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Back To The Office….

by David Brock on May 11th, 2022

After 2 years of WFH or WFA defining how we work, some/many of us are going back to the office. Some by choice/preference, some out of meeting a requirement.

Before I get much further, the nature of work, how we work, where we work has changed profoundly–and it will continue to be. For many roles, WFH or WFA will continue, and it will be for the better. As a person who has WFA for much of my career, if anything, I’m biased to that choice.

While I have had “offices” in all my roles, I was seldom there. Early in my career selling IT technologies to banks and investment companies, I spent most of my time at the customer. Some were kind enough to provide a desk or cubbyhole and phone for me in their locations. I’d only go to the “office,” when there was an important meeting.

During that time, I had a manager who “encouraged” us to spend as much time with customers as we could. For a while, he actually had a fine for any of us that were in the office during business hours for anything other than entering an order or something that had to be done in the office.

Later, much of my work was “on the road,” meeting with teams in my organization around the world. My work was in the airport, on the plane, in hotels, at remote offices. Starbucks became a refuge between meetings because of the free Wi-Fi. My briefcase, now backpack, became my office. My laptop and mobile became critical to getting work done.

So I have to admit to being a little insensitive to the arguments that we have to go back to the office.

Now, we have the opportunity to rethink what “back to the office” means.

Many organizations are mandating some “back to the office” time. It’s either a certain number of days per week, or certain days each week.

Personally, I think that’s a bad strategy.

I think a better strategy is might be, making back to the office (for some roles, like selling) optional.

But… we create compelling reasons for people to choose to come to the office. We create compelling reasons where people find greater value by being in the office than working from home.

The first place to start is meetings. WFH, WFA hasn’t improved meetings, we can just conduct them virtually. But since offices have existed we’ve had a “meeting” problem. We have complained, legitimately, about how our time is wasted in too many meaningless meetings. Yet we fill our calendars with more meaningless meetings.

If anything WFH, WFA has enabled us to schedule more of these (but at least it’s easier to do email, peruse social media, or play solitaire when the meeting is virtual.).

What if we started rethinking our meetings, making the agendas and what we accomplish in those meetings so compelling that people choose to attend in person?

What if we had meetings where people could get together to address really tough issues. Meetings where people can be really creative, where we can learn from each other. What if we had meetings that helped us address really tough problems?

This would require us to think about meetings differently. If we wanted people to choose to attend, we have to think about the purpose and agenda, we would have to be prepared, we would expect others participating the meeting to be prepared. We would have a clear objective that each person wants to achieve by participating in the meeting.

People might participate in person or virtually, but we could make the meeting compelling enough that people choose to attend in person.

Hmmm, sounds a little like a well prepared/executed meeting with customers? Maybe we should think about applying call planning methods to our internal meetings.

If we started doing this, letting people “vote” by their mode of participation, we might have fewer meetings that are time/productivity/energy drains.

As managers, we want to see our people face to face for coaching and other sessions. But if our people don’t find them useful, they might “vote” to do them virtually. This would cause us to rethink what we do in those meetings and the value we create with our people.

Some of you might say, “Well people will just opt for virtual meetings and never come into the office.”

Some will, but I think the majority will choose to attend F2F meetings, if they get more out of the F2F experience than the virtual experience. The onus is on the meeting planner to create that experience.

And, in reality, I don’t think that’s too difficult. Over the past 5-6 months as I’ve started participating in more F2F meetings, there are the things that are impossible to achieve virtually. The spontaneous conversations that occur in the office, the ability to “read the room,” not just the speaker, the casual conversations over coffee, even overhearing an interesting conversation with another group.

Human being crave human interaction. Now we have the opportunity to make more of our meetings, more meaningful or productive. And, as a result, we might have fewer meetings.

We would become more productive as individuals and groups. We would accomplish so much more than we currently accomplish, virtually or F2F.

And as we became more expert at creating high impact meetings, internally, we might start applying the same principles to our customer meetings.

I suspect the issue of WFA, WFH, or “back to the office,” is a false choice. The choice is how we collaborative work that creates real impact where choose to work together to achieve those goals. How do we bring meaning back into the work experience, rather than robotically going through the motions.

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