellness programs have focused there in the past. But, being unwell can have many causes. 

As we’ve heard a lot recently, mental health is a significant contributor to well-being. This can manifest in a bunch of ways, from anxiety to depression. Mental health and mental illness are just as serious and often more harmful than issues with physical health. 

I’ve written about my own experiences with burnout and how it disrupted my ability to be at my best in any part of my life—let alone work. When we don’t care for our mental health, it can have dire impacts on work and every aspect of our life. 

Hopefully, you recognize your own experience in some of this and relate to the stark difference between how you show up in life and work when you are well versus unwell.  

Why Well-being Matters

Please don’t get the wrong idea; well-being isn’t just about avoiding pain or suffering. It’s about recognizing that we all have core human needs as human beings that need to be met for us to be happy, content, and able to be the best version of ourselves. 

Being “well” means your core needs are met in a way that allows you to make choices about how to invest your time, energy, and talent.

Being “well” means you’re operating as a whole person with your full potential at your disposal. 

“Well” is an aspiration. And, it’s one that I believe all humans share. When our well-being is in a good place, it feels great. 

Well-being has come to the forefront now because the past year has introduced multiple threats to our well-being that almost felt like a coordinated attack. 

Illness led the news, but our safety and financial security also came under attack simultaneously. Relationships were strained, and unhealthy habits revealed themselves as a temporary solution to our anxiety. 

Life piled on the well-being challenges one after the other as if it were a contest to see how much we could handle before we break. Some of us broke. Many are on the verge of breaking.

This is where far too many people find themselves today.  

As a manager or leader, this should be alarming to you. Because as we know from our own experiences when we aren’t well, we can’t do our best work. 

While this has always been true, the consequences of not supporting our employees’ well-being are starker and more catastrophic than ever before. 

If you want a high-performing team who will stay with you through good and bad times, supporting well-being needs to move to the top of your priority list and stay there. 

How to Support Employee Well-being

While I’m not going to offer you a comprehensive guide here for how to manage and lead for well-being, what I can do is share with you a few foundational steps you can take to get started in the right direction.

1. Give yourself permission to care. 

Well-meaning HR departments for years have told managers to maintain their distance from employees. We were advised not to get too close to people because you need to stay objective when managing people.  

And, while this advice is meant to ensure fairness and avoid favoritism, the unintended consequence is that managers have kept people at arms-length, believing that they really can’t engage with the employee in any way beyond what is “work-related.” 

As I outlined earlier, much of what affects our well-being and ability to perform our best at work happens in the part of our lives when we aren’t working. So, as a manager who wants to help people be at their best at work, you have to care about and be interested in your employees far beyond work.

This doesn’t mean you need to become best friends with each of your employees. But, you should give yourself permission to care about them and their lives outside of work.

When you start to care for your people beyond just their work output, you’ll start asking different questions and having different conversations. Showing your people that you care is a significant first step towards improving their well-being. 

Just knowing someone cares about you is incredibly powerful. You can give that gift to every person you manage.

2. Abandon the “work-life balance” myth. 

One thing that has traditionally got in the way of organizations meaningfully addressing employee well-being is the myth of work-life balance. 

The whole notion of balance assumes you have two separate things to put on opposite sides of a scale and adjust until the scale balances. The issue here: two separate things. 

Work isn’t something separate from life, it’s part of it. The concept of work-life balance only became a thing when employees started to realize how much work sucked for them and how much of a negative impact it was having on their lives. 

So, organizations started talking about “balancing” work and life as a solution to this issue. Rather than fix the root cause (work sucks and it’s killing us, sometimes literally), we created programs to help people think about the non-sucky parts of their life—that stuff that we don’t call “work.” 

Work is part of life. And life comes to work with people every day. There is no separation to balance. There is only a human being in the middle of it who has needs and aspirations. When we refuse the myth of work-life balance, we can finally start addressing the root issues holding people back.

3. Learn compassion.  

At the beginning of the year, I declared that the number one management imperative of 2021 was compassion. Compassion isn’t a concept commonly discussed in management or leadership training, but it may be the vital missing piece to truly embracing our role in supporting employee well-being. 

