Office Boomer vs. Remote Millennial

If it works,
it’s obsolete. 

Marshall McLuhan

When a subject becomes obsolete,
we make it a required course. 

Peter Drucker

What happens when two opposing and equally capable forces collide? In one corner we have the reigning champion with, a track record from the past, declining competence, but the power of all of the belts. In the other corner we have the challenger with little experience, smarter, faster, a future orientation and great ambition.

The Boomers vs the Millennials.

No pyrotechnics, but a constant study in contrasts.

There are the memes and stereotypes of both generations that are superficial with broad strokes of truth.

The Boomers tend to try, as the great Peter Drucker extolled above, to codify the obsolete. And the Millennials try in their annoying ways to point out the obsolescence.

Nothing demonstrates the cultural and normative battlefield like the discussions about the the “right” balance of remote/virtual work.

Boomers want a full return to the office.
Millennials want to only work remotely and virtually.
Of course, neither is true.

But the tension about how policies are made is the quintessential camel created by the horse design committee.

The classic clash of the generations. The older group hangs on to their wisdom, their mores, norms and traditions. For great comfort comes from these “truths”. And the newcomers see less value in the antiquities.

Recent discoveries that gravity and the speed of light vary and fluctuate are proof that facts and truths from a previous era will be debunked and obsolete in time. We know pre-obsolete things. And we use these things to inform the future and to teach others.

William Gibson said, “The future is already here it just isn’t evenly distributed.”

Older folks, my generation, have long closed their minds to what’s emerging and even what has become industry standards.

I am not talking about the pop culture and what is hip today. People over 30ish have rejected the art, music, social conventions of the younger generation as sophomoric and in bad taste.

I am talking about Boomer Centered Leadership (BCL). This is the persistent forcing of the organizational structure, culture, and personnel manuals of a generation ago.

These are leaders who want us all to return to a gentler and more predictable time of office hours, dress codes, and face-to face meetings.

There are all types of factors that are influencing these decisions that don’t involve humans. There is the office itself, that has been patiently waiting for the pitter patter of footsteps. A huge sunk cost that is not contributing to the ROI of the org. There is this mystical warm feeling of returning to normal. And there are even nostalgic views of meetings, yes meetings—how much everyone misses them. This is certainly a symptom of long COVID!

But the biggest issue with BCL is how it has forgotten about the humans. The world has literally changed. People’s relationship to work and the world around them has been forever altered. Ping pong tables and unlimited snacks will never be enough.

BCL has overlooked HCD—Human-Centered Design.

This is a huge Boomer blind spot—for human resources!

Human Centered Design is a well-respected process to develop solutions to challenges by involving human perspectives (how novel) in all steps of the problem-solving/decision-making process. Empathy, sustainability, equity are key values that guide the process to observe, understand the challenges and then to develop, prototype and implement solutions.

HCD is used widely for product development, marketing, customer issues but not for employees.

HR is one of the last bastions of BCL. Old obsolete constructs that are perpetuated in the face of dramatic changes.

BCL wants a full return to the office and might compromise with a 4 day in and one day remote scheme.

Why?

Some relent to a 3 day in and 2 day remote scenario.

Based on what?

A throwback to military mandates “Because I said so!” will never foster a culture of trust and mutual respect.

What motivates employees has changed.
Rebalancing lives with family obligations. Proximity to life. The reduction of stress from the commute. Not to mention the astronomical costs of gasoline, childcare, transportation….

For each employee is facing many unrevealed battles.

No one wants to only work remote. Very few really want to be in the office full-time. Employees want to understand the value and need to be in-person except as needed.

This fight is over culture. It is over the relationship of the employer to the employee on a work and human level. It is about the humanity of the leaders and the organization.

It’s the humans, stupid.

I am coaching a number of leaders and their boards on how to re-fresh their organizational cultures. They continue to aspire to the same things, among them are:

  • To facilitate more effective recruitment of talent by becoming “an employer of choice.”
  • To increase retention of employees by reducing the hard and hidden costs of turnover.
  • And to optimize productivity, efficiency and organizational performance.

Nothing really new here, except everything.

These leaders are really good at their jobs and are good hearted humans. They know things are changing but get stuck in their obsolescence. They know there is a talent shortage. They know there is a great resignation. They know that “replacement costs” are expensive. They know their employees are all going through a wide variety of personal challenges.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Albert Einstein

Yet they are not talking to the employees, gathering data, sentiment, and ideas. They are just scheduling the required obsolete course.

When BCL mimics the aging process where it becomes less agile, less open-minded, more conservative, more arthritic, slower, rigid, authoritarian, and even mean—it designs its own obsolescence.

Arrogance and laziness give rise to a culture that loses the opportunity to create a synthesis of something new and better. Especially in a world where BCL is not tech savvy, data driven and utilizing HCD. It is a huge failure to recognize the greater intelligence and problem-solving building blocks are right in front of us.

If you think the office vs remote question is simple, you don’t understand the question.  

Thanks for reading. John

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