Over the past two years, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant acceleration of a set of trends impacting how we work. These include the advent of broadband access at home, the proliferation of easy-to-use SAAS tools, and demographic changes in the labor force. Companies dealing with these forced changes tend to go in one of two directions. Many organizations simply ‘retrofit’ their office-bound existing habits and practices to accommodate remote working. However, some companies have gone further by rethinking and redesigning core operating principles such as onboarding, innovation, or creativity to re-engineer the business for greater flexibility. For episode # 48 of the World Class Leaders Show podcast, I’m very happy to bring you a conversation I had on LinkedIn with Brian Elliott, the executive leader of Future Forum. Brian has an amazing track record of leading teams and building companies, as a CEO of several start-up firms, a product leader at Google, and a senior vice president at Slack. Brian’s new book “How the Future Works; Leading Flexible Teams to Do the Best Work of their Lives” was co-authored with Sheela Subramanian and Helen Kupp.
“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”Future Forum is a consortium conducting several different activities, including research. One of their recent quarterly global surveys indicated that flexibility, especially schedule flexibility, has become a fundamental expectation for most working individuals. According to 94% of the Future Forum Pulse survey respondents, this even supersedes the desire for location flexibility (i.e. working from home), and encompasses how teams interact and deliver. People want greater social connection and collaboration, but, even more, they want the ability to control how their work activity and required tasks are scheduled. A workday that is largely consumed by meetings does not offer a productive model. If we can change those habits, it has an even bigger impact on people’s stress levels and improves their work-life balance and their productivity in significant ways. Achieving schedule flexibility across an organization is challenging since different sections of the business will require different parameters. Your product design and engineering department may find a set of guidelines that work well, but those same parameters would not work as well within a sales organization. The past two years have given us a massive opportunity to redesign how work gets done to make it better for people and for organizations, in ways that are much more inclusive, flexible, and connected.
Impact on TalentIn any industry, there are companies leaning forward to these changes who view it as an opportunity through the lens of talent management. If you survey a group of CEOs, the number one item on their agenda is talent — we all understand that attracting top talent, aligning them against your mission, and helping them move faster against it is really what makes you successful or not. There’s fierce competition for talent going on within many industries, and location and schedule flexibility are critical tools for differentiation. We’re no longer constrained by our ability to hire people who can show up in a given location five days per week, every week. Diversity is also a core issue. If we can recruit and retain top resources from a greater pool of talent, then we achieve a competitive advantage.
One Size Does Not Fit AllTop-down blanket mandates are usually not that well received by all organizations, and they also don’t typically work that well. The answer that works most consistently is to figure out what your organizational framework is; that is, what’s the purpose and principles around flexible work. Then, a set of simple rules and guidelines can be created, along with team-level agreements.
Steps for Designing the Rules of the Game
- Executive alignment over boundary conditions
- Establish sub-boundaries for different sections of the business
- Manager training is critical to reinforce and support front-line leaders
- Develop team-by-team agreements on how the guidelines apply to their specific needs.