Identify what matters most to shift the conversation from personal preferences to driving needs.

Companies around the world are debating the merits of remote work versus a return to the office as the coronavirus pandemic continues to change how and where we work.

This shift in work dynamics sets the stage for difficult conversations between managers and employees. In addition to the imperative to ensure worker health and safety, employers are striving to balance employee needs and wants versus the demands of the business in terms of workforce productivity, team collaboration and customer service levels.

To inform these conversations, Juice gathered employee perspectives on remote work versus a traditional office setting in our RU Better @ Home? survey, conducted July 2020, following the first wave of the pandemic. We asked people the following:

Working from home affects different people in different ways. What about you? How does working from home affect your decision-making skills, your creativity, your ability to focus, collaborate, engage, strategize and be productive?

RU better working from home?

Our respondents were mostly female (70%) and 70% were between 41-60 years old.

The upshot? 60% said they work better at home and 40% said they work better from the office. Here are the top 3 reasons each group cited:

60% - “I’m Better at Home”

  1. Less distractions from coworkers – able to give my undivided attention.
  2. Virtual tools make collaboration easy.
  3. No commute = less brain-drain so I have more energy for work.

40% - “I’m Better at the Office”

  1. I thrive on face-to-face conversations with my team.
  2. Face-to-face collaboration is easier than virtual.
  3. Too many distractions from family – easier to give undivided attention at the office.

To further understand employee sentiment around remote work versus a return to the office, we analyzed additional third-party surveys conducted in July and August 2020 (see sources below).

The short story: employee surveys indicate that:

  • Most people (83-88%) have some level of anxiety about returning to work: the obvious fear of catching or transmitting COVID-19.
  • Many (76%) have been enjoying the benefits of working from home
  • There seems to be a generally high level of trust: around 80% of respondents indicate that employers are taking all the right steps and precautions to keep people safe.
  • People are watching the number of new cases and are willing to take action to stay home if cases are increasing or high.
  • Many people are imagining a future where remote work is much more standard.
  • While people say they are satisfied and productive at home, 76% admit that face-to-face is important and preferred for both coworker and business relationships, so there is an acknowledgement of a tension there.

In sum, people have mixed feelings but are generally OK with returning to work as long as they feel their employer is going to take the right measures to keep them safe; trust is high but honest communication around these safety priorities is key. It also seems that some people are interested in exploring how remote work could be incorporated into the norm on an ongoing basis even beyond COVID-19, because of the benefits that it brings.

Understanding the Why: the Five Driving Needs

Understanding what people are saying about all this can be helpful; understanding why they’re saying it is pivotal. Identify the deeper motivation and you transform the office versus remote work conversation.

We’ve invested many years researching the why, asking thousands of people to identify the five things that matter most to them at work. Our research points to Five Driving Needs that are oxygen-like - biologically urgent – that drive decisions like the office versus remote work debate. When their driving needs are fulfilled, employees experience three things: energy, well-being and superior performance. When these needs are thwarted, they experience depletion, ill-being and poor performance – regardless of how many personal preferences you fulfill.

Understand how these five needs drive the remote work or back to the office conversation, and you can sidestep the pain of unnecessary resistance, unintelligent compromises, blind-siding surprises, or coming off as clueless and insensitive.

5 Partnering Questions to Co-Create Innovative Solutions

What follows are key comments from the RU Better @ Home survey. Each is like a string that is attached to a deeper driving need. Identify the deeper driving need and you can ask a partnering question that can help you synthesize the competing needs and co-create an innovative solution. This is the challenge and the gift COVID is offering us: the need and opportunity to synthesize the needs of the employee with the needs of the team, the customer and the manager.

1. I’m better at home because:

“I get less distractions from my coworkers.”

“I can dictate my own schedule.”

“I don’t have to think about what to wear, prepping lunch or getting up early to drive to work.”

“I prefer the comfort and convenience of working from my home office.”

When you hear comments about less distractions, more decision-making latitude, a hassle-free lifestyle and increased convenience it’s your cue to tug on those strings and see if they lead to a need for Freedom. Freedom involves autonomy, agency, adventure, opportunity to take risks, the leeway to prove oneself, and the right to choose.

If you find out freedom is the primary driver, are you caught – expected to give in to the employee’s request to work from home and not return to the office? Of course not.

Partnering Question: “How might we increase the office/home quotient and still have you experiencing less distractions, more schedule control, relaxed wardrobe choices and increased convenience?”

2. I’m better at home because:

“My work requires focused collaboration, which is much easier to do from home.”

A comment about collaboration is often a string attached to the deeper driving need for Belonging. Belonging includes human connection, relatedness, inclusion, feeling part of the tribe, close relationships and kinship.

Partnering Question: “How might you and I create a blend of virtual collaboration and the accidental collaborations that are facilitated by bumping into each other at the office?”

3. I’m better at home because:

“During this pandemic, I feel safer from home.”

No mystery here. This comment explicitly points to a need for security. Security entails predictability, order, clarity, consistency, dependable structure, effective systems, fair play, equality and clear expectations.

Partnering Question: “What are the protocols that will give you peace of mind while upholding the team’s need for connection, freedom and progress?”

4. I’m better at home because:

“I’m eating healthier. I’m able to use commute time much more productively; exercising, walking and gardening.”

“Not having to commute means less brain-drain so I have more energy for work.”

“Not driving 2 hours/day has decreased my stress level immensely. I’m much healthier now.”

Comments about well-being, values alignment, energy and health are often clues that lead to the deeper driving need for Significance. Significance means achievement, competence, mastery, progress, performance, capability, self-esteem, differentiation from the status quo, being valued and respected, reputation and legacy.

Partnering Question: “How might we work together to create an environment where healthy eating choices, walking and gardening are the norm? And how might we co-author a schedule of non-commute days and commute days that create a healthy blend of team connection and reduced commute stress?”

5. I’m better at home because:

“I can take 5 minutes away from my screen without feeling guilty.”

“I can accommodate my kids at home.”

Comments about guilt-free work, contribution and making a difference are strings that can lead you to the deeper driving need of Meaning. Meaning includes purpose, contributing to a cause, seeking justice, pursuing the greater good, making a difference, and altruism.

Partnering Question: “How might you and I co-create a work experience where the habit of taking screen breaks and caring for your kids’ needs is not only invited but expected and rewarded?”

Finally, a Few Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do be knowledgeable about and prepared to respond to work refusal and requests for special concessions.
  • Don’t say “yes” to anything without exploring the implications.
  • Do identify the true sticking point – the felt need that’s driving the person’s decisions.
  • Don’t even think of making it about your need to track peoples’ activity levels.
  • Do be comfortable saying, “I need to check on that and get back to you.”
  • Don’t allow yourself to get triggered by emotional comments & reactions.


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Back to the Office Conversation Part Two - Leaders: Build the Frame

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