PMI Podcast Looks at Impact of Flexibility on Critical Issues Including Diversity and Equity

From the mass exodus of women from the workforce to inequities in flexible work experiences, organizations continue to face a tsunami of issues as they deal with the global pandemic.

We touched upon several of these critical topics during my recent conversation on the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Center Stage podcast series, which explores innovative change and reimagining the way we work. You can listen to the 30-minute podcast here. But I also wanted to share with you a few key points from this important and timely discussion.

Exodus of Women from the Workforce:
It’s not that many organizations haven’t offered flexibility as a policy-based option on their benefits website. It’s that they’ve never trained their employees and managers how to partner to use the flexibility. It’s like they’ve given permission to drive without teaching anyone how to use the car. This is a huge missed opportunity for employers and individuals.

I have one thing to say to managers.  Every manager should walk up to the parents who work for them (mothers, fathers, and even grandparents) and say, “Come to me with a plan about how you can fit your work and life together over the next few months until your children can go back to some type of formal care situation.”

Managers will find people are creative. And in the process, they will be able to retain an employee who will be forever grateful and dedicated because you’ve helped them navigate through this phase. But they’re not going to come to you unless you tell them, “I want to hear what you have to say. I want to work with you to put a plan together.”

That’s the missing piece. Many companies did not fail in terms of having a flexible work “policy.” The failure is they never created the culture where those discussions and problem-solving can happen. That’s what we need now.

Flexibility and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion:
Currently, the focus is on women. It should be because the data show they are carrying the greatest burden with their responsibilities. They, specifically, are the ones that need to leverage flexibility in the way they could work and manage their lives to get through these next few months.

But what’s interesting is before the pandemic, believe it or not, most remote workers were men. It wasn’t women. We need to de-gender flexibility and instead say, what do individuals need to be their best at work and manage their lives as well. Both women and men.

Avoiding Flexibility Haves and Have Nots:
Pew Research findings noted six in ten workers with a bachelor’s degree or more could work from home while only 25% of those without a four-year degree could do so. I believe that gap is due to a lack of imagination and limiting what we define as flexibility. It’s not just remote/work from home!

With all the focus on remote work, we’re forgetting there’s also flexibility in time and work processes that can offer people who might need to be onsite a different type and degree of flexibility that they still value.

We’ve had client companies with employees you’d typically think could not work flexibly. For example, for years, we’ve challenged the belief that administrative assistants couldn’t work from home. Yet we’ve worked with teams of administrative assistants who’ve developed detailed plans outlining coverage and technology to facilitate responsibilities so they could work remotely. There was no drop-off in their ability to do their jobs. We’ve also seen flexibility in unionized staff who may not be able to work remotely but worked compressed weeks in exchange for time off.  This was even before the pandemic.

We must expand what we view and offer as flexibility. Work is not just a where. It’s a “what” and all types of flexibility can be valuable to employees and the organization.

Relationships and Innovation:
I have seen greater intentionality in maintaining relationships. It’s almost as if people have asked how they can creatively connect with those they work with and serve in ways that maybe they didn’t before.

The opportunity is to take some of the new practices developed during the pandemic when you can’t physically be with people and consider how I can continue to use them. But then add back in some of that in-person connectivity, when able, that also is valuable, and everybody misses.

Once it’s safe, most employees want to work in the same place as colleagues and customers, at least some of the time, because there is a different flavor to that exchange.

I can 100% say that most people who work for organizations who’ve been able to work remotely, they’re going to want a hybrid, remote/onsite model. There’s going to be the desire to flex across space, place, and time as the task dictates.

What Forward-Thinking Organizations are Doing Right Now:
It’s hard to believe how wide-ranging our podcast conversation was in just 30-minutes. Listen to learn what’s the one thing flexible workers want and need right now. And what forward-thinking organizations are doing to leverage lessons from the pandemic’s forced flexibility pilot as they plan what’s next.

Thanks to PMI for the opportunity!