I’ve spoken to hundreds of people in the last little while, and they all say some variation of, “We tried to get people to come back to the office, but we’ve compromised and now work hybrid.” None of them sounded excited about it. Just for fun, I looked up the word compromise. Now I understand their unhappiness.

First, here’s a pretty common definition. According to Dictionary.com, compromise means:

  • NOUN- an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.
  • VERB- 1) settle a dispute by making concessions   2) accept standards that are lower than desirable

Compromising sounds less positive with that definition.

Let’s apply that thinking to working in hybrid teams. Apparently having flexible, hybrid working arrangements is either settling an argument by both sides giving something up (and apparently gaining nothing of value,) or reaching an agreement that isn’t perfect and might even be less successful than the alternatives.

Who enjoys a working situation that’s not as productive as it can (or needs to) be, and nobody feels like they’re gaining something? If you feel like you’ve lost something while getting a result that’s less than stellar, you’re not going to celebrate.

What if we looked at the opportunity to do hybrid work in a new way?

If we start with what we want, then hear what the other person wants, we likely start in a place of disagreement.  Let’s say the company’s Leadership wants everyone back in the office like in the Before Times. The employees might see some value in that, but prefer to either work remotely most of the time or at least have some flexibility in when and where they work. There’s a basic conflict here.

The challenge when we start with what we personally want is it becomes your wishes against someone else’s. When they align it’s fabulous; but when there’s a gap, it opens the door for things to get tense. We’ve already said what we wanted, and anything less might be perceived as a sacrifice.

The Endowment Effect is a term used for the concept that most people resent losing something more than they feel good about gaining it. If both sides feel like they are giving something up and not focusing on the positive outcome, you wind up with an unrewarding compromise. It’s an answer, but nobody’s happy.

If We’re Not Compromising, What ARE We Doing?

These discussions are much easier if we take personalities out of the conversation at the beginning. Instead of what WE want, how about we start with the work at hand. If we can agree on what MUST happen, it’s easier to find agreement in some places automatically while leaving the opportunity for candid, less confrontational discussions.

Try handling the conversation in this order:

  • What does the final outcome of the work look like? What HAS to happen?
  • If X and Y have to happen, what are the tasks and processes required to get those outcomes?
  • What jobs need to be done?
  • Who should do them? (and why)
  • Where should that work occur? (and why)
  • What is non-negotiable? (Think issues like regulations, collective bargaining agreements)
  • What is negotiable?  This conversation should involve “needs” versus “nice to haves.”
  • What can both sides gain that feel like a “win?”

By tackling the conversation in this way, you’re likely to reach more agreement than conflict.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

The latest book from Wayne and Kevin shows leaders how to design a team culture that has a one-team mindset and gets great results under hybrid-work conditions. You can order The Long-Distance Team: Designing Your Team for Everyone’s Success now.

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