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.


How to Work and Take Care of 32 Million Children

Parents across the U.S. and their employers woke up this morning with a new and daunting reality — how to work, care for and educate the estimated 32 million children who may be home from school for the foreseeable future. Here are a few tips to help leaders and parents partner to flexibly fit work, life, school, and family together:

Shift Your Productivity Mindset:  The goal is not to maintain pre-coronavirus levels of productivity. It’s about keeping everyone safe and healthy while maintaining as much productivity as possible as we all adapt to this new, ever-changing normal. The key is to be as creative and supportive as possible. If there was ever a moment to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, now is that time. Keep repeating: SOME productivity is better than NO productivity.

Talk Honestly and Be Patient:  Typically, bosses and employees don’t want or need to get into the nitty-gritty of how someone is going to work and take care of their kids. But these are not typical times. Keep the lines of communication open especially as parents settle into some sort of new routine with caregiving and home instruction. Managers, a little bit of extra support and understanding may be the difference between a worker who finds a way to keep contributing and one who throws up their hands and says, “I can’t do this.”

Expect and Embrace Imperfect Remote Workspaces: Effective remote working usually requires a separate workspace with limited disruptions from children, pets, and partners. That is an unrealistic and unnecessary expectation during this period when employees and kids were sent home to remote work and learn with little time to plan. The goal now is for people to feel they can be as responsive and accessible as possible, even if the environment is not absolutely perfect. If everyone—bosses, coworkers, and customers–can forgive a screaming child, barking dog, or the hum of a video game in the background, it will allow everyone to sustain a higher level of communication that would otherwise stop.

Spread Parents Across “A and B” Teams and Be Creative with Schedules:  For jobs that have certain tasks that cannot be done remotely, companies have started to use an “A and B Team” system to limit the number of people together in the same physical space. For those that have or are planning to do so, consider the following:

  • Assign employees who are parents evenly on both teams
  • Allow parents to stagger their start and stop times to coordinate care with partners and other support resources. Allow them to arrive and leave earlier or arrive and leave later as needed.

Hire College Students Available to Help: With two daughters sent home from college for online classes, I know there are millions of higher ed students that will have plenty of time in between classes for activities requiring limited social interaction. Now, there are public safety caveats given current CDC guidelines regarding social distancing. That’s why I say “will have” time. Many college students will not go back to school until fall. Use your judgment and listen to the public health authorities; however, after the period of strict social distancing and personal quarantine periods have passed, we will have millions of smart, motivated young people who could not only help care for kids while parents work but could also lead home instruction.

We have entered an unprecedented work and life reality. By shifting mindsets, changing expectations and re-imagining how, when and where work is done, we can mitigate the coronavirus, care for and educate our kids and stay open for business.

If you are a leader, how are you partnering with your working parent employees? If you are a working parent, what has been your experience so far? What’s worked and what hasn’t? What would help you?


A/B Teams: Flex Schedules and Locations When Remote Work Isn’t an Option

How do you implement a flexible work crisis plan that keeps everyone healthy, safe and as productive as possible during a very challenging period when remote work isn’t an option for certain jobs or organizations?

“Flexing” where people work is getting the most airtime and attention, but flexing when and how people can work together is another option to consider. 

The key is to social distance by controlling the number of people in one space at one time while maintaining at least some level of operating continuity.

One way to do this is to divide employees deemed ESSENTIAL to onsite operations and cannot work remotely into A and B teams. Schedule the teams to limit the exposure of the whole group to the coronavirus and then ensure the workspaces are cleaned daily. Here’s an example:

  • Week 1—Team A: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
  • Week 1—Team B: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday (Add Sat if want to add productivity hours, if needed)
  • Week 2—Team A: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
  • Week 2—Team B: Monday, Wednesday, Friday

Employees must stick to the teams to which they are assigned to limit exposure. That’s a mandate. To support employees with school-age children at home, divide parents across teams and allow them to shift their start and stop schedules to coordinate caregiving needs.

Productivity—Maintaining as Much as Realistically Possible in a Crisis Period

The reality is when a team that is essential to onsite operations is divided in half and works three-day weeks, productivity will decrease approximately 40 percent per week if employees typically work an eight-hour day.

To address this, some organizations have added Saturdays and/or extended workdays to 10 hours to make up for lost productivity. This still totals 30 hours a week. For this to work, leaders need to make peace with the fact that by switching to A and B teams they’ve kept their people safe while maintaining as much productivity as possible during the crisis period.

