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I'm a Black woman, mother of 2, and have an org development + learning background. I recently left my career in big tech, and all of this aligns with what I observed and experienced -- and why I left.

In my experience, the burnout was a result of the constant org churn and, as the most tenured person on the team, I was also tasked with onboarding people non-stop. Along with managing my normal job of running the highest visibility projects on the org. ( Not an unusual story for POCs)

I was part of a process-driven org that relied heavily on institutional knowledge to keep running. As the great resignation ran it's course, that knowledge left and the mechanisms for documenting / sharing the ways we work was severely lacking.

My question about the data is -- in orgs that are seeing improved connection, what mechanisms are being used to support that, formal and informal? What kind of efforts are being driven at the IC level and how is the impact different that leader-led efforts?

Before I left, I was hosting weekly 'lo-fi focus sessions" that resulted in a significant boost to morale and engagement. However, I got the feedback that these were not important to my main job, which reinforced for me how leadership is botching this moment to foster a different way of working.

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Boy can I relate to this. My company had 60% turnover from mid 2021 to mid 2022. Nearly all of the people with institutional knowledge left. My boss is aware that way too much is now relying on me, yet I have zero time allocated for doing anything about it. I’m supposed to support the entire company lack of knowledge and keep all the big projects running plus do other work of my own. In 4 years I’ve never had one minute allocated for training. The only reason I stay is I have significant schedule flexibility (including working 4 days a week).

The company brought everyone back to the office as soon as it was legal. I refused and quit so they allowed me to be remote to keep me. But most people they let leave and have replaced them with people who seem happy to be in the office (read young, dominant culture, inexperienced). After all that turnover they finally did an employee survey that not too many responded to and declared victory with really high satisfaction scores. Yet most people I know are not happy.

I’m just hoping I can give it long enough that other companies figure it out I think.

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Oct 20, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I'm curious how the shift to remote/flexible work is impacting the implicit or explicit expectation of 40 hr work weeks. I think it's a difficult topic, because it introduces some immediate pearl-clutching - "the employees aren't working enough!!!" - but I think it's one of the foundational elements of trust- vs. power-based leadership. For example, in an org where the core hours are 9a-1:30p Pacific, as Sheela's company practices, are folks always, daily, working another 3.5 hrs, or does the culture support the idea of "it's your job to accomplish xyz objective or outcome, in whatever time that takes"? This idea seems more broadly acceptable if the "whatever time it takes" is over 40 hrs/week, but not necessarily if it's under. Many work management systems include time tracking aspects, so managers can clearly see how much time is going to various projects to help with forecasting. Are these orgs accepting of the fact that an employee's hours may not always add up to 40? What about a day that an employee works 5 hrs, then a few 9 hr days later in the week?

I think one of the joys of remote work is that you don't have to pretend to look busy from 3-5p while you wait out the clock. I can do a workout, then check my email for end of day messages, or do any number of household tasks during that time and arrive at 5p more refreshed and less stressed, ready to meet friends or relax because my professional and household tasks are done.

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I think for salaried workers, the 40 hour work week wasn't a reality for a long time — as in, they were working a lot more, because they were working hours at the office and then going home and working more. If you're working more efficiently, yeah, I think you might be able to get the same amount of work done (or more!) in less than 40. That doesn't mean you need to do more work, I don't think — just because we can work more, doesn't always mean that we should (and I mean that for future efficiency, productivity, etc., but also just well-being)

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It should mean that. Yet the expectation that I respond within minutes on teams between 8 and 6 even though I work a flexible schedule is still there.

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Oct 20, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I am so interested in this topic. My employer embraced remote/hybrid/whatever a long, long time ago (I’ve worked full-time from home since 2010). They really accelerated the shift toward less office time during the last couple of years and encourage us to do what is best for our own professional and personal needs.

I feel bad for people who are being forced to go back full-time. Among people I know, those who have been ordered back into the office have simply started to look for new jobs. So many people resigned when my stepbrother’s company moved back to in-person they had to reverse the decision!

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As a woman leader, and a working mother, I can tell you part of what is exhausting about people people working anywhere, anytime. It creates chaos.

Women are already burdened by familial emotional labour - in charge of all of the invisible and unseen appointments, in an increasingly unpredictable world where people want to do what they want to do, where they want to do it, and when they want to do it. So our familial scheduling job has gotten increasingly difficult.

If that wasn't enough, we also very often hold a very similar role at the office. We oversee, facilitate and help coordinate the work of others. We are bombarded DAILY by requests for flexibility - something comes up, and someone wants wants time/space flexibility, often last minute to contend with whatever need they feel prevails that minute. So we bear the brunt of that emotional labour, that unseen juggling of last minute changes in plans, because we're as leaders are ultimately beholden to clients - which means we're left to compensate when one of our colleagues desist in either time or space. Don't get me wrong, these adjustments are minor on an individual basis, so no one thinks twice about the validity of their request, but they add up really fast - and become a high stakes juggling act for those of us left behind... Also, these additional scheduling tasks are tacked ON TOP of our own daily responsibilities. Ring masters at home and at the office. No wonder we're exhausted.

