Face time—a relic from the past?

In the fourth industrial revolution – the era we are living in – leading successfully across generations and styles is vital to creating successful companies

Face time—a relic from the past?

Business Strategy


In the fourth industrial revolution – the era we are living in – leading successfully across generations and styles is vital to creating successful companies. HR processes and cultural norms that reflect this new era are the critical support structures that will facilitate leading successfully. Yet of the hundreds of executives we have interviewed for our recent book, The Leadership Mind Switch, face time is still too often emphasised as a “short-cut” measure of productivity.

In many ways, real human interaction is becoming more important than ever for companies to thrive, as we let automation remove many mundane tasks from our work life.  But the expectation that people sit at a desk, or even in an office 8 hours a day is counter-productive if you want the best people to work for you and with you.

Face time has two potential meanings here; one is about how much time an employee is seen in the office and the second is how much time employees get with their leader or manager in face-to-face meetings.  Then of course there is a third definition of facetime (Apple product for iphone and ipad) which can be a potential solution to solving for the woes of the other two meanings.

The first definition of face time – how much time an employee is seen in the office – is definitely the one most in need of a mind switch. As a HR leader, having a clear view on your companies’ stance on face time and being consistent on what it means to your culture is important to master, because conversations about how much people are sitting at their desks in an office can easily become the proverbial “third rail”and is huge de-motivator for your best talent.  It can also detract from conversations about more pressing issues. Seeing someone at a desk is a mental shortcut that used to be appropriate to judge hard work. It simply doesn’t apply anymore because technology developments and demographic changes have forever changed the way we need to lead.

Face time as a concept needs to be replaced by team time

As part of our research for The Leadership Mind Switch, we found that face time needs to go away as a concept that matters at leading companies. Considering how much an employee is seen must be replaced by a new concept of teamtime as the highest priority when leaders seek in-person interactions by their employees to get work done. 

Whether you allow remote workers or not, use robots or not, and have the best technology for communication or not, increasingly people need the flexibility to be productive in ways that bring out the best in them and keep them engaged.  Focusing on quality team time for your in-person time together, instead of sitting at desks pecking away at a keyboard, is going to separate the best leadership teams from the mediocre ones.  In contrast, “butts in seats” cultures and management styles will deter the best talent from working for your company. 

Workplace norms have shifted dramatically and behaviors need to follow

The primary differences we see in the workplace now that dictates our need to do away with face time as a concept are; 1) the power has shifted from employer to employee in the war for talent and 2) technology has allowed a mash-up of professional and personal life that demands a change in the way we think about the “hours we work”. 

The reason the power has shifted to employees in the era we live in is because the gig economy is real, being independent from any one company is a legitimate option for talented professionals, and as we move to a world where 50% of the workforce is millennials, the values they collectively hold do not align with historical workplace norms.

A robust 68 percent of job seekers who are millennials said an option to work remotely would greatly increase their interest in specific employers, according to a survey by AfterCollege, a career network for college students and recent grads.

That said, wanting your team to spend time in the same office as their colleagues is totally understandable.  The benefits from collaboration that come from physical proximity are hard to deny.  Our push for the mantra of “team time instead of face time” means a) setting aside quality blocks of dedicated team collaboration and b) dedicated time when you create together and problem-solve together replacing the many boring meetings that focus on information sharing.  It means setting metrics that bring out the best in people and truly reflect contribution to the end results, and using enterprise tools like slack and yammer, zoom and clearslide to share ideas and to loop in remote team members.

Navigating a mind switch on face time takes spirit

If your line managers are wired to want face-time from their teams, or don’t quite believe productivity is possible without it, sharing stories with them about companies that have been successful without traditional face time can help.  JetBlue in the US is a good example of a company allows its reservations staff to work from home. This is surely a factor in Jetblue being rated highly by its employees and ranking in the top 20 places to work by Forbes in 2015. But there are many other examples to select from that will be industry and geographically relevant to your company.

It takes guts to be the leader that says, “I don’t mind how you get your work done but the results I expect are… and this is how I am going to help you get there”.  But in the era we live in, we believe it is imperative to become that leader.  9 to 5 work days are a thing of the past with the always-on life that our devices allow us to lead. 

Worldwide, more than 50 percent of people who telecommute part-time said they wanted to increase their remote hours. Additionally, 79 percent of knowledge workers in a global survey by PGI said they work from home, and 60 percent of remote workers in the survey said that if they could, they would leave their current job for a full-time remote position at the same pay rate.

The key changes that we believe need to be explored by HR leaders to make a mind switch to a team time vs face time culture are: metrics that measure contribution instead of presence, exploration of technology gaps that might interfere with productivity (irrespective of where and when someone works) and management training that is consistent with the philosophy that your company has chosen around team time versus face time.

Kylie Wright-Ford is an operating executive, advisor and board member for growth companies in the US. Australian born and raised, and globally traveled, she has unique first-hand perspectives on leading across geographies, generations and styles. Her first book, The Leadership Mind Switch (McGraw Hill) is available now. Visit www.kyliewf.com for more details.

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