We need to take action to give Moms support

Yesterday, we honored moms…today, we need to take action to give moms the supports that help them, their children (our future!) and all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves:

–Consistent, affordable, quality child care
–Paid family leave
–Equal pay, AND
–Flexibility for moms, dads, and grandparents to fit work and life together as a help each other do their jobs and raise the children they love.

What do I mean by “all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves”?

First, it’s the right thing to do but it’s also the smart thing to do.

–A mom with consistent child care, paid leave and flexibility for herself and others caring for her children is someone who can participate in the workforce which helps the broader economy that is in desperate need of workers.

–She is a colleague who isn’t forced to quit leaving everyone else to do the job she was good at but can no longer do because she doesn’t have the support she needs.


What’s driving the four-day work week movement?

What’s driving the most recent global demand for four-day work weeks (a concept that seems to resurface every couple of years)? I explained in an NBC Nightly News story that aired while I was on vacation, and before four-day work week legislation was introduced in California.

First, there’s the “cry for better boundaries” around work hours that’s only been exacerbated by the pandemic, which eliminated for many any remaining physical boundary between work and life.

Then there’s the documented performance improvements. The two companies NBC profiled have had great success with the shorter work week with one CEO saying the change, “helped boost morale and the company’s bottom line.” It’s noteworthy they are smaller companies which is where four-day work weeks have historically had the most success.

Both of the companies – one an online clothing retailer and the other an RV manufacturer – not only reduced the days worked, but also the hours. Each moved to a 32-hour work week. NBC also reported “a years long trial in Iceland was so successful that now 86% of its workforce is on track to work fewer hours after finding productivity remains the same or improved.”

But, to me, the real story isn’t about working fewer hours or fewer days. It’s about a broader reimagining how, when and where your organization operates given the unique needs of your business, job and clients served. At the end of the NBC segment, they shared key points I had emphasized when they interviewed me, “Some experts caution – no one-size-fits all. It depends on the kind of job you have, the type of equipment involved and your customers calendars.”

The four-day work week is a form of time, or WHEN, flexibility that may work for some organizations and jobs but not others. Remote and hybrid work are about WHERE work is done and are feasible in some instances but not others.  It depends.  As much as Iceland, and now California may push for broad, one-size-fits-all adoption, history and experience show it’s not that cut and dry.

To determine what’s best for your organization and your team, always start by asking, “WHAT work do we need to get done” and then HOW, WHEN, and WHERE can we do it best.

“These experiments with a four-day work week deserve headlines for their innovation and impact. Such changes or pilots acknowledge what many feel –  the traditional model of work is, at least, outdated and at worst, broken.”

That’s what I said in a November 2019 LinkedIn post ,“Beyond 4-Day Work Weeks and 5-Hour Work Days”, the last time four-day workweeks made headlines. That was also pre-pandemic! As you’ll learn while reading the post, most of what I wrote then is even more relevant now.  And it will be interesting to see if this time four-day work weeks gain meaningful traction and staying power.

The pandemic accelerated the trend toward greater work flexibility that was already well underway for years. Work has fundamentally changed. Now, people know they can do their jobs differently and effectively. Flexibility across workplaces, spaces and time is both an expectation and a need.

The challenge now is also the opportunity. How will your organization execute its unique flexible “next” of work with strategic intention that benefits both the business and people?

Learn how you can help identify and close any gaps by trying the Flex+Strategy Group’s High Performance Flexibility Assessment. I encourage you and your fellow leaders to complete together to see where you are on the same page and where you are not.  I can’t wait to hear what you find!


It’s Not Too Late: How to Rapidly Switch to a Remote and Flexible Workplace

Monday morning we woke up to additional states and cities announcing “shelter in place” and “stay home” mandates. That means this week even more organizations and employees find themselves working remotely and flexibly for the first time.

It’s not too late to take action. Leaders still have time to help their organizations make the remote and flexible workplace pivot. And, in doing so, maintain a level of operating continuity without unnecessarily jeopardizing their employees’ health during the evolving new normal of the coronavirus crisis.

