Lead your team’s office return by ‘managing up’

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It’s interesting to see which FT articles spark the most interest and comments from readers, and in recent one months of the hottest topics has been the new dress codes at work. What are we meant to wear now?

Uncertainty in any area of ​​our lives has us racing to find definitive guidance, and clothing is no different. Plus it’s excruciatingly visible when we get things wrong. I am still blushing about once turning up in a ballgown, with my partner in a tuxedo, to a fancy-sounding event that turned out to be “smart casual.”

It’s fascinating to see the new era of workwear emerging as we return to the office or attend live events. I recently hosted my first post-pandemic networking event for the FT Women in Business Forum, and almost everyone was dressed in loose dresses or casual pantsuits — and wore sneakers. I counted the numbers wearing heels on one hand.

My colleague Pilita Clark captured the real-time evolution of workwear — and how much we are influenced by others — in a column about a three-day conference she chaired. On day one, many men turned up in suits (if not ties). By day two, Pilita reports: “The founder of a corporate intelligence outfit had discarded the navy Ralph Lauren suit, the Salvatore Ferragamo pink silk tie and the Church’s leather shoes he had worn on day one. Instead he arrived in a knitted top, jeans and trainers.”

We’re about to record an episode of the Working It podcast to help unpick and navigate the new dress codes. If there’s a question you want answered, or your company has taken a novel approach — drop us a line at workingit@ft.com.

My only definite rule? I save elasticated waists for WFH days. It feels more professional to be buttoned up in the office — there’s even evidence it can help you perform better.

Join us on June 8 at the FT Future of Work: Redefining Company Culture digital conference. Listen in on senior leaders and workplace transformation experts as they discuss how to create an inclusive company culture that places employee wellbeing at the heart of business strategies. Register here and claim 10 per cent off your pass with code: FTWorkingIt.

How to craft the best return-to-work policy

© FT montage / Getty / Dreamstime

If you manage a team at a company that’s announced a strict return-to-office mandate, you’ve likely found yourself trying to navigate between leaders’ expectations and the actual needs of your reports.

Nearly three in four managers don’t feel empowered to influence company decisions that affect their team, according to a Microsoft survey of more than 31,000 people worldwide. But it’s worth making a good-faith effort to win over the executives. It could be as easy as making sure that you frame your argument correctly.

When you approach senior leadership about a proposed return-to-work policy, “frame it as a collaboration, that you’re in this together,” advises Megan Gerhardt, professor of management and leadership at Miami University. Ask your boss to help you understand what a successful policy would look like, and to define what the metric for that success is. “Suddenly, you’re helping senior leadership clarify that for themselves as well,” says Megan.

Make sure you define your terms (is senior leadership using “flexibility” in the same way that employees are talking about “flexibility”?) and identify any assumptions that are being made (is the policy driven by an assumption that an engaged culture only happens in person?). Ask your boss if you can investigate those assumptions and report back. Getting approval from leadership to gather data — as well as getting the data itself in the form of input from your team — gets both involved in the decision-making parties, and therefore more likely to accept the outcome.

In a follow up conversation, present your findings. Maybe you have anecdotal evidence from your team that cutting out commuting time has increased productivity. Think about what your leadership’s priorities are, and frame your data around that. Underline the impact on the customer and the business, and reinforce the point that what’s best for the team is ultimately best for the customer. Show examples of what your competitors are doing. Consider connecting this policy to the mission or purpose of your company. And if retention and hiring are concerned, point out the benefits of employee happiness and loyalty, and of being able to hire people from anywhere.

With a solid pitch, you very well may be able to lead your workplace toward a hybrid policy that both employees and leadership are happy with. (Sophia Smith)

If your company has instituted a return-to-work policy, how do you feel about it? Let us know in this week’s poll.

Listen In: Business travel returns

This week on the Working It podcast, we talked about the future of business travel. More precisely, why should we fly to a conference or meeting when we know there’s a climate emergency? My colleague Pilita Clark talks about “flight shame” — from the Swedish word “flygskam” — and how that is starting to shape corporate decisions around travel.

While remote conferencing is here to stay, people still want to travel to be with other people. Evan Konwiser from American Express Global Business Travel is watching work trip trends closely — such as choosing interesting places to stay rather than bland conference hotels, and booking off-site activities like cooking classes or escape rooms.

Evan mentions Salesforce’s new Trailblazer ranch, where staff can meet and do outdoorsy activities together. We only touch on it briefly in the podcast, but this sort of shared holiday-like experience (known as “bleisure”) is on the rise, and where Salesforce leads, others will follow.

Next week it’s a salary special, featuring tips and ideas to help beat cost of living rises and boost your take home pay, featuring FT Money Clinic host Claer Barrett. . . and a man who got a 36 per cent pay rise tells us how he did it.

Elsewhere in the world of work:

  1. Networking for a hybrid era: Do you remember how to make small talk? Formal work events have started to reappear. Extroverts are excited to dive back in, but others are feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated.

  2. Embracing wellness: Wellbeing perks, once fringe benefits, are considered becoming integrated into company operations in effort to better tackle the structural causes of stress and burnout — and to retain workers.

  3. Have a biscuit: No matter how well organised, the to-do list can feel oppressive. Instead, opt for marking already-completed tasks with a sweet treat or a “have done” list. Or, as columnist Miranda Green prefers: both.

  4. Ukrainian workers are pivoting: In Ukraine, factories are closed, offices shuttered, and millions have fled. But some young entrepreneurs and professionals have stayed close to home, pivoting their skills toward war efforts.

Last week, we asked you whether or not you thought companies should take a stance on social issues.

Graeme Charters, a senior partner at City Actuaries, thinks companies definitely should:

I think the simple answer is “Yes”. The reason is that I believe companies are corporate citizens and have the same or similar responsibilities to private citizens.

I think the responsibility derives from limited liability. Society grants companies the huge, huge privilege of limited liability which allows so many things to happen within a corporate structure that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. In turn, companies have a responsibility to act as a citizen and contribute to Society.

In addition, if the company is quoted or, more pertinently, owned by savings institutions, then they have the additional responsibility of being mindful of the interests of the underlying stakeholders, pensioners and other savers.

And FT commenter “covertaction” points out that companies are in a tricky spot, whether they speak up or not:

As the seismic shifts in law continues, corporate liabilities will only increase. I mean, look at the fall out for Disney over a small matter. Goodness only knows what will happen here. This is a radical reshaping of American laws. Any company terrified of what that means, is correct to be scared.

And let us know . . .

We are preparing an episode of the Working It podcast about the role of HR in a post-pandemic workplace. Do you think that the scope and function of HR departments need a big shake up? Or has the more “caring” side of the job — the human in human resources — found itself a new purpose in the pandemic, one that’s here to stay? We want to hear your thoughts and experiences: workingit@ft.com.

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