Forced return to the office is the definition of insanity. Here’s why.

by The Insights

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In a world where we’ve seen five straight quarters of declining productivity in the US according to an EY-Parthenon study using the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’d think CEOs and business leaders would question their tactics. . After all, more than two-thirds of business leaders say they are under immense pressure to increase employee productivity, according to a new Slack survey of 18,000 knowledge workers. Yet despite overwhelming evidence that flexible hybrid working is more productive than forced office work for the same roles, senior executives persist in herding employees back to the office like stray sheep, expecting productivity miraculously improves. This, my friends, is the very definition of insanity.

The myth of the magic office

Many CEOs cling to the false belief that the office is the secret sauce to productivity. It’s as if they think the office is a productivity vending machine: insert an employee, receive increased production. But the data tells a different story.

Instead of being a productivity wonderland, the office is more like a productivity black hole, where collaboration, socializing, mentoring, and on-the-job training thrive, but focused work gets sucked in into oblivion. In fact, research shows that the office is detrimental to productivity.

Related: 3 Office Realities That Make Concentration Almost Impossible

For example, a recent study by researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Harvard University, and the University of Iowa found that software engineers located in different buildings on the same campus wrote more computer programs than those who sat near colleagues. However, engineers who worked in different buildings commented less on each other’s code. In other words, they were more productive, but that meant less experienced coders got weaker mentorship.

To put it simply, expecting the office to increase productivity is like expecting a fish to ride a bicycle: the office serves a different and very important purpose. EY-Parthenon research shows a direct correlation between being forced back into the office and falling productivity. The numbers don’t lie: people are working longer hours and barely releasing more product. It’s high time to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Structured mentoring: a balanced approach to working in the office and remotely

While productivity is affected by being in the office, mentorship is boosted. However, you need to be intentional about mentorship. The unspoken belief in many organizations is that if you pack employees into an office like sardines, mentorship will magically happen. In reality, this random approach is about as effective as throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks. Office 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.

In contrast, a structured mentorship program offers a more intentional and effective approach, pairing mentors and mentees based on skills, interests, and goals. This focused method ensures that knowledge sharing and personal growth are not left to chance, but rather strategically nurtured and cultivated.

Structured mentoring programs can thrive in a hybrid environment that combines the best aspects of working in the office and remotely. 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 many leaders are forcing employees back into the office

To leverage the benefits of working in the office and remotely in a structured mentorship program, companies can:

  • Schedule targeted in-office sessions: Schedule targeted in-person mentoring sessions or workshops that leverage the benefits of face-to-face interactions while respecting employees’ need for remote working flexibility.
  • Using Technology for Remote Mentoring: Video conferencing, instant messaging and collaboration tools can facilitate communication and foster connections between mentors and mentees when in-person meetings are not necessary.
  • Set clear goals and expectations: Setting specific goals and milestones for the mentoring relationship will help both parties stay focused and accountable, maximizing the impact of the program.
  • Encourage networking and collaboration: Virtual and in-person workshops and forums can provide additional opportunities for knowledge sharing and relationship building, beyond the traditional one-on-one mentorship format.
  • Track and evaluate progress: By tracking the progress and success of mentoring relationships, companies can identify areas for improvement and refine their program over time, ensuring its continued effectiveness and impact.

Autonomy and commitment: the missing ingredients

The great irony of the office-centric mentality is that it’s not just productivity that suffers – employee engagement suffers as well. A Gallup study found that employees who could work remotely but are forced to come to the office suffer from a lack of autonomy, leading to lower engagement. Research shows that employee engagement is lowest for those who could work remotely but are required to show up in person full-time.

Imagine the global implications of this problem: Gallup estimated that low employee engagement cost the world a staggering $7.8 trillion in lost productivity last year. To put that into perspective, imagine every CEO taking a hammer out of their own company’s piggy bank, smashing it to pieces, and then wondering why profits are down.

Cognitive biases: the hidden barriers 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 working. By understanding the impact of these biases, we can overcome the mental barriers that hinder effective mentorship and productivity. In this context, let’s look at two specific cognitive biases that play an important role: status quo bias and functional fixity.

Status quo bias is a cognitive bias that leads individuals to prefer the current state of affairs and resist change, even when that change could lead to better outcomes. This bias can have a significant impact on how CEOs and executives approach the idea of ​​flexible hybrid working and structured mentorship programs, forcing them to cling to the traditional desk-based working model.

Status quo bias can make it difficult for leaders to recognize the benefits of flexible working and hybrid mentorship programs, as they may subconsciously perceive these changes as threats to the established order. As a result, they may ignore the evidence that supports the effectiveness of remote work and structured mentoring, instead opting to maintain the familiar office environment.

Functional fixity is a cognitive bias that prevents individuals from seeing alternative uses or solutions for a particular problem because they are obsessed with the traditional or familiar approach. This bias can play a significant role in how organizations approach workplace productivity, as they may be unable to consider the potential benefits of flexible working and structured hybrid mentoring programs.

Functional fixity bias can cause leaders to remain entrenched in the belief that the office is the only environment conducive to productivity. Consequently, they may not recognize the potential of flexible working and hybrid mentoring programs, even when presented with compelling evidence.

Related: Debunking the 5 Myths of Hybrid Working

Rethinking the office: a new way forward

It’s time for CEOs to abandon the shipwreck of forced office labor 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 adapt the working arrangements according to everyone’s roles and preferences. It’s time to stop living in denial and recognize the truth: flexible hybrid working is the future, and it’s here to stay. Accepting this reality is the only way to reverse the downward spiral of productivity and unlock 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 back into the office is like banging your head against a brick wall, hoping for a different outcome. The time has come for CEOs to rethink their outdated assumptions and embrace the flexible hybrid working revolution.

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