“How do you DO it?” High Performance Flexibility 2023

How does an organization execute and optimize a flexible operating model that works for the business and for people?

How do teams and individuals perform at high levels working across places, spaces and time, with coordinated intention?

How do people leverage the flexibility available to them to fit their work and life together to be their best on and off the job?

These are questions we, at the Flex+Strategy Group, help our clients answer every day. Yet according to a recent Deloitte survey of 10,000 leaders, including 1,500 C-Suite leaders and Directors, most organizations still don’t know how to implement a flexible work model:

“…boundaries that have traditionally governed the rules of work — the way jobs are organized, where work happens, and who qualifies for specific roles — are falling away. However, while many understand the need for new fundamentals in today’s world of work — 87% say finding the right workplace model is important to their organization’s success — only 24% feel their organizations are very ready to address this trend.”

Good news: The findings indicate we may have finally turned the corner on the leadership belief that we will be going back to the way we worked before the pandemic.

Not so good news: There is a crazy-wide 63% gap between leaders “knowing” they need to find the right workplace model and feeling very ready to “do” it.

Our goal for you in 2023 is to close that massive “knowing-doing” gap in your organization.

Each week we’ll share tips on the mindset, skills, and processes that help organizations execute and optimize high performance flexibility, or “HPF,” as it is often referred to by our clients.

Look for the following from us:

Mindset Mondays: I’ll share on LinkedIn and Instagram a thought-starter to consider as you approach the reimagining of how, when and where work is done.

Now & Next of Work Newsletter: In our weekly newsletter, we’ll continue to provide commentary on real-time work trends. And, we’ll provide insights into the challenges and key issues that can emerge as you pursue HPF, including:

  • Why leading with “what” (the work) is more effective than leading with “where” (how many days onsite and how many days remote).
  • What to do if you’re struggling with compliance for mandatory in-office days.
  • How to maintain fairness when one-size doesn’t fit all.
  • How to offer inclusive flexibility regardless of where someone works (or if they have a desk or not 😉).
  • What to measure to gauge success.

Those are just a few of the topics. What else interests you or keeps you up at night?  Share your thoughts. I love hearing from you. Email me at cali@flexstrategygroup.com and we will add them to the queue.

Flexibility Friday Videos: Periodically, I’ll share a short video with real-time thoughts on what I’m seeing from the front lines as we execute strategic work flexibility.

Quarterly Office Hours: For subscribers who receive this newsletter each week in their inbox, join me quarterly for live office hours starting Friday, February 24 from 12:30 to 1 pm EST.  We’ll prompt you for questions two weeks prior.

Let’s partner to close the “knowing-doing” gap in 2023.

Let’s take the best of what worked during and before the pandemic and re-define how, when and where your organization will operate next.


Here’s how we can build on the milestones noted in the article and take work flexibility to the next level in 2023:

Excellent overview of the current state of hybrid work in 2022 by Sarah Green Carmichael.

Here’s how we can build on the milestones noted in the article and take work flexibility to the next level in 2023:

2022: Hybrid work is the norm.

2023: Expand beyond the duality (onsite or home) of “hybrid.” Optimize working flexibly within a broader range of place (onsite at the office, onsite at a co-working space, onsite with a client, home, etc.), space and time parameters that encompass all workers, not just those who can do aspects of their jobs from home.

2022: Manager and employee expectations of days in the office misalign by one day, and bosses have only so much power.2023: Managers and employees partner in a culture of shared leadership. They define together what their priorities are and where, when and how those priorities happen best. They then operate within those mutually agreed guardrails.

2022: Managers “gradually” got comfortable with managing and evaluating employees they don’t see every day.
2023: Accelerate, prioritize and scale the training of managers to effectively build and lead flexible work teams (nipping proximity bias in the bud) AND train employees to play their role in day-to-day flexible work success. Managers can’t do this alone.

