Office refuseniks – what to do when team members don’t want to participate in ‘back to the office’ or face-to-face

Before anyone hunts me down or goes all keyboard warrior, I’m caveating this video and article by saying that I’m not anti-remote working, in fact I’d say that flexibility is one of the greatest things to come out of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, I’m having regular feedback from clients and friends about members of the team who are resisting coming back to the office, or finding reasons not to meet face-to-face, be that with colleagues or clients.

There’s no question that this can be disruptive and difficult to manage. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my take on office refuseniks, and some ways you can help them to understand (and be more honest with themselves) about the implications of face-to-face and the real reasons they are reticent to be anything other than remote.

Why is face-to-face so important?

We all know the benefits of working remotely or from home. From making school pick-ups and drops offs easier, to staying safe, to waiting in for a delivery or avoiding the hellish commute – there are any number of reasons why flexibility and home working is attractive. That said, these WFH positives make it even more important to start considering why face-to-face still holds so much value.

I think an article from the Harvard Busines Review summed it up well, saying:

“What early digital innovators missed was that even if we can work from anywhere, that doesn’t mean that we want to. We strive for places that allow us to share knowledge, generate ideas and to pull talents and perspectives. Human aggregation, friction, and the interaction of our minds are vital aspects of our work, particularly in the creative industries.”

Put more simply, we use the word ‘remote’ for a reason, and as Graham Allcott put it; ‘meeting remotely is easy, connecting remotely is harder.’

So how can you try to get office refuseniks to consider why coming back to the office is a good idea?

  • Ask them to make a counter case

Get reticent team members to argue FOR being back in the office, why would it be useful, what do they think would be valuable about face-to-face meetings? What are the benefits? This opposing view gives them the headspace to reflect on their own drivers’ and motivations and will likely encourage a little more emotional honesty.

  • Get them to image a frictionless world, then ask two killer questions

Ask your team to imagine a frictionless world, one where commuting was effortless, and time wasn’t wasted. Imagining themselves in this frictionless world, ask them to choose only one of the following: work from home all the time or work from the office. If they are still refusing to be swayed, push it further and ask (still in this frictionless world) whether they would choose to meet clients and forge relationships remotely, or meet clients face-to-face. They can only choose one.

Returning to Graham Allcott’s reflection about remote connections being hard, there really isn’t a case that meeting clients remotely is a better option.

The fact is that working from home simply suits some people, and in itself, that is not only understandable, but it’s also fine. But when it comes to being asked to be available for a face-to-face meeting or a creative catch up back in the office, waiting in for a delivery or the electricity man is simply not a legitimate reason for not coming in or connecting with clients.

People should work from wherever they do their best work, but they should also look to understand the benefits of face-to-face so that when real, solid, legitimate reasons to be back in the office arise, they do so without dragging their heels.

Some thoughts…

The solution to office refuseniks broadly revolves are around management and communication:

  • Get people to challenge their own thinking (take the counter view, ask the killer questions)
  • Make sure management are having conversations with those who are resisting
  • Make sure there is real clarity around what is mandatory and what’s not – Covid now means you should have strong reasons why you want people in proximity
  • Make sure that members of your leadership team or management team are leading this – if leadership teams are resisting, then junior members of the team will likely be more reticent too

I would love to hear your opinions (no lynching please). Have you had office refuseniks? Are you one? Please do get in touch.

Andy.

Every Wednesday I book out an hour to hold a FREE agency leaders surgery. If you have something on your mind, a challenge you’re wrestling with or just want an alternative point of view, I’d be very happy to lend an ear and maybe help you start to unpick the issues. You can help yourself to my calendar, here. Speaking to a diverse group of agency leaders helps me stay current and contextualise the issues I’m seeing with my clients. So please see this conversation as a genuine collaboration where we both hope to learn something new.

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If you have something on your mind, a challenge you’re wrestling with or just want an alternative point of view, I’d be very happy to lend an ear and maybe help you start to unpick the issues.