What does Julius Caesar have to do with a 21st century pandemic and returning to the office after being gone so long? History never fails to provide lessons if you look for them.
Are you pining to get back to the office after the pandemic lockdown? Do you imagine a triumphant entry with everyone cheering to see you? Do you anticipate returning to the office to find things the way they were before without missing a step? Not to be a downer, but let’s look at the classic example of someone else who had the same dreams. It didn’t end so well.
Caesar the Regional Manager?
To recap: Caesar was basically a regional manager who achieved great results in the Gaul region. He was away from the home office in Rome for several tours of duty, the last one being almost 13 years in Spain, Gaul and Britain (basically the EMEA office). Eventually it was time to rotate back to Headquarters.
After multiple year-over-year success, it was time to return to the Home Office in Rome. He anticipated a literal hero’s welcome. Instead he was (literally) met with the worst case of backstabbing in history.
How to avoid Julius Caesar’s fate
So what went wrong? There are actually a couple of lessons to learn here.
- He got very used to doing things his way. One of the great things about working remotely is the flexibility it offers you. As long as you do what’s expected (defeat the Celts or make your quota) there is a lot of room to do things the way you think they should be done. Be honest. Is the way you work now going to fit with the office environment you left? What will you miss? What do you think should be different?
- He was blissfully unaware of office politics. Have you had this thought while working remotely? “Ahhhh, I can just get my work done and not worry about office politics,” If so, you understand how tempting it is to just keep your head down and expect your results to speak for themselves. One of the problems with office workplaces is that they are full of, well, people. And people form “interesting” dynamics, cliques, and they make decisions that might not mesh with your ideas. Getting things done in the modern workplace takes persuasion, hard work, and relationships. Ignoring those things while you’re working from home might not matter now, but it will in the long run. Especially if you’re seeking a promotion.
- Caesar had a lot of ideas he wanted to implement, but not the network to get them done. If you don’t maintain a network of people who know what’s going on or keep an eye on the decision makers and why they do what they do, you may find yourself confused as to how decisions are made and why things work the way they do. You probably have had a lot of mental arguments with yourself, anticipating objections and figuring out how to overcome them, but nothing can prepare you for the way others will interpret your ideas. That a lot of senior management disagreed with his ideas wasn’t news, but he badly underestimated their determination to oppose him.
Bottom Line: You’re not returning to the office you left
Since the odds of your co-workers taking turns knifing you over a disagreement are (hopefully) slim, this lesson might seem a tad overdramatic. But think about the workplace you’re returning to. What worked well in the “before time” and what were the dynamics in place when you left? Now think about what’s changed in the last 18 months? If you don’t have a ton of fresh ideas about how things should work, you can bet others will. How will you respond to those? Have you maintained and expanded your network? Or have you become more insular, listening to the same voices and shrinking the number of ideas, especially contrary ones, you are exposed to.
Your returning to the office will likely be better than Caesar’s (that’s a pretty low bar), and you can also plan to make it less, uh, dramatic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.