There are many questions on how the future of work will look like in the next few years. Will hybrid work continue? Will remote work continue? Is the American workplace changing? Below you will learn what CFOs are getting wrong about the future of work and how they can make it right.

As reported by Wall Street Journal on February 17th, 2023 by Te-Ping Chen.

Adam Grant wants you to be less scared. A professor of organizational psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the bestselling “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” Prof. Grant has spent his career researching how people work, what motivates them, and the pursuit of personal and professional happiness.

Three years after Covid-19 hit, creating a vast global experiment in how work gets done, Prof. Grant says that some leaders are using this moment to figure out how to create happier, more productive workplaces. Others, he argues, are shrinking from change, and risk being left behind.

The Journal talked with Prof. Grant about why organizations need to recalibrate their thinking, what the data say about new modes of work, and how employees can try and catalyze change from within:

What do you find is the biggest hang-up for leaders that stifles their ability to think and build strong workplaces?

There is a failure to understand that you can run an organization thinking like a scientist. And by that, I mean, just recognizing that every opinion you hold at work is a hypothesis waiting to be tested. And every decision you make is an experiment waiting to be run.

So many leaders just implement decisions. It is like life is an A/B test, but they just ran with the A, and didn’t even realize that there was a possible B, C, D and E. Too many leaders feel like their decisions are permanent. As opposed to saying, “We’re going to test and learn.”

Back in the winter of 2018, I pitched a bunch of CEOs on doing a remote-Friday experiment. I said, “Let’s just give people one day a week to work from anywhere, and we can test the impact.” Every single leader I pitched balked at the idea: “Oh no. If I let it out of the bag, I’ll never be able to put it back in.” What a missed opportunity. It is living in fear of opening Pandora’s box.

Will hybrid continue to be the way we work in the future? Or do you think workplaces will revert over time?

Some of the best learning I’ve ever had come from mentors I interacted with once a month in person. Some of the best collaborations I’ve ever had were working with teams that would come together for three or four days, and then go divide and conquer. It is easier in some ways to run a fully in-person or fully remote company because coordination costs are lower. You can fully use your office space—or not. You can standardize some of your cultural practices and get real consistency.

But the reality is, if you look at [Stanford professor] Nick Bloom’s research, data shows people are more likely to stay in a hybrid structure. They can perform just as well if they are only in the office half the week, and in many cases, better, because flexibility is motivating.

Yet we’re seeing more bosses urge people back into the office.   

You must develop new skills and build new muscles in a hybrid world, and for a lot of people, that is unsettling.

Was the pandemic genuinely an inflection points for work culture? Do you think the centrality of work in American life is shifting?

When you compare boomers, Gen Xers and millennials when they were at the same stage and when they just graduated from college, what you see is the generations look more similar than they do different. Yes, there is a slight increase in desire for work-life balance among Gen Xers and millennials, but it is still less important than many of the other things we want out of work: having an interesting job and meaningful work and being paid well and getting promoted. I don’t know that I buy the fundamental-shift argument. I think there have always been quiet quitters. A generation ago we called it phoning it in, before that we called it mailing it in. It just evolves with technology. What’s happened now is people are more vocal about it.

Right now there is a lot of talk about waning workplace camaraderie. How concerned are you about that?

Interpersonal bonds are good for team performance, we know that. But empirically, there is something better for team performance, which is having clear roles and clear goals. People are often lacking in goal clarity when they are in a distributed environment because they can only see their little corner of the puzzle, so they lose out on a sense of fitting in. We’re going to have to see managers work harder at really explaining, this is our vision and mission, here’s why it matters, and here’s the line of sight between what you do individually every day, and our collective purpose.

Do you think organizations are fully capitalizing on these new ways of working? If not, what’s missing?

Early on, I did a bunch of experiments showing that a lot of people work in jobs where they make a difference but can’t see their impact. And if we just even take small steps to connect the dots, it has a dramatic impact on their motivation. One of my favorite examples was when I randomly assigned callers doing university fundraising to meet one scholarship student who benefited from their work. And afterward the average caller spiked, like, 142% in weekly minutes on the phone, and 171% in weekly revenue.

That was kind of staggering—meeting one person helped by your work for five minutes was enough to almost double your effort and productivity. This was hard to do in the old world of work. But in this virtual world, hey, let’s get a customer to pop into our Zoom for 10 minutes, even though they are on the other end of the world, and talk about why they appreciate our product or our service and what we could do better. That is a great feedback mechanism, and maybe can jump-start some innovation.

What’s the best advice you have for someone trying to make organizational change, if leadership isn’t receptive?

If you have a skeptical or resistant audience, it isn’t effective to go into prosecutor mode. It just invites the other person to bring their best defense attorney to court, and then we’re just butting heads and nobody learns or opens their mind or changes anything. I think there are some good alternatives, including motivational interviewing, which is to just say, hey, I’m excited about this change. I’m anticipating some resistance. And I’d love to know what would motivate you to try this? Is there anything that would make it worth considering for you? And then you actually learn what motivates people by interviewing them as opposed to trying to shove your idea down their throats.

When you think about the future of work, what excites you?

I think we’ve only just started scratching the surface, particularly in America, of this question of should work take up as much time as it does? Every experiment I have seen on reducing work hours suggests that people are as productive, if not more productive. I’d much rather have people do six focused hours a day or four focused days a week than eight distracted hours or five unmotivated days.

Covid forced us to run all these experiments, not just in where we work, but when we work and how we coordinated. One of my biggest fears when I think about the future of work is that the experimentation is going to stop.

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