The Home Office Debate – About Corporate World’s Hypocrisy & Pharisaism

Yes, I appreciate the often criticized hamster wheel as a merry-go-round! But that doesn’t mean that everything is excellent. For this article, I want to pick out one thing that particularly annoys me. It’s about the hypocrisy and pharisaism of many companies. The home office debate is a good example.  

The corporate world is great!

I am a fan of the corporate world and the possibilities it offers me. I see it as a tool to achieve my goals. In this respect, I negotiate the value of my time with the corporate world and regularly check whether the value of my time is fair in relation to what I get in return.

The quid pro quo is not necessarily money. I also see my personal development, the expansion of my skills, and the convenience that these things bring to my life as reasonable compensation for investing my time. But that doesn’t mean that everything is a field of sunflowers and sunshine.

The balance is often in the middle of the extremes, so I also find many examples supporting the “the corporate world” narrative. As always, it’s not a blame game. The criticism includes me because, as with most things on this blog, it is solely about reflecting on my thinking.

Corporate’s hypocrisy and pharisaism

I have already described the “corporate world is bad” narrative from my perspective in another article and defended the hamster wheel there. In this article, I would like to talk about the downside of this world. Two of them are hypocrisy and pharisaism.

By hypocrisy and pharisaism, I mean that companies specify and demand specific values from their workers but at the same time undermine this value framework by making contrary decisions. In this game, no one wins. The damage, conversely, can be enormous.

The fairy tales of values… 

Companies create their mindsets where certain narratives prevail. Tech companies, in particular, which have been highly successful over the last 10 and 20 years, set out a variety of values to guide the business and the people in the company. Google’s former “Don’t be evil” code of conduct is a good example.

These values are not necessarily bullshit bubbles. They create a basic framework of corporate identity and can anchor certain work ethics. Anyone who has ever had an insight into companies like Apple, Amazon, Google & Co. knows that certain vibe that exists there.

This spirit is visible through many arrangements. In addition to extremely high salaries, many perks such as free healthy food, sports courses, etc., attract talented employees to these companies, which roll out red carpets for their employees.

In this environment, employees are expected to perform to the highest standards, be creative, take responsibility, and think like entrepreneurs. And yes, these traits are pretty darn important for a company’s success. Every company has a lottery win if most employees feel this way and embody these values.

… are counteracted by policies

The problem, however, is that the larger companies get, the more a welter of rules and policies undermines this set of values and shared identities. Much of this is due to the nature of the business. Of course, at some point, there are no longer flat hierarchies but relatively strong reporting channels.

The larger companies become, the more vulnerable they also make themselves, so rules and monitoring are essential to a certain degree.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I am referring to the values mentioned above that companies demand from employees. A good example is the home office issue. The way companies deal with this issue is diverse.

Twitter has announced that employees can work from home forever if they want, and Facebook is also taking this path. Other companies are more defensive. Apple wants to implement an office rule for three days. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, presence is mandatory, CEO Tim Cook wrote to his team. Amazon also wants to allow its employees only two days in the home office.

“No home office because we know when and how you can work best”

Of course: not my company, not my rules. Every company has the right to create its DNA and can set its policies as it sees fit. Nevertheless, I see an ambivalence that is heading in the direction of hypocrisy and pharisaism.

How can companies demand creativity, flexibility, ownership, and excellence while determining when and how employees live up to these values? If you are creative and flexible and take responsibility for your tasks, I don’t have to tell you where to work and when. If I tell you all day how great you are, but at the same time want you to always stay in sight, how credible does that make me?

During the many lockdowns in the Corona pandemic, tech companies reaped record profits. The reason was the dedication of their employees. It worked. In my legal world, too. Many large law firms paid their employees non-performance bonuses for their willingness to perform. They simply delivered. From home! And now, after the Corona pandemic, everything is supposed to go back to zero? No, I think that’s the wrong signal.