They also avoid the risk of having to scramble at the last minute if forced to completely shut down in-person, non-essential operations at some point.

Here are ten basic, get-started steps to rapidly transition your organization. These steps are taken from four more comprehensive posts listed below if you want more details.

I also discussed five of the steps in this episode of the Disrupt Yourself podcast (episode and transcript) with disruption expert, Whitney Johnson.

To get started:

Map out Jobs and Tasks. Note which roles and duties:

1) Can be done, even partially, remotely,

2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, remotely, and

3) Not sure (experiment with these by starting remotely).

Divide Non-Remote Employees into A and B Teams: For jobs that cannot be done even partially remotely, AND if you are not under a “shelter-in-place” or “stay home” mandate yet, divide employees deemed ESSENTIAL to onsite operations into A and B teams.Spread parents across “A and B” teams and be creative with schedules to allow them to coordinate childcare.

Prioritize Use of Available IT Hardware and Software. Start with the tech most people know and can easily use. Keep it simple. Wait to explore adopting any new technology solutions until later.

Set up a Communications Protocol. Clarify how different constituents will communicate and when. Don’t be afraid to “interrupt” each other. Assume everyone is “working” unless otherwise indicated.

Redirect Work: Identify tasks/meetings that can be handled virtually without disruption and execute as many details as possible. Experiment where you aren’t sure.

Optimize Work: Fill extra time and capacity that opens up with important, backburner projects that never seemed to get done before (e.g. manuals updated, market research conducted, client lists reviewed), but can be completed virtually.

Continually Prioritize and Check-in (Even If It Feels Like Micro-Managing): Set a schedule for formal one-on-one and team updates. During these check-ins, continually review and prioritize what matters. Leave space for some personal community-building.

Shift Your Productivity Mindset: This is not business as usual. It’s an immediate crisis with very real challenges to address. Adjust your productivity expectations accordingly. SOME productivity is better than NO productivity right now. Keep the flywheel going and people contributing as much as possible especially as everyone gets their bearings in this new temporary normal.

Accept Imperfect Remote Workspaces and Practices: Encourage people to be accessible and responsive during this crisis transition, even with dogs, kids, and roommates in the background.

Capture Real-time Learning and Insights: Each week, check-in and capture what’s happening. These insights can guide the ongoing reimagining of how, when and where work can be done through each phase of the crisis and beyond.

More details regarding the above steps can be found in the following posts:

What’s Your Company’s Remote Work Plan? (HBR)

Tips for Leading Organizations New to Remote and Flexible Work (LinkedIn)

How to Work and Take Care of 32 Million Children (LinkedIn)

A/B Teams: Flexible Schedules and Locations When Remote Work Isn’t an Option (LinkedIn)


Beyond 4-Day Workweeks and 5-Hour Workdays: Flexible, Dynamic Guardrails

Last week multiple people have asked me, “What do you think about Microsoft’s 4-Day Workweek.” Whenever this happens, I’m reminded why these stories strike a chord.

People respond enthusiastically to this and other “work reimagined” successes, including one in which a German company instituted 5-Hour Workdays, because it’s inspiring to see an organization try something new, even if it isn’t perfect or doesn’t last forever.

Such changes or pilots acknowledge what many feel — the traditional model of work is, at least, outdated and at worst, broken.

But the answer isn’t to implement another rigid, one-size-fits-all work schedule.  

Before I explain what I mean, let’s look at the highlights of the two resets mentioned above:

Here’s what I think:

It’s less about a shorter workweek or a shorter workday, and more about reimagining work within a new set of flexible, responsive guardrails. 

Those guardrails aren’t just hours and days.

Leveraging time with strategic intention is important (because as the experiments above have shown, less can be more). But it’s also critical to consider how you are optimizing tech tools, space and place, process and pace to get your job done well and manage life. The “how” and “where” get lost if the sole focus in on “when.”

That’s why I’m always fascinated when companies boast how they’ve reframed the traditional model of work, when all they’ve done is implement an equally rigid, albeit different, one-size-fits-all, time-based solution.

