June 15 2024

Work from Work or Work from Home

The price of control: Isn’t this what it’s really all about?

“I just can’t see how anyone can be productive from home with all those distractions.”

“We can’t build a strong team culture if everyone’s in their pyjamas.”

“It’s impossible to have meaningful collaboration and real mentorship through screens.”

Dictating the location of work comes at a cost. Is this aligned with your business goals?


I’ll start with a true story. At a family function, a partner of a consulting firm told me, when I asked him about their Work from Home policy, he said: “We have a ‘Work from Work’ policy.” His response, both humorous and insightful, echoed a tension I’ve heard from many clients. Let’s unpack why “working from work” is still such a hot topic, how the future of work is being redefined and consider strategies to optimize results from your most valuable asset: your talent.

As an executive recruitment expert, I can’t ignore the dramatic impact WFH (Work from Home) is already having on talent across industries, levels, and functions. It might be seen as a pandemic-triggered movement today, but it won’t be long before it becomes normalized. We have no choice but to embrace this new reality and guide our business decisions with thoughtfulness and evidence rather than with hope or fear.

From my decade-long experience watching talent transitions in organizations, I’ve noticed that people often make career moves based on their feelings towards their role and their leaders rather than quantifiable factors like salary or title.

As such, when imposing mandates regarding work location or day-to-day policies, it’s crucial to consider the struggle for control and autonomy, whether it be personal or corporate, and the influence it has on your talent—and business—at every level.

The dynamics of control

When I present a new job opportunity to a busy executive, remote work usually isn’t the main factor that keeps the conversation going. However, when combined with their overall job satisfaction, the autonomy to choose location often becomes the tipping point that leads them to consider a change. I hear comments like: “I am trusted to drive $1B P&L but for some reason my boss wants me here so they can watch me do it.”

Further, it’s no revelation that our emerging leaders—aged 24 to 35—stipulate autonomy and flexibility as a condition of employment, wishing to assert more control over their work environment than their more senior counterparts who favor traditional office settings.  It’s important to note that they aren’t demanding to work exclusively from home; instead, they are demanding the choice. [McKinsey & Company “True Gen”: Generation Z and its implications for companies].

So what now?

Crafting a successful business strategy today—especially post-pandemic when WFH emerged as a growing concern—requires balancing your business’s true objectives with executives’ needs for control, decision-making on location flexibility, and autonomy. It’s essential to assess whether they need to be in the office daily, weekly, or at all as their feelings about these factors will impact performance and attrition.

For example, if your goal is to drive EBITDA and you’re leading a team of Gen Xers, the solution may be challenging but clear: delegate authority and let them drive results, even if it means they’re working behind a laptop camera in a collared shirt and shorts. On the other hand, if your priority is to cultivate teamwork, true mentorship and collaboration that requires in-person interaction, it may be time for non-conforming leaders to exit, with dignity.

Whatever your decision, my advice to clients is always to lead by example, be consistent and communicate. Regarding communication: we tend to avoid tension, even as leaders, but you’ll get better buy-in (and likely business results) when you share your “why“ with your team and also learn from them (and earn their respect) as you listen to their perspectives. Understanding each other’s needs is essential, and if at that point it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit.

BTW, coming into the office is still a thing

Despite the growing trend of remote work quoted by Forbes, a significant portion of the workforce (59.1%) still operates from an office setting. This statistic highlights that while remote work is gaining traction, the conventional office-based model remains relevant.  

“98% want to work remote at least some of the time.”
— Forbes

Regardless of company mandates or where your talent works, everyone craves choice. If removing that autonomy is essential, make sure you have a compelling reason that you are clearly communicating and aren’t undermining your business goals or losing great talent at the expense of a little flexibility.

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