If someone wants to work remotely, let them

Let people work remotely

There’s been a ton of misconceptions about millennials in the past 2-3 years, spurned on by the ol’ “Let’s generalize about generations” concept that we’ve been doing for years. (I think I’m Gen-X, and my parents are “Silents/Matures,” and I guarantee you at some point they turned to each other and said I was lazy and entitled, which you know … probably isn’t that far off. Upper East Side upbringing, baby!) I wrote about this whole generational misconception once. IBM, who is a lot smarter than me and has access to much better research, also wrote a paper about this recently.

Basic idea behind all this: we assume millennials will be so different and want all these different things, and in the process … they’ll change everything about how we think about and conceptualize work. Right, but … it’s not right.

You know the core of what millennials want? The same things that Boomers want and only realized later in their careers they could have.

Forrester wrote a similar post about key things your digital team needs; that post has a lot of buzzwords and talks about hiring a data scientist and communicating better, etc. None of that’s going to happen. You’ll try to hire a data scientist and run down a rabbit hole of headcount process, and you’ll try to communicate better and end up just clustering stuff with your senior leadership. Those aren’t wins.

This is what all generations want and find it increasingly hard to get: essentially, respect.

Think about it along these lines:

  • Trust your people.
  • Hire people that are better than you.
  • Don’t confuse development with managing performance.
  • Focus on the quality of the people
  • Give people freedom
  • Underpin people-related decisions with actual science and data

Those are the core tenets of how Google thinks about people; they tend to get lauded in those regards.

Look at the second-to-last bullet. Give people freedom. That’s a big one.

Here’s something I’ve absolutely never understood: in most of America, you can get Wi-Fi or Internet connectivity pretty quickly. If that wasn’t possible, do you think business travel would be a big thing? No. Because while face-to-face selling is crucial, management wouldn’t let their guys be on the road all the time if they were going to be totally out of pocket. We fly people all over hell and gone to make sales or do deals, and that’s predominantly underpinned by … “Well, they’ll still be checking e-mail as they’re there.” (In the 1950s, it was underpinned by “calling back and checking in with the home office.”)

So we’re willing to spend revenue on jet fuel because we know those people flying out to LA for business are still tethered to the home office in Boston, but then … what if someone wants to work from the LA office for a week? Or move to Idaho and live on a lake but maintain their job?

People go nuts.

A lot of this comes back to basic human psychology: managers essentially want control of situations. They’re often overwhelmed as it is. Most managers assume the worst, as opposed to the best. If your company is in Boston and you want to live on a lake in Idaho — even if the lake has great Wi-Fi — most managers assume “Well, when’s your last day?” There’s very little effort to think about “How could we make this work?”

That’s the problem.

You’ve had Boomers working 30+ years now, giving sweat and long nights to their various companies, and now where are they? They’ve got 15-30 years left of life, gotta keep working because of the 2008 crash, and their kids and grandkids are scattering to other parts of the country. But they can’t go there, because if they do … their company will probably cut ’em loose. It’s a terrible cycle.

People want flexibility. Organizations want process and stability. Those things come to a head often, and illogically: why should an org give up one of their better people just because their manager can’t seemingly be aware of what they’re doing at every second? I don’t know what my wife does every second. That’s not a reason to terminate that. (I realize that’s a flawed analogy, but still. Life isn’t about trying to control every aspect of everything.)

Ted Bauer