At the heart of compassion is an awareness of the suffering of others and a desire to help remove or address that suffering. It’s a simple idea with profoundly powerful implications when put into practice.  

Hopefully, we’ve all experienced compassion from others at some point in our lives. If you have, you remember that experience of someone recognizing that you were suffering or struggling and offering to help you get through it. 

For me, it was the compassion of my wife and another close friend last summer who both recognized I was struggling and offered me the support I needed to heal from my burnout. 

Compassion starts with permitting yourself to care (see #1 above) and seeing the employee beyond just what happens “at work” (see #2 above). From there, it’s going to be about cultivating skills for recognizing people’s needs and challenges with a commitment to address them.  

To dive deeper into the skill of compassion, I recommend reading this resource: How to Foster Compassion at Work Through Compassionate Leadership

Well-being is the Future of Work

This has been a chaotic and often painful chapter in the evolution of work. But we’re standing at the edge of a brand new chapter.

The silver lining in this pandemic is that it shattered the status quo of “how work should be done” to reveal something that’s always been true: 

It’s about the people. 

Embracing the work of well-being is ultimately a fundamental re-thinking of how we design and manage work. Employee well-being starts with designing based on what’s best for the humans who do the work—not the organization. 

Those who recognize and embrace this shift now will lead the way forward and show what’s truly possible. And I believe they will be in a position to thrive wildly in the future. 

 

 

Related Reading:

Wellness 2.0

Why Wellness Programs Matter

How (and Why) to Check in With Your Employees Now More Than Ever

Sending My Kids Back to School Broke Me

work from home
No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home
No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home 1080 599 Jason Lauritsen

A lot has changed over the past several months at work. This virus showed up and lit the status quo on fire. A majority of office workers now work from home. And we’ve been scrambling ever since. 

The most intense disruption has been felt in jobs and work that once happened in an office setting but is now happening outside the office, primarily in what we call “work from home” (WFH). 

According to data published by Stanford in late June, 42% of the U.S. labor force is working from home full time. When considered against the fact that 33% of the labor force is unemployed, that’s a huge share of working people now doing it from home. And it’s a reality that was almost unthinkable six months ago.  

As a result of this major shift, there’s been a wave of articles and proclamations made recently that “the future of work is here” and that the move to WFH is here to stay. 

In the words of the great Lee Corso, long-time college football analyst and coach, “Not so fast, my friend.”

In the midst of a whirlwind of change and uncertainty, it’s natural to grasp for certainty. It’s also natural to want what’s happening to somehow be the end of the changes. We are all craving some normalcy and a world that slows down a bit so we can start trying to make sense of it again. 

But it’s far too early to start drawing any definitive conclusions about how the way we work is going to look when this pandemic is finally over. Given that even the most optimistic experts suggest that early 2021 might be when things begin to turn, we’ve got a long journey ahead of us yet. 

It’s more useful to step back and consider what we know and what we’ve learned. These insights can then guide us as we try to prepare our organizations for what lies ahead. 


On the other hand, the necessity of survival forced changes that were long overdue. 

  • Employees who had been told for years that their job couldn’t be done remotely were equipped to do so in days. 
  • Employees not only demonstrated an ability to work from home, but in many cases their productivity has actually improved
  • According to many I’ve spoken to, projects that would have taken years to complete in the past have been completed in months. 
  • The artificial barriers between “work” and “life” were broken apart as the new workplace involved bedrooms and living couches shared with children, spouses, and pets.  

As the proverb says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” 

There has been more disruption to the way work gets done in the past few months than in the previous decade. This virus forced us to cut through bureaucracy, red tape, and old school management practices to find a way to survive.  

And yet, both Gallup and Quantum Workplace have reported data that shows a dramatic improvement in employee engagement trends during the pandemic when compared to past years. 

What do we really know for sure at this point? 

We know that remote work is more viable and feasible than most expected. And we know that the reason we had not been allowing remote work in the past had little to do with it being possible and everything to do with management’s distrust of employees. 

We know that employees are far more resilient, resourceful, and committed to their jobs than most organizations assumed. Even in some really challenging situations (i.e. childcare, school from home, partner conflict, etc.), employees found a way to maintain productivity and get their core work done. 