2022: Surprise that managers are comfortable allowing remote work on four or more contiguous days.
2023: Limit “surprise” by having managers and their direct reports follow a consistent process to identify the priorities of the team and define where, when and how those priorities are accomplished best. Then there is a rationale behind the outcome (truth is in 2022 most decisions about where and when people work were pretty random and uncoordinated).

2022: One-size-fits-all arrangements don’t work.
2023: Approach flexibility as an intentional, dynamic way of operating–planning, coordinating and executing work–across workplaces, spaces and time, not as an arrangement. What that looks like will be determined by the unique realities of a business and its people.

2022: Long commutes are an obstacle to in-person work, especially for cities.
2023: Government (federal, state, local city and surrounding suburbs), transit, business and real estate leadership join forces to urgently reimagine how cities thrive in the flexible next of work.

2022: Hybrid is more than a schedule and more than just showing up.
2023: Embrace the opportunity to define how your organization will achieve its purpose, live its values, and execute its strategic priorities in a digitally-enabled flexible work reality that’s here to stay.

That’s what has to happen next in 2023 and the good news is…it’s already happening!

#workflexibility #hybridwork #performance #remotework #leadership #futureofwork #flexiblework #innovation #wfh


Tis the Season to Celebrate, Reflect…and Take Time Off

For me, the year-end holidays are a time to celebrate and reflect.

Celebrate professional and personal successes: what you did get done, not what you didn’t; progress, not perfection (still my favorite insights from the work+life fit naturals I studied when writing Tweak It).

And reflect on some of the most important lessons learned, one of which was the need for a true, meaningful, restorative break from work.

As I shared earlier this year when I returned from visiting our daughter who was studying in the U.K., “after (working) two nonstop years, I was ready for a vacation and took two weeks off.” It was, “Just what my heart and soul needed and was the first time I’d taken such a long, mostly work-free break since I’d worked for a bank in the early 1990s.”

Sadly, I am not alone in not taking regular vacations, and I work for myself!  The U.S. ranks as one of the worst countries for offering paid vacation days and paid leave. And, even before the pandemic completely erased the boundaries between work and life, Americans were leaving a record number of vacation days unused.

During the past few years, various studies found that between nearly a third and more than half of us didn’t use all our vacation time.  At the end of 2021, employees on average had 9.5 unused vacation days left, according to Qualtrics. I used to be one of those people.

As I wrote following my vacation, “I’d forgotten how it takes a full week to decompress which then allows you to really relax and enjoy your time away the second week. I will do my best not to forget again and make two-week breaks a priority every year, not just for me but for our entire team.”

Time off is of value not just to the individual, but to colleagues and the organization as well. I came back from that vacation chomping at the bit to dive back into the work I love, and it felt great.

I’ve written previously about how employers can Unlock the Strategic Power of Vacation.

Among my tips:

  • Position vacation/PTO as a form of work flexibility an employee can actively use to fit their work and life together.
  • Regularly prompt employees to plan and coordinate their vacation/PTO. I suggest sending a reminder quarterly.
  • Celebrate vacations and show that your organization values time off and meaningful breaks, seeing them as both a gain for the employee and the organization. 

So I and everyone who is part of the FSG family will walk our talk this holiday season.  From Friday, December 23rd until Monday, January, 2nd, we will be closed to celebrate, reflect…rest, and restore.

And in the new year, whether it’s a vacation with travel or just a few hours outside, “Deliberate breaks. Rest. Changes in perspective.  All need to be a part of our work+life fit.” Hopefully, it will be part of yours as well.


TWEAK IT PRACTICE ™ tool

Download the  TWEAK IT PRACTICE™ tool to….