Keeping Everyone “Whole” 

How will pay be affected for those A and B team members? Some organizations have found creative ways for employees to use the extra hours to complete tasks that can be done remotely such as updating procedures, cross-training, and continuing education.

Some employers, that are able, are continuing to pay full salaries during this crisis regardless of the hours worked, while others that can’t are decreasing pay proportionally to avoid layoffs and to continue providing at least a percentage of an employee’s salary. (Hopefully, legislation currently under consideration will help with this gap).

There Are More Options than Remote Working 

Everyone is doing their best to rapidly reimagine the way work is done under very difficult, rapidly changing circumstances. There is no right or wrong answer.

It’s about what works best right now; however, the use of A and B teams to creatively schedule when and how your people work is another possible way of continuing to operate if remote work isn’t possible for certain jobs or organizations.

Caution: Some organizations may be using A and B teams as their primary flexible work crisis strategy, even though, if you look closely many of the jobs do not require onsite presence and could be done remotely, at least in part. The reason seems to be that on some level it’s easier than switching everyone over to working remotely. The problem with that is:

  • You are unnecessarily exposing people who don’t need to be exposed to each other and
  • You run the risk that should even more restrictive limits on gatherings be issued, you will be caught scrambling to get remote work up and running under even more challenging circumstances.

Have you or your organization implemented A and B teams as part of your flexible work crisis management strategy? What did you do? How is it working?


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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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?”

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5 Ways Employers Unlock the Strategic Power of Vacation

It’s no secret that employers are waging a talent war. Vacation or paid time off (PTO) can be one of the most powerful tools in an organization’s recruitment and engagement arsenal but is significantly underutilized. That’s according to an article for which The Washington Post recently interviewed me, “The one benefit workers want more than anything is an unlimited vacation policy.” As I noted in the article, “The value of time away from work has increased exponentially for people because there is no boundary — or there’s very little boundary. The promise of a chunk of time where people can just forget about work is increasing at a rate that organizations are not leveraging.”

Here are five steps every organization can follow to position, promote and manage their vacation/PTO offerings to stand out as both a strategic business initiative and an employee attraction/retention tool:

Position vacation/PTO as a form of work flexibility an employee can actively use to fit their work and life together. Increasingly, employees have access to informal flexibility in how, when and where they work allowing them to remain somewhat accessible to take care of needs such as medical appointments or parent-teacher conferences without taking PTO. But, when they need or want to disconnect from work entirely, they can choose PTO. Two different objectives can be achieved based on the employee’s needs and discretion – and on their terms.

Regularly prompt employees to plan and coordinate their vacation/PTO. When viewed as a benefit an employee is responsible for managing, too often vacation/PTO is either put off or not well-coordinated with other team members – especially during prime vacation and holiday times. Either way, the result is unhappy, burned out employees. Instead, every quarter, managers should send out a reminder and shared calendar link encouraging people to commit to time off. This way, managers can block off periods of “limited vacation requests” during busier periods and address any conflicts at other times in advance.

Set up a vacation/PTO coordination and communication protocol. To unlock the value of vacation/PTO for employees, and to ensure the ability to disconnect genuinely, it helps to have a vacation coordination and communication protocol that everyone follows. For example:

  • People choose vacation coverage buddies who commit to understanding the status of their buddy’s workload and coverage needs and then return the favor.
  • Establish a vacation responsiveness protocol. Leave a clear out of office auto-response that outlines when you’ll be back and who is covering for you, and set parameters in advance with teammates under what circumstances you can be reached and how.
  • Block off the first few hours back in the office to catch up and ease back into work mode. No one wants to return from vacation with a back-to-back meeting schedule and risk completely losing the sense of well-being gained from being away.

Celebrate vacations! As a manager, periodically share what you did over vacation. Ask for volunteers to share their vacation highlights. Add this as an agenda item at the end of a staff meeting or virtually share a photo or video clip. It doesn’t have to be glamorous. Even if it’s a staycation and “I visited a local museum” that’s something to celebrate!

Promote your organization’s vacation/PTO package, as well as your commitment to making those meaningful breaks happen, in your recruiting process. Don’t let vacation/PTO get lost in the pack of all of the other “benefits” offered. Acknowledge that your organization values vacation/PTO and sees it as a gain for both employees and the business.  

