Thank you for your dedication. Now game over, everybody back to the office!


Didier Marlier

July 17, 2021

From Disruption to Engagement

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It might have been the joy and relief of believing that the pandemic was over… These last 3 weeks, I spoke with four organisations exploring the best way to make the transition “from home back to the office”.

Of course, everybody seems aware that thanking people for their dedication and fierce resolve during the confinement by some sort of “now game-over, we can’t fully trust you anyway so, you are requested to get back to the office” would provoke a huge drop in morale as well as loyalty.

Likewise, signing a white “come when you want” check, could be costly in terms of collective intelligence, values and organizational culture.

So, most of the organisations I know of, seem to head for a 2-3 days home with imposed periods in order to ensure people connect. And that is where the rubber hits the road: Why do we want people to work from home and/or at the office?

Do we want them to stay home and decrease the cost of our office infrastructure? Or do we truly believe that we can trust them and improve their way of life through the use of technology, whilst believing that they work better from home?

Do we want them back for control purposes, or because we still believe in the paradigm that people must come to a special purpose place to do and be the best of professional selves?

As Historian and Futurist, Yuval Noah Harari, explains, the Pandemic has been a huge accelerator. Will we waste the lessons it taught us and the vision of another possible Future?

  • Many people prefer to work from home: They avoid useless and polluting travels between home and office. They feel closer from their domestic reality. They enjoy the informal setting of home-working. Yes and there may also be some people abusing the system. But weren’t such personalities already under the radar before Covid? Don’t they have delivery objectives? Will they stay in their job by doing just the strict minimum, in an era when people will increasingly raise the level of their game and where, sadly, technological “progress” may engender higher levels of unemployment?
  • Humans are social animals: How many of us have suffered from being cut-off from “real” relationships, finding MS Teams & Co to be very poor alternatives? Where has the Management by wandering around gone, whilst circling your living-room or home office?
  • I love Wikipedia’s definition of Serendipity: “Serendipity is an unplanned fortunate discovery. Serendipity is a common occurrence throughout the history of product invention and scientific discovery”… How may it happen in a remote universe where relational is replaced by transactional and where informality is replaced by calls in our agendas? Working together is a business necessity.
  • The biggest danger I see in not letting people congregate to a shared place or to split those “invited to come at the office” on a given day (20% of the workforce on Monday, 20 other % on Tuesday etc.) is the loss of a shared culture and the incredible impoverishment of the “Intelligent Organization”. Not coming back all together creates silos and continues to isolate people. Conversations will mainly take place between like-minded, same department colleagues or people whose connections will have been engineered by the person having decided who should come at the office every Wednesday.

As it seems that many of you, leaders, are in the midst of those reflections, I hope this will be a humble add-on. And, should the question take too much energy to answer, maybe waiting another few month for the Delta variant to hit strong over here, may solve your issue. Please forgive the cynicism of someone who’s been locked in his home office for too long ????

Enjoy your Leadership Journey… To lead is an art!


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