If you sense that things are changing rather profoundly in the workplace, you’re correct.
What’s strange is that so many of the rules at work that made sense a decade ago just don’t anymore. What seemed normal at work for several generations is suddenly seeming as outdated as driving to Blockbuster to pick up a movie. Knowledge workers are the most impacted by what’s happening.
Technology, mobility and the rise of a generation of digital-native graduates are shifting things more quickly than you think.
The change is so deep and intense it’s left a lot of senior leaders, managers, and employers wondering what’s going on.
Young leaders intuitively understand the change better, and many of them love the freedom of flexible work. But many leaders simply don’t.
Many white-collar organizations, businesses and non-profits operate as though the internet never happened. And increasingly, it’s going to cost them the best and brightest young leaders who will go elsewhere or simply start their own venture.
I’ve led in-person teams for two decades, and more recently I’ve led a virtual company with team members scattered across Canada, the US and elsewhere with multiple timezones, connected only through our devices and our mission, vision and values.
As a result, I’ve had a sudden immersion into the emerging workplace. The changes seem far more threatening than they are. Surprisingly, I’ve found the changes to be liberating and exciting, not just for the team, but for me. While there’s a learning curve and at times things can get wobbly, the upside greatly outweighs the downside.
So how do you get a handle on all this?
And what exactly is outdated?
Well, for starters, these five practices. I’ll also include some insights on how to address them.Many white-collar organizations, businesses and non-profits operate as though the internet never happened. Click To Tweet
1. Insisting People Come to the Office
One of the reasons the office as we knew it made sense for almost a century is because the tools for work were housed at the office.
Pick a decade: until very recently, your company held the typewriters, meeting spaces, computers, paper, pens, phones, copiers, fax machines and all the things people didn’t own or need personally. As a result, there was a clear demarcation between work life and home life. The office was something you went to because you couldn’t really do that much work outside of it.
Around 2012, all of that changed.
First, high-speed internet combined with widespread access to wifi became normal.
Second, by 2012 cell phone companies made LTE and 4G networks standard. So wherever you went you had access to data quite reliably.
Third, cloud-based computing emerged out of its experimental stage and became robust, secure and normal. Everything from VPNs to Google Docs to Microsoft Office became cloud-based, not desktop based.
Finally, mobile-first computing emerged as the new standard. What you used to need a desktop for you could now access on your phone, tablet or laptop effortlessly.
As a result, if you’re a knowledge worker, there’s a very good chance you’re holding almost everything you need to do your job in your hand.
Which means that thanks to technology, you no longer go to work, work goes to you.Thanks to technology, you no longer go to work; work goes to you. Click To Tweet
Even meetings have become much more distributed. Between coffee shops, co-working spaces and home offices, the need for company office space has plummeted. And services like Zoom have become a staple of more organizations (Especially since the pandemic started.)
Sure…there are common meetings and moments where everyone needs to be physically present at the same time. But the idea that everyone has to work at the same place at the same time 40 hours a week becomes more outdated by the month.
An office isn’t nearly as necessary as it used to be.An office isn't nearly as necessary as it used to be. Click To Tweet
2. Enforcing 8-4 Hours
In light of that, 8-4 doesn’t make nearly as much sense as it used to simply because there’s not as much rationale behind it.
Don’t believe me? Ask most leaders under 40 what they think about having to come in for set hours when they would much rather flex their hours and do at least some work remotely.
Set hours make total sense if all the tools you needed to do work stayed at the office. They also make sense if you have a car assembly plant (or a coffee shop, or a retail store). Then you need workers to show up exactly on time for a shift. Similarly, having reception, shipping or cleaning staff at the office for set hours also makes sense.
And of course, for meetings or highly collaborative work, it makes sense to be in the office, but the rationale breaks down pretty quickly after that.
Common, set hours are not nearly as necessary as they used to be.
Yet far too many leaders are stuck in the mindset that people have to be in the building at set hours no matter what.
