What size really fits?
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
When I was ten or eleven years old, my mom took me into a department store to buy my first suit. When the salesperson approached us, asked how he could help, and what size were we looking for, my mother said, “We’re looking for my son’s first suit, and I think it should be a little big, so he’ll have room to grow into it.”
The salesperson paused for a second and said, “So it won’t really fit him now, and if he doesn’t grow too fast, it won’t fit him later, and if he grows really fast, it won’t fit him then either, right?” Before my mom could answer him, he said, “But if you buy him a suit that fits now, then he’ll look good, be more likely to wear it – and you won’t have wasted your money.”
For a second, I thought my mom was going to storm out of the store.
We bought my first suit that day, and guess what? It fit.
I tell you that story because we’re in a place where we have the challenge (and opportunity) of deciding what is the best ‘fit’ for our new workplace. How do we know what ‘fits’? And what does ‘fit’ really mean? Deciding whether a suit fits is pretty easy – just measure the person and match the size. For a workplace, what do we measure? Do we measure strategy, supporting people, size, innovation capacity…? And once we figure out what to measure, do we make decisions that fit our here-and-now, or ones that we might grow into? Do we rely on others’ opinions? Do we follow trends, or develop our own? Are we following best practices, or are we developing leading practices? Do we listen to our mothers? (OK, yes, we should do that - but you get the point.)
Much of the discussion has been about going back to the office or not going back to the office. Either/or questions like these are often missing the nuances required to make better decisions. And even if these decisions were just binary – what does ‘go back’ or ‘not go back’ mean? This crisis, filled with nuances and uncertainties, is difficult, but presents us with the challenging and rewarding opportunity to re-design how we operate.
Initially, companies started planning for a return to work, but quickly realized the scope of the challenges. Much of that initial push was predicated on reclaiming an unused asset - the office space. But smart companies soon realized that all the most valuable assets were at home being productive and carrying on the work! (See our Your Most Valuable Asset blog post here.)
The truth is no one knows what to do. What we’re finding now is that organizations started making decisions too soon – too soon because there wasn’t enough time for a number of things to unfold and develop. And because companies didn’t have enough, or the correct, data to guide the decision-making, there wasn’t an informed way to decide what ‘fits.’
In the search for quick answers, my favorite current catch-all, the ‘hybrid office,’ is gaining traction without definition of what kind of hybrid? Is your new workplace a cheetah that is stronger, or an elephant that is faster? The key will be to gain knowledge about how much of each part of the business we should combine, and even which parts we need to start with. Combining the right things in the right ways will be critical, but if they aren’t right, remember Frankenstein’s monster? He was a hybrid too!
Now, many companies are looking around for what other companies are doing and so-called best practices – but there aren’t any best-practices. Because workforces and individual talent, policies, platforms, locations, etc., across organizations vary so widely, companies should spend the time to gather their own data and use it to plan their return. What should be abundantly clear is that, ten months into the pandemic-fueled remote work experience, it was never more true to say ‘one size does NOT fit all.’
The worst has happened; companies found themselves with dozens of individual employees held together with the modern version of duct-tape – Zoom! (or Teams, or WebEx, or whatever brand you prefer – but none of them stick very well...) But freed from having to experiment with remote work, or other forms of non-traditional offices, companies now have the opportunity to re-examine how they really need to operate.
Consider the possibility that, because of the situation we all find ourselves in, companies have this once-in-a-century opportunity to be intentional about designing an entirely new future.
So what to do?
Ask Your People.
Surveys are one tool for this. If you did one already, do it again - the answers will be different this time. If you didn't do one, you still have a chance to find out. (See our blog post on our survey results here!)
Focus groups are a good tool, but don’t ask the questions you think you know the answer to, ask the questions you really don’t know the answer to. (The data of others only pertains to their employees – ask your own!)
Remember that whatever the workplace that fits you looks like, it will be different from before. Involving your people will help manage the change.
Craft a Decision Lens.
Without a context or criteria for how to analyze and use the data, data by itself is just information. Build a lens that allows you to use the information in ways that help you make better decisions.
Hint: use your values, guiding principles and success factors. (If you don’t have these – there is still time to develop them too!)
The pandemic, with all its uncertainties, variables, and ‘what-ifs,’ has shown us that scenario planning is not just ‘good to do,’ it's required. Scenarios give you the time and space to imagine possible futures and examine them through your decision lens. For example, one group of scenarios could explore ‘who goes back and why.’ One of the benefits of scenario planning is that simply thinking about what might happen gives you a head-start if they do.
We believe that if you and your company follow these steps, you’ll be more informed, you’ll make better decisions, and your people will be more willing to be a part of the change. With any luck, you’ll find your next workplace will ‘fit.’
Finding the right fit,