I'm a big advocate for flexibility within a framework, because flexibility is like freedom: yours stops where mine starts.

The social convention of agreeing WHERE and WHEN we will convene for business provides some level of reliability as we willfully engage in an interpersonal contract that recognizes the responsibilities we have towards each other. Right now, it's everyone for themselves, with a few picking up the pieces and burning out in the process. So this ultimate flexibility everyone touts as a panacea comes at a steep cost for some of us. Without advocating for 100% RTO or a rigid 9-5, we need to find a just balance - which means BOTH SIDES need to concede some ground.

To me this echoes our current social/political epoch: entrenched sides with little regard or empathy for downward ramifications on others. And another trap where working mothers are the main casualties.

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while reading, I was thinking that some of what you've shared here is responsible for the high levels of dissatisfaction and increased burnout for middle managers--because on top of their formal responsibilities, they are between these folks

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This is so well put, Annie. I haven't worked full-time in an office for ages but I have family and friends who are leaders of small corporations (under 100 people) and government agencies, etc. and this really resonates with the struggles they are having. There have been SO MANY conversations about how to make work function well for everyone. The people I know don't want to go back to how things were. They fully acknowledge the benefits (for their employees and for themselves) of having more flexibility about when and where work happens. None of them want to go back to commuting and being in the office for 8 hours every day. But work-from-home is not trouble-free either. Your description of the chaos that flexibility creates is really apt. Something I am seeing as well is that the people who end up being leaders are often super extroverted or at least introverts who love people. What they loved about their jobs as managers of people was the actual people. Converting the in-person connections of chatting and strategising and problem-solving with a team of tangible humans into an 8-hour-straight stream of Zoom sessions with people who are often face-less and distracted has not only made their jobs way way harder, it has sucked the joy from their work. For the small sub-set of leaders I know, it's not that they want power and control back or that they don't trust their workers or that they are lonely. It's that they are struggling with the lack of in-person connection and how it has radically changed not just how they do their jobs but also how they feel about their jobs.

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Yes, part of our job is to connect, so with a dispersed team, we end up in soul-sucking zoom meetings ad-infinitum.

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Totally agree! flexibility breeds chaos because it de-ritualizes and de-formalizes work and your colleagues become like pestering children..

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My boss and his (who is the CEO) absolutely hate remote. They took these jobs mid 2020 and since have flown in twice a week. All the execs meet with each other all day long. It’s insanity. But he still doesn’t really know what to do if he can’t sit down face to face. The only reason I am 100% remote (and a handful of others) is we had deep institutional knowledge and were top contributors in a company where 60% of the employees quit when the forced them back to “standard” in office hours. They don’t trust employees. You can see it in everything they do. I will say my boss has progressively gotten more and more stressed as this year has gone on even though they took almost everyone back to full time in office.

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great stuff...I still feel we are not exploring the downsides of fully remote work for high growth companies where making big, quick collaborative decisions is frequent and where being face to face enhances trust and the feeling of being heard. For slow growth bureaucracies, remote work is a perfect adaption to modernity.

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This is such an interesting conversation. I work in an area where nobody was remote working pre-pandemic and now 90% of our staff are and I feel like we are still struggling with how to adapt. As a boss, I will say that I don't have worries about productivity with my staff (and we don't do any tracking kinds of things) and I'm glad for them to have some more flexibility in their day. But I do feel like we are still much less collaborative than we used to be and that problems that used to be solved in a 5 minute hallway conversation now get moved to a 30 minute Teams meeting, so everyone has more meeting fatigue than we used to.

I think sometimes the frustration I feel is maybe an issue of communal productivity vs individual. Like, everyone is being productive, but stuff that takes a team effort seems to take A LOT longer in the remote setting and I'm not sure if that is just because we are still figuring this out or if that is just the way it is. As a manager, a lot of the responsibility for getting cross-functional work done falls on my shoulders and it just doesn't happen as easily or quickly as it used to. And it's not as much fun sometimes too.

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I'll also add that I started this job mid-pandemic and so I've mostly experienced this team in a 90% remote capacity. I can't tell if it just the personalities, the pandemic fatigue, or the working environment, but I feel like I know my team FAR less well then I would have expected to after being in this job over a year. I trust them, I value their work, I try to provide good leadership ... but I don't feel like I know them and their strengths as much as I "normally" would. A big part of that is on me as a leader (I need to be a lot more intentional about relationship building, though I find it harder and more tiring in the remote mode) and part of it is just little stuff like not seeing how people decorate their office, or how they interact in groups, etc.

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"If you hire adults and then treat them like kids, this whole thing is going to backfire." That's it.

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This data and the questions it sparks is super interesting to me. I'm surrounded right now by conversations about how to take what is great about how work adapted to the pandemic and what was great about working in an office together and combine those things to make work function well for everyone. Sometimes the conversations are exciting and optimistic and sometimes they are fuelled by pure frustration and a lot of struggle. I especially appreciated the stats on belonging and the conversation around code-switching.

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