In the winter of 2018, Adam Grant met with the leaders of a number of Fortune 500 companies and unicorn startups to pitch the idea of remote work Fridays. He said during the Rewriting the Future of Work that every leader he pitched it to didn’t like it.
Grant said that there was a missed opportunity to think again. Rather than thinking like scientists, which he described as being motivated to look for reasons why they might be wrong instead of why they must be right, employers often fall back into three mindsets: that of a preacher, a prosecutor, or a politician. You are proselytizing your views when you’re in preacher mode. In prosecutor mode you are attacking someone else. He said that in politician mode, you only listen to people that agree with your views.
Grant said that a good scientist has the humility to know what they don’t know and the curiosity to seek out new knowledge. There is growing evidence that if leaders and managers are trained to think like scientists, they can make better decisions.
Product design and marketing decisions can come from HR as well. There is a growing problem of “Zoom fatigue,” in which people working remotely become exhausted by the demands of videoconferencing. It has to do with the fact that we use a lot of cognitive and emotional energy trying to send and receive all these glitchy signals of facial expressions and body language.
Grant explained that a growing body of research suggests that allowing people to turn their cameras off some of the time can improve engagement and reduce burnout. You don’t need to look at each other’s faces all the time if you are with a small group of people.
Grant said employers should be open to setting boundaries on meetings. He pointed to the research done by Harvard Business School Professor Perlow, who found that instituting quiet time, in which employees could work without meetings, calls or messages, helped them greatly up their productivity.
Grant said that the freedom to control when and how to work, as well as what they work on and with whom they work, are more important to employees than questions surrounding where to work.
There is a company called Morning Star that makes tomato products. He said that when they hire you, they give you a job description of your predecessor. They imposed two constraints to make that flexibility work for people, after they said you could rewrite your own job description after a year. You have to explain how the revised job is going to advance the mission. You have to convince the five to 10 people you are most interdependent with that this is a better version of your job for the collective.
Grant said that employers who experiment more, provide workers with autonomy and invest in employees’ well-being are going to end up with better attraction of talent and higher motivation of people in their organizations.
Many leaders have spoken recently about how experiments have succeeded, bolstering Grant’s point. Lucy Suros, CEO of Articulate, spoke to HR Dive about the company’s “human-centered organization framework” and applying her background in ethics to people management, which has helped the company make several “best places to work” lists. According to executives who helped their companies move to a four-day workweek, the shift has boosted productivity.
Grant said that it is difficult to make a permanent commitment right now because the world of work is evolving right under our feet. It’s the perfect time to put on your scientist goggles and try out some new hypotheses, so you can figure out what works.