What does your organization do to encourage people to take a vacation and to make those breaks real and meaningful?

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The “Hidden” Productivity Link Between Work Flexibility, Personality Traits, and Emotional Well-Being

Typically, when we discuss the need for and benefits of work flexibility, it’s in the context of fitting work and personal life together. While important, it’s only one application. What if people were able to leverage flexibility in how, when and where work is done to optimize their natural personality traits, such as introversion, or manage their emotional state, including anxiety? How much productivity and well-being would be unleashed?

This link between personality and flexibility came to my attention for the first time a few years ago at the launch party for my friend Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. During the Q&A, a woman stood up and shared a story that, as an extrovert, surprised me.

Her voice cracking with emotion, she explained that she’d recently lost her private office when her company adopted a more open floor plan to save money. As an introvert, who needs more quiet and less distraction to be productive, she was struggling with the change. She couldn’t concentrate. She set her alarm to wake up two hours earlier to get work done before she went into the office and regularly worked from home in the evening to complete the tasks she couldn’t get done during business hours. It was becoming so unbearable and exhausting that she’d considered filing a claim under the American for Disabilities Act, “I physically can’t work. The environment is too overwhelming.”

My first thought was, “Wow. I had no idea this was an issue,” because, for my personality, the more noise, people, and interaction, the better. Then I wondered “Assuming her job could still get done well, why doesn’t she work remotely? Essentially that’s what she’s already doing, albeit outside of normal business hours?”

Why not? This woman’s employer was losing productivity and, ultimately, may even lose her to another job with a more introvert-friendly environment. Why wouldn’t they creatively support her need to flexibly manage where and how she works best, on or off-site?

Thankfully, Morra Aarons-Mele tackles this “why not” question and the link between greater work flexibility, personality traits, and emotional well-being in her fantastic, insightful new book, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home) published by Dey Street.

I recently talked with Morra Aarons-Mele about Hidden in the Bathroom and the message she hopes to convey to employers regarding the potential return of a more flexible work culture for a large, often “hidden,” percentage of the workforce.

CY: How do organizations benefit when more introverted employees are able to match the work flexibility they need to their personality type’s preferred work style (e.g., quieter, less distraction)?

MAM: It is majorly counterproductive and expensive if organizations DO NOT support it. Stress-related injuries cost American businesses billions of dollars a year. For more introverted workers, the office environment can be very stressful especially if it is an open, dense workspace. Your body feels physically assaulted, causing you to clench and hunch forward to protect your vital organs. Some people spend the day in this protective pose due to the environment. And it’s because we prize this amorphous idea of collaboration over deep-thinking, quiet time, and privacy.

For example, Apple built a new $5 billion, very collaborative and pod-based headquarters and people are already unhappy, as has been reported in the media. In contrast, Google Cambridge has a function-based environment with a lot of alone-space which is better, but I hear that, at some offices, it is still not enough. People are using the lactation room for quiet workspace, and there remains a bit of a stigma in some workplaces if you use the alone-space a lot. Again, that’s because the default is “collaborative,” and any regular behavior outside of that is prone to stigma and question.

What we have to accept is that we don’t all default to being with people, all day, in the office to do our best work. Some people are expected to be in the office to the detriment of their jobs when they would be more productive working remotely. But these norms are so slow to shift. 

Now I start my speeches with pictures of two people—one is in a boardroom, and another is dressed in sweats and is in bed–and I pose the question, “Who is more ambitious?” Why do we automatically demean those who may need more alone time?

CY: How can having more control over where, when and how you work help people manage anxiety and emotional well-being? Many employees tell me that being able to work remotely, even one day a week, not only saves time but lowers the stress and exhaustion of commuting. Why do you think this is and what does that tell us, again, about supporting the strategic, intentional use of work flexibility?

MAM: A sense of control, in general, and routine helps anxiety. Building that scaffolding is important. At any moment, a quarter to one-third of the population is walking around with general anxiety yet they wake up and commute to work – leaving their children, getting stuck in traffic. Then there’s the social anxiety many people experience. 

Anxiety doesn’t go away once you walk through the office door and it, of course, affects how we work in every way. Commuting, flying, presenting while clenching and crouching from the stress creates injury. Autonomy and the ability to flexibly determine how, when and where you work best helps manage the level of anxiety. Sometimes that will be in the office most of the time, and sometimes it won’t. The question is does my employer trust me and allow me to manage my work+life fit flexibly to be my effective. 