Instead, organizations need to reimagine work within a set of guardrails that are based on shared principles and a decision-making process, not rules.

These guardrails provide the structure that helps answer the question, “what do we need to get done and whenwhere, and how do we do it best?”

The principles and process are consistent enough to keep everyone moving in the same direction but broad enough so that the way work flexibility, technology, and workspace are leveraged adapts to the ever-changing needs of a particular job, business, or person.

That’s high performance flexibility.

As Microsoft probably discovered and Digital Enabler found out, everyone may not be able to operate consistently within the same rigid time boundaries. Leaders end up addressing and managing all of the exceptions that don’t fit the rule.

Alternatively, they could have positioned their four-hour workweek or five-hour workday as one of the primary principles, or guardrails, for when work can be done instead of a mandate when work must be done. This supports responsive, real-time flexibility.

It’s about the Work+Work Fit and Work+Life Fit

One of the main drivers for both companies was a better work+life fit for employees.  But leveraging time and tech, space and place, process and pace, also allowed the companies to optimize the work+work fit for the business. They hired and kept the people they needed to do the work.  Meetings were shortened.  More work was done in less time.  Technology was used more effectively.  Utility costs were reduced.

Yes, it’s important and noteworthy that people improved their personal satisfaction and happiness; but, it’s the business results from a more flexible and responsive work+work fit that will ultimately ensure continued support from leadership.

These experiments with a one-size-fits-all 4-Hour Workweek and 5-Hour Workday deserve headlines for their innovation and impact. But the real news is it’s time for companies to reimagine work within a new set of dynamic, flexible guardrails that not only optimize when we work but where and how.

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The Floodgates Fear

Recently, I met with a forward-thinking leader who recognized his organization had reached a tipping point.  He knew the current approach to flexibility in the way work is done was too random, inconsistent, and organic.  It needed to be more coordinated and strategic to address a variety of business challenges, including attracting and retaining the diverse, knowledgeable talent required to run the business.

But, like clockwork, he asked the following three questions in quick succession:

“What if it sets a precedent?”
“How will I know if people are working if I can’t see them?”
“What if they abuse it?”

He had officially hit “The Floodgates Fear,” a fear so deep and pervasive that it has its own name (and is preceded by a “The”).

Simply put leaders are afraid that if they officially and publicly encourage employees to leverage work flexibility, technology, and workspace to do their jobs and manage their lives, this will be the result:

No one will show up for work.  Leaders worry they will be the only ones standing in a room full of empty desks answering all of the emails, fielding all of the calls, attending all of the meetings –alone.

When I share this picture with groups of leaders, they laugh and nod their heads in recognition.  That is EXACTLY what they are afraid of.

So, the question is how do they avoid getting paralyzed by The Floodgates Fear and inspire the organization to make the shift to high performance flexibility?

First, it’s important to acknowledge this fear is real and valid.  Too often I see brave leaders who articulate what many of their peers are too afraid to say out loud only to be labeled “naysayers” or “resisters.”  Quite the opposite.  They know they are stuck at a roadblock.  They are looking for a roadmap that gets them to the other side of the fear.

For a sense of what that roadmap to the other side of fear looks like consider my responses to the questions the leader I recently met with posed:

Fear #1: “What if it sets a precedent?”  
Implementing a culture of shared accountability, trust and leadership that is the basis ofhigh performance flexibility will set a precedent. The precedent will be that everyone has the language, mindset, skills, and tools to effectively answer the question, “what do we need to get done, and how, when, and where do we do it best?”  That means making an investment in the training, practice, and resources necessary for everyone to master this new, more intentional way of working.

Fear #2: “How will I know if they are working if I can’t see them?”
The simple answer is, “how did you know they were working when they came into the same physical space at the same time every day? It should be no different.”

As is often the case, the leader I was speaking with responded with a blank stare, because the truth is in most organizations metrics of performance and productivity are not very clear.

One of the most powerful impacts of a culture-shift to high performance flexibility is suddenly people start to ask, “What matters to our business?  How are we measuring it?”  As those parameters become more defined, and supervisors no longer rely on presence as a proxy for performance, the fear begins to recede.

