Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps executives drive collaboration, innovation, and retention in hybrid work. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He is the best-selling author of 7 books, including Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles in prominent venues such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and USA Today. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State.
What happens when leaders don’t want to change in a world that’s constantly changing? It leads to bad decisions with painful ramifications on the business, its employees, and the economy. Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is working to put things right. In this insightful conversation with Frank Cottle, Dr. Tsipursky reveals the judgments that lead to bad (and good) decision making, the dangers of proximity bias in the workplace, and how to adapt in an ever-changing world.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:00:00] What happens is that leaders often don’t want to change. What I really don’t like to see is leaders making bad decisions and then their employees suffering and their communities suffering and the economy suffering. So, I’m passionate about helping leaders make better decisions as we move into the future because my expertise is in decision making, looking at the future and how we make decisions when the situation changes.
Frank D Cottle [00:00:49] Greetings and welcome to the Future of Work Podcast. Today I’m quite excited about our guest as the CEO of a future of work consultancy: Disaster Avoidance Experts – Dr. Gleb helps executives drive collaboration, innovation and retention in hybrid work. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies, from Aflac to Xerox, and over 15 years in academia. As a behavioral scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State is cutting edge. Thought leadership has been featured in over 650 articles in prominent venues such as the Harvard Business Review, Fortune and USA Today. He is also a bestselling author of seven books, including Leading Hybrid Remote Teams, A Manual on Benchmarking the Best Practices and a Competitive Industry. Dr. Gleb, thank you very much for joining us today on the Future of Work podcast.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:01:48] I appreciate you inviting me, Frank.
Frank D Cottle [00:01:50] No my pleasure. I know we had a little chat beforehand, and I’m very excited for some of the insights that I know you can share. There will be quite a bit of material for our audience. But tell me before we start. What’s kept you after all these years? Consulting articles, books, everything that you’ve done so vitally interested in the future of work? What keeps you going?
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:02:17] What keeps me going is that it’s changing. And what happens is that leaders often don’t want to change. They’re very comfortable with the warrior they are. And so, what I really don’t like to see is leaders making bad decisions and then their employees suffering and their community suffering and the economy suffering. So, I’m really passionate about helping leaders make better decisions as we move into the future of work. Because it’s always changing. Right now, we’re having hybrid remote work on those. In five years, maybe I’ll have virtual reality work at home. I will be at the cutting edge of that because my expertise is in decision making, looking at the future and how we make decisions when the situation changes. So that’s what I’m passionate about.
Frank D Cottle [00:03:09] Well, you know, it’s funny because since about 2017 or. Early in 18. We’ve been forecasting the. Virtual Reality Office instead of just the virtual office and so on. Many ideas on how that can physically function in the future at work, not necessarily with the metal view, but with our own perspective. So that’s a whole other topic we can get into. But you said something interesting. Helping executives to not make bad decisions. How do you do that? What kind of bad decisions are they making related to hybrid and remote work that you see? And how do you turn that around as a form of intellectual force publishing and seeing things? But how do you do it practically?
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:04:06] So the first thing to realize is why people in general make decisions. Executives are people and people make bad decisions, especially in new situations. So just want to realize that first. Why do people make bad decisions in new situations especially? And so, what we have as people is unfortunately a set of dangerous judgment errors in our mind called cognitive biases. So, these cognitive biases that are just part of our wiring, it’s how our brain is structured. And that’s because it comes from an evolutionary background. We weren’t wired for the modern environment, you know, being in Zoom’s little screens, connecting to each other. We were wired for the savanna environment when we lived in a small tribe of 50 to 150 people. And that’s what we’re wired for. And so, as a result, we make bad judgment errors in the modern world. One of the biggest ones that caused leaders to just make decisions about the future of work in all sorts of situations, including hybrid. Remote work is called status quo bias. So, status quo bias is where we have a predisposition toward what we see as the status quo, regardless of whether it’s good for us or our company or our team. We have a predisposition toward what we’re comfortable with, what we like in the environment. That was a good thing because of the situation changed and instead of an environment that was likely a bad thing. We needed to have an intuition to go back to the status quo and to not rock the boat. But in the modern environment, things change quickly, whether it’s the pandemic coming out or the fight with fiscal crisis, inflation, supply chain issues, or hybrid, remote work. The situation changes. We need to change with it. Or the status quo bias prevents us from making the changes we need to do.
Frank D Cottle [00:06:07] You know, your comment on the status quo virus that brings to mind an old what do they say, the seven most deadly words in business. Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:06:22] Mm hmm.
