Why “hybrid” is not working

Why “hybrid” is not working:

–It leads with the wrong question “how many days in the office,” instead of “what do we need to do?” and THEN thinking through “where” that work is done best.

–But “what do we need to do” can’t just focus on the core tasks of people’s jobs because in many cases the argument can be made those tasks were done pretty well remotely. And the “standoff” continues. You need to elevate the analysis to include cultural and strategic priorities, that often do benefit from a purposefully-executed combination of in person and remote work.

–“Hybrid” is too focused on the “where” of work and that focus is usually between the binary “onsite in the office or work from home.” There are also client sites, conferences, restaurants, and co-working spaces. All enabling different work in different ways that need to be considered.

–Executing the flexible “next” of work is not going to happen via a policy, memo from the CEO or an HR webinar.

COVID disrupted the traditional, place-based work model at the foundation. Work”place” is now ONE enabler of work, not THE enabler.

That means the entire organization–not just HR–engaging in a process that puts all of the pieces back together.  Working together to fundamentally reimagine how, when and where your organization flexibly operates, with strategic intention, to achieve its talent, operational and performance goals.

This is the work and it’s ultimately where every organization that wants to thrive post-COVID is going to have to go. Until then, we will continue to read articles like this…hybrid isn’t working, because it’s trying to answer the wrong question.

 


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.


Learn to Be More Flexible When $h*t Happens

Recently, I was on the Flip the Tortilla podcast with the impressive Denice Torres, and I loved our fun and insightful conversation so much that I wanted to share some highlights with you!Denice is a former Fortune 500 executive turned entrepreneur and board member.  During her time at Johnson & Johnson, she rose through the ranks to serve as President and Chief Strategy Officer, and is known for leading one of the most successful turnarounds in the company’s history.  Her podcast is thoughtfully described as, “for the underdog at heart and is about rising up, breaking through, and finding a way to achieve your most audacious goals.” The last few years have truly tested us all, and we talked about ways to better adapt to the unpredictable changes and challenges that surround us, not just in work but in our everyday lives. At the beginning of the pandemic we were all under extraordinary stress working from home, perhaps caring for and helping school children all while trying to keep up with the demands of our job. We had no choice. We had to adapt.  But, what does it mean to be adaptable?  It’s more than just a process or skills and tools, it’s a mindset.  There is a science behind the whole concept of flexibility. At the start of the pandemic, we had to be flexible. Now, as we move forward to what’s next, there is a choice.  A choice to be intentional and strategic with the way we operate our business, perform our work and manage our day-to-day lives…or not.   The companies that had already reimagined how, when and where they worked before the pandemic had the technology and communication guardrails in place that made the transition to 100% remote, as a Senior Leader we worked with said in a one-word email: “SEAMLESS”. I know what the exciting possibilities on the other side of this crisis-driven disruption can look like. I’ve seen the innovation. The engagement. The productivity. The collaboration, and the general sense of happiness and well-being.  That “spark” is what keeps me so passionate and fuels my SPARK for this work after more than two decades.  It’s what I want for every organization and every individual going forward.  I encourage you to listen and learn how to be more adaptable and intentional about work, life and leadership when as Torres say, “$h*t Happens.”Also this past week, I had the opportunity to keynote IN PERSON at the Foundation Financial Officers Group (FFOG) conference in Philadelphia!Like so many leaders, financial executives are having to navigate the “next” of work in ways simply unimaginable two years ago. It was rewarding to draw upon two-decades of experience guiding flexible work transformation to simplify the complexity and help leaders feel more confident to take action knowing,”okay, there’s a path.”Is your organization grappling with how to navigate uncharted waters?  Let’s connect on how I can help you and your team today.  Simply reach out to my colleague, Alison Batten at alison@flexstrategygroup.com today (pictured with me at the FFOG conference!) to help us customize a program for you.


Overcome Skepticism to Hybrid Work

This exchange during a recent LinkedIn Live discussion hosted by Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times perfectly illustrates the current state of flexible, hybrid execution in organizations.

Leaders are grappling with how to navigate the very real tension between what people want and how to operate their business in a flexible dynamic way that achieves performance AND well-being.

At minute 27, Shrimsley sets up the challenge with this question, “Are we in danger of being a little bit fluffy?…Of course, we want to be as helpful as we can to employees but we actually have business needs and can’t lose sight of that. Thoughts?”

The responses from the panel:

–you need to be human-centric in how you lead or people will not work for you, and that includes giving them the flexibility they expect and want.

–yes, but it has to work for the business too. We have a business to run, customers to service, and salaries to pay.

Finally, an agreement that ultimately it needs to be BOTH.

Yes, but then HOW DO YOU DO THAT? That’s the $64,000 question. This threading of the “both/and” needle will be the next-stage of execution.

Here’s the good news — the process for executing a flexible operating model is NOT NEW.

What’s new is the scale at which it’s happening and a different leader/employee dynamic driving the change:

Pre-pandemic flexible work transformation was led by a visionary leader who had to bring their workforce along and show them they could do it. There weren’t that many of those leaders but we’ve been fortunate enough to work side-by-side with them for years.