Fear #3: “What if they abuse it?” 
Yes, a small minority of people may lack the competencies to operate effectively in a flexible work culture.  However, with the right training, support, and guidance, the majority will give you more.  Research, and more than two decades of experience, have proven this to be true again and again.

If there is “abuse,” upon closer inspection, it’s usually a general performance issue and not flexibility issue. Greater latitude to determine how, when and where work is done can cause a deeper problem to become more visible and it should be dealt with accordingly.

If you are a leader who wants to unlock the performance and engagement at the core of work flexibility, technology and workspace but you find yourself stuck behind The Floodgates Fear, you are not alone. There’s a roadmap to the other side of that roadblock. It’s a matter of training, practice, measurement and managing to the majority who will thrive.

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Resolve the Clash Between Flexibility and Traditional Work Practices

Does it feel like the clash between the flexible work expectations of younger employees and your organization’s traditional work practices has escalated? If it does, you are not alone. Even employers on every “best of” work flexibility list face the challenge.

Recently, I had lunch with a leader from a “best of” company. At one point, he confessed with nervous laughter:

“You know we are in busy season and I can tell you right now there are partners in this firm who still require junior level employees to show up and physically sit together every day in a conference room while ordering food from paper menus. Why? Because that’s what you do in busy season.”

Immediately, I imagined a group of confused, frustrated junior-level employees sitting around the same table, day in and day out, legitimately wondering, “Why can’t we do this remotely? We would be working on the same system we’re logged onto in the conference room. And why aren’t we ordering food from GrubHub?!”

I also imagined the partner in charge of the engagement. Hearing about the team’s frustration, shaking her head and sighing to her peers, “Flexibility is fine, but this is busy season. The work is complex and requires a high degree of manager supervision. It’s what the client expects, and it’s what we have to do to get the best results.” But is it?

To resolve this conflict, you can’t stop at the level of flexible work policy, programs, and toolkits. It requires a more in-depth cultural shift where the generations learn to come out of their respective corners and explore ways work could be done better, smarter, and more flexibly.

That doesn’t mean throwing the baby-out-with-the bath-water. Everyone meets in the middle and follows an organized process of experimentation that, ultimately, becomes a part of everyday planning.

As a result, certain legacy work practices continue because everyone agrees they are the best approach, but they are married with new, more flexible ways of working, using technology and workspace. It’s what multigenerational expert, Lindsey Pollock, calls a “remix,” in her new book, The Remix: How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace.

For the team stuck in the conference room during busy season with paper menus, that “remix” could look like:

  • An acknowledgment that this particular engagement does include more complex tasks that require hands-on manager oversight and more immediate real-time collaboration and information sharing. At the moment, the technology to replicate that degree of oversight and coordination either doesn’t exist or everyone hasn’t adequately mastered it. Therefore, to complete those tasks, the team agrees it makes sense to work together in the same location at the same time.
  • An agreement that the team could experiment with doing the more straightforward, less complicated aspects of the engagement flexibly. Each team member will plan, how, when, and where they will complete those tasks, optimally a week in advance. This gives managers time to review and adjust the proposed flexibility based on the engagement’s real-time progress.
  • A recognition that everyone—the partner, managers, and the engagement team–needs to be even more intentional and organized with their planning, as well as willing to recalibrate their flexibility to respond to unexpected shifts in the engagement’s progress.

At the end of busy season, review the results of the experiment. Revise based on outcomes. Rinse. Repeat.

What’s happening in your workplace? Has the clash between the flexible work expectations of younger employees and your organization’s traditional work practices escalated? If you need to “remix,” what could that look like?

Click HERE to be added to the Flex Strategy Group Newsletter and receive periodic updates and insights from Cali Williams Yost.


“Flex” Your Business Model to Seize Market Opportunities and Address Challenges

Several segment leaders across different industries made headlines for “flexing” their traditional business models to seize market opportunities and address operating challenges. These nimble businesses reimagined how, when and where work could be done. In the process, they showed that work flexibility is much more than an HR perk, digital app or workspace redesign.

