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Back in the day, it was an article of faith with me that I couldn’t work remotely from my teams and be an effective manager.  I relied on my ability to influence and cajole and evaluate in face-to-face interactions.  I rarely worked from home, because that would separate me from what was going on.  To me, it would have been like a football coach phoning in the plays, or a parent trying to teach a child to tie her shoes by describing it in an email.  I relied on the hallway conversation, the ability to walk to someone’s desk, to gather around the white board.

But slowly, life began to change.  Tools for remote teleconferencing gained traction and respectability.  Team members on video calls were actually recognizable.  As companies merged and reconfigured, the locations of employees began to pull away from a center office. Support in Salt Lake City; Development in Toronto; Marketing in San Jose; Sales in Phoenix…at any given time, I could be spanning the continent in a single meeting, not to mention the globe.  I still scheduled conference rooms for my meetings, but sometimes I was the only one there.

Then, pandemic.  Lockdowns. Everyone remote in one fell swoop.  Everyone adapting to a new way of working together.   Though the lockdown workday has sometimes been lonely, my overall experience has been a good one.  My colleagues and I had established a cohesive, collaborative culture that carried over into our remote interactions.  Absent the commutes and distractions of in-office work-life, we were more productive.  The myth of open offices being required for successful collaboration was pretty well busted.  We made better decisions, and we made them faster.  We had time to reflect between meetings instead of grabbing our laptops and rushing to the next conference room.   It seemed that perhaps there was an opportunity to build a new set of expectations when we were finally able to come out of our caves.

But old habits die hard.  Companies have an established set of expectations about what makes them successful, and as dramatic an upset as the pandemic has been, the drumbeat in some segments of the business world is calling us back to the past, to somehow recapture what we were before we found out we could do things differently.  In contrast, other companies are embracing this new opportunity, and creating a culture that supports flexibility and freedom from place.  Though there are many ways to respond to this challenge, there is little doubt that companies who approach this transition thoughtfully, with an eye to the future, while preserving the best of the past, will retain the best talent, and realize the greatest success.