Now, it’s the workforce that knows they can do it forcing EVERY leader to be more visionary about how, when and where work can be done.

Again, the good news is, once leaders make the leap, the roadmap to translate that vision into a reality that works for the business AND people exists. And the even better news is the performance, engagement and well-being you will unlock make taking that leap worth it.

#reimaginework #flexiblework #strategy #innovation #leadership #evolution #performance #futureofwork #hybridwork #remotework #wellbeing #talent #worklifefit #business #people #transformation #linkedin #change


Was it ever OK to go camera off?

I’m consistently asked this question: how do we communicate most effectively as we transition to working across different onsite and remote workplaces and spaces?

Many of the default communication norms adopted during the crisis-driven shift to remote work no longer serve us. They need to be reviewed and, possibly, revised.

Thank you to ROY MAURER for asking me to share my thoughts on virtual meetings, video conferencing and the need to intentionally clarify norms like, “cameras on or cameras off?”

Full article can be accessed here


The Hour of Reckoning: Leadership and the Willingness to Reimagine the Way People Can Work (or Not)

My husband, Andy, and I kicked off the new year by co-presenting to 25 college students from our alma mater, Bucknell University, who participated in a week-long leadership intensive over their January break.

This was a hand-picked group of impressive, motivated young people.  All had to apply for acceptance into the program, and most were from the school’s Management College.

The recently-retired business school dean and former Fortune 500 CEO who taught the class asked Andy and me to speak about our leadership experiences and philosophies because we have taken two very different career paths.

Andy’s has been more traditional and corporate.  Mine, less conventional, and more entrepreneurial.  The instructor also thought it would be insightful for the group to hear from a couple that has supported each other’s professional pursuits while managing our ever-changing personal responsibilities and interests.

It’s important to emphasize a couple of points:

  • This was a leadership class.  It was not a discussion about reimagining the way work is done or how to flexibly manage your work+life fit, although the students knew that’s my area of expertise from my bio.
  • This was a diverse group of students, with men and women equally represented, and
  • These are young adults who voluntarily cut their winter break short to participate in a rigorous leadership program led by a former business school dean and Fortune 500 CEO.  They are by no means “slackers.”

Honestly, Andy and I weren’t sure what the group would want to know. Would they be more interested in Andy’s corporate career path or how I changed lanes from commercial banking to being an entrepreneur, author, and workplace strategist? Would the men direct more of their questions to Andy, and the women to me?  What actually happened surprised us and is an urgent “heads up” for senior leaders who want to attract, retain, and develop this next generation of top talent.

The questions were evenly split between us and covered a range of challenges and opportunities we each faced throughout our careers.  But what struck us both were the number of questions from the men in the room about how, when and where they would be able to do their jobs and find “balance” (which of course was the perfect opening for me to share the wisdom and power of work+life “fit” because there is no “balance” which they loved!).

Their questions weren’t about working less or not as hard. These students are clearly willing to give their all to future employers. Their questions reflected a sense that, in many cases, the rigid, traditional model of work was obsolete and needed to be modernized.

They wanted to understand how they, as future leaders, could encourage and contribute to the process of reimagining work.  They valued professional success and were realistic about the level of effort required to achieve it, but they also valued personal well-being.  They saw both as mutually-reinforcing, not mutually exclusive.

Again, this was mostly from the male students.  What their curiosity and passion confirmed to me is we’ve finally reached the hour of reckoning.

Leaders can no longer ignore the strategic imperative to build a culture in which everyone, including this next generation, knows how to flexibly leverage time and tech tools, place, and workspace, as well as process and pace to achieve the goals of the business, get the job done and manage life.

Unfortunately, too often leaders dismiss any challenge to the traditional work model as, “Young people just don’t want to work hard” when, for most, it’s just the opposite. They want to explore how to work differently, but they need guidance.  Leaders that seize the opportunity potentially leave new levels of innovation, productivity, and engagement as their legacy.

As one young man asked, “What do you say to senior leaders to get them to understand how important it is to rethink work?”

My answer, “First, I help them link high performance flexibility and positioning their business for success today…and tomorrow.  Second, I show leaders how to marry the traditional strengths of their organization with new ways of working. But, ultimately, my message is simple—either you adapt, or you aren’t going to make it. And after speaking with all of you, I am even more certain of that.”

The hour of reckoning has indeed arrived.  How is your organization responding when this next generation challenges the traditional ways work has always been done?  Are you dismissing them as “slackers,” or are you listening? Are you using their questions to fuel innovation that will position your organization to thrive now and in the future, or are you doubling down on “business as usual”?