  • “Tweak”
    • What do I need to do?
    • Small, meaningful action or priority
  • Work and Personal
  • Standard (Habit) and Unique (Moment) Tweaks
  • Plan, coordinate and execute your work and personal priorities WITHIN team ”how, when and where” flexibility guardrails

Tweak it Practice:

  • Set up
    • Work and Personal Calendar
    • Weekly Practice (Correspond to Priority-Setting/Update Check ins)
  • Weekly Practice
    • Step 1: Look Back: Did you do what you planned? Celebrate Success and Progress, not Perfection! 
    • Step 2: Look forward: Identify Tweaks of the Week or “What do I need/want to do?” 
    • Step 3: Plan “When, Where, How” WITHIN team guardrails
    • Step 4: Add to Calendar

“WHAT DO I NEED TO DO…WHERE, WHEN AND HOW” 

STANDARD TWEAKS (HABITS)

  • Time for focused work
  • Check in at start and end of day with overseas colleagues
  • Coffee/lunch/dinner (virtual or in person) with a colleague or team
  • Plan two 15-minute exercise “snacks” a day
  • Dinner with your partner or a friend/Put your child to bed

UNIQUE TWEAKS (MOMENTS)

  • Participate in partner meeting with client 
  • Sign up for technical training session 
  • Plan colleague’s birthday celebration
  • Get a massage

NYTimes: Remote Work is Here to Stay, Employers Lean In

NYT opinion writer Jessica Grose penned an outstanding piece, “Remote Work is Here to Stay. Lean In, Employers.” this past weekend following the release of a new working paper — The Covid-19 Baby Bump – from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The paper suggested remote work was among the factors that resulted in the first major reversal in U.S. fertility rates in more than a decade because it reduced the opportunity costs (or “what’s given up”) of childbearing for some employees.

Jessica, who also writes the NYT’s On Parenting newsletter, noted some of my thoughts in her piece including one factor not mentioned in the NBER paper that I believe had an impact as well. “The partners of prospective mothers also, in many cases, had the same access to remote work and flexibility, which is further opportunity cost reduction on mothers because they don’t have to shoulder the burden alone.”

As Jessica wrote, “When you can work remotely or more flexibly, the frantic (working parent) dash disappears” and “a million other little pressures (are) relieved.” She cited Future Forum’s latest Pulse Survey which that found 83% of working moms now want location flexibility” and half of the working dads asked “want to work remotely 3 to 5 days a week.”
Yet, the demands to return to office in the name of face time persist. My response, “The complaints that remote work destroys company culture and prevents mentorship directly relate to the fact that the pandemic shift to remote work was crisis-driven and not a thoughtful, intentional implementation.

“A well-executed flexible work strategy addresses upfront, ‘what do we need to do to build culture and mentor talent?’ then determines ‘how, when and where do we do that best based on the realities of our jobs and lives?’ That’s not left to chance.”

It becomes part of a culture where flexibility is “the way we operate.” This is the next evolution of work that all organizations need undertake to attract and retain talent at every age and stage of life, including parents. Define your what. Your why. Your purpose.

As I wrote in a piece for Medium two years ago, “Operating shifts that keep parents in the workforce improve work life for all. The same planning, coordination and support to help parents can help all employees find a better fit between their jobs and the other parts of their lives in the near term, while informing the way work looks long term.”

Until next time, keep reimagining work… and life.


“What keeps you up at night?” My interview on UC Berkeley Extension’s The Future of Work podcast

“What keeps you up at night?”  That’s one of the thought-provoking questions the host of UC Berkeley Extension’s The Future of Work podcast, Jill Finlayson, asked during my recent appearance. Finlayson is also the Director of EDGE (Expanding Diversity and Gender Equity) in Tech Initiative at UC, and the monthly podcast she hosts focuses on the changing evolution of the workforce and the skills needed to stay competitive.

In this episode, The Humanizing of Flexible Work, we discuss the costs and benefits of flexibility, the impacts as more employees work a hybrid schedule, and who might get left behind or forgotten.

But we started our conversation with a question I’ve never been asked before: what keeps me up at night?

First, I am constantly thinking about how can I share with organizations, leaders, and individual employees what I’ve learned over nearly three decades actually transforming work so they don’t feel so overwhelmed. There is a proven path. How can I help them be as excited as I am about the possibilities of a well-executed flexible work strategy? I’ve seen the results and benefits that I call “the spark.”