Instead these savvy businesses used work flexibility as a powerful strategy to respond rapidly and creatively to market shifts.

CVS Matches Talent to Regional, Seasonal Shifts in Customer Demand

CVS noticed two trends. First, a large percentage of their older customers in colder regions migrated south for the winter. The challenge then became how to temporarily staff up stores in the south and skinny down in the north to match those customer shifts. They also noticed that older pharmacy staff were either retiring to join the winter migration south or would be open to the opportunity. Solution: The company decided to allow interested CVS employees from the north to temporarily relocate and transfer to a store in the south during the winter.

The result: CVS retains and relocates experienced talent to match regional shifts in their customer base. 

Esquire Deposition Solutions Uses Remote Work to Address Talent Shortage

Esquire Deposition Solutions also faced two related challenges–increased demand for reporters across the court system, and a shortage of court reporters to meet that demand. A talent gap that is projected to worsen with a workforce averaging 55 years old.  In response, Esquire Deposition Solutions “flexed” their traditional business model to no longer require court reporters to be physically present in the courtroom at all times. It now allows certified stenographers “who have been trained in remote court reporting by Esquire” to work in one of the company’s 35 U.S. offices instead. They will have shorter commutes and the ability to process a variety of depositions a day, depending on the legal matter’s length and complexity.

Not only does this shift address the mismatch between the supply of and demand for court reporters, but advocates see potential gains in productivity and ongoing technological innovation.  

Shake Shack Pilots Four-Day Workweek to Attract and Retain Managers

If you are an expanding restaurant chain, like Shake Shack, you can’t grow if you can’t find experienced general managers. According to company leadership, “the chain will open 26 to 40 new stores this year. But it could open 100 new stores if it could hire all the general managers it wanted.”

In response, Shake Shack decided to “flex” their five-day, 40-hour workweek business model and pilot a four-day, 40-hour workweek to attract and retain general managers with three to five years of experience. 

This shift is modeled after a similar change successfully implemented by a smaller Alabama-based chain, Aloha Hospitality. When discussing the strategic shift to a four-day workweek for managers, Aloha CEO Bob Baumhower said, “You’ve heard the phrase, ‘it takes a village,’ well in our case it takes a team. Everyone has to buy in, go the extra mile and support each other to make it work.”

That’s true for any flexible work transformation, including those above. Success ultimately requires a realignment of all aspects of an organization including culture, work processes, policies, workforce, workspace, technology, and operations. Assuming that happens, these companies will set an example for others to follow.

When businesses reimagine how, when and where work can be done, not only do they respond more nimbly to market opportunities and challenges, but they give their people what they want, which is a win for all. 

What are some other examples of businesses “flexing” their traditional business models?

Click HERE to be added to the Flex Strategy Group Newsletter and receive periodic updates and insights from Cali Williams Yost.


It’s July 5th. How Many People Need to Be Physically in the Office?

As we get closer to the July 4th holiday, if you are a leader, you will likely face the question, “How many people need to be physically in the office on Friday, July 5th?”

Many employees will want to work remotely on Friday from wherever they celebrated the day before. But, for you as the leader, the level of in-person coverage required on July 5th may not be so clear. This simple “Problem, Policy/Precedent or Preference” protocol can help you come up with a fact-based solution that works for you, the business and your people.

Here’s how I walked a leader through the protocol’s three questions after she’d arrived at the office on the Friday before a July 4th holiday to a sea of empty desks and freaked out, “Where is everyone?!” She wanted to be better prepared to determine the best level of onsite coverage on the Friday before Labor Day when it would inevitably become an issue again.

Question #1: Is it a problem? 

I asked her if it had been a problem to have a skeletal staff in the office on that Friday before July 4th? Did her staff still provide a high level of customer service? She concluded that it had not been a problem since they could easily manage their work remotely, especially on a slower day.

Had she received complaints that people were unresponsive or hard to reach? No. Everyone had been working, albeit remotely, and were reachable. She decided it wasn’t a problem for the business to have only a few people present onsite.

