“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.


The Next Wave of Business Travel

While economic considerations have eclipsed pandemic concerns, new data from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) finds business travel is on the rise. Over three-fourths of travel managers surveyed for GBTA’s latest industry poll expect the number of business trips taken by employees at their company will be higher or much higher in 2023 versus 2022.

But, as I discussed with Tariro Mzezewa for her recent Conde Nast Traveler story, “Both employers and employees need to understand that business travel today is not like it was before the pandemic—and there is no going back.

“A lot of things can be done perhaps remotely still, but there are certain things that we do enjoy and that have more impact when we’re together, so we have to remember that there’s a purpose now to why you’re on the road, but we also have to accept that travel is different.”

Like all things work-related, it starts with the what – what do we need to get done and how, when and where we do it best. And that includes deciding when and why to travel for business.

“There’s going to be a transition period and it’s just going to be weird the first couple of times you do it and it’s important that we let each other be in the weird. Recognizing some of the less positive aspects of all this right now and doing what you can as an employer to help support that transition, recognizing there’s good stuff that’s going to come from this, but there are some real things that need to be facilitated and supported as we transition through to what’s going to be next.”

Currently, those surveyed by GBTA don’t expect flexible work to significantly change business travel plans. Nearly 90% of respondents are offering some form of hybrid/remote work. But among them, 72% do not expect that flexibility will impact the number of business trips taken by their employees. And, while 14% expect it will lead to more business travel, an identical percent expect it will lead to less.  We will see.

In the meantime, have you traveled for business recently?  If yes, what was it like?  For me, travel is starting to pick up again, and I do love it.  But there is a definite purpose to it and more time, on either end, to allow for airline delays or cancellations. I continue to adapt and ease my way back in, enjoying what’s familiar and letting go of what’s less than optimal.


“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.


“Flexibility was among the top reasons workers quit their jobs.”

To the organizations that had hoped the threat of a recession would cause people to place less value on flexibility, it’s not happening.

Flexibility+Pay+Opportunity remains the value proposition that drives whether people quit or stay in their jobs, per new research from The Conference Board

“Flexibility was among the top reasons workers quit their jobs.”

Reasons people quit: “If you voluntarily left your organization for another job, what were your reasons? Which of the following reasons would influence your decision to stay with your organization?

* 17 percent of workers voluntarily left their company within the last year for a flexible work location, flexible work schedule, or the ability to work from home/anywhere.
* Other top reasons workers left their jobs were higher pay (22 percent) and career advancement (14 percent)—the usual drivers of job change.

Reasons people stay: More flexibility, higher pay, and career advancement were also the top factors that would influence workers’ decision to stay at their company:

* Flexibility: 54 percent
* Higher pay: 53 percent
* Career advancement: 33 percent

However, “Employees are voting with their feet to gain flexibility. But with flexibility must come boundaries,” said Robin Erickson PhD, Vice President of Human Capital, The Conference Board.”

In other words, people want flexibility BUT that flexibility needs to be effective and intentional. This is the next phase for organizations.

 


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.