Second, I still don’t think leaders truly understand that we’re not going back to the old ways of working. Without senior leader buy-in and sponsorship, a broad flexible reimagining of work is much more difficult.

And third, we are still too hyper-focused on where we work. Instead of leading with the work – purpose, values, and also job tasks – and THEN, determining together not just where, but how and when that work is done best.

It’s not that where doesn’t matter. It’s just not the most effective place to start. For example, what leads to a better outcome–setting “anchor days” and then figuring out what you’re going to do on those days onsite together, or looking first at what you need to do and then deciding if anchor days make sense and, if they do, what would the best anchor day or days be?

Yes, change is scary.  But I’ve seen what happens when work is the focal point. You start to ask “How can we do this better?  How can we do this more effectively?” That’s innovation in action.

Take the best of how we worked during the pandemic, and add back what was missing. That’s how you move forward to the best of what’s next and unlock new levels of performance and well-being.

But it requires a consistent process to guide that decision-making and a new set of skills for both leaders and employees. It also requires us to expand beyond hybrid and remote work, which are just two possible ways to work flexibly, and exclude nearly half of the workforce that needs to be onsite for their jobs. To fully seize the beneficial outcomes of high performance flexibility, organizations need to consider the full continuum of how, when, and where work can be done across the entire talent base.

We discuss this and much more, including my look ahead at how, when, and where I believe we’ll be working 10 to 25 years from now. Listen to the full episode.


Moving Past the Office Occupancy Scorecard

While there may have been a Labor Day bump in return to office occupancy, rates have remained steady, and a variety of data indicate “where” we work patterns appear to be stabilizing somewhat. Hopefully, we can now move beyond RTO/hybrid limbo and start to answer these important questions:

  • How are team-based decisions about “where” people will work best being made?
  • Is the work (what we need to do) or the where/location leading these decisions?
  • Do these decisions reflect the core values of the organization? (Read last week’s newsletter on why this matters.)
  • When (hours) are employees working?
  • How are they using technology to enable efficient communication, coordination and collaboration while working flexibly?
  • And, have processes, such as meetings, scheduling and onboarding, been reimagined and updated to support, or be supported by, new work patterns?
  • Do managers and teams have the skills and tools needed to flexibly work with strategic, coordinated intention?
  • Do individuals have the skills and tools they need to flexibly fit their work and life together in a way that considers their needs and the needs of the business?

“The office” is a location. It’s ONE enabler of work, and will continue to play an important, albeit reimagined, role, but it’s not the work itself.

 

Optimizing flexibility to achieve high levels of performance and well-being requires three stages that leaders, managers, and employees need to be trained to execute:

Stage 1 – Define: Use of a CONSISTENT PROCESS (not a policy) to define the unique “how, when, and where” guardrails within which the organization as a whole and individual teams will operate based on the work that needs to get done.

Stage 2 – Operate: Actively plan and coordinate the work, day-to-day, within those flexible operating guardrails.

Stage 3 – Review and Recalibrate: Evolve the guardrails and flexible way of operating as realities and needs change. Because flexibility is never “done.” It’s a continuous loop of improvement and innovation.

More on the role of the office and occupancy rates

Just as work has as fundamentally changed since the start of the pandemic, so has the role of the office. This was a topic I explored with Ryan Anderson, VP Global Research and Insights at MillerKnoll on a recent “Looking Forward” podcast episode (link includes audio and transcript links). Give it a listen or a read if you haven’t yet.

Understandably so, there’s a lot of interest in office occupancy data. But we must remember, pre-pandemic office occupancy was not 100%. Check out my twitter feed for this interesting exchange as Nick Bloom and I try to understand the 100% occupancy on the ‘Y” axis of the often-cited Kastle occupancy barometer:

Our Flex+Strategy Group research found that as far back as nearly a decade ago, one-third of full-time U.S. employees did most of their work from a remote location other than their employers’ office. This aligns with average pre-COVID occupancy rates that ranged between 60%-70% (we have confirmed this pre-pandemic rate with reputable commercial real estate sources).

