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Work: the reckoning and the unravel [1/3]
How to stop pretending + voices to be heard
It's not 'return to work,' it's 'how do we do our best work?'
“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
And the norms and notions of what ‘just is’
Isn’t always justice.”
AMANDA GORMAN | The Hill We Climb
Drawing the parallel between the work the United States is facing as a country divided — as Amanda Gorman so beautifully articulates in her inaugural address — and the work the world is facing as we reimagine our ‘return to work,’ may appear overly dramatic. But the capacity to hold ourselves up in the unprecedented uncertainty we’ve been dealt — and the ability to fabricate some sense of safety and clarity about what the future holds — has all but left us (1).
These are consequential times and accepting what ‘just is’ or what has been at work doesn’t give us the reckoning we deserve.
As we’ve moved through the added uncertainty of the pandemic, some of us have been focused on naming and predicting return dates. Some of us have been focused on cutting costs with salary reductions for those who choose to work 100% remotely. Some of us have been focused on figuring out why so many people are leaving our companies.
The brave ones have already begun to unravel what hasn’t been serving us for some time (2).
The brave ones are demanding more than what ‘just is’ (3).
The brave ones know that this is not about returning to work. This is about changing the relationship between humans and systems (4).
Instead of asking: “How are we going to ‘return to work’?”
We need to be asking: “How do we create the conditions to do our best work, regardless of where we work — at home, in the office, or a hybrid of both?”
Four Things To Do Today
The work of undoing the way we work has already begun. Our job as progressive leaders is to stay in it.
Listen to a podcast with Brené Brown and Priya Parker (7)
Pay close attention when Priya makes this point:
“I’m concerned about people, organizations, [and] teams assuming that they’re trying to race back to something without pausing and asking, ‘What have we learned during this time about our work, about how we work? At the core of it, what is it we do and what is needed right now? What have we learned about things like access and equity in this year of reckoning?’”
Have conversations about power, access, and equity with your team
Doing our best work invites us to have hard conversations — with ourselves and with others — about our responsibility in creating equitable conditions. This requires an awareness of the unspoken power dynamic between those of us who join remotely and those who are physically in the room (and possibly closest to the leader with the most influence on our career growth). As Priya Parker asks: “How are we actually restructuring our meetings in a way that allows for true hybrid participation?”
Take it a step further and answer these questions about your team’s entire operating rhythm: What do we need — as individuals and as a team — to be healthy and well? What is our team’s purpose? What is the work we’re here to do to achieve that purpose? When, where, how, and with whom will we do that work? How will we engineer equity and inclusion into our time together? Identify and experiment with the rhythm and boundaries you name.
We don’t need more policies, rules, and compliance to return to work. We need more honest and brave conversations about why we’re struggling to trust people to do their work autonomously. We need more vulnerable conversations about what we need that we’re not getting, and then take responsibility for meeting those needs (and it might not be something we can get from work). This is not about a feedback framework, and it’s not just managers who need support in learning this art.
Change the conversation
In your conversations about the future of work, what percentage of the conversation is about logistics? How much of these conversations are about redesigning and reimagining the way we work? If the future of work has now defaulted to ‘return to work,’ and logistics are more than 50% of the conversation, change the conversation.
Perspective-taking: the act of perceiving a situation or understanding a concept from an alternative point of view.
(1) Amy Cuddy and JillEllyn Riley via The Washington Post - Why this stage of the pandemic makes us so anxious
(2) Sheela Subramanian via Future Forum - A new era of workplace inclusion: moving from retrofit to redesign
(3) Vipula Gandhi and Jennifer Robinson - via Gallup - The 'Great Resignation' Is Really the 'Great Discontent'
(4) Mack Fogelson via Medium - Navigating Uncertainty AN ORG DESIGN MANIFESTO
(5) Kit Krugman - via Quartz - Covid-19 and the welcome collapse of “professionalism”
(6) Amanda Gorman via The New York Times - The Hill We Climb inauguration poem.
(7) Brené Brown and Priya Parker via the Dare to Lead Podcast - How We Return and Why It Matters, Part 1 of 2
- Mack & Mat