Key Takeaways from Smucker’s Flexible Work Evolution

“How do we do this?” How do we execute a flexible work model that works? Stories help. They can inspire, even if the path chosen wouldn’t work for anyone else, what matters more is the process they followed.

Chip Cutter shared a great story in The Wall Street Journal this past weekend. It shows how The J.M. Smucker Co. continues to evolve its flexible operating model, or the way the organization will operate flexibly across workplaces, spaces and time.

Key takeaways from the article that SHOULD inform how other organizations approach defining their model:

  • Their “strategy” was set after months of internal debate (that should include employees).
  • They ruled out mandatory specific days -Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – as too prescriptive.
  • People seem to be prioritizing activities that benefit from in person interaction.
  • They seem to have decided that even if workspaces aren’t used during non-core weeks the overhead is worth carrying to enable in person interactions when onsite. This is a new workspace ROI more employers will need to reckon with as well.
  • They will continue to reassess the approach if business results suffer. An organization’s flexible work model will need to be reviewed and recalibrated as realities change.
  • How the CEO, Mark Smucker, reinforces the flexible context within which work will continue to happen and evolve: “Whether it’s this model, or some other model, I find it very hard to imagine a world where we go back to being in the office even four days a week, let alone five. I just don’t see it happening,” Smucker said. “There’ll be some form of this forever.”

The takeaway that SHOULD NOT inform how other organizations define their flexible work model: “22 core weeks is the answer.”

Core weeks in person may be AN aspect of an effective flexible work model, and they may not be. It will depend on the business and the measurable outcomes that are determined to be achieved better with onsite, in person interaction.

It may be 22 core weeks OR it may be once a month or it may be quarterly. Again, it depends. This is the approach that The J.M. Smucker Co. decided could work best for their 1,600 corporate workers (out of a 6,000 total workforce) but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for every other organization.

This is the challenge of today’s flexible work reality. The “9-to-5, in the office Monday-Friday” traditional work model set the collective context of work pre-COVID (even though it was already disappearing). Now one-size-will-NOT-fit-all, but what others are doing can offer insight as long as it emerged from a thoughtful, holistic process.

One question I had after reading the article: How does The J.M. Smucker Co. flexible operating model include the other 4,400 employees? If it’s solely limited to those who could work “hybrid” then likely it doesn’t. But if it’s focused on how, when, and where all employees can do their jobs “flexibly” then the manufacturing employees can also reimagine how and when they work, and increasingly even where.

It’s all in how you approach and frame what’s possible.