While occupancy data is important and helpful, if organizations continue to look to it as a scorecard of who’s winning and losing the RTO tug of war, they’ll remain stuck where they are – trying to force an outdated work style that was disappearing even before the pandemic and is no longer valued or understood by most employees.

Hopefully, now that there’s more clarity about the “where” we work, we can focus on:

  • What it will take to work (and live) across workplaces, space AND time successfully and flexibly, and
  • How to make it a win for the business and employees?

The good news is there is answer, and it lies beyond “where.”


In the Boardroom and Why Values are Foundational to High Performance Flexibility

Produced by BDO’s Center for Corporate Governance, BDO in the Boardroom is a podcast for board of directors and those charged with governance. I joined Amy Rojik, Managing Partner, Corporate Governance, on a recent episode to address whether today’s directors truly comprehend the new reality of work and how it’s fundamentally changed.

We discussed why the successful execution of high performance flexibility requires full C-suite participation, organization-wide training, and a willingness to experiment. I shared how the boards and leadership teams that have instilled a strong set of core values and a culture of innovation have more success evolving and optimizing the flexible way their organization operates. 
 
When organizations align their work with their values and live those values, they’re leading with what they need to do. They lead with the work first and in service of the work, then they determine how, when, and where they do that best. Using your office building is not a value, but it can certainly enable connection and culture – those are values. (Yep — Return to office mandates, I’m talking to you.)
 
Whether it’s supporting colleagues or serving customers or communities, when work and values align, that’s what increases productivity and moves organizations forward.
 
Listen to the full BDO In the Boardroom episode. And for a refresher and further insights into why flexibility matters to corporate boards and governance execs, look to my July 26 newsletter on the topic.
 
A bit about my relationship with BDO. The professional services firm is a long-term Flex+Strategy Group client. High performance flexibility serves as a critical business driver for the firm, which continues to take its flexible work strategy to the next level as an integral part of its culture and operations.  
 
“Together, We Thrive” was the theme of their recent partner meeting where I gave a keynote that included stories and insights from the three partners — Meredith Pilaro, Ayoub Sunna, and Daniel Kramer — who champion the national effort. (That’s us illuminated by the backstage lights after we presented.)

The keynote served as a force multiplier kick-off. The goal was to ensure the firm’s 800 partners are poised to lead from a shared understanding and consistent approach as they continue to optimize how, when, and where their offices and teams are working to meet emerging employee and client needs.

This leveling-up execution includes the launch of a new Flex Success training series to provide professionals at all levels the skills and tools to partner with each other to define and execute the flexibility that will work for the unique needs of the firm and its employees. 
 
What is your organization doing to involve, engage and prepare every level for flex success and how can we help? Let me know.


Building Community in a Flexible, Dynamic Organization

I recently appeared on CareerCast, a University of Chicago Booth School of Business podcast. Host Anita Brick, Director, Career Advancement Programs, and I talked about an important topic: how to build community in a flexible, dynamic organization.

We talked about the five steps an organization can follow, as a community, to answer the foundational question “what do we need to do, and how, when and where do we do it best?” together:

Step 1: Start with full C-suite alignment around the organizational why and their need to champion flexibility because the CHRO can only do so much. Real flexibility happens in the business, in the way we work every day.

Step 2: Lead with “what,” not “where.” Bring teams together to answer “what do we need to do?” The answer will vary based on the team’s unique work realities, but the process of coming up with the answer together is a powerful community-building exercise that aligns understanding, attitudes, interests, and goals.

Important note–defining the what is not just a list of job tasks. It’s also about elevated, higher-order considerations like strategic priorities, purpose and the culture you want to build.

Step 3: THEN, answer “where, when and how do we do our work best?”  Where and when are important but also focus on “how” the work gets done: How do our core work processes (e.g. approvals, meeting planning, training, onboarding, etc.) need to adapt? How do we use technology?

