Dance monkey, dance!

12 May 2022 Martin Cheetham

I’ve read a lot of articles recently discussing the advantages of a full ‘return to the office’ policy. Employees can’t be trusted to do their jobs, are easily distracted, not getting their work done, not putting in the required hours and on and on and on.

Poor performance or poor results is not a reflection of your employees, it’s a reflection of your leadership. You need to take the time to ensure that your business has the proper systems in place to measure results, rather than input (or even output for that matter). Your people are in need of purpose and direction. They need processes and systems to support them. And they need flexibility.

If you are a leader and you are vehemently pushing for a full return-to-work policy, then you will lose employees. Maybe not right now, but they are probably already looking for alternatives. And yes, that includes the ones you don’t want to lose.


Time is our most valuable commodity.

Time is the one thing that is inflexible – it is the one thing we can never get back. To quote Mark Manson: “The only scarcity in life is time. The scarcity of anything else is merely a function of how we spend our time”.

The amount of time I save every day by not sitting in traffic is invaluable to me. It’s allowed me to redesign my morning routine to be more productive than I’ve ever been. The time I save not driving to meetings, and even the length of the meetings themselves, gives me more time to work on what’s important. I can add more value and it brings me joy.

If employees can be more productive and spend more time with their families or doing the things they love then they will be happier. If you support them and grow them and just treat them like the damn adults they are, they will be happier. They will work better. And they will stay longer.

Don’t get me wrong, designing an incredible employee experience isn’t as simple as just offering remote work. But it’s a huge start, and an important one right now.


If you treat your employees like children, expect them to behave that way.

Someone told me that their company instituted software that monitors your mouse activity, to ensure that you’re at your desk and working. Firstly, this is a poor metric, as the person could be working on their side hustle, shopping online, or simply browsing social media anyway. So what happens when you introduce a level of control like that? People find a workaround. If she needed to go to the shops or fetch her kids from school, she would simply ask her mom (who may be watching television or reading) to move her mouse every few minutes to avoid raising any red flags.

I also had a discussion recently where a friend was telling me about his wife’s situation. Her company monitors her constantly through the camera on her laptop. So she is filmed for her entire day, and her eye movements and keystrokes are monitored. She’s certainly not looking for another job after hours (I hope you can detect my sarcasm).

This reminds me of organisations that used to block social media websites at work (I really hope we’ve evolved enough that this is not still happening!) to ensure people were being productive. Many studies have been conducted showing that it actually had the opposite effect. People were now leaving their desks and taking longer breaks to use social on their phones.

This desire to control conjures up images of the organ grinder monkey – the monkey is just an extension of its leader with no power to exercise any individual thought or decision…

If you don’t trust your employees to get the job done, then why did you hire them in the first place? Trust, commitment, safety and wellbeing all starts with you, the leaders. If you’re not building a purpose and shared vision that your people can work towards, then you’re failing them, not the other way around.


It’s time to evolve.

Airbnb has recently announced that their employees can live and work from anywhere in the world. Forever. Companies are even designing four-day work weeks.

The world of business has changed and will continue to change. If you don’t adapt, you will die. All Covid did was fast-forward our adoption of remote working and technology enablement. This has been coming for a long time. Don’t be a part of the machine trying to fight it and revert to the old ways, just because that’s the ‘way we’ve always done it’.

That’s not to say that everyone is alike. Some people thrive in office environments. Others don’t have the space or facilities to enjoy a great remote environment. But I can tell you that the common thread is choice. Give them the flexibility to choose, by putting the systems and processes in place so that it makes sense for the business and gives value to the people in it.

The technology exists, there are tools and techniques and plenty of reference cases of businesses that are thriving in a fully-remote or hybrid format – you just have to be brave enough to try it. And guess what? Your employees are just as afraid of failure as you are. Why not fail, learn and grow together?

Speak to your people. Empathise with them. You’ll be a better leader and have a better business for it.

I’ll end with a quote from Mark Sham that I really love: “Someone was the last person to use a fax machine – don’t be that guy”

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