Tag success

Business Travel: Another Nail in the Old Normal’s Coffin

Empty Airport

A new day. Another report. And more data to prove business will never return to the “old” normal.

Virtual working has permanently altered business travel, according to CNBC. The sector has stagnated, and many of those who fly are choosing economy class over fancy business and first-class digs.

This, obviously, forces airline leaders to rethink any strategy that banked on high-flying business travelers. For the rest of us, when I look back, I wonder what I was thinking for the previous 40 years.

A world of virtual, remote and hybrid work clearly was possible before the pandemic. Skype has been around for 20 years – almost old enough to legally buy a cocktail. Internet chat debuted in the 1980s. Many of the tools were there. The only things lacking among the executive set were Insightful Leadership and imagination.

As I wrote in Insightful Leadership, for 40 years I spent 3-5 nights and 40-plus weeks a year in airplanes, airports and hotels. That wicked pace of travel has dropped to about 3-5 nights a month. Beyond that, I’m not commuting to an office – unless you count walking up the stairs a commute.

What has this “disruption” done to my productivity? It has easily doubled.

I’m not the only one. CEOWorld Magazine mentions numerous studies that show remote work beats in-office productivity. This research comes from august institutions like Stanford University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, not the feelings of a Tik Tok star. From IT to finance to consulting to software, case after case abounds showing that remote employees are happier, more productive and more satisfied with their work-life balance.

And yet leaders still have their heads in the sand. Headline after headline reports that executives want their charges back in the office, under their thumb. And the U.S. Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes shows a continual decline in the percentage of hours worked remotely, from more than one-third at the beginning of 2022 to 28.4% last month. When I downloaded the data, I did note that hybrid working arrangements have ticked up to 31.5%, so that’s a positive.

Look, I’m not necessarily here to tell you how to run your business – but of course, if you connect, I’m sure we will have productive conversations. But I’ve started multiple enterprises since 2020. All have been fully remote and capable of sourcing talent from across the globe, not just those within commuting distance. I’m astounded at the results and continue kicking myself for not realizing we could have had the “new world” years ago.

The choice is yours.

As Work Changes, Leaders Must Adapt

work remotely

Do bosses realize the world has changed?

Everywhere I look, from The Wall Street Journal to CNBC, managers – I hesitate to call them leaders – are demanding that knowledge workers return to the office. After years of freedom and flexibility, employees are, not surprisingly, pushing back.

From Alaska to Florida, from Disney to Apple, employees believe they are more productive, have better work-life balance and are happier with remote or hybrid options. And you know what? The data backs them up. Fortune reports that productivity jumped when offices abruptly closed in 2020, stayed high through 2021, then dropped in 2022 when bosses started ordering their charges back to the office.

Face it. The definition of work – how we get things done – has changed. So the definition of leadership has changed. Therefore, leadership’s role has changed. Remote leadership is a different beast than leading everyone in office/cubicle world, so leaders must adapt. Remote work begets higher productivity and less time on meetings and commuting. The definition of work is different; therefore the definition of leadership must be different.

My latest book Insightful Leadership has an entire chapter on this (“Paradigm Shift: Sorry Boss, Your Office is Dead to Me”). At Tompkins Leadership and Tompkins Ventures, we have onboarded two companies virtually in the last three years.

I long ago came to the conclusion arrived at by Fleetcor CHRO Crystal Williams. She told Chief Executive magazine that the “‘five-days-a-week, nine-to-five in your office’ cubicle model is dead – or at least, it’s dying. If you don’t provide some flexibility, you’re not going to attract the best and brightest.”

I want the best people in the best roles, unlimited by geography or commuting time. Today’s technology allows that. Really, remote/hybrid work could have accelerated years ago if the bosses had allowed it.

Work-life balance is not about the hours at the office vs. the time at home, but about the harmony and satisfaction people have both in work and personal domains. It is a balance between home and family, health and well-being, career and community. Spending hours commuting does not fit that model, and the free coffee and doughnuts at work do not change that equation. Free coffee vs. your family? Get real.

