What’s your return to office plan?
Right now, every leader is being asked this question. Some have declared answers, many are actively revising those answers, most have committees on it.
I find scenario planning and benchmarking to be prevalent skills in leaders and rightfully so. Any leader in the past year has had to flex those muscles. But I worry we’ve collectively lost another—the ability to envision, to dream, to invent.
Perhaps we can put aside for a moment what feels reasonable, acceptable, on trend; our data and future of work reports. And instead allow ourselves to dream about the future we want to actualize.
Below is my provocation for what corporate life could be. As you read it perhaps you’ll think, “But how would that work?” and, “What would that policy look like?” and, “Here’s why that would fail.” If I’m honest, my brain does that with every new idea too. But I’ve learned the best way to land someplace beautiful and feasible is to start with the beautiful. If we start with the feasible, we’ve lost before we’ve begun.
- I dream of every company having a self-selected 9-5, five day a week, in-person crew. “The Office” style. Because those people appreciate the camaraderie of the day to day. Because they like the routine, having somewhere to go, and the pacing it provides. These people have lunch together and belly laugh. They notice when one person gets a new sweater. They decorate for Halloween.
- I dream of mini-retirements. Unpaid leaves. Sabbaticals. The structure and acceptance that allows for people to move in and out of work over the course of their working life. An acknowledgement that the treadmill that starts when you join a company all the way up until you leave can be unyielding. I want the possibility to exist that people come and go and come again without the emotional toll of “What does this mean? Is it allowed? Will people judge me? What am I risking?” I dream of 10-month employment contracts, like teachers, allowing for good old fashioned summers of spending time with family, traveling, watching a garden grow.
- I dream of sprints. For those who are eager to dig in and lose themselves in a body of meaningful work, there are teams that run hard together. I dream of that covetable state of flow that shows its face when the challenge, the skill sets, and the opportunity for focus all align in perfect harmony. I dream of team getaways—maybe for a few days, maybe for more—that means long hours are joyful and inspiration plentiful.
- I dream of having the flexibility to take care of our families—no matter what family means to us. Growing children, aging parents, friends who are sick or struggling, partners who need a little extra TLC, the furry or reptilian or avian companions in our lives. I dream of doing those things without guilt—without a work culture where people feel like they need to overwork to prove themselves wearing “I’m so busy” and “Just another weekend of work” as badges of importance. Where we don’t need to feel self-conscious about blocking off time for a doctor’s appointment during the workday—be it ours or that of someone we love.
- I dream of company-sponsored stays at estates in Costa Rica, castles in France, cabins in Vermont. With hybrid work, many companies will save on office leases, but who says they can’t reinvest in other offsite properties and flying teams there? I dream of growing company gardens. Of making meals together before brainstorm sessions. Of visiting artists and poets who lend inspiration, provocation, and a helping hand in the garden.
- I dream of living in the English countryside for a bit every summer. Working 100% remotely. My daughter in an English summer camp. Working odd global hours but not caring because it affords us an adventure. I dream of dialing into Zoom meetings to see my colleagues in places that light them up, too, whether that’s their home or somewhere far away.
- I dream of finding a coworking cohort. Having colleagues over to work together on our balcony. Or from a coworking space. Or from the office. Or from a park. We’d say, “Where shall we go today?” And someone would say, “The park! I’ll bring the blanket and snacks. Everyone bring their hotspot, okay? And we’ll all take a 30 minute walk together midday.”
- I dream of colleagues who always hated the office not having to go. I dream of those with long commutes coming in as they choose because time with their families is more important. I dream of people moving home to be with their families, giving back to the communities they were born into. I dream of the extroverts finding each other and welcoming in others with open arms even if they’re not always around. I dream of finding new ways to connect—resurrecting the lost art of letter writing and finding pen pals across the organization.
- I dream of letting go of the guilt of not being perfectly productive from 9 to 6 every day and then some. I dream of going to a museum midday because work is in a good spot, nothing is urgent, and the inspiration would do me so much more good than firing off emails or spinning on a project. I dream of 3 hour days balancing out 16 hour days. I dream of the time I spend with my daughter being ours, without the self-inflicted nagging suspicion that there’s something in my inbox or Slack that needs attention.
I dream of us having the confidence and resources and flexibility to design the life we want—and helping each other as we each figure out what that is.