We know that we are properly motivated, we can get things done and make things happen, even big complex things, a lot faster than we thought. Our slow, political, bureaucratic processes have been like anchors holding us in place. The bigger your organization, the heavier that anchor. 

What don’t we know?

The list of what we know is short. The list of what we don’t know is very, very long. That’s what makes jumping to any conclusions at this point dangerous. 

For example, we now know (and more importantly our employees know) that a majority of jobs can be done remotely. What we don’t know is whether they should be done remotely? Or if they should be done remotely all of time, some of the time, or none of the time. 

We have only been in this new reality of remote work for less than six months. We don’t really know yet how employees and their feelings will evolve.  When I started working from a home office, it took me years to fully make the transition and to learn how to be most effective in this setting (and I have the advantage of an actual home office). 

Some recent research from Quartz and Qualtrics revealed that “55% of people who switched from working outside the home to remote work at home said they prefer working from home when polled in early June.” But when you dig in deeper, the number is higher for those who work at a big company and lower for those who work in a small company. 

That data is from early June, before employees spent another few months isolated from colleagues and confined to their homes. We can only speculate at this point how employees are changing in both their attitudes and capabilities through this experience. Our workplace is going to emerge forever transformed. So too will our workforce

We don’t know yet the true impact of a fully distributed workforce. How could we? The fact is that we are running a giant remote work experiment during a pandemic. For me, working from home in the past was a combination of being in my office, on my couch, walking outside, using a conference room at a co-working space, and spending hours and hours in coffee shops both alone and in conversations with others. And that’s when I wasn’t on the road traveling. 

Today, employees are confined and limited to where and how they can work remotely. Work from home means “stuck at home” in a lot of cases, and it also means supervising children’s schooling, sharing space and duties with a spouse or roommates who are also stuck at home, etc. When the pandemic is over, a lot of variables will change and that means that some of what we think we’ve learned about how to shape work in the future may not be as valid as we think. An employee might come to hate working from home during a pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want to do it under different circumstances. 

What should you do now? 

Given all of this, how can you prepare your organization for a new reality of work that hasn’t fully arrived yet?

  1. Talk to your people. There’s been so much change and most of us have been just rolling with the punches, trying to take it all in stride and do the best we can. But it’s hard. You feel it and so does every one of your employees. Now is the time to dial up your frequency of employee communication and feedback cycles. Surveys, focus groups, one-on-one check-ins, and any other means of keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with your employees is critical right now. Ask them how they are holding up and where they are struggling. Ask them how you can help. Ask them what they need. And do something to show them you care.
  2. Treat all of this as an experiment. Things are going to continue to change, the variables are going to keep changing. So, continue to try new things. A good experiment starts with a hypothesis (what do we think will happen?), followed by a specific and intentional action or set of actions, followed by measurement. The goal of an experiment is to prove or disprove the hypothesis and then use that information to start the next experiment. In other words, keep trying new things and measuring the impact. Learn as much as you can about what’s working and what isn’t so you can build on that in the future. Take full advantage of this unprecedented time to explore and learn.
  3. Focus on enabling employee performance. Employees have proven they will rise up to the challenge of remote work, but they’ve had to bear a heavy load to do it. Figure out what employees need and make it easier for them to perform what’s expected and make it happen. If employees are working from home, then supporting them in how to make that home work for them is just as important as it was to make the “workplace” a productive environment in the past. This could mean providing stipends for office furniture and technology. It might mean new technology tools. It might mean providing support and resources for childcare.
  4. Recognize that WFH is only one version of remote working. To say, “work from home” is the new norm or that it’s here to stay is wrong. You can say this: the days of telling people they have to work from the office and that their job can’t be done remotely without providing a really clear business reason are gone. What many employees have long wanted from work is flexibility. And now they know it’s possible and they will demand it in the future. 

Focus on people, don’t jump to any conclusions, and learn as much as you can. The future is always uncertain and unpredictable. The best thing we can do is pay close attention to what’s happening and apply what we are learning as we go.  

If you like this content, then you might really like my new online Engagement Leader Community. The work of engaging employees is getting harder. If you are wrestling with how to keep your employees engaged, happy, and productive during these crazy times, you will find some answers and support here. Check it out.