Leveling Up Intention in How, When and Where Work is Done

Initially, when I talk to a leader about reimagining how, when and where their people work, they’ll often say, “oh, they already have work flexibility.” They aren’t wrong. According to our 2018 research, 98% of full-time U.S. workers said they had some degree of flexibility in the way they work and manage their lives.

What’s missing is intention, or the planned, targeted, coordinated use of work flexibility, technology, and workspace–on and offsite–to address the strategic challenges and opportunities facing the organization.  That’s high performance flexibility.

Leaders who level up the intentionality in how, when, and where their people work impact performance in a meaningful way.  We have the data.

At the end of every six-week high performance flexibility (HPF) pilot, we ask supervisors and employees to finish this sentence: “I believe the pilot caused productivity to (choose one): increase, decrease, stay the same, not sure.”

Here’s an example of what one group said:

Why would both supervisors and employees report similar levels of positive impact in just six weeks, with 51% of employees and 40% of supervisors saying productivity increased?

The simple answer is intention. 

Everyone, at every level, had been trained to identify what needed to be done and then determine how, when, where to do it most effectively, based on the unique realities of their particular function, job, and their life.

Once they were trained in the HPF decision-making framework, they dedicated six weeks to experimenting as a group with the new beliefs, skills, and tools they’d just learned.

They experienced in real-time what it was like to actively leverage work flexibility, technology and workspaces—on and offsite—to get their jobs done (and manage their lives) in a more coordinated, intentional way.

The keywords being “actively leverage.”

We also asked supervisors to respond to the statement “We effectively measure work progress and results” before and after the pilot period.

On a five-point scale between strongly agree and strongly disagree, before the HPF pilot, only 4% responded “strongly agree,” but after the pilot, that increased to 23% of supervisors. (Note: we focus on the movement from “Agree” to “Strongly Agree” as an indicator of increased engagement and intention).

Why the big leap after only six weeks? Supervisors and their teams challenged themselves to define what really mattered and answer the question, “What do we need to get done, and how, when and where do we do it best?” That prompted an ongoing clarification of priorities, processes, and metrics that, in many cases, wasn’t happening before.

Past, present, and future—from individual to strategic intention

Where we were: Fifteen years ago, when I wrote, Work+Life: Finding the Fit that’s Right for You, companies were implementing formal flexible work arrangement policies that could officially change where and when a person worked.  But employees didn’t know how to seize the opportunity. They didn’t understand how to craft, propose and implement a formal plan that made sense for their jobs and their lives.  My goal was to give them the step-by-step road map of personal intention.

Where we are: Today, flexibility can be a broader and more strategic. It’s a continuum of small informal shifts and formal resets in how, when, and where work can be done, and life managed. It’s not just time and place. It’s leveraging technology tools and workspaces as well as the pace of work.  It’s a partnership of intention between the organization and its people.  It requires not only training and experimentation with new beliefs, skills, and tools, but challenging the rigid, outdated traditional models of work that stand in the way of success.

Where we are going: Leaders will have to reimagine the way work can be done to compete for talent and optimize performance in the flexible future of work.  High performance flexibility will become part of the cultural DNA of the business. That means everyone, at every level, is asking and answering the question: “What do we need to get done, and how, when and where do we do it best?” with coordinated, strategic intention.

Is your organization leveling up how, when and where work is done to be more intentional? Is that effort closer to where we were, where we are or where we are going?