Now, that might not be the case at other times and for other businesses. The answer would be “yes” to the question, “Is it a problem we need to solve for?” During certain business cycles, or if in-person, face-to-face interaction is required to do the job well, a leader could find that people do need to be in the office even on the Friday before or after a holiday. If so, it’s imperative that everyone—not just the leader—sit down and coordinate on-site coverage beforehand so there are no “where is everyone” surprises. 

Question #2: Is it a policy or precedent? 

Then I asked the leader, “If people were working and responsive, why did the lack of bodies in the office bother you so much? At some point in the past, had there been a policy or precedent that limited remote work before or after a holiday?” She responded that, at one point, there may have been a policy, but not any more so that wasn’t the issue.

Maybe ten years ago a policy or precedent limiting remote work on the days before or after a holiday made sense. Back then, it was harder to stay connected, remain productive, and put in a full day’s work from another location. For many jobs, that’s not the reality today, especially if your employees, teams, and managers have mastered the high performance flexibility process. Yet, in some organizations, those outdated policies remain.

In other cases, a formal policy no longer exists, but the “precedent” prevails because no one ever officially and publicly disputed it. Another leader I worked with, who considers himself very supportive of flexibility, once told me that he didn’t realize there was confusion until a top performer showed up in the office on the Friday before a long weekend.  She wanted to work a half-day before leaving on vacation, but instead, she lost more than three hours of productivity commuting to and from the office when she could have worked those hours remotely. When he pointed this out, she said, “I thought it was the policy we couldn’t work remotely before a long weekend.” The next business day he sent an email clarifying.

Question #3: Is it a preference?

Finally, we got to the third question and the leader admitted, “Honestly, this comes down to a preference on some level. I am a Boomer, and I still struggle with preferring to see people physically here to know they are working. Look, I didn’t even need to be in the office that Friday before the 4th, but I was. I need to challenge this preference with facts. And the facts are that the work will get done even if most people decide to work remotely before (or after) a holiday.”

If you’re a leader struggling with, “How many people need to be physically in the office on Friday, July 5th?” ask yourself, “Is this a problem we need to solve for? Is it a policy or precedent? Or is it a preference?”

Click HERE to be added to the Flex Strategy Group Newsletter and receive periodic updates and insights from Cali Williams Yost.


Tips to Manage Accessibility and Responsiveness at Work

From the extremes of Millennial/Gen-Z #hustle culture to the pending “Right to Disconnect” legislation in New York City, we continue to grapple with how to set better boundaries around, and within, our jobs. 

Clocks and walls no longer tell us where work ends, and the other parts of life begin. Back in the day, we didn’t need to be intentional about communicating how, when, and where we worked. Being in the office nine-to-five, Monday-Friday, was the general rule-of-thumb most followed. Not anymore.  Now, it’s potentially 24/7, work anytime and anywhere. 

That’s why employees, teams, and supervisors need to master a new set of skills and tools that support the ongoing clarification of expectations related to accessibility and responsiveness. The solution isn’t one-size-fits-all. It will vary by circumstance and person. 

Here are three get-started tips that can help colleagues, clients, and others connect while carving out space for focused work and managing personal well-being. 

Go Beyond the Typical “Out of the Office” Auto-Reply

We have so many ways to communicate—email, instant message, text, mobile phone, Slack notifications, etc.  Let’s start with email since, according to our research, it remains the primary communication tool for the majority of full-time employees. 

Most people consistently set an auto-reply message when they are out of the office (OOO). That autoresponder usually includes information about when the person will return and who to contact for a more rapid response. But, this typical “OOO” doesn’t adequately convey the more nuanced information required to manage accessibility expectations in a flexible work culture. 

