In his 2015 book Work Rules!, Laszlo Bock laid out the steps he took to create a stellar in-person company culture as Google’s SVP of People Operations. The book was an instant bestseller, becoming the playbook that People leaders around the world use to create world-class cultures of their own.
But most people didn’t realize that Laszlo had essentially pioneered a winning hybrid approach. For years pre-pandemic, a significant portion of Google’s workforce only came into the office 3-4 days a week--and the company regularly topped the lists of “Best Places to Work.”
Now, as organizations everywhere shift to hybrid, I joined Laszlo as he revisited his book to lay out an updated set of guidelines. Here are the highlights from our conversation.
Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you write Work Rules! in 2015? What’s the main idea?
Laszlo Bock: We spend more of our lives working than almost anything else—it shouldn’t be so demotivating and dehumanizing. Work Rules! is about combining data analysis, academic rigor, and HR best practices to make work better.
What are the biggest trends you're hearing CHROs talk about these days?
People miss the small moments of connection with their teammates and customers. At the same time, they’ve had more time to enjoy all the meaningful parts of life outside of work —spending time with family, volunteering, being a part of the community— that were overshadowed by the grind of commuting and working in an office every day. It’s no surprise that work doesn’t feel as meaningful as it used to.
The challenge for leaders today is, how can I make work meaningful again? How can I preserve my company culture when my workforce is changing so rapidly? Some organizations have hired about 30% of their workforce over the past year alone.
Then there’s the manager problem. In a hybrid model, managers are more important than ever because they’re the connectors between a company’s cultural values and employees’ day-to-day experiences. But their jobs are also 10x harder: building connection, earning trust, and ensuring everyone is on the right track is harder when teams aren’t together in-person as often. In many cases, managers haven’t even met their new direct reports face-to-face. Managers are already overwhelmed, working longer hours and more overtime than they were pre-pandemic, and traditional training programs are failing them.
Given that context, which of the 10 rules you outlined in Work Rules! do you think are more important than ever?
#1 is Give your work meaning. Our research shows that people who don’t feel their work contributes significantly to their company’s mission are 6.3x more likely to leave.
To create meaning, tie everything people do —especially the tasks that seem mundane— back to the bigger picture. For example, give your non-customer-facing employees the chance to talk directly to customers, so they see the positive impact their work has on the world.
Trust your people. Micromanaging is the fastest way to destroy motivation. Our research shows that people who don’t feel empowered to succeed are 7.9x more likely to leave.
Instead, grant teams autonomy: offer direction, not directions. Clearly outline the milestones you’d like them to hit, then stand back and let them find their own path to get there. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but trusting your people boosts performance —and you might be surprised by the innovative approaches they come up with.
Nudge: Offer learning opportunities in the flow of work, and do it often. Traditional training doesn’t work anymore, and you can’t put the entire burden of improvement on managers. Instead, find ways to engage your entire workforce, like nudges: small, science-backed reminders that show up right when people need them, without creating extra work.
What rules would you add? What is not in the book that you think is more important than ever, especially given the shift to hybrid?
Be decisive. The next time you notice a debate about what to do next dragging on, step in and make a decision. Carefully consider both sides of the argument (and make it clear you’re doing so), then help the team move on by making a call.
Part of being decisive is breaking down barriers for your people. In your next 1:1s with your reports, ask, “Is there anything blocking your work?” If they identify something, do everything you can to either remove it—or help them navigate around it. By decisively removing barriers, you earn your team’s trust and help them make progress without spinning their wheels. It’s a win-win.
Invest in inclusion. In your next team meetings, ask one person to act as a facilitator. Their job is to help keep the conversation equitable and inclusive by making sure each person has a chance to chime in. For example, if they notice someone on video unmute, then mute, then unmute, then mute themselves, their role is to jump in and explicitly invite that person to share their thoughts. (Pro tip: make this a rotating role to ensure fairness.)
Inclusive teams are strong teams. By taking steps to bring everyone into the conversation, managers can signal their support of an inclusive organization and boost hybrid team effectiveness.
What do you think matters less than ever in this new world of work?
Traditional training programs don’t work. The CHROs I meet with are unanimous on that.
Big, unnecessary team meetings are on the decline, too—Zoom makes it even more clear how many of them could just be an email. To make the most of your employees’ time, try doing a calendar audit of all your recurring meetings. For each meeting with a long attendee list, ask yourself: does this meeting need to exist? Even if it does, can we take it off most people’s calendars and take notes instead?
For leaders today, the hybrid transition is your chance to write new norms for your company. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to make work better for everyone, including yourself.