Frank D Cottle [00:06:23] That that really has historically been the difference between companies that were comfortable and disruptors. Overall. So, I think that that’s not just at a management level or on an executive level, but it’s an entire company’s level culturally. And one of my favorites to come comes from a whole World War Two general that says, you know, once you see the eyes of the enemy of strategy changes. So, if you look at your status quo structure, you’re talking about the way we’ve always done it. But then when you look into the future whether you see that as an enemy or an ally, your strategy does have to change. Absolutely. Yes. So, when you mentioned proximity bias, I think we all understand your example of the tribe in the savanna and the importance of the relationships within it. But how do you relate that to a global or a multinational company today? Well, I’ll use our own company as an example. I don’t see people that I work with every day, but once a year or every other year, they’re a whole nether company, a whole country and a whole nether continent. Sometimes it’ll be a year or two years between the time that we’re personally together, but we have to get stuff done every day. So how do you overcome proximity bias? When you have a global organization or a multinational organization where you can’t have the proximity no matter what?
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:08:17] Well, what I definitely see, and a number of my clients are Fortune 500 companies that are global companies. And there is certainly a desire among managers, among the leaders to have people go back to the office because that’s what they’re comfortable with. So, for think about that status quo bias. It’s about a feeling of comfort, what we feel good about. That’s the way we’ve always done it. Right. Like you said yourself, and the fact that you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean that you should keep doing it that way. But many leaders feel very uncomfortable leading in a remote setting, letting on a hybrid setting. So, they want everyone to go back to the office because they know how to lead in that way. So, in 2019, let’s say a Fortune 200 company, one of those is high tech manufacturing, one that’s a client of mine in January 2019 and January 2020 and January 2019. They leaders knew how to lead everyone most certainly distributed to some people in San Francisco, some people in Singapore, some people in Dublin. But they knew where everyone was leading. They knew how everyone was leading, but they don’t know how to lead in a remote setting. Leaders are uncomfortable with that. And that’s the reason why they’re driving people to the office. And what they need to realize is that in order to have a competitive advantage for the future, they can’t see hybrid and remote work as a loss. That’s what they’re saying as a loss, as a problem to solve. Instead, they need to see it as a disruption, and therefore, they need to take advantage of this opportunity to disrupt the status quo. Because in the war for talent and talent is unquestionably the thing that will determine the future of you come from.
Frank D Cottle [00:10:15] Where the war is being fought. Yes, absolutely.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:10:17] That’s right. So, in the war for talent, if you don’t offer flexibility, you have to offer much higher salaries. And that’s a bad situation for you. You’re going to lose the war for talent if you have to pay much more for the same quality of talent. And so, leaders could see the situation as a disruption and take advantage of this opportunity to learn how to lead in the hybrid remote setting. And I talk about that in my book, Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams as the lead in the hybrid and remote setting. Those are the leaders who will succeed, whether they are the leaders of a Fortune 500 multinational company or the leaders of a ten-person company or a 200-person company or 1000-person company, small business, middle market, large companies. It doesn’t matter. You need to gain the skills of being a hybrid leader. And if you don’t, you’re not going to survive and thrive in the world of tomorrow.
Frank D Cottle [00:11:22] Well, you know, it’s interesting. The difference. You’re using a variety of terms. The ones you’re using most commonly are hybrid and remote. Those are terms that most people are familiar with. But another term that you used was distributed. Mm hmm. And one of the things that we’re seeing, and I think this may be as a historical perspective, you’ve heard the saying, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Right. We’ve all heard that since we were little kids. That really is saying there’s safety and distribution. There’s safety in having things structured for this. Have you heard of distributed supply chain networks? You’ve heard of military strategies that have to do with distributing the troops into different formations, etc. So, all these things, the concept of working with distributed groups is not new. It’s. Thousands of years old. How do we get the executives that you’re talking about today? Small, medium and large, 10 to 10000 or ten, 200,000 for that matter. How do we get them to think in their comfort zone? That remote work is not much different than distributed work. One difference might only be that it’s the difference between an individual remote worker and a group used in distributed work. Is there any context there that you can bring forth?
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:13:07] What I think is really important for leaders to realize is that they really should not centralize decision making. So, talking about distribution, right? I would like to talk about decentralization. So, when you think about decentralizing power, the people who should be making decisions about how workers should work shouldn’t be the CEO at the top saying come in every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Right. That is the approach some companies are taking. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are days in the office. But do their CEOs really know what is going to be best for each specific individual team? Of course, the different teams can function best in different contexts, whether they spend their all of their time working in the remote setting, whether they spend their time all the time in the office, or they spend one day in the office or two or three days in office. What you really need to do is push down the decision making to the lowest possible middle so the level of each individual team. So have the teamwork with each individual team leader. So, the team leader works with their team of the rank-and-file team six and 6 to 8 people. And they should make the decision for what works best for them because they know their needs. And so that’s how I strongly encourage leaders to make decisions, to push down power, to decentralize, because they are not the ones who know what is best for each individual team.
