Dangerous Judgment Errors Blocking Innovation Best Practices in the Future of Work
Numerous leaders fail to adopt innovative best practices for the future of work because of dangerous judgment errors called cognitive biases. These mental blindspots often lead to wishful thinking and result in poor strategic and financial decisions when evaluating options. They render leaders unable to resist following their gut and personal preferences instead of relying on best practices on returning to the office.
Many want to turn the clock to January 2020 and return to the world before the pandemic. They fall for the status quo bias, a desire to maintain or get back what they see as the appropriate situation and way of doing things. Their minds flinch away from accepting the major disruption stemming from the pandemic to the status quo, whether regarding innovation or other areas of work.
Unfortunately for them, with so many people having successfully worked from home for so long, the genie is out of the bottle. Surveys show the vast majority adapted to it well and want to continue doing so for half the work week or more after the pandemic. The disruption happened. Yet many leaders continue to perceive any work from home as a “purely negative” situation, in the words of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
Another major cognitive bias, the normalcy bias, causes our minds to undercount the probability and consequences of disruptive events. Because of this perilous judgment error, we significantly underestimate major challenges such as the Delta surge.
Indeed, it was already clear that US Delta cases were starting to rise in early June. There was also clear evidence that countries with high vaccination rates, like the United Kingdom and Israel, were experiencing a surge in cases in May.
It’s not simply the Delta spike but the implications of Delta for our future. New variants are appearing regularly that seem even more dangerous than Delta. For example, Delta Plus is a newer variant that, compared to Delta, contains a mutation that makes it easier for the virus to escape our immune system and thus undercuts vaccine efficacy. It’s already in the US and many other countries.
While leaders would like to think they are making data-driven decisions, they have obviously ignored the data. And they’re unable to say that they weren’t warned about the rising COVID infections. Even while being aware of the increasing danger, they are still pushing for a return to the traditional office setup.
Though the Delta variant may be a short-term issue, it comes with multiple similar scenarios as part of the long tail risk of new waves due to other variants. Research on why Boards of Directors fire CEOs shows denying such negative reality as one of the top reasons. This denial is due to another cognitive bias called the ostrich effect. It is based on the mythical notion of ostriches burying their heads in the sand when facing danger.
The planning fallacy is another blindspot that causes havoc. It prods leaders into setting optimistic yet unrealistic plans – on returning to the office along with other areas – and resist changing these decisions despite new evidence proving them wrong. After all, reversing a decision suggests that you were wrong, to begin with. Weak leaders habitually refuse to own their mistakes and ignore the need to alter plans. By contrast, strong leaders show courage when new evidence shows a necessity to redirect.
Defeating cognitive biases to return to office successfully and thrive in the future of work requires the use of research-based best practices. It means a mainly hybrid model of one to two days in-office while permitting most employees to work remotely as needed. A substantial minority of employees should work full-time remotely if they are reliable and productive. That setup helps facilitate an easy way to shift to full-time work from home for all staff if the need arises, such as during a variant surge, by creating a culture and systems and processes that facilitate remote work. This best-practice setup will translate to diverse benefits: optimization of innovation and collaboration, retention of top talent, and the creation of flexible company culture, systems, and processes.
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