workplace

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

3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees
3 Simple Tips for Managing Remote Employees 1000 668 Jason Lauritsen

Regardless of when this pandemic ends (which feels like never to me right now), the way we work will never go back to how it was before.

Sure, offices will open and some people will return to their cubicles, but many won’t.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about work over the past several months, it’s that work can be done successfully well beyond the walls of the office—sometimes even better.

What this means for how organizations and leaders decide to change policies and reshape office environments is yet to be sorted out. But there is one thing for certain.

We are going to be managing employees who we can’t “see” in the office every day for the indefinite future. Remote work is never going away. In fact, as remote work expert Laurel Farrer put it this week as we discussed this topic as part of a panel, “soon we won’t even call it ‘remote’ work anymore. It will just be ‘work’.”

So, while it may take a while to sort out what this all means in the big picture, there is one thing we can focus on right now that will have an enormous impact on our teams and their ability to perform: We need to get really good at managing remote employees.

Why Do We wonder?

Over the past week, I fielded a survey of several hundred managers asking about their biggest challenges or questions related to managing virtual teams. There were a lot of great insights in the responses (more on that to come).

One group of responders took me back to the days when we used to gather around conference room tables to discuss employee engagement concerns. The challenge they raised sounds something like this:

“It’s hard to know how my team is doing/feeling/working when we are all remote.”

I get it. If you’ve only managed people in person at a traditional work environment throughout your career, you’ve likely come to rely on your ability to observe people around the office as a way to get a “feel” for how they were doing.

So, when you can’t see your people every day, it feels like you are somehow powerless to know what’s going on.
Ironically, this same conversation used to happen around that nostalgic board room table long before “pandemic” was a common word in our vocabulary. Even when we could see our people every day, leaders would find themselves together wondering about how employees were really doing, how they felt about what was happening at work.

My guidance to them then is the same as it is today.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Feeling like we don’t have a good handle on how our employees are feeling isn’t a new problem. Remote working arrangements have just made it feel more acute and painful.

Not knowing is definitely problematic. It leads us to make assumptions, and that’s never good because we rarely assume the right things.

If we remember that work is a relationship for employees, then perhaps we can learn from other relationships in our lives where this same issue arises. I’ll use my wife as an example.

On top of trying to survive a pandemic, my wife is running a campaign to be mayor of the suburban community where we live. She’s got a lot going on. Running for office is the equivalent of a giant popularity contest. Being in it requires thick skin and an ability to keep things in perspective.

Angie does a pretty good job of this, but I know there are times when it’s hard and she’s struggling with the stress. But, I don’t always know exactly when. And despite knowing her better than any other human on the planet, when I make any assumption about how she’s feeling, I’m almost always wrong.

When I act on those wrong assumptions, it has sometimes even made things worse. Piling more stress on top of what is already a big pile. So, I try not to assume.

Instead, I do what we should all be doing more often. That brings me to my first tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #1: ASK

When we are wondering about how someone else is doing, we don’t need to make assumptions. We can ask.

This is true for our personal relationships—our significant others, parents, children, friends, neighbors, etc. It’s also true for our employees.

It used to drive me insane when I’d meet with my executive teams and they’d start to speculate about what employees thought about certain things or how they were feeling about others. I am sure they got sick of me saying it, but I used to point to a wall where employees were working on the other side and say, “We don’t need to spend time wondering about this, we can go ask them. They are right over there.”

Perhaps the most fundamental skill we need right now as we try to adjust and adapt to managing in this new distributed and virtual environment is the ability to ask meaningful questions.

Consider questions like:

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how’s your stress level right now?
  • What makes work hardest for you right now?
  • How do you feel about your work from home set up?
  • What was your biggest win this week—with work or just in general?
  • How can I help make your work day less stressful?

The key is to ask questions that get the employee to reflect and talk about what’s really happening for them. One of my friends shared with me that her boss’s boss recently asked her, “Are you having any fun?” This unexpected question caused her to really pause and reflect on how she’d been approaching her work.

Asking good questions is vital, but it’s not enough by itself. Hence, my next tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #2: LISTEN

Sounds pretty simple, but don’t be fooled.

In the survey results from last week, a number of people lamented about the inability to observe body language when interacting with direct reports and others in the office.

This is certainly a real issue when working remotely. It makes it that much more critical that we pay attention to people and listen to what they are (and aren’t) saying.

I’m not going to give you a lesson on active listening because you’ve likely heard it before (if not, Google it and you’ll find loads of great resources). But, I will offer up a few key suggestions.

  1. Do not multitask. It’s so tempting to check emails while on a video call or meeting. Don’t do it. Shut down any other open windows, applications, or tasks and focus on the person in front of you.
  2. Take notes. Write down what you are hearing and any questions that arise in your mind. When you ask good questions, you should get interesting responses. Writing down important details means you don’t have to try to remember them or hold them in your mind. This frees you to pay attention to not only what’s being said but how it’s being said. Is there trepidation or anxiety behind those words?
  3. Ask the follow-up question. The first response is often the least helpful. Learn to say things like, “tell me more about that” or, “why do you think that is?” The second (or third) question is often when you get to the most important insights.

If you really listen to your people, they will share with you what’s working and what’s not. They will share their challenges with you. They will tell you where they need help.

Which brings us to the last tip.

Tips for Managing Remote Employees #3: ACT

When you ask good questions and really listen to the answers, you should end up with a list of things that you can help. But, that list only matters if you take action.

You don’t have to solve every problem or address every need in the moment. But, you do need to do something to help.

When you take action to support your employees after they’ve shared a problem with you, it builds trust. The more often and consistently you do it, the stronger your relationship will become. They will begin sharing more important concerns with you.

Over time, you won’t have to work as hard at drawing out the issues because your people will know that you care and will help whenever they have a challenge in front of them.

Remote Management Impact in Three Words

This isn’t a new idea, just a refresher of a tried and true approach. Managing and engaging people remotely requires that we get the fundamentals right. There’s nothing more fundamental to fostering a positive relationship with your people than these three words:

Ask. Listen. Act.

These three steps taken regularly and with good intention will help you keep your people engaged and productive through the uncertain and changing times ahead.

P.S. One of the biggest challenges managers identified for managing remote employees is keeping them connected–to each other, to the organization, and to them as their manager. So, with my friends at Waggl, we decided to crowdsource some solutions.  If you click this link, you’ll be asked to share what’s been working for you to keep you feeling connected as a remote worker. You’ll also be able to see and vote for the best ideas submitted by others. Check it out now.  

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.