CEOs are in a different world of work

The reason CEOs have a different opinion to employees about where and how we should be working is because they live in a completely different world of work to the rest of us.

So much so that it practically disqualifies them from having any valid opinion about the issue. And yet they happily bloviate away, stating that we must get back in the office for those ‘serendipitous moments’ that lead to innovation, so that we can stay connected to each other and so collaboration can happen. It’s a message that a majority of their employees are finding less than compelling.

This difference is highlighted by this slide that Matthew Moore shared with us at Drinking Dialogues on Tuesday. It’s a study Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria did of what CEOs spend their time on. It’s quite a small sample but the picture it paints rings true.

CEOs spend 72% of their time in meetings, the majority being an hour or less. 60% of their communication is face-to-face, only a 1/4 is electronic. About half of their time is spent in the HQ and the same amount outside. I don’t have the evidence but I suspect this pattern of working would be quite familiar to a CEO from the 1960s, apart from the email and the digital dashboards.

It’s likely that their direct reports, the rest of the C-suite, have a similar pattern. Of course they want everyone to be back in the office, where they are available for meetings at any time. Meetings are how they work.

However, that’s not how the majority of their employees work. They spend a large part of their time working alone, in front of a computer. The majority of their communication is electronic. Whereas meetings are HOW the C-suite do their work, for many employees they are a hindrance and a distraction. It’s worth noting that this pattern of working would be completely alien to an employee from the 1960s.

This disconnect has been apparent for some time and I’ve written about it before. It’s not surprising, it’s entirely understandable and explainable.

The question is how is the resulting tension going to get resolved?

Are CEOs going to continue to ignore it and impose their preferences, optimising their convenience but imposing an inefficiency overhead on the organisation?

Or are they going to recognise the problem and work with others to find solutions that meet the most needs of the most people? It will mean changing the way the organisation works for everyone, including themselves, and adopting more progressive working practices. In short, not just talking about ‘the future of work’ but embracing it enthusiastically.

Because let’s be clear, this is an issue for the CEOs to resolve. Whether they choose denial or acceptance will determine their fate and that of the organisations they currently lead.

How many of them are up to the challenge? How many are ready to move into the 21st century?

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