Guru urges change to work structures

Adam Grant is suspect about the five-day workweek. He also wonders whether every employee needs to be in the same building every day. 


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some rethinking, but perhaps not enough, according to Grant, an organizational psychologist, professor and author.

“The five-day workweek is a human invention,” Grant said during a September webinar. “Who said we need to work five days?”

Momentive CEO Zander Lurie facilitated the webinar, shooting questions at Grant, who sometimes shot questions back.

The webinar was billed as a discussion about what it takes to foster a better employee experience and how business leaders can help create and lead an inclusive work culture.

Momentive was formerly known as SurveyMonkey. Lurie noted the world is about 19 months into a global pandemic with concerns about new variants. CEOs and others are thinking about what does it mean to go to work, the future of work, real estate needs, how to drive productivity and related concerns.

“I'm honestly worried that we're not learning enough,” Grant said. “I'm struck by the stunningly large number of CEOs who are now insisting that their employees need to be in person all the time, saying people can't be productive working from home. Did you forget we made it work during a pandemic? ... I'm seeing a lot less real hybrid experimentation than I would have expected.”

Grant has been recognized as one of the world's 10 most influential management thinkers and included on Fortune's 40 under 40 list, according to a bio on his website.

He is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of five books including “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know.” 

Lurie called pandemic life the “experiment none of us opted into.”

He said many executives believe organizations managed remote work because the teams were “kind of cashing in on the equity built” prepandemic when it comes to teams and culture. But now, many employers have hired staff and are concerned about what work should look like going forward.

CEOs “never trained for this,” Lurie said.

Grant concedes that organizational culture is a key reason for working on-site, together with colleagues.

“I admit it's hard to build culture if you're nor in the same room,” Grant said, “but can we build culture in four days a week?”

Some jobs are similar to being a gymnast; they don't require collaboration. Other jobs are similar to the action of a relay, involving baton-passing, or basketball where you need the knowledge and skills of all the players at the same time.

“I'm surprised more leaders aren't talking about let's analyze most of the jobs in my company. Let's analyze the individual teams,” he said.

Ethics and values may not be fluid, but beyond those things, Grant says: “I want us all to be open to rethinking most things.”

About halfway through, Lurie steered the discussion to a subject entire webinars have been devoted to: How to build more equitable, diverse cultures.

“I think that diversity has become a strategic issue for most companies,” Grant said.

Keeping those discussions at the forefront is usually good, Grant said, but can also stir cynicism and “change fatigue.”

While racial equity has gotten increased attention the past year, Grant said some organizations still struggle to embrace women– possibly ignoring or silencing them when trying to share proposals, while a man can bring the same idea “and be praised for it.” 

One good approach would be to have a dedicated team working on solving the big problems with equity and inclusion, including pay, leadership opportunities and tasks assigned.

“I think we need to be really thoughtful about those structures,” Grant said.

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