When I became CEO of PPAI in 2021, a significant dilemma faced executives at our Association and across the world.

Were we ready to return to the office, or were we staying remote? The question continued to dominate discussions for the next year or so. Somewhere along the way, every organization made its own decision, and many employees voted with their feet as well, in what was known as the Great Resignation.

Almost three years later, the debate seems to have permanently settled on what I think is the right answer: Let’s just go with what works for us, be consistent and move on to getting things done. At PPAI, that means a hybrid schedule where employees are in office on the same two days each week. That doesn’t mean it’s the right answer in your organization, obviously, but it seems to be the right balance for PPAI.

In leadership, there are very rarely universal fixes to the hard problems. As much as any other, this debate reinforced for me that we should give up looking for trendy and easy answers on productivity and instead make sure we are asking the right questions.

For us, that meant exploring what would lead to the best results for our staff, our organization and our members.

The answers were decidedly mixed for our teammates. Productivity and job joy vary significantly among individuals. Some find their stride in their own home, while others thrive in the dynamic environment of an office space. This variability highlights the limitation of a one-size-fits-all approach to work policies, which can be a source of frustration for those whose preferences and productivity are misaligned with company policy.

Collaboration and innovation are often cited as key benefits of in-office work. The spontaneous interactions and the synergy of in-person meetings can lead to significant creative breakthroughs and foster a strong sense of community and organizational culture.

I strongly believe in the value of in-person engagement on a regular basis with colleagues. Those moments when an impromptu conversation pivots into a transformative idea highlights the value that being physically together can bring to a team.

The benefits of remote work are obvious, too, particularly the ability to tap into a broader talent pool, unhindered by geographic constraints. PPAI has experienced firsthand the value of incorporating staff who, although not based in the central office location, contribute significantly from where they are best situated for their personal lives.

We now have people doing great work in every time zone, and we do our best to make the most of it on the occasions when they leave their personal lives behind and travel to visit us in the office.

The real essence of productivity goes beyond the physical location of work, and there’s a common failure of managers equating busyness with productivity, regardless of the setting.

Leaders should encourage their teams to scrutinize their efforts, identify activities that yield minimal value and focus on those that significantly contribute to the organization’s goals. Addressing “unproductive effort” may involve streamlining processes, implementing new projects or investing in training, personal development, technology or workspaces in ways that enhance overall productivity.

Do those things, and you foster a culture that values people and outcomes over places – and leaves the team knowing they are right where they belong