Many of the company executives interviewed by Chief Executive’s C.J. Prince seem to have it right. See what you can learn from AllState, Embrace Pet Insurance, Blue Yonder and others.

At home, I can wake up, prepare for meetings, fix tea, have breakfast with my family, and then walk back to the office. That’s a quality of life I did not have for years.

Tompkins Leadership, Tompkins Ventures and many other insightful organizations are not going back to the past. Neither should you.

Important Reminders that Less Can Be More

In leadership, subtraction can be its own reward.

I recently received two reminders that less is more from The Wall Street Journal: “Bosses Promise Jobs with a Coveted Perk: Boundaries” by Lindsay Ellis and “Why Bosses Should Ask Employees to Do Less—Not More” by Robert I. Sutton.

Ellis tackles a subject of increasing importance to leaders over the last few years: work-life balance – or, as my Tompkins Leadership colleague Julio Neto calls it “life balance.” Her article quotes numerous leaders, employees and potential employees to respect and enforce work-life boundaries.

This drive by leaders not to burn out their employees is essential. After all, Harvard Business Review reports that employee burnout costs organizations $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending, and that doesn’t include the costs of lower productivity and higher turnover.

Yes, many organizations need to worry about The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting. But you and I know that high-performing organizations still attract talent that wants to work, wants to succeed and wants to make a difference. Often, such talent needs to be reminded to take a break – for their own good and for the organization’s future.

For his part, Sutton’s article summarizes a lengthy body of research that shows how humans (bosses and workers) tend to equate adding more – more staff, software, meetings, rules, training – with creating success. Often, more just creates more bloat, bureaucracy, complexity and burnout.

His point is not that organizations need to do less, but that removing the unimportant excess frees your staff to spend more time on complex, important tasks. This is near and dear to my heart because it’s reminiscent of the Pareto Principle, a tenet of my industrial engineering education at Purdue University. In manufacturing (and many other venues of life) 80% of the errors can be corrected by fixing 20% of the causes.

Making sure your staff can concentrate on the vital few instead of the unnecessary many could be the key to success.

So the next time your organization hits a bump in the road, a thorny problem or an immovable bottleneck, the answer, perhaps, is to take a step back, remove some rules, and subtract instead of add.

A Leadership Quandary: Priorities

A key to leadership is how a leader allocates time and resources. In today’s world, the norm of perpetual disruption challenges leaders every hour as competing activities force them to make tradeoffs on how they allocate time and resources for themselves and their organization.

Great leaders realize that focusing on Important, Long-term and Strategic activities will result in the greatest success moving forward, but it is extremely difficult to withstand the call from Urgent, Short-term and Tactical activities. Realistically, few have adequate resources and time to do all.

In addition, the Disruptions of the last few years (VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity – lockdowns, hybrid schedules/remote office) have dealt an unprecedented rate of change to our leadership teams, making them less aligned than ever.

So you face a two-headed Leadership Quandary of capacity and alignment. If you slow down, contemplate and reflect, increasing your team’s leadership capacity is the only lasting solution to this Leadership Quandary.

Therefore, Leadership Development must be your organization’s No. 1 priority. This is an urgent need in a time where all organizations need dynamic, Insightful Leadership more than ever. Only by developing more leadership capacity can leaders handle all the challenges the organization faces while simultaneously harvesting all the opportunities before them.

In my view, internal mentors and internal development resources are inadequate for addressing this two-headed Leadership Quandary. Your leaders need true Leadership Development, not executive management training. Your leaders need coaches who develop their leadership abilities with insightful questions, not mentors who tell your leaders what to do.

Want to discuss this Leadership Quandary further? Amazingly, whenever I spend time with fellow seasoned leaders, we always end up discussing how our proudest, most successful moments in business came from when we dedicated our time to developing leaders and high-performing leadership teams. Happy to share with you more thoughts on Leadership Development, coaching, artificial intelligence coach-bots and more. Send me a message and we can find a time to chat.