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In a world where we have seen five consecutive quarters of declining productivity in the US according to a study by EY-Parthenon using Bureau of Labor Statistics, one would think CEOs and business leaders would question their tactics. After all, more than two-thirds of corporate executives say they’re under tremendous pressure to squeeze out more productivity from their workers, according to a new Slack survey of 18,000 knowledge workers. Yet despite the Overwhelming evidence That flexible hybrid work more productive than forced office work for the same positions, top executives stubbornly drive workers back to the office like lost sheep, expecting productivity to miraculously improve. This, my friends, is the definition of insanity.
The Myth of the Magic Office
Many CEOs hold on to the false belief that the office is the secret sauce to productivity. It’s like they think the office is a productivity machine: add employee, get more output. But the data tells a different story.
Rather than being a productivity wonderland, the office is more of a productivity black hole, where collaboration, socializing, mentoring, and on-the-job training thrive, but focused work fades into oblivion. Research even shows that the office is detrimental to productivity.
Related: 3 Office Realities That Make Focus Almost Impossible
For example a recent one study by scientists from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Harvard University and the University of Iowa found that software engineers in different buildings on the same campus wrote more computer programs than those who were close to colleagues. However, the engineers who worked in different buildings commented less on the code of others. In other words, they were more productive, but that meant less experienced programmers got weaker mentorship.
Simply put, expecting the office to increase productivity is like expecting a fish to ride a bicycle: the office serves a different, and very important, purpose. The EY-Parthenon study shows a direct link between the forced return to the office and the plummeting productivity. The figures don’t lie: people are working longer and are hardly bringing any more products onto the market. It’s about time we stopped trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Structured mentoring: a balanced approach to office and remote work
While productivity is hurt by office presence, mentorship is encouraged. However, you must be intentional about mentorship. The unspoken belief in many organizations is that if you cram employees into an office like sardines, mentorship will magically happen. In reality, this haphazard approach is about as effective as throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping it will stick. Office-based mentoring, especially full-time, is often inconsistent, inefficient, and dependent on factors such as proximity, office politics, and personal dynamics, which can limit its reach and impact.
A structured mentoring program, on the other hand, offers a more intentional and effective approach, matching mentors and mentees based on skills, interests, and goals. This focused approach ensures that knowledge sharing and personal growth are not left to chance, but are strategically nurtured and cultivated.
Structured mentoring programs can thrive in a hybrid environment that combines the best aspects of office and remote work. This balanced approach allows companies to limit office activities to necessary mentoring sessions, maximizing productivity and employee satisfaction without sacrificing the benefits of face-to-face interactions.
Related: The surprising reason why many leaders are forcing employees back to the office
To reap the benefits of in-office and remote working in a structured mentoring program, companies can:
- Schedule targeted sessions at the office: Schedule targeted in-person mentoring sessions or workshops that capitalize on the benefits of face-to-face interactions while respecting employees’ need for remote working flexibility.
- Use remote mentoring technology: Video conferencing, instant messaging, and collaboration tools can facilitate communication and foster connections between mentors and mentees when face-to-face meetings are not required.
- Set clear goals and expectations: Setting specific goals and milestones for the mentoring relationship will help keep both parties focused and accountable, maximizing the impact of the program.
- Stimulate networking and collaboration: Virtual and in-person workshops and forums can provide additional opportunities for knowledge sharing and relationship building beyond traditional one-on-one mentorship.
- Monitor and evaluate progress: Tracking the progress and success of mentoring relationships helps companies identify areas for improvement and refine their program over time, ensuring its continued effectiveness and impact.
Autonomy and involvement: the missing ingredients
The great irony of the office-oriented mindset is that not only productivity suffers, but employee engagement also takes a hit. A Gallup study found that employees who could work remotely but are required to go to the office suffer from a lack of autonomy, leading to lower engagement. The research shows that employee engagement is lowest for those who could work remotely but are forced to show up in person full-time.
Imagine the global implications of this problem: Gallup estimated that low employee engagement cost the world a whopping $7.8 trillion in lost productivity last year. To put that in perspective, imagine every CEO takes a sledgehammer to their own company’s piggy bank, smashes it to bits, and then wonders why profits are falling.
Cognitive Bias: The Hidden Roadblocks to Productivity
Our decision making is often influenced by cognitive biases that can distort our perception and judgment, especially when it comes to embracing flexible work. By understanding the impact of this prejudices, we can overcome the mental barriers that stand in the way of effective mentorship and productivity. In this context, let’s examine two specific cognitive biases that play an important role: status quo bias and functional fixedness.
Status quo bias is a cognitive bias that leads individuals to prefer the current state of affairs and resist change, even if that change could lead to better outcomes. This bias can significantly impact how CEOs and executives approach the idea of flexible hybrid work and structured mentoring programs, leading them to adhere to the traditional office-based model of work.
The status quo bias can make it difficult for leaders to recognize the benefits of flexible work and hybrid mentoring programs because they may unconsciously see these changes as a threat to the established order. As a result, they may overlook the evidence supporting the effectiveness of remote working and structured mentoring, rather than opting to maintain the familiar office environment.
Functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that prevents individuals from seeing alternative applications or solutions to a particular problem because they are fixated on the traditional or familiar approach. This bias can play an important role in how organizations approach workplace productivity, as they may not be able to envision the potential benefits of flexible work and structured hybrid mentoring programs.
The preference for functional rigidity can leave leaders stuck in the belief that the office is the only environment suitable for productivity. As a result, they fail to recognize the potential of flexible work and hybrid mentoring programs, even when presented with compelling evidence.
Related: Debunking the five myths of hybrid work
A new look at the office: a new way forward
It’s time for CEOs to leave the sinking ship of forced office work and embrace the flexible working revolution. The office has its place – for collaboration, mentoring and training – but productivity is not one of them.
Instead of forcing everyone into the same box, let’s make working arrangements that suit individual roles and preferences. It’s time to stop living in denial and recognize the truth: flexible hybrid work is the future and it’s here to stay. Embracing this reality is the only way to reverse the productivity spiral and unleash the true potential of the workforce.
The evidence is clear: a forced return to the office is not the solution to productivity problems, but rather the cause. As we’ve seen over the past five quarters, continuing to force employees to go back to the office is like banging our heads against a brick wall, hoping for a different outcome. It’s time for CEOs to rethink their outdated assumptions and embrace the flexible hybrid work revolution.