Step 4: Train and introduce managers, teams and individual employees to the skills they need to play their respective, and collective, roles in flexible work success.

Step 5: Continue to experiment with and recalibrate the flexible way your team operates as realities change…which they will!


Sadly, I see very few organizations go through all five steps. Most are stuck at the where with a narrow focus on hybrid work, which is just one aspect of flexibility and leaves out about 45% to 60% of the workforce whose jobs require them to be on-site. Everyone must be part of the flexibility conversation for it to work and for the sense of community to happen.

We also talked about:

  • Leading teams – leading communities in flexible organizations will require managers to be more thoughtful and intentional about how they communicate and develop employees regardless of where they’re working and whether they’re in person, or not.
  • Managers need to be clear about how they measure performance, how they set priorities and make sure they’re comfortable communicating and collaborating across technology platforms. These are skills that need practice.
  • A few client examples of how managers connect with their teams regardless of location and how clients intentionally create community-building experiences when bringing employees together onsite, and
  • Considerations to ponder before leaving your current job to seek better flexibility elsewhere. And, if you decide to do so, questions to ask to gauge a prospective employer’s flexibility commitment, and maturity.

And so much more!

What are some of the ways you are building community in your organization across workplaces, spaces and time? I’d love to hear what you are doing and seeing!

Listen to the full episode.


Why Flexibility Matters to Corporate Boards and Governance Execs

As oversight of talent and human capital issues become front and center for corporate boards, I joined KPMG Board Leadership Center’s (BLC) Spring Directors Roundtable as a panelist for a discussion about “What workers want – Understanding the new employee/employer dynamic.” We explored the factors driving employees’ needs and expectations—from personal well-being and work-life fit to alignment with the company’s purpose.

Moderated by KMPG BLC Senior Advisor Stephen L. Brown, the panel also included Columbia Business School’s Todd Jick. Todd is the Reuben Mark Faculty Director of Organizational Character and Leadership and a former independent director of Claire’s Stores, Inc. Our other panelist was Eskalera co-founder and CEO Dane E. Holmes, who is also an independent director of KKR & Co., Inc. and Goldman Sachs’ former global head of human capital management.


We all agreed regardless of how directors structure their oversight of human capital management and talent strategy, it should be part of every board discussion. And as I noted, that includes work flexibility.

When people say, “I want flexibility,” they really want to be able to have some control over how, when, and where they’re going to do their jobs best. That means flexibility is not an HR policy or program that sits outside of the business. But unfortunately, that’s why a lot of organizations are stuck.

Why does this matter now and going forward? Because institutional investors and regulators are increasingly focused on ESG and human-capital metrics, all of which are directly impacted in some way by flexibility in how, when, and where we work.

Read more about our Spring Directors Roundtable in this Insight recap that was published in the July edition of KMPG’s Directors Quarterly publication and is also available at the KMPG Board Leadership Center. Additionally, you can watch webcast replay of the full Roundtable.

Flexibility was also on the agenda at the recent Society for Corporate Governance National Conference where I was a panelist for the general session, “The Modern Workplace” along with Randy Clark, CAO of Sempra Infrastructure, Geralyn Ritter, Head of External Affairs and ESG at Organon, and Adam Kokas, EVP and General Counsel of Atlas Air. We all agreed whether it’s cybersecurity to DEI to pending SEC rules regarding human capital metrics, the flexibility at the core of the modern workplace impacts a variety of management and corporate governance issues.

Lastly, the update of a popular corporate finance textbook reinforces the role strategies such as work flexibility will play in the operational, cultural, and financial success of organizations. The 14th edition of Principles of Corporate Finance (Brealey, Myers, Allen, Edmans) was released earlier this month.

Read more of my thoughts about this.

The days of flexibility as the sole responsibility of HR and thought of as nothing more than an employee perk or policy are long gone. If flexibility isn’t an all-C-suites hands-on-deck issue at your organization, you’re at risk.