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opinion

Bosses are struggling. After two years of looking at mostly empty offices, they are eager to actually see people working in person. But all employees returning five days a week likely isn’t what the future holds.

Most employees, according to one survey, prefer a hybrid or remote work model. They want to work remotely for at least part of the week and even use a few minutes of work time to throw in a load of laundry between meetings.

So what is a boss who believes “face time” matters supposed to do? Get with it.

The pandemic has brought about the greatest workplace revolution since the industrial age. It has given more power to white-collar workers to choose how and where they work. Work is something we do, not a place. The so-called talent shortage isn’t a shortage of talented people, it is a shortage of people who want to work in traditional, restrictive environments. Companies that offer excellent benefits, choices and flexibility have no problem attracting good people, many of whom have left companies that want to go back to the old days prior to March, 2020.

Let’s be fair: This is not the mindset of all bosses. Most bosses struggling with adapting to this phenomenon are from traditional, top-down work environments. They grew up in the age of large offices where face time ruled. Many other bosses are evolving – some with a push, but evolving, nonetheless.

Bosses need to be ready to lead, and employees need to be comfortable to work in the environment that the company professes to support without fear of retribution or loss of opportunity.

Let’s begin with the non-believers. If a company has adopted a hybrid work arrangement, it should not be a boss’s choice to accept it, and it should not be dependent on who you report to. It is part of the company culture, supported by policy. A leader’s failure to adhere to it should not be tolerated. This starts with the senior leadership team, including the chief executive officer.

If a boss is refusing to support and model hybrid work arrangements, then just like any other employee who is refusing to comply – and thereby negatively affecting the culture – it needs to be dealt with. Frankly, the fit is no longer there.

If the boss is willing to adapt and try, invest and support them. Employees will be happier, and bosses will not feel like the world is falling apart.

Bosses need to model behaviour, especially those who are not quite on board. Depending on the policy, bosses should also work from home, or away from the office, at least twice a week. Show trust in employees by only communicating to them for an action item, or during regular meetings. In other words, do not check in on them for the sake of wanting to know where they are. Trust them.

Bosses need to also think about the whole team, not just the ones they see when they are at the office. There used to be a time where that one employee would get all the good assignments because they screamed the loudest or sat the closest to the boss’s office. This is over. Bosses need to carefully weigh who is the best person to do the work, or who needs to develop with that type of assignment – not who they see the most.

While people are moving forward in a hybrid model, the boss also needs to schedule some work-free virtual chat time with the team. This is like just popping by a workspace to say hello. These are valuable interactions. They must be done differently but can still have the power of good communication and interaction.

If you are a boss who cannot do anything but long for the return to the BC (Before COVID-19) days, you are unlikely going to fit in with the new way of work. Admit it. If you are the boss who is not quite on board but is willing to try, good for you – just don’t expect others to wait forever for you to catch up. Move fast because you are behind.

If you are among the majority of bosses who either believed in (and likely practised) hybrid work in the BC days, or became a convert shortly after, embrace and enjoy the people you work with. Encourage them to take advantage of that different way of work, such as throwing a load of laundry in before a meeting starts.

Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary

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