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Elon Musk insists on in-office hours but the remote working data doesn’t lie

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Elon Musk may shun remote and hybrid in favour of in-person working but leaders risk losing the war on talent if they don’t use data to shape the organisational culture.

13th Jul 2022
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Regardless of industry, company size or geography, business leaders now face difficult decisions every day. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Some employees thrive off working from home and enjoy the flexibility, whilst others want human contact and learn better in team scenarios.

It’s not an easy situation for any business leader. On top of that, they have to work hard for the outcomes they want and risk losing out in the war for talent if they get things wrong. Against this backdrop, some are hedging their bets on a future decision based on opinion and gut feeling in the hope of clarity, rather than using data to model more innovative ways to solve the hybrid working and talent puzzle. 

If you create compelling reasons for in-office working and collaboration, you no longer have to enforce anything

A lack of understanding

One such leader is Tesla's Elon Musk. His latest decision is that employees must work a minimum 40-hour in the office and track them through key card data. Those that don’t comply risk dismissal. Despite the fact that Musk has achieved some clarity on the workforce and hasn't sat on the fence in the great hybrid working debate, his decision lacks understanding of a crucial point at the expense of his workers' happiness. 

If you create compelling reasons for in-office working and collaboration, you no longer have to enforce anything. The outcome is the same: more time spent benefitting from physical time together and, by association, taking a great leap forward in the war for talent. But instead of it being delivered by force, it's empowered through choice. Here's how.

Navigate misinformation 

Musk isn’t the first global business leader to make a controversial decision and woven a narrative that’s not grounded in evidence. Because of this, he gets away with it and people blindly follow suit. In this case, if we take what’s been said by him in the press at face value, it sets a precedent for businesses to jump from one policy to the next with no compassion, just because it’s hot on the news agenda. But, throwing down arbitrary mandated office days without any data insight is inefficient and misses the bigger picture. 

And with the Great Resignation still in full swing, and a predicted 20% of workers planning to quit this year alone, leaders can’t afford to lose trust and subsequently talent. Leaders must wade through the tsunami of misinformation, distinguish between opinion and fact, and then model based on what’s right for their organisation and workforce. How? It’s a balancing act that requires the ability to problem solve.

This type of work requires an understanding of who is doing what, for how long and what competencies are required to do it well. Only then can you bring location requirements into the picture, and ask a series of questions about what’s right for your business: Who’s doing what? Is this optimal? What work isn’t being done that should be? How can we get it done? What skills are missing?

Once this information is gathered and well understood, moving into planning, analysis and replanning can begin to provide answers that reveal which scenarios are appropriate for which people in the business. And it’s at this point you begin to switch up the narrative. Instead of thinking: 'How do I solve the hybrid working puzzle for my organisation?', you ask: 'What if I created compelling reasons for my team to want to be in the office based on the insights I’ve gathered?' 

Whilst 100% flexible working or 100% in-person working lends itself to headlines, it doesn’t lend itself to great business strategy and organisational planning

Switch up the narrative

Businesses are a collective of people with different wants, needs and motivations. Our lives have also been turned upside down over the last few years and most people have come out the other side of the pandemic with a new view and approach to life and particularly work. That’s why we’re seeing so many people leaving and moving to newer, more flexible roles. 

There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to workforce planning. It’s a balancing act of emotions and opinions, especially when it comes to flexible working. And whilst data is our source of truth, it’s unlikely you’ll ever come to one right or wrong way to do things when it comes to personal preference and choice. Let’s be honest, there are a ton of reasons why flexible working is great, and why office working is great.

And whilst 100% flexible working or 100% in-person working lends itself to headlines, it doesn’t lend itself to great business strategy and organisational planning. This conundrum requires an expert problem solver. Someone who can take the data, understand what it means and develop a clear policy that’s right for the organisation. 

Whatever the outcome may be, leaders need to switch up the narrative. Especially when it comes to in-person work. In a lot of cases, the pandemic has afforded people the flexibility they’re unwilling to give up. And that’s fair enough. However, what business leaders need to do is position in-person working in a different light. One that shows what teams can learn from each other, and that builds an apprenticeship approach to on-the-job learning and development.

This is fundamental to getting the right work done and creating a cadence of continuous development in the organisation. And it’s not just about training either – it’s about role modelling, building relationships, and the ability to have two-minute conversations that feel unnatural online, but are highly productive and valued.

No one is expecting the return of the full five-day-a-week-in-the-office model. But we need to be utterly clear on the skills and competencies that benefit from in-person engagement and create an exciting, enjoyable and ultimately compelling approach to nurturing those skills in an office environment. If you get that right, no mandated office time will be necessary – people will just want to be in.

Move with compassion 

To do this work well, it's crucial to act with compassion. When Musk threatened people's livelihoods if they didn't meet the 40-hour in-office working threshold, he wasn’t thinking about the impact on the people affected by the decision. Yet behind every number on a page is a person with feelings, a family, a home and a livelihood to maintain.

It’s not as simple as switching up the numbers on a page, moving people around or slashing them altogether if they don’t comply with in-office working expectations. Organisations have a duty of care toward their employees and that shouldn’t be forgotten. 

There is no secret recipe for success when it comes to new working models. There are plenty of reasons for and against home and in-person working

But to move with compassion, decision-makers need to trust their teams, who are on the ground every day and understand employees' situations, experiences and skills. By building a culture of trust and integrity, which comes from communicating the ‘why’ behind a decision, employees in management positions are able to thrive while maintaining transparent communication with decision-makers.

Remember, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Having empathy with what’s happening further down means organisations are on the front foot when it comes to change or new strategies so that any decision taken doesn’t come as a complete surprise. 

All in all, there is no secret recipe for success when it comes to new working models. There are plenty of reasons for and against home and in-person working. What matters is taking the right steps by wading through the misinformation, relying on data, leaning into the problem solvers, trusting in your workforce, and creating a culture that team members want to be a part of wherever that may be. 

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