Frank D Cottle [00:14:44] Well, you know, it’s funny, in our company, we give everybody that we hire. Hopefully we’re winning the talent war, but everybody that we hire, we give a little introductory presentation. And I’m usually part of that presentation and explain to everybody from the entry-level intern up to a senior person that the one thing we will fire somebody for is not making their own decisions. Hmm. Very important. Not just at the team level, but at the individual level. But everyone in a company, if it’s going to progress aggressively, successfully, competitively. But everybody must be a decision-maker for their own responsibilities. They must be their decision maker. So, I think pressing it down, as you’re saying, we’ve sort of done that in the extreme, but everybody pressing down is a very good thing. One thing that kind of is an example of that in some respects when we talk about distributed work, remote work, etc., is there is I think the Czech Republic just the other day made the decision to put the inside of its human resources legal structure for all companies. That remote work was now a right. It wasn’t a privilege. Ireland has done the same. I think Sweden has done that now. So, several countries have made remote working in your position a right that is loosely defined and it’s hard to see how that will come to play. But that’s a very interesting issue when you look at the structure of government insisting that this is something that as important as other employment rights that might have to do with sex or race or age or things of that nature.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:16:50] Yeah, that’s interesting. It’s true. I just have an article published in Forbes that talks about specifically disabled people. And of course, if you think about disabled people, they are definitely more enabled to by remote work. So, if you look at, for example, the rate of employment of disabled people, it went down. As for non-disabled people during early in the pandemic, but by now the rate of employment for non-disabled people so people without disabilities is just 1.1% below what it was before the pandemic. So, it recovered mostly not fully for people who are disabled. The rate of employment is 3.5%. Higher is higher than before the pandemic because of the remote work. And so due to remote work, they’re able to work much more. And consider the fact that many more people became disabled due to long COVID. So, issues like fatigue and brain fog. We know that about 1.7 million more Americans became disabled since the start of the pandemic, and about 900 of the 900,000 are able to still work. And again, a lot of this is due to remote work. So, looking at ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, in many cases, it can be argued that people with disabilities have the right to the accommodation of remote work. So, there is a way in which this legally applies in the United States. I don’t think it will be applied in terms of the government policy more broadly, but it already applies to disabled people.
Frank D Cottle [00:18:39] Well, that’s a good start and a good place to begin, I think, from the studies. So, I’ve read that there’s another correlative issue there is that it wasn’t just that the employment rate of employment for this particular group went up, but also the compensation levels within the rate of employment went up. And that, I think, is equally important, too, because of the fact that the recognition that one disability doesn’t limit or create another. And so, it’s a very interesting thing is as we as we look forward. Kind of going back to the proximity bias a little bit. How ingrained do you think that really is today? I mean, we’ve gone through a lot of changes. We’ve gone through a lot of I mean, every executive of every company in the world probably today has had to deal with some element of that and figure out their own path towards, if not a racing of at least working around it. Do you think that our habit of distributed work and remote work has lasted long enough and become ingrained enough that proximity bias will just go through and evaporate through a natural structure? Or do you think that it’s something that we’re really going to have to pound on the table about and say, no, you’ve got to retrain everybody? Don’t you think it’s almost a natural phenomenon at this point?
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:20:17] What I’ve seen is that we’re really only at the beginning of the fight against flexibility bias. There are lots and lots of leaders who don’t acknowledge it as an issue. They want everyone back to the office. I mean, think about Tesla and Elon Musk or Twitter and Space X now or Goldman Sachs or Jamie Diamond, Jp Morgan driving all of their employees to the office. They don’t care about proximity bias. They want everyone back in the office. So, they’re not even considering there are other leaders who are saying, well, let’s do three days in the office for all four people. And they’re not really looking at proximity bias as an issue. They’re not considering it. We know from the Society of Human Resources Survey Society for Human Resource Management Survey that there are many managers who are very open in saying that, hey, yes, I have proximity bias. I care about people who are coming into the office more than I care about those who don’t, and then more likely to read them more highly and to give them projects and promotions. And they are not trying to fight against that. They just acknowledge this an issue and they’re saying, well, this is just the way it is. So, I think we are in proximity bias where we were with racism in the 1950s or with gender LGBTQ issues in the 1970s, like so much bias is an equity issue. Just like other diversity. Equity and inclusion issues are equity issues. People who are remote face discrimination. This is just the reality, there’s no question. And if we don’t actively fight against it, it’s just like letting discrimination, race, race, that’s discrimination. Anti-Semitic discrimination, gender-based discrimination, LGBTQ based discrimination, religious discrimination, political discrimination, religious, all sort of cultural, ethnic run rampant. So, if we don’t fight against it, it’s just like not including it in GI. But proximity bias needs to be a part of the conversation within diversity, equity and inclusion.
