Consider this: Over the past 18 months, pandemic-caused remote work — and technology like Zoom — have done more to advance worker personhood and productivity than all the leaders and all the offices in the land.


As leaders, we have some catching up to do.

An Unreasonable Sacrifice

Confession: I underestimated how much unproductive office behavior we had collectively accepted for 15 years longer than necessary. With 2007 technology, we could have begun to avoid commutes and all kinds of other unproductive behaviors at work. But like almost everyone else, I didn’t question it.

  • “Commutes?” Part of the job.
  • “Constant interruptions? Meetings that waste time?” It's called work for a reason.
  • “Missed soccer games or date nights?” The price of success.
  • “Another late flight, another sleepless night?” Sleep on the weekend.

In hindsight, those were not small sacrifices. We lost more than an occasional hour here or there; the cost was our handle on personal autonomy and, dare I say it, a chunk of our humanity. We sacrificed the opportunity to be whole persons with control over our days, free to get our most important work done and accommodate our personal lives.

Indeed, our herd-like commuting to offices and over-reliance on business travel became so habitualized that we didn’t notice they were often unnecessary … and unreasonable.

That’s why — courtesy of a slap in the face from the pandemic — millions of workers awakened to realize that hybrid workplaces and remote workspaces make more sense for them.

Don’t misunderstand — offices and business travel are integral to people being together. We need to know and be known by others, to exercise empathy, to relate, and to feel a part of something larger than ourselves. However, leaders must seek new directions that serve these needs while also futurizing their organizations. Before we try forcing 20-year-old practices onto today’s workforce, let’s remember that 20 years ago was, technologically, the Dark Ages.

Let’s start with a revised definition of the workplace and some good reasons for healthy hybrid/remote workplaces, followed by a checklist for leaders.

What is a healthy hybrid workplace?

A healthy hybrid workplace is one where employees have most of the control and influence over where (and often when) they work. The corporation provides support and technology to enable this flexibility. In other words, employees whose job tasks are venue-agnostic can make the call about whether to go to the office.

My team and I have nicknamed this kind of workplace a CHOICE – an acronym for a Corporate Hybrid Optionally-Inhabited Communal Environment, with the emphasis on optional.

It’s a voluntary intersection where workers can agree to meet (or not), depending on their role and needs.

A CHOICE workplace aims to provide each employee with a work situation that:

  • Respects and fits their lives, ambitions, and career stages
  • Lets them choose environments of greatest focus and productivity
  • Provides technology and support for remote and asymmetrically timed work
  • Trains managers in the new skills needed for coaching remote or hybrid workforces

Of course, some roles are tied to a particular location. (Bank tellers need to be at banks.) But even if some of an employee’s work requires them to be at the office, most office roles don’t require office attendance every day, or for 8 hours on the days, a worker is present. The percentage of office roles requiring full-time office attendance is lower than most companies realize. Going forward, organizations should focus on tasks rather than roles when considering office presence.

Why CHOICE makes sense

The list of persuasive arguments is pretty simple:

  1. Workers demand it, and at this dawn of the Great Resignation, they’re in the driver’s seat.
  2. It benefits recruiting. If attracting talented, independent-minded employees feel like herding cats, then use catnip: offer jobs with hybrid/remote work and flexible scheduling. That also extends the geographical range for your search.
  3. It saves money – everyone's. Employers can transfer considerable overhead expenses to their remote-working employees. Employees save thousands of dollars annually in commuting costs. And customers get better pricing as a result.
  4. It’s good for the planet. Curtailing commutes and long-distance travel by office workers is an integral part of any responsible global environmental solution. 
  5. It’s good for productivity. Productivity is, fundamentally, an individual thing. That’s why uniformity of work hours doesn’t result in higher output. But asymmetric alignment does, and hybrid/remote work enables asymmetric use of time. Actual productivity is about allowing workers to meet goals by finishing tasks and assignments efficiently – not about attendance or 9-5 availability.

Checklist for leaders

Everything a company plans about its workers in the future will improve if leaders take these points into consideration.

Employees are the centerpiece. CHOICE (hybridization or remote work) is all about letting individuals determine how to structure their workplaces and times. Successful employers will find ways to accommodate individual preferences.

Rethink Monday-Friday, 9-to-5. If complete flexibility is not possible, create a defined set of tracks from which employees can choose, ranging from early morning to late night, allowing split shifts and other options. It may involve core hours that everyone commits to availability for meetings – for example, 11 AM-1 PM and/or 3-5 PM EST. This provides daytime flexibility for individuals while maintaining availability for team calls or meetings with managers.

Reduce overhead. Rethink your commercial lease and the amount of space your company needs. Add more value by reconfiguring a smaller overall space for team or client meetings, conferences, learning sessions, and events. Could occasional use of co-working venues or group retreats be more efficient ways for some teams to meet and bond?

Be guided by productivity. Again, listen to your employees – they are the primary source of data about what is most productive for them.

Pay particular attention to resistance to commuting, as this single issue is a powerful driver of turnover, and turnover is the enemy of productivity.

As I’ve often said, the most crucial ingredient for productivity is the focus. Since corporations cannot dictate how someone focuses, it makes sense to encourage that focus in whatever form it takes for each individual. A productive employee is also a more satisfied employee, and therefore easier to retain.