Thoughts On The Return To Office Movement

Executives, especially in Silicon Valley, have been on a concerted campaign to force their remote workers to return to the office. A few academic and/or journalist writers have tried to provide support by pointing to “studies” that show that when people work together they are more productive. On the other hand, there are studies (see links below) that show the opposite.

I recently listened to an interview with a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who wants employees in the office three days per week. The reason—meetings. He thinks meetings are great. And looking at the “Brady Bunch” gallery of faces unsettles him. He needs to focus on one face at a time.

I have always found meetings inherently unproductive wastes of time. Maybe if everyone is in the office impromptu one-on-one meetings have some value. But, those also interrupt one or both people from the thought work they need to be doing.

I also listen to Jason Fried and David Heinemeier-Hansson of 37 Signals and Michael Sliwinski of Nozbe and recently game developer Justin Gary. All run thriving companies with no office. Fried and Sliwinski have written books on the success of remote work.

The purpose of this recent movement is really control. Managers who do not know how to lead rely on control mechanisms to keep track of employees. I had a boss once whom I informed that I was going to spend more time working from home. “Well, as long as you’re working,” he replied.

How would you even calculate most knowledge worker productivity? Number of reports per week? Number of quotes sent per day? Projects per month?

People making things must be where the things are being made. And the number of cars or barrels or bottles can be counted. But reports? For the most part, who cares? Who reads them?

Productivity is nonsense in the knowledge worker domain. More important are impact and effectiveness. Peter Drucker saw this 40 years ago.

Questions for us:

What impact have you had on the success of the business or organization today?

How effective was your latest initiative for improving workflow?

These unfortunately cannot always be easily measured with a number. But everyone knows your impact and effectiveness. And for most, that doesn’t being chained to a cubicle. After all, how many CEOs are in the office every day? And how many are flying around the globe every week?

A good article from Forbes on the myths of productivity.

A study on knowledge worker productivity.

Measuring and Improving Productivity

Harvard Business Review, Knowledge Workers More Productive from Home

From Microsoft, new performance equation in the age of AI

Four Ways to Build a Culture of Honesty and Avoid ‘Productivity Paranoia’

Trust seems to be a commodity in short supply these days—if we are to believe all the media we might be consuming. My personality type tends to trust most people upon first meeting allowing them time to prove themselves either worthy of trust or someone to avoid. Many people default to distrust allowing another to perhaps overcome the distrust—if ever they can.

Building trust becomes essential to both building a brand and building a team.

Therefore, this article I saw in the MIT Sloan Management Review struck me as relevant.

A lack of trust between colleagues and managers in remote and hybrid environments can damage workplace culture and morale.

It was inevitable that the rise in working from home would create tensions inside many organizations. But it didn’t have to be quite this bad. According to a new survey by Envoy, less than a quarter (24%) of employees trust their colleagues to get work done remotely.

Twenty years ago, I told my manager I was going to do more work from home. I was a writer. The cubicle life at the company detracted from the ability to concentrate on writing. I churned out more articles and news from home. In fact, no one on the staff turned out more work. But the boss, worried about control, said, “As long as you get your work done.”

Research shows that distrust damages workplaces, whereas high levels of trust fuel engagement and motivation while reducing absenteeism.

Four points:

  • Assess Employees’ Individual Environments
  • Simulate Natural Interactions — Lots of Them
  • Be Transparent About Monitoring
  • Train Team Members in Getting to the Truth


Pamela Meyer is the author of Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception (St. Martin’s Press, 2010) and the CEO of Calibriate, a deception detection and inside threat mitigation consulting firm. Her 2011 presentation “How to Spot a Liar” is one of the 20 most popular TED Talks of all time.

Bullet number two should be stimulate natural interactions. Good people management both of local and remote teams benefits from such an environment. Don’t let people burrow into lonely caves. Especially if you are managing nerds.

Transparency is always a key to good leadership. Let people know what you are doing, where you are going, and how they stand with you.

How Do They Treat Servers?

Pro leadership tip.

Years ago the story went around that if you were in the final hiring process at IBM, they would take you out to dinner. If you salted your food before tasting it, then you had a fixed mindset and would not be hired.

I have a better one.