Frank D Cottle [00:22:34] Well, I would agree with that. Also, I’ll bring up the old quote of abstinence makes the heart grow fonder that sometimes you can be too close to every day and then take people for granted. And when you have a little distance, you take that, you gain perspective. Or maybe this is where it needs to go. You gain the perspective of a person’s true worth. I know if I see someone every day, then we talk about the same things, we do the same things and there’s not much excitement. But when I see somebody who’s been working on a project and I’d meet with them every week or every other week, they always have something to bring that’s new, that’s exciting that they put together. So, one of the things that we learned is that you, your absence or your proximity sometimes is a reduction in capability overall. So, I personally, I think we should die from it. We like having people being independent. And I think I come from an industry in the flexible workplace sector of co-working business centers, etc., where independent entrepreneurs thrive and where teams thrive through their independence from them, the corporate experts that are overseeing everything every day. I also resent.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:24:04] Maybe less usual. So, most people travel like you heard from the survey. Managers definitely prefer people they see every day. And remember, it’s not only business. A lot of it is social. It’s fucking recessions over the watercooler. It’s connections, its relationship building. So, people like those, they see more frequently on that.
Frank D Cottle [00:24:29] I see that, and I can agree with that. That fact. I was looking at another survey that showed the days of the four companies that gave employees the option to work at home or work in the office. You figure it out as a team. Exactly what you were saying. Actually, companies that were doing that was this recent survey I looked at was showing that the greatest number of people show up on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and they spend literally a full day in the office to exactly do what you’re talking about, to work with colleagues, to stay social, etc. But the other days are doing quiet or deep work away from the office on the great majority of the time. So, on a voluntary basis, if you were to just let the culture run the way it likes to run without any management, it seems that the self-organizing structure says a little bit on Monday, some on Friday, a little bit more on Thursday, a lot Tuesday and Wednesday. This is when people just naturally came into the office and the supposition was, well, they came into the office on those days because more people were in the office of those days. They came specifically for that interaction. So maybe as workers, not just as executives, we have our own proximity bias or need for social interaction that causes us to have to or want to be in the office, not just 100% remote.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:26:01] Now. I think with my clients we’ve definitely found we need to help people coordinate. So, we do things on certain days, like a Thursday lunch or a Tuesday cookie, an afternoon event or something like that. So, where people actually get a chance to get together at a certain specific time. So, some people, for example, come in on Tuesday in the morning and then they stay for the afternoon cookies and then they leave early to beat the rush hour, or they come in for lunch on Thursday. So, come late to beat the morning rush hour and stay until the evening to be the evening rush hour. So, what my clients find is that it’s very valuable to actually help people coordinate through various social activities and help them know when to gather together, when other people will be there to both socialize and collaborate.
Frank D Cottle [00:27:01] Well, you know, I think that’s right. And your comment about before the rush hour after the rush hour, I have a poll solution for Jamie Dimon. He wants to get everybody back in the office. I just pay them enough that they can all afford a nice apartment in Manhattan. So, it seems to me from all what we’ve seen, no one really minds being in the office. People oftentimes much prefer that, but nobody likes to get on a dirty train and ride for an hour to get their shirt. And it’s the commute that kills the office, not the office itself. And in my experience, from what we’ve seen. So how do you create a culture that’s sustainable? I mean, everything has to evolve, of course, but the but evolves at a pace of comfort rather than disruption for a company or an organization to blend these things together. Remote work. Distributed work. That darn commute being in the office. Socialization. All these things that we’re hitting on. Is there a single solution or a path that you can see that would bring these elements together into a future of work formula?
