The memo that was sent to our CEOs across the country on Sunday, June 7:
Preface: I struggled writing anything this week, since blogging about our work seems much less important—trivial in fact— compared with the national clarion call to end racism now. Our firm will speak with one voice later this week, but know that a committed action plan is underway.
Since March, you have undertaken a daily grind of reacting and building resilience. You have been running snap playbooks around cash runway, customer retention and remote working. COVID-19 curves replaced growth curves and profitability became the BOD chant. Now, recovery is being heard and planned. The capital markets over the last three weeks have certainly started recovering from the Ides of March. On Friday, June 5, the increase in employment figures suggests that hiring budgets have restarted.
Optimism is not conviction, however, and there are months of uncertainty and complexity ahead. The best-in-class leaders will continue short-term responsiveness mixed with longer-term recovery operations. As a CEO and executive management team, you have an excellent opportunity to define roles and expectations of the workplace, or what I think is a more accurate phrase, your “work channels.”
Technology has been rewriting the confines of physical working since the late 1990s. The personalization of IT started decades ago, supercharged by the iPhone launch in 1997. The big debate then focused on whether you could bring your own device to work. That is so yesterday. Now, your decision focuses on the timing of office return, if at all. CEOs do not want to lose newfound productivity that WFH has produced, but also worry about culture, identity and collaboration.
Defining the purpose of the office and purpose of remote or mobile working looms as a larger issue than the timing of employee return. Employee expectations of office productivity will increase after the glow of getting back together dissipates. Surely some dual-income earners seek a cone of silence and want their children schooled at school, not at home. But that doesn’t necessitate an office requirement for an employee. All employees will be making trade-offs of preparation and commuting time versus production outside the office. Reciprocally many CEOs and CFOs will be keen to ensure their sunk costs of an office has even higher return than before and that the three to seven years fixed cost is justified.
This mutual higher expectation of office productivity is a very good thing. The level of focus, intensity and collaboration will significantly increase while complacency and routine in the hallways and cubes is a remnant of a less energized office past. Further, any remote or mobile working, intentionally not taking place in the office, will also increase in intensity, since there is now a defined purpose instead of a government requirement to shelter in place. Every person’s “workplace” can be a disciplined and time-based “channel” within an overall work channel operating strategy.
Here is a table I offer as a sandbox to define possible “work channels.”
Please note: the entrepreneurial, high growth company will expedite each column and reduce the time lapse between the channels. A fast-twitch organization means more meetings, more brainstorming and more drawing sessions. The difference here is a deliberate self-imposition of increasing productivity in all individual work channels and, most of all, in the office channel.
This black swan is presenting you with a great opportunity to define your work channels and wire them with unprecedented purpose and intensity. The decision for when to return to the office is hugely important. The safety and welfare of employees is the top priority. The next important decision, if you do return to an office, is reestablishing the purpose of the office for individual, team and company. Consider this table and think about the upside. Can coming to the office for a team meeting be like a playoff game? You have prepared and practiced and now it’s onto the stadium for a fully energized, team sport. Every hour counts because the context is to learn, share, iterate and package with the highest output expectation.
Developers have been doing “sprints” for years and work often in surges. A constant surge is unsustainable. But every major release to production is a playoff game that happens weekly or monthly, sometimes quarterly.
So, I offer you a new metric this week: The Return on Work Channel. It can be defined, invested and measured for greater results in employee engagement, output, high energy, and enjoyable gain for each and every person in the company.
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