Are you about to hire someone? Add someone to your team? Perhaps you’ve met a new friend? Want to know about them? Go out to dinner or a good lunch. Watch how they treat the hostess. How do they interact with the server? How do they treat the other restaurant staff?

How one treats servers in these unguarded moments reveals character.

By the way, how do you (I) treat servers?

Maybe it’s time for an attitude change?

The Gentle Art of Asking Part Two

Quite by accident the second edition of “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling,” by Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein appeared in my mail the other day. Reviewing some older notes, I saw the recommendation. When this book arrived, I discovered I had the first edition on my bookshelf. The second edition was worth the refresher.

Do you know any long-time elementary school teachers? Ever listen to them? Do their questions sound often like a prosecuting attorney going after a criminal suspect?

Do we catch ourselves asking questions to test other people? Or questions where we wish to discover if they are for us or against us? Questions meant to trap us—like often were posed to Jesus in the Christian Bible?

The gentle art of asking questions instead of telling people reveals true curiosity. We want to know what someone else is thinking—really.

The gentle art draws people in rather than establishing a barrier between people. Its foundation includes trust, sincerity, mindfulness. I would add intention. 

So often we ask, but then we fail to listen to the answer. Listening, that is, that involves our complete attention.

I wrote about this book five years ago. It’s one of those books that requires a reread periodically. It’s brief. Readable. New insights will pop out each reading.

My Presentation on Innovations in Manufacturing

A company constructed a website that aggregates content from other companies’ websites asked me to teach at a webinar last week. They told me that my site provided more traffic than others to their site (hmmm, do I smell sales pitch there?). 

Anyway, the webinar broadcast April 5. It did generate several very good questions. Some of the feedback was actually complimentary.

I discuss some examples of how your company’s business can be disrupted. Innovation discussion drew from the beginnings of the industrial revolution. I also discuss the role of people. 

Speaking of people, I tried to provide some sense of urgency to each individual who can make great contributions.

Anyway, the talk is now on-demand at this website. You can listen and send questions to [email protected]. I will answer.

Look For Good Writers When Hiring

[This is last week’s newsletter. You can sign up for a weekly (almost) newsletter by clicking the envelop icon on the right. I use–an email service expressly designed to do away with tracking and other obnoxious Web practices.]

When we go to high school and university, we think we’re supposed to memorize many facts. It’s not a bad thing to learn and remember. The essential characteristics and behaviors of an educated person are these, however:

  • Ability to learn on your own
  • Ability to think clearly
  • Ability to express yourself clearly

Many people learn that one of the best ways to think is to write. I write a couple of thousand words a day. Often there is no clue when I begin a piece where it will end up. In the beginning is an idea—usually from my reading. Then there are thoughts on the initial idea. Then the ideas build upon themselves until there is an essay.

Perhaps you should consider this both when you are hiring new people and when you are counseling young people.

Recently the Rework podcast from the company called 37signals (developers of the HEY email platform where this newsletter resides) featured Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (co-founders) sharing why writing is at the heart of the success of 37signals and why they believe it’s essential for every employee to be a skilled writer, regardless of their title or role.


Speaking of thinking, here is a thought from Nassim Nicholas Taleb from his book Fooled By Randomness, “Trading forces someone to think hard, those who merely work hard generally lose their focus and intellectual energy.”

I am assembling thoughts and notes for a webinar I am giving April 5 most likely on the Myths and Reality of Digital Transformation. One path I am exploring concerns change management and how these initiatives often run low on focus and intellectual energy. I guess maybe I’ve been involved in at least one too many of these.

If you have thoughts about this topic (or any topics), send an email to [email protected]


The more data we have the more likely we are to drown in it.—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness

Trade media and marketing types have touted “data as the new oil” or some such malarky for the past 8-9 years. That includes Internet of Things, sensor networks, MES, Industrie 4.0, and the like. Data is, indeed, useful. It’s impossible to perform 5 Why’s or other Lean initiatives without data.

Adding more sensors, more databases, moving compute to the edge, no, wait, move data to the cloud, connected everything, digital twins, and…whew!

Yes, you can drown if not careful. Be careful what you ask for!


Be sure to check out the latest news and thoughts on The Manufacturing Connection.


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