Freedom and personal responsibility are the keys to success

Freedom and responsibility for one’s own decisions are the foundations for success. It doesn’t work if people feel like they are being treated like idiots or feel like they are considered idiots. With the home office issue, that’s precisely what happens.

All of a sudden, companies are saying phrases like this: “We are an office-centric company. We believe we’re most creative when we’re together, motivating and inspiring each other”. To demand creativity and at the same time to determine where and when who has to be creative is not only absurd. It’s arrogant. It’s hypocritical.

Giants are good – bureaucracy monsters are bad

These are signs that companies are becoming bureaucratic giants, where rules are no longer aimed solely at continuing to grow but at regulating. It is a gradual process. But companies must understand these kinds of processes. Of course, as a company gets bigger, it loses flexibility and momentum. It becomes clumsy, and that’s fine. But management must be careful not to stifle potential with unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation.

Such aspects are also important for investors. The way a company treats its employees says a lot about its creative potential. In my view, companies are going down the wrong path with a restrictive home office policy.

Dissatisfaction among employees

In some companies, the restrictive policy is causing resentment among employees. For a company, dissatisfaction among employees is deadly. Employees are the most valuable assets. They must be treated as well as the customers who buy the company’s product.

A CEO should be very sensitive to changing vibes. If a CEO puts himself above the needs of his employees with the argument that he or she knows what is best, he has already lost. Such behavior creates fronts in a company, a place that functions best when everyone pulls together.

Generalization steals the space for individualists to live their own needs

It may be naive, but I assume that the whole home office and facetime issue are really about creativity and the best possible performance, not about monitoring.  However, companies that tell their workers when and where they are most creative are generalizing.

Managers mistakenly assume that the individual members of their team are the same types of thinkers as they are. But they don’t realize what a dangerous path they are walking down.

Generalization kills any form of individuality. There are individual types of thinkers and workers with different needs and preferences as to what environment they need to achieve the best possible results. A generalizing policy quite unnecessarily deprives individual groups of the necessary space in which they can deliver.

Some introverts need a quiet space and then can think manically about a project for 4 to 5 hours. Others can’t get along in a structured way unless they sit in an open space area and constantly challenge themselves with a sparring partner. There are early risers and night owls. In short, there is no «onesizefitsall» solution.

Typical efficiency during the day on a 10-point scale
My typical efficiency during the day on a 10-point scale

Systemic risk

Employers provoke a systemic risk for the company with this approach. Especially the qualified employees quickly question everything when they notice such inconsistencies on the border of hypocrisy.

In today’s world, employees are primarily concerned with the employer’s appreciation of their work and the so-called mattering of their job. It is also vital for them to act at arm’s length to their managers. Employees contribute their expertise to the company along the lines of the manager’s guidance. It is, therefore, not a unilateral relationship but a mutual performance in which everyone plays to their strengths.

This system falters when one part tells the other how and when to perform best. In this way, a functional team becomes a rigid hierarchical construct in which tasks are passed down from the top. It is the perfect avenue into the narrative of the bad corporate world.

The only benchmark that counts: quality

Well, what do I know? Of course, I also have this tiny little voice in the backend of my thinking, saying, “I could do that better”. But I can blend that voice out. So don’t think I consider myself a better manager than the managers I criticize.

I only criticize what I can judge. And that’s my output when I have to work in an environment that I don’t enjoy. It doesn’t matter whether I write analyses in my spare time or provide legal guidance to my clients as a lawyer.

I can handle pressure, and I can handle a lot of deadlines. I don’t mind not understanding things in the first place. Stressful or unpleasant clients don’t affect the outcome of my work… all fine. I get paid to create a quality product under challenging situations.

However, if someone expects me to create a quality product but doesn’t trust me to determine how and when I create it, my motivation is like my efficiency at 2 am. Zero.

For me, it is a fundamental principle of successful work to judge people by the result, not by the path they choose to get to the outcome. What we need for this is trust, an open culture of discussion, and a clear horizon of expectations among all parties involved. This is possible and easy to implement, just like working from home.

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