Great reset? More like Fake Reset: Leaders need a reality check if they think their best staff will give up hybrid work

Fortune favours the flexible in the new normal


Column During the first and second waves of the pandemic, a certain cohort of my more paranoid friends grew increasingly alarmed at a thought balloon floated by the World Economic Forum – the billionaires' club that used to meet annually in Davos.

"The Great Reset" recast the massive economic dislocations produced by endless lockdowns as a chance to rethink and rebuild the world's economic foundations along more sustainable and equitable lines.

If that proposal seems a bit rich – coming as it does from the world's richest and most powerful – it felt positively predatory to these friends of mine. They immediately began to propose nightmare scenarios where all existing money loses its value, replaced by some centrally issued and controlled digital currencies – something that would look like a mechanism to ensure greater equity, but would quickly be revealed as an overarching instrument of control.

As with all of the good intentions that come out of the World Economic Forum, The Great Reset came to nothing. Instead, as the pandemic receded – temporarily, it would appear – we have been left stranded on the same stretch of coastline as before, with all of the same questions about sustainability and equity, only amplified by an additional set of worries about resilience and safety. Our prospects alternate between a hyper-charged Roaring Twenties and a brittle sense of permanent vulnerability.

Is it any surprise that so many long for a return to a pre-COVID normal – a time when they could reasonably expect each day to be much like the day before?

From my experience, it seems that the more you benefited from the world that was, the more likely you are to yearn for its return. In multiple conversations with C-suite executives, I've been shocked to hear them say they expect everything to soon return to the last normal they ever knew: February 2020.

We can see this tug-of-war between wishes and reality playing out across the technology workforce. Bosses demand workers dutifully return to their offices, during defined hours, for defined roles. Workers resist, working when they can from wherever they can, shifting to a focus on outcomes rather than output. Managers wants the levers of control back to their pre-pandemic settings, while the managed recognise that as a mirage – a fantasy of control – and get on with it.

Should the bosses press this point too far, they'll learn that their staffers would rather quit than fight for their right to hybrid work. Enough leaders at enough firms have got the memo that things have changed to present alluring opportunities for all the talented folks who simply can't be bothered operating their lives along lines that the pandemic has made redundant.

The talent migration already under way will reinforce this trend. The firms clinging to the past endure repeated raids that denude them of their best, most talent individuals. They'll progressively be hollowed out, while a new generation of firms – those that have embraced the maxim Fortune Favours the Flexible – amplify their capacities to innovate, adapt, and grow.

The Real Reset isn't something mandated by a cohort of cloud-dwelling billionaires. It's created by the individual decisions of millions of people who know their futures depend on leveraging the flexibility that is the one silver lining in this whole long horror show of COVID-19, and hitch their wagons to that star. Leaders who bury their heads in the sand, wishing for a world of work that can never return, will be left behind, defenceless before the next wave. ®

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