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:28:27] It’s I talk about it in my book, leading hybrid remote teams, specifically this formula. But let’s start with the beginning, the team led model. So, you’re really like there was a recent Gallup survey which showed that if you let teams make the decision about when and how they work in the office, people are much more productive than if you let the CEO make the decision, for example, even more productive than if you let individuals themselves make the decision. So, people are more productive. They’re also more engaged, so they feel more engaged. That’s the best mechanism for helping people be engaged and productive. So, by a team led model, meaning the team in collaboration together of course, led by the team lead makes the decision for what works best for each team, and that might mean being fully remote. Although most teams for my clients don’t make that decision, they usually have a default of coming in once a week or something like that. So, make the decision again, pushing it down, team led model. And then you figure out how do you use your time most effectively in working from home and working from the office. Now, people need to be trained. They’re not used to figuring out what to do at home, what to do in the office, and especially since your time in the office is going to become much more valuable because you’re spending less of it. So, you need to prepare for it much more. So, you need to train people in how to work effectively in that situation.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:30:05] So then you need to do things that will help people collaborate effectively while they’re working remotely. So, most of their tasks that they’re doing remotely are going to be individual zip focused tasks which are way more productive, done remotely. But there are plenty of things that you can do collaboratively in remote settings if you know how to do them well. For example, one of the things I help teams with ease is called virtual coworking, where everyone gets together on the video conference call once a day for about an hour. And what they do is everyone dials in for a video conference call and they all work on their individual tasks. So, it’s not for collaborative work, but it’s you turn off your microphone, you’ll leave your speakers on, your video is optional, and then you just work on your individual tasks for about an hour. Now, if you have a question, you can turn your microphone on and ask the question, and other team members can turn their microphones on and answer it. If you have a problem, you can problem solve. If you have an idea, you can brainstorm. And that’s very, very helpful for team bonding, for team belonging, for a culture built in. Great. So that’s the culture building component, especially helpful for onboarding junior team members, getting them on the job training, which is essentially about answering questions synchronously when they have them. So, that is one of many techniques I talk about in my book, leading hybrid remote teams for that formula for how you manage teams effectively in hybrid remote settings.
Frank D Cottle [00:31:46] Well, you know, I think there’s a tried-and-true process in many respects. I know eons ago when I went to college, you know, centuries and centuries ago, we all had study buddies. We’d go to the library together. And if we were in the same class or something, we would have studied together. Most of the time we weren’t interacting, we were just doing our own studies. But when a problem came up, you’d say, hey, what do your think’s the answer here? So, the concept of that. Reimagined into the work environment, I think it is tremendous. But to take it a step further and we’ve talked about remote work, and you’ve said several times, work at home, work at home, work at home. And we’ve talked about work in the office, the office, the office. There’s another middle ground that that we see. And remember I come from the co-working and serviced office business center world is work near home with your team or part of your team in close proximity to get rid of that commute? Maybe you all live in the same region, neighborhood, whatever, that there’s a closed central spot for you to get. That seems to be another addition to the hybrid environment of not purely from home or purely from the office, but in a third place or in an organized work environment that’s professional, that has resources, everything from refreshments and meeting rooms, app support, etc., so that you can be even more productive. Are you seeing companies migrate in that direction or is it still Home Office? Home Office?
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:33:39] Yeah. What I have my clients do is make sure they sponsor their team members when they’re working from home too, for their home office. And if their team members prefer instead of a home office, if they prefer to have payments for a co-working space, that’s something that they do as well. So, it’s something about, you know, if it’s like $100 a month, right, then then the company can pay for that or the company can pay for setting you up with a nice home office, whatever you prefer. It’s very important for different people. I mean, some of them don’t have a good home office, you know, maybe they have kids, maybe they have roommates or something like that. And so, it’s important for them to have that option. And some people just don’t like working from home. They really need a separation between home and office. And so, they like to go to a co-working space. So, it’s important for the employer to fund them. And it’s a worthwhile use of resources because your team members will be more productive, have better well-being, and have less stress. They’re going to be happier if they have the Well-supplied Home Office or if they have a well-supplied co-working space, whatever works best for them.
Frank D Cottle [00:34:49] No, I agree with that. I have a well-supplied home office, but I also go into my co-working office on a regular basis, more than to a corporate headquarters. I find that the small team meeting or group meeting, usually for a single purpose to accomplish a specific task, is the most effective for me. But that’s what I found. Well, you know, we’ve covered a lot of ground here, just a ton of stuff, topics wise. And I’m very grateful to you for sharing your thoughts with us, because I know you’ve not only done the research, but you’ve been out in the field sharing and learning on an ongoing and continuing basis from a huge cross-section of customers. So, I really, really appreciate your time today and hope that we can reimagine cities, reimagine virtual offices. Virtual Reality Office is the way to get rid of commutes all the all the things that we know are necessary to reestablish the future of work. And I hope to be able to do some of that together and get some time.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky [00:36:03] Thank you very much, Frank. I appreciate you inviting me.
Frank D Cottle [00:36:06] Take care. Bye bye.