Virtual Teams

How can we keep senior leaders out of the office?

In our conversations with organizations introducing hybrid working, it’s clear that there is a disconnect between the expectations of people at different levels of the organization on how much time they will spend in the office.

  • new employees and people at the start of their career are often keen to come into the office more often to establish their networks and benefit from learning from more experienced colleagues
  • senior leaders and older employees in general seem to want to be in the office more than average
  • flexibility on location is most valued by people who have other commitments to balance and long commutes

It is understandable how different life stages and personal circumstances would lead us to take advantage of flexibility differently.

However, for senior leaders there are implications. If senior leaders come into the office every day, then it may become seen as aspirational to be there too.

One of the risks of remote and hybrid working is that proximity bias leads people to over-value the work and the individuals they see and undervalue the people and results delivered remotely. If working under the gaze of senior leaders is the route to success then ambitious people are more likely to spend more time in the office.

We often work with senior leaders on how to model the behaviours they want to see reflected by their people. If we are serious about promoting a hybrid model, then senior leaders will need to model the fact that remote working is normal and valued.

If we say that it’s OK for others to work remotely, but continue to come into the office every day ourselves, then people will act on the basis of what they see us do, not what we tell them (as always).

So here is a suggestion – Maybe we should have a number of days per week where it is mandatory that senior managers don’t come to the office.

If you are in an organization that mandates that people should come into the office for certain days to achieve certain goals – such as culture building, socialising and collaboration, isn’t it equally valid to mandate days when you can’t be in the office to achieve other goals such as individual productivity, focus and work life balance – and in this case to model the style of working we want others to adopt?

It’s hard to imagine turning people away from the office but it is the same logic as saying they have to come in for two or three days per week.

As senior leaders set the tone, maybe we should start with them? What do you think?

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