Consider more specific, instructive email auto-replies such as: 

  • “Working Remotely – I will respond to your message as soon as I can. Please call or text me at 333-333-3333 if you require more immediate assistance.” The need for this type of auto-response depends upon your work environment. In practice, working remotely should make no difference in how or when you respond making this auto-reply unnecessary. However, if people still don’t quite get that remote working means you are working, it limits some of the possible doubt that can slip in when you aren’t in the office and don’t respond immediately. 
  • “Focused Working – I am working but only checking email periodically. I can be reached by mobile or text 333-333-3333. Otherwise, I will respond as soon as I can.”
  • “Traveling – I am traveling and will not be reachable until ‘X’. I will respond as soon as I can. Please contact _____ for more immediate assistance.” Yes, you are out of the office, but you are working so expect a reply when you are accessible again. 
  • “PTO – I will be out of the office on PTO (you don’t need to say sick or on vacation) and will respond when I get back to the office. Please contact______ for more immediate assistance.” You are not in the office, and you are not available. That doesn’t mean you aren’t checking messages, but you’ve set a clear expectation you are not going to reply. This is an important boundary if you are truly going to disconnect when you are on vacation or are sick, which, according to a recent New York Times article is a challenge. 

Here’s an example of a creative “OOO” response from a New York Magazine feature on Krista Tippett, the host of the popular NPR radio show/podcast On Being, “When you email Tippett, you get an auto-reply that says, ‘I’m in year two of my vow to forsake hurry as a way to move through my days.’ She tends to reply the same day, regardless.” As the leader, Tippett can use whatever auto-reply message she wants (I’m curious what other members of her staff do); however, it gets the point across that, while she is still reviewing messages, the response may not be immediate.

Need some help composing more nuanced and informative email auto-replies? You can find inspiration from the Slack app’s varied status options:

Check in frequently and recalibrate

During an accessibility and responsiveness exercise we facilitated with a team, an employee asked, “If I choose to bring a company laptop home to catch up on work, am I expected to respond to a customer email that I receive after hours?” The answer from the group was “Yes, sometimes you do.” In this group’s particular business and for this exempt worker, sometimes there are projects and issues that require work outside of the traditional business day. In those cases, yes, you would have to respond after hours. But when those projects are completed and it’s back to business as usual, then no.

The choice comes down to professional judgment; however, sometimes it’s difficult for employees to know when they can or must modify their level of accessibility and responsiveness. Leaders should check in and make sure their boundaries match the task at hand.  

The biggest mistake I see leaders make is they think, “Oh, they know.” Assume they don’t and check-in, especially when you notice levels of after-hours communications that aren’t required to get the job done effectively. For those who think it’s more convenient to send or respond to non-urgent work-related communications in the morning, at night or on the weekends, encourage the use of the “Send Later” function in email or make it clear you don’t expect a response to anything not marked “urgent/priority.”

Don’t make immediate response the standard 

Try this thought experiment. Imagine the people you work with are in the office together, at the same time, every day. Are you able to immediately find and get a response from everyone when you reach out? No, you’re not. People are in meetings. They go to the bathroom. They go to lunch. They run an errand. It’s the same when people work flexibly. 

But for some reason, there’s a tendency to make anything less than an immediate response, all the time, a sign of trouble or even abuse. Not only is that unrealistic, but it undermines the trust and shared accountability that is the foundation of flexible work team success.   

For peace of mind that you can reach someone right away if necessary, we encourage teams to create a snapshot of everyone’s mobile phone numbers. One client took it a step further and encouraged everyone to screenshot the grid and keep it on their phones for easy access in one place. 

These are a few basic steps that a team can follow to set better boundaries. By clarifying expectations related to accessibility and responsiveness, you minimize misunderstandings, doubts, stress, and burnout. Jobs in today’s flexible work culture will get done effectively no matter how, when or where people are doing them.

What are some of the ways you and your colleagues set boundaries around, and within, your work? How do you clarify when you can be reached and how rapidly you will respond?

Click HERE to be added to the Flex Strategy Group Newsletter and receive periodic updates and insights from Cali Williams Yost.

 


Radical Changes in the Way We Work Require a New Approach to Public Policy

At 12 noon today, the 116th United States Congress will convene.

This changing-of-the-guard marks a historic opportunity to bring the policy debate related to healthcare, retirement, education, income stability and taxation into the 21st Century and acknowledge radical changes in the way we work.  

And that doesn’t even include paid family leave, on which I’ve shared my views in the past.

