"Rethinking the workplace" beside a set of markers

Rethinking the Workplace

We are inundated about what is not working. I get it. I see it, hear it, and feel it. I’m getting really curious about what IS working. How do we create more sustainable, equitable, and human workplaces? I’ve been listening carefully to friends, clients, colleagues, thinkers, researchers, and others. This is my early attempt to aggregate some of the lessons, recommendations, and experiences people have had that they most appreciate. I’ve organized this from the broadest to the most practical; mindsets, approaches, and strategies to consider.

What would you add? What do you think? Share in the comments, email me via the contact form at the bottom of the page, or reach out via social media.


  • Care about them as people, not just employees.
  • Express genuine respect, care, and compassion. These are not feelings. These are actions.
  • Progress over perfection. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Listen, try things, learn, make adjustments, and repeat.
  • Lead for innovation. Linda Hill discussed the differences in management, leading for change, and leading for innovation. Leading for innovation is when you don’t know where you are going, when things are uncertain, and you need to co-create the destination together based on your shared purpose. Leading for innovation is not about individuals having aha moments, it is about collaborative thinking and discovery-driven learning. Four keys:
    1. Collaborate – brings in DEI work
    2. Learn together
      • What do we need to learn?
      • How fast can we learn what the impact is?
    3. Experiment
    4. Adapt & pivot
  • “Instead of take control and gain followers, give control and create leaders.” This is from the animated video below of a talk from a former submarine commander about a radical new approach he took to leading. A friend working in IT shared that this was the approach their leadership was taking and it was showing lots of early promise.


  • Ask, how are we going to create something better? Stop talking about going back to normal. Normal wasn’t working for everyone.
  • Communicate explicitly and repeatedly. Listen more than you pontificate or declare. Ask questions and listen.
    • One person shared that her company does a monthly survey of how employees are doing and asks for suggestions to improve the workplace. Initially, they didn’t get many responses. But now that they include in their monthly staff meetings and update on how folks are doing and quickly summarize the suggestions and what they are putting into action, the employees are taking the monthly survey very seriously and generating ideas and changing their minds.
  • Allow flexibility based on role, circumstance, and the person. Avoid blanket decisions and decrees. Give employees more flexibility. Give managers more flexibility to give employees flexibility. You don’t build trust by always knowing, being right, or not making mistakes. You build trust through vulnerability.
  • Don’t universalize your own experience.
  • Be aware of the power dynamics and identity differences in experience and needs. Who wants to be in the office? Who feels more heard, connected, and trusted in person? Who does not?
    • Acknowledge that racism, classism, sexism, and more oppressive dynamics are of course, at play. Get curious about how they are at play and address them. Repeat.
    • Recognize the dynamics at play for people beyond the workplace.
    • Create affinity groups.
    • Audit and offer equal play. Post the salary.
  • Both/and. There won’t be a clear-cut answer. Different people want different things. The same people want different things at different times and in different circumstances. How can you design something that offers the both/and and doesn’t force an either/or?
  • Relationships are critical. People want connection, meaning, and belonging. Some may be able to build relationships via virtual means, others not be able to build but may be able to maintain existing relationships, and others may need in-person to feel connected.
  • Integrate an understanding of trauma into your work. People are navigating trauma – it may be their own, their families, their peers, their clients/students, or all of the above. Trauma-informed, trauma-responsive, and trauma stewardship approaches are necessary.
  • Focus on how to help employees work better, rather than longer and more. Reward goal completion rather than hours on task or in the office.
  • Seek broad input but do it quickly.
    • Get broad input quickly (survey, representative committee, open forum, anonymous submissions) and keep these ongoing.
    • No one wants decisions made from on high that are not informed by people’s experiences, challenges, and requests.
    • No one wants an 18-month task force when they are struggling right now.

