Saturday, June 18, 2022
This week, Annie, and I spent a day looking at houses. We are thinking of moving to be closer to our children. We looked at old houses, new houses and in-between houses. We looked at big houses, little houses and in-between houses. We looked at close to town houses, away from town houses and a bit in-between houses. We looked at move-in-ready houses, gut-job houses, and in between houses. We looked at houses like the one we have now, totally different houses, and in-between houses. We looked at open floorplan houses, chopped-up floorplan houses, and in-between houses. And the one we ended up liking the most was the most unlike anything we expected to like.
It wasn’t in a location we liked. It wasn’t built in the 20’s like we like. It wasn’t in an old neighborhood like we like. It didn’t have a story like we like. It wasn’t particularly attractive like we (and most people) like. It was a house that 9 times out of 10, we’d drive right past. But it felt like a home … because it was built for people to gather in. And as much as I continued to think I wanted the house that was the most like the house I have now in the neighborhood like I live in now, I couldn’t stop thinking about the unattractive, needs everything, feels-like-a-home gathering place. I think that’s because we’re made to gather; we’re happier that way, especially when we have a reason for doing so.
And that’s the point for the week.
Human beings are social creatures. We were created to be together with other human beings – in tribes, in clans, in clubs, in families, in communities, on teams and any other collection of two or more of us in any one place with a reason for being there. We do so because we don’t care for being alone doing nothing for long. Even the more introverted among us like more to be left alone than to be alone; because we are not made for extended solitude.
That’s why cases of depression and worse skyrocketed during the last two years of remote school and work. Zoom was an awful substitute for gathering together. Two dimensional images of those we care about were poor and unacceptable substitutes for the real thing. And when the lack of contact was combined with a lack of direction things became even worse. Millions of listless, lonely workers was a recipe for disaster.
It’s that same lack of direction, I think, which is now creating the bulk of the mixed emotions which are surrounding the return to the office for so many. It’s not so much that people don’t want to return to the office ever … they do. They long to see and gather with those they love and care about. What they aren’t looking forward to, and in many cases outright refuse to tolerate, is a combination of the office with lack of direction. They are willing to tolerate the latter from home but not after dressing for the office then enduring a commute to get there. Plus, when there doesn’t seem to be any actual togetherness once they arrive, the whole thing feels like a giant case of bait and switch.
Those that will win the return to the office game are those who understand that human beings have both a need to gather and a need for purpose. People will gladly show up in the office if they understand why they need to be there and are likewise rewarded by regular and meaningful gatherings with those they’ve missed. What they won’t tolerate are the early stabs at a hybrid model that feels worse even than either remote work or the office of yore because those in charge decided to combine the worst of both together into one awful construct they decided would be best for themselves.
This isn’t about spoiled workers with too much Covid money. Nor should it be about companies waiting people out until the Biden economy gets even worse and their perceived leverage returns. It’s about neither of those things. It’s fundamentally about people wanting to be with people. It’s about people wanting a purpose. And it’s about people wanting direction. None of those things seem like they are too much to ask for. People will gather together on purpose, it’s just what they do. Giving them a purpose to stay, well, that’s just what leaders do.
So, gather with purpose.
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