Much has been written about “the future of work,” but two trends that will require some type of public policy response include: 

Workers are no longer always full-time employees

Work today is less stable and doesn’t necessarily mean 9-to-5, 40 hours a week with benefits over an entire career. Increasingly, the workforce includes a combination of full-time, on-demand, and contract-based talent.* For some, this on-demand work is the main source of income, while for others it’s a side hustle to supplement wages from a primary job.

Work is increasingly not being done by a person

This is the biggest and potentially most transformative trend that, sadly, gets little if any real focus in the current public policy debate. In a recent MIT Technology Review article, venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee laid out the stark truth about the race for dominance in Artificial Intelligence between China and the U.S. and what it will mean for workers. He states, “It will soon be obvious (approximately 10 to 15 years) that half of the job tasks (both blue and white collar) can be done better at almost no cost by artificial intelligence and robots. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced and we’re not ready for it.”

Clearly, it’s not going to be your grandfather’s, or even your mother’s, workplace in the not too distant future. So how might public policy need to catch up? In the following ways:

Reimagining Healthcare

Changes in Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act need to account for the reality that employers may no longer be the source of healthcare coverage for an increasing number of workers. It means, for many, these government-sponsored healthcare programs are no longer “entitlements” but the only way they can access coverage. 

Reimagining Retirement

Like healthcare, employers can no longer be seen as the primary source of retirement planning. According to a recent Boston College study, Millennials participate in employee-sponsored retirement plans at a much lower rate than previous generations. Five states have begun to experiment with automatic government-sponsored retirement saving plans, but any debate over the reform of Social Security must acknowledge the role that federal or state governments may have to play to ensure retirement security as work transforms.

Reimagining Education

If in 10-15 years, most, if not all, basic repetitive work tasks are automated, we will not only have to retrain displaced workers but also revamp the education system to prepare the next generation to succeed in the new reality of work. For example, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, recently spoke at the World Economic Forum where he noted the way we have taught children for 200 years may no longer be relevant. “We can’t teach our kids to compete with machines because they will be smarter,” he said, adding the focus should be on teaching “things that are different than machines” such as teamwork, independent thinking, and care for others by emphasizing music, art and sports.

Reimagining Income Stability

Some government-sponsored source of income stability may be required to manage through the transition. There are even Republicans like Glenn Hubbard, who is currently the Dean of the Columbia Business School and former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, that believe the government is going to have to play some role in providing wage support to those affected by the transformation of work. Hubbard’s ideas include making the earned income tax credit “more generous for childless workers” and providing greater access to apprenticeships. Others have talked about a Universal Basic Income, which would be a direct payment, or a Social Investment Stipend, to pay people who provide care work, community service or education.

Reimagining Taxation

How then to pay for all of the above? The U.S. currently operates at historically high budget deficits. Again, even a traditional conservative, like Dean Glenn Hubbard, has acknowledged that the “Government can be deployed in service of prosperity, wage subsidies and direct support for training,” but, he adds “Personal unemployment accounts would require a government role, and frankly, more taxes.” However, there’s a twist to the tax debate that needs to be considered as well. Unlike in the past, it is much easier for high net worth individuals who feel overtaxed in one state to move and remote work from a state with a lower tax rate. High earners are no longer as bound by geographic location as they were in the past.

Work will continue to transform. It just will. As it does, the role government must play to reimagine healthcare, retirement, education, income stability and taxation will take on even greater urgency. The country will be best served by members of Congress who recognize these challenges, frame the debate accordingly, and lead across both sides of the aisle to embrace 21st century solutions. 

#BigIdeas2019 #futureofwork #AI #publicpolicy

*In a recent survey of human resource leaders conducted by Spherion Staffing Services, the average percentage of contingent workers in the workplace rose from 15 percent in 2017 to 29 percent in 2018. Other studies have found that 35 percent of the U.S. workforce is made up of freelancers or contractors, a number that could rise to 43 percent by 2020.

Click HERE to be added to the Flex Strategy Group Newsletter and receive periodic updates and insights from Cali Williams Yost.