What is the purpose of the office? I asked Maja Paleka, co-founder of Juggle Strategies, which is on a mission to make flexible work business as usual.
Maja Paleka and I met pre-COVID, which feels like a really long time ago, at a remote-working conference. It’s funny to reflect now on that conference now, because at the time it was a really novel concept for people to ask to work from home.
We were pushing for flexibility within workplaces, but the pandemic period obviously completely changed attitudes towards working from home. But there are still big questions from businesses and employees about the right way to manage flexible work.
I saw Maja’s post recently on LinkedIn about the purpose of the office, and asked her about the struggles businesses are having with hybrid or remote working.
The Challenges of Working from Home
Maja: It’s been such a massive revolution. We started doing this work in 2015, and back then it was really, really hard to get people to think about it differently. Obviously, we went through the pandemic process. But you’re right, we haven’t settled in the right place yet. I’m hearing similar things from leaders again and again.
Consistency & Clarity
The number one issue is inconsistency. From an executive and leadership perspective, many organisations we work with expected to have achieved a certain level of consistency by now.
Our experience is that some of this inconsistency stems from a lack of clarity. By this, I don’t just mean the messaging. A lot of organisations have been clear about their flexible work goals. I mean clarity in the implementation throughout the organisation as well. Many organisations have begun to realise that clarifying a flexible-work strategy actually takes work.
‘Many organisations have begun to realise that clarifying a flexible-work strategy actually takes work.’
When people have a lack of clarity, they’re just going to do the thing that’s right for them. If they’re feeling that teams are doing different things, individuals will look for what’s right for them. They lose the sense of connectedness across the organisation.
I’m also seeing that a lot of people have declared that they want to have a few days in the office, but they have not thought about what those days will be used for. How do we make sure that those days are used properly?
Sometimes people come into the office, but they end up sitting on Teams or Zoom calls next to each other. And that’s really frustrating for everybody because they’re not able to collaborate and connect in person.
‘ people come into the office, but they end up sitting on Teams or Zoom calls next to each other.’
Or they’ve gone to the other extreme, and have decided to use the days in the office for face-to-face meetings. In theory, that makes a lot of sense for a lot of people, and I think if it wasn’t for my experience, even I wouldn’t have realised the problem here.
But we’ve ended up scheduling meetings back-to-back. People are telling me, ‘we run in, we run out, and then we’re running to the next meeting room.’ If anything, because of the commute between meeting rooms, which you don’t have online, people at the office find they are always late.
And there’s no time for the chitchat and personal stuff that we were actually hoping to get from being face-to-face. For many people, inconsistency and a lack of design mean the flexible-work experience is not turning out the way we had hoped.
Mandating a Day in the Office
Karen: Yes I can reflect on many examples across different organisations where employees have said to me, ‘I don’t know why I’m bothering to come in, because no one else is here. Why am I doing this commute?’ And the all-day meetings are just exhausting people. They actually come to dread the day in the office that is just running from one meeting room to the next.
‘They actually come to dread the day in the office that is just running from one meeting room to the next.’
You talked a little bit about design, and what I’m seeing is the default design at the moment is mandating a day in the office. Business owners and leaders are saying, ‘We have to mandate day because otherwise, we don’t get a critical mass. We want some time in the office for those water-cooler conversations, collaboration and communication, which is all super important. But then everyone’s here on a different day. The employees are getting frustrated, and we’re not getting what we want.’ What are your thoughts on mandating a day for everyone to be in the office?