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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Delivering on the Promise of Work Flexibility

Recently, I was interviewed for an insightful article in USA Today entitled “More Employers Offer Flexible Hours, but Many Grapple with How to Make It Succeed” reporting the results of a national survey of hiring managers. After that interview, I re-read the recent article in the New York Times, “Young People are Going to Save Us All from Office Life” because I realized, together, they shed light on a critical workplace trend:

Employers have reached a tipping point. Younger workers are bringing their default expectation of flexibility into the workplace and it is forcing employers to grapple with how to respond.  While many are struggling with that response, clearly a meaningful percentage of hiring managers (44%) see an opportunity. They’re offering the promise of flexible scheduling, upfront, as part of their recruitment value proposition to differentiate their companies in a tight labor market (see chart below)

This brings up a couple of key challenges for employers:

Challenge #1: If an organization makes the promise to offer real and meaningful flexibility, how do they deliver on that promise in a way that works for the business and the person?  The USA Today story provides a great example of a failure to deliver:

“Last month, Michael Richman, owner of Academy Awning in Montebello, California, waded gingerly into the modern world of flexible work schedules, allowing a 22-year-old designer to come in at odd hours so he could go back to college full time.  It didn’t go well.

“The designer wasn’t available midday to answer questions from an East Coast customer and was hard-pressed to quickly address concerns raised by welders and other factory employees at the awning maker, which has 35 staffers.

“Richman also wondered how much the designer was really working when he was alone in the office. ‘It was a disaster,’ Richman says. ‘We have to have a somewhat regimented schedule. To have people coming and going at different times creates disruption.'”

What could Academy Awning have done differently?  Three things:

Train their employees upfront in the skills to propose a formal flexible “reset” of how, when, and where they work.  The designer wasn’t making small, informal, flexible tweaks to his work+life fit.  He was fundamentally changing the way he worked.  That required creating a plan that outlined how he was going to shift his schedule but still meet the core requirements of his job, which seemed to include:

  • Answering questions midday from East coast customers. Solution: Try to schedule classes toward the end of the day and evening when possible, and when at class, regularly check emails and answer any important questions during a break.
  • Quickly address concerns raised by welders and other factory employees. Solution: Share his schedule with welders and factory employees in advance. Check in to see if they have any questions before leaving for class and let them know the best way to reach him if they have an urgent matter.

Unfortunately, according to our research, a majority of employees who work flexibly receive no training or guidance at all.  Well-implemented flexibility requires training employees, teams and managers in the mindset, skills and tools they need to succeed.

Clarify expectations, ask for regular progress updates, and agree to performance metrics.  In a culture of high performance flexibility, a leader doesn’t wonder if someone is working if they are alone.  First, they don’t assume a person is working when they are physically sitting in the office because they know presence doesn’t equal performance.  Second, leaders continually clarify what matters, what’s being measured, and how it’s measured.  As long as that is happening, they don’t worry whether they can or can’t see an employee.

Re-calibrate if the flexibility is not working versus calling it a “disaster.” Realities change, and sometimes even the most thoughtful formal reset plan that everyone expected to work may not once it’s implemented. In that case, supervisors and employees know upfront (because that’s how they’ve been trained) it’s time to re-calibrate, not necessarily completely throw in the towel.

Starting with these three steps, an employer could confidently include flexibility in the way work is done in their recruitment value proposition because they can fulfill that promise.

Which brings us to…

Challenge #2: If you don’t want to promise work flexibility, how will you compete for top talent against the employers that do?  Good question. It’s one that leaders need to consider carefully.

To that end, a few weeks ago, I talked about the loyalty high performance flexibility creates. And I asked you to share your stories. Here’s one from a senior leader about the executive assistant she was able to retain:

“Many years ago, the woman who was my executive assistant came to me with a request.  She had recently become a single mom of elementary-aged girls and wanted to know if I would ‘allow’ her to come to the office a bit after 9 AM rather than our opening hours of 8.  In addition to being my right hand, she also supervised the other staff who were the administrative support in the Vice President’s office.

“She did not want to have to put her girls in a before-school program as well as an after-school program. She told me that she would happily get up early, work from home for an hour before waking her daughters, sharing breakfast with them, and seeing them on the bus. Then she would drive to work to start her day.

“To me, the answer was obvious…I was just so glad she was willing to come forward with the plan because I don’t think I was sensitive enough, at the time, to realize the stress of both a before-school and after-school program for her daughters, and for her.

“Aside from giving her that flexibility, she also got WAY more accomplished in that hour-plus of work in the early AM, without staff to supervise, phones to answer, or me asking her questions with some frequency.  My only request of her was to work with the staff she supervised to make sure the office opened, and the phones were answered at 8, even with her not being there.

“Her staff more than rose to the occasion and accepted the responsibility readily. The hour in the AM also gave me a chance to get to know them even better because often they were stepping up to help with something I needed in the office…and they were more than capable of providing that assistance.

“Also, when one of the girls was sick, having her work from home, rather than take a sick day, also made sense as she, again, accomplished a great deal in that quiet setting.

“That Susan was a self-starter, and high-level performer made the decision to support the flexibility she needed easy. Furthermore, the thought that she might look elsewhere for a position with more flexibility was frightening.  We needed her even more than she needed us!”

What’s happening in your organization?  Are you offering the promise of work flexibility upfront in your recruitment value proposition?  If yes, how are you making sure you are able to deliver on that promise in a way that works for the business and the person?  As always, I love to hear from you!

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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.


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.