Strategies to Consider

  • Rethink work hours. Consider:
    • No emails, calls, or texts beyond work hours unless it is an emergency.
    • Reduce “regular office hours” to 10am – 3pm
    • If off-hours are necessary, offer overlapping shifts. Offer time back, overtime, or other acknowledgment of time beyond basic expectations.
    • When people request sick time, approve it, and ask how they are doing and if they need anything. Help them however you can. Allow leaves of absence.
    • Offer four 10-hour days regularly, over the summer, or at other times. Or just offer 4-day work weeks without the 10-hour days, which some have used to increase productivity.
    • This study found that the 3-2 hybrid vs. 5-days in office was the sweet spot for results.
      • Lowering quits by 35%
      • Raising employee satisfaction
      • Had no negative effect on performance or promotions
  • Rethink meetings. Consider:
    • The #1 and #2 requests people make when I ask them to reconsider how they work are fewer meetings and fewer emails. Meetings and emails are how we communicate in the work environment. We need better communication, not more, and certainly not when the tool does not match the purpose. Meetings are for thinking together. Emails are for sharing information.
    • Expect 30-minute meetings to conclude at the 25-minute mark and 60-minute meetings at the 50-minute mark.
    • A key lesson for me after stepping away from a campus-based higher education role is; I don’t know why you meet as often as you meet, as long as you meet, with as many people as you meet.
    • Cancel more meetings. Uninvite more people. I mean it. Every leader I know feels terrible about canceling meetings. They don’t want people to feel they aren’t important, a priority, input isn’t valued, and more. Every person I know loves it when their boss cancels a meeting. Cancel more meetings.
    • Avoid default meetings. Don’t just meet because it’s on the schedule. Don’t just invite people because they were invited last time.
  • Based on their research of hundreds of companies, Donald and Charles Sull make these 4 recommendations:
    1. Provide opportunities for lateral job moves
      • This allows for learning and growth without the stress and pressure of a promotion.
    2. Offer remote work options
      • About 60% of workers are primarily onsite. These are generally lower educated employees.
      • 30-35% are hybrid, often with three days in the office, often Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This schedule is also supported by this study of one company that found this schedule: 1) Lowers quits by 35% 2) Raises employee satisfaction 3) Has no negative effect on performance or promotions
      • 15% are fully remote
    3. Social engagements
    4. Predictable schedule
  • Devote meeting check-ins and time to asking and listening to people’s well-being.
  • Offer resources for work from home. Money or equipment from the office can be taken home: computer, second screen, quality chair, standing desk, office supplies, meditation app membership, etc.
  • Don’t confuse poorly facilitated, led, and managed virtual meetings and events convince you that virtual can’t be done well. Virtual engagement isn’t the best solution for everything or everyone, but the tools can be an asset, not a liability, when well executed. Here is a resource for improving virtual engagement.
  • Ask people what would make this a better and healthier work experience.
    • Have individuals generate 5-10 ideas on their own.
    • Have small teams share their ideas and identify their top 5 priorities. Collect them all.
    • Go to work making these ideas happen. Report back on progress and explain why something may take the time or may not seem possible at this point. Invite problem-solving to make them happen.
    • Repeat.
  • Find the rules created to solve a unique problem, person, or outdated circumstance and get rid of them. Replace with guidelines and suggestions.
  • Role model.
    • Not working past work hours unless an emergency.
    • Taking vacation.
    • Not being available all the time.
    • Using sick time. Not working. Using sick time for mental health.
    • Engaging in substantive self-care.
    • Candid communication – share your humanity, family, failures, learning, and that you too are a work in progress.
  • For supervisors (most of us are), ask:
    • How are you doing, really?
    • How can I support you?
    • What are you learning?
    • When are you going to take time away?
    • What helps you rest, recover, and rejuvenate?
  • For supervisees (most of us are), engage. Don’t be passive about how you experience about 1/3 of your life. Ask questions. Offer suggestions. Provide feedback. Not all organizations and supervisors are as open as we would like. We all have different levels of risk for many different reasons. If you feel like you can contribute to making this better – do so. Make things better for yourself and for those who don’t feel that they can.
  • Cut back to thriving rather than cutting back to surviving. It may be tempting to cut back to “survival mode” to address burnout, but it doesn’t work. It just takes away meaning and purpose. Set priorities & cut back the nonsense and busywork, so folks can focus on things that matter, make a difference, & connect them to others so they can thrive.
  • Practice essentialism.
    • Ask, what could you or your organization stop doing or spend a lot less time, money, and effort doing? How could you do less, so you could be more? – for customers, clients, students, each other, etc.
    • Reduce the nonsense, busywork, bureaucracies, and hoops.
    • Have individuals generate 5-10 ideas on their own.
    • Less is more.
    • Have small teams share their ideas and identify their top 5 priorities. Collect them all.
    • Go to work essentializing. Report back on progress and explain why something may take the time or may not seem possible at this point. Invite problem-solving to make them happen.
    • Repeat.


Brené Brown interviews Donald and Charlie Sull on attrition, toxic workplaces, and recommendations.

Brené Brown interviews Linda Hill about how to lead for innovation.

Vox’s Series: Work Is Broken. Can We Fix It?

Reasons Great Employees Stay

What One University Learned About Pandemic Trauma and Its Work Force

Right Now, Your Best Employees Are Eyeing the Exits

Podcast I hosted on Workplace Culture, Humanity, and Innovation in higher education.

Out of Office

What Would You Add?

What would you add? What do you think? Share in the comments, email me via the contact form at the bottom of the page, or reach out via social media.

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