As a result, too many people show up at 8 and leave at 4 for no particular reason and grow disengaged in the process.
This mindset can also create a clock-watching culture (Is it 4:00 yet? Do I get paid for lunch???) when you make your team show up and stay somewhere for no discernible reason.
If you can work from anywhere, anytime, why insist people show up at set times every time?If you can work from anywhere, anytime, why insist people show up at set times every time? Click To Tweet
3. Giving Out Points for Showing Up
In the old 8-4 culture, people got paid to show up on time and were paid to stay until the day was over.
If you were late and arrived at 8:05, you might get a warning or docked pay.
The question is, why?
Does sitting at your desk, or making coffee in the company kitchen qualify for a paycheck?
The old economy too often paid people to show up whether they did anything or not.
All the freedom technology provides raises a bigger question: are you paying your team to show up or are you paying your team to produce, to contribute to the mission?
But if you’re paying your team to produce, outside of fixed meetings and shared team time, why not let them choose how to be the most productive and effective they can be?
If your best team members want to start work at 7 a.m. from home, work in a coffee shop at 3 p.m. or take most of the morning off and work until 11 p.m.—and they overdeliver on what you’ve asked them to do—why fight that?
In the new economy, nobody gets points for showing up. Unless that’s how you want to reward people.In the new economy, nobody gets points for showing up. Unless that's how you want to reward people. Click To Tweet
4. Only Giving Yourself Freedom
Guess what happens to a lot of leaders when they become the boss?
They give themselves freedom they never enjoyed before. Many come a little earlier and slip out early to watch their kids game. And there’s really nothing wrong with that if you’re leading with all diligence when you’re working and the mission is moving forward.
And sure, you’re still hustling and putting in more than your share of hours. You’re just flexing how you do things.
But here’s a question: Why would you give yourself freedom but deny it to everyone else?
Here’s what’s true: The future workplace is a flexible workplace.Leaders, why would you give yourself freedom but deny it to everyone else? Click To Tweet
You know what many workers would love more than anything? Freedom and autonomy.
Talk to most workers under 40 (and a few over 40) and what they deeply desire is freedom.
Freedom from 8-4.
Freedom from rules that no longer make sense.
The autonomy to set their own work hours and locations (coffee shop, home, the back porch, a beach).
The desire to be evaluated not on the process (did you stay till 5?) but on the outcome (did you crush that project?).
It’s almost 2020. You can give that kind of freedom in a way leaders maybe couldn’t a decade or two ago.
There’s a delightful surprise in store as well: When you give great leaders freedom, most will give you back far more than you expected in return.
Control them, and not only do you stifle them, they eventually just leave or start their own thing.When you give great leaders freedom, most will give you back far more than you expected in return. Click To Tweet
5. Managing Process, Not Outcomes
For decades, leaders managed process. Show up and leave on time, follow the rules, don’t mess it up and we’ll pay you. (The Office showed us what kind of results that approach often produces.)
Question. In the new digital economy, with flexible hours, flexible workplaces and remote work and more freedom and autonomy than ever, how do you manage and lead people?
Answer. By managing to outcomes, not process. By holding team members accountable for results, not hours worked. Outcomes are the new timesheet.Hold team members accountable for results, not hours worked. Outcomes are the new timesheet. Click To Tweet
The way to do that is to create real accountability on what your team is supposed to do, but give them freedom on how to do it.
You can sum that up with two simple principles:
If it doesn’t matter, don’t pretend it does.
If it does matter, don’t pretend it doesn’t.
Being there at 8 and making sure you take 30 minutes at lunch may not be nearly as critical as it used to be.
But other things really do matter:
Key metrics matter
Managing to outcomes actually makes you a better manager. Process can hide a lot of things. (Guess what I did at work today? Not much.)
Too many leaders manage process because it’s easier than managing outcomes. But outcomes are what move the mission forward.Leaders, if it doesn’t matter, don’t pretend it does. If it does matter, don’t pretend it doesn’t. Click To Tweet