It’s important to note that men are anxious too. Men suffer from tremendous anxiety. It’s not just women. Having the flexibility to work and go to the gym, eat healthfully and sleep helps to manage that anxiety which increases productivity and saves money.

Bottom line: if organizations build high performance flexible work cultures that give their people the skills and tools to use work flexibility, with strategic intention, to optimize their personality traits and manage their emotional well-being, as Morra Aarons-Mele points out, it would be a win for all. Check out Hiding in the Bathroom for more insights and information about making that culture shift.

(This post originally appeared in LinkedIn)

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3 Reasons Every Extrovert Should Read the New Book “Quiet”

I am an extrovert. Give me a room full of people to meet and talk to for hours, and I’m in heaven. So why am I such a big fan of the new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012) by Susan Cain?

Like many extroverts, I was surprised to learn that anywhere from one-third to one-half of the population are introverts. In other words, a lot of people we come into contact with everyday don’t thrive on endless meetings, don’t want to solve a problem by talking about it with a group for hours, don’t enjoy jumping into a conversation and just “throwing out ideas,” and don’t want to attend lunches, conferences, and dinners all the time.

These activities are like a shot of adrenaline for extroverts. But they suck the energy right out of our more introverted counterparts.  That doesn’t mean extroverts are wrong and introverts are right. Cain is a big fan of extroverts, as you will see in the book.

It’s about awareness. If extroverts better understood our more introverted friends, colleagues and family members, it would make our lives better in the following ways:

Communication with others would improve. Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re in a meeting with a group of people. Everyone is sharing their thoughts and opinions freely, except for a couple of people who are quietly listening.

Chances are the extroverts in the room assume those individuals are being quiet because they don’t have anything to add. But after the meeting, you run into one of the listeners in the hall and they comment, “You know we should really consider doing x, y, z.”  And you say, “What a great idea! Why didn’t you share that in the meeting?” And they respond with a hint of frustration, “It was hard to get a word in edgewise.”

Knowing that introverts tend to like to listen, gather their thoughts, and then share their insights uninterrupted, extroverts could make it a point to pause discussions periodically, and ask, “Does anyone have something to add?” And then wait a moment for a response. This would give those who are more introverted the space they need to contribute comfortably.

If we understood how each of our “types” processed and shared information, we’d communicate better with each other at work, at home, and in our communities.

We would be better parents and partners.  I may be an extrovert, but I’ve always been attracted to the strong, silent type. It’s not surprising that my wonderful husband of more than 20 years is more introverted.

After a long day at work, he just needs some space; therefore, I wait to barrage him with questions and stories of my day. Or when we spend time with my extended (and more extroverted) family and he disappears after a certain point, I know he’s gone to find some quiet place to just sit and regroup. I understand why and don’t take it personally.

In terms of parenting, it was an exchange with my older daughter six years ago that first prompted me to understand the difference between the two types.

She was in second grade and I had volunteered for playground duty. I had been stationed far away from the playground by the door into the school. Next to that door was a basketball hoop where my daughter stood shooting baskets alone. I asked her, “Don’t you want to go play with your friends?” She responded calmly, “No, that’s OK; I want to be with you. I shoot baskets here by myself all the time.”

My uneducated, extroverted first response was, “What? Why do you do that, honey? Go up a play with your friends. I’ll be fine and it’s more fun to play with everyone.” She looked confused, “But Mom, I like to shoot baskets alone.” Yikes! I could see that I had unintentionally made her feel bad, and I realized in that moment she wasn’t like me.

Like her dad, she needed time to herself after a busy, intense morning in the classroom. I had to recognize that and support her, even though all I’d want to do is dive into a big group of screaming, laughing friends. Today she’s a super confident, happy young woman with friends whom she loves and who love her, but she still needs her breaks. That’s OK.

Cain’s book offers more extroverted parents and partners a helpful roadmap for understanding and honoring their more introverted loved ones. It has really helped me.

We could benefit from adopting more introverted behaviors, especially quiet time and listening. About twenty years ago, I started to suffer from the physical wear and tear of my high-intensity, highly extroverted, always-on-the-go existence. My mother was an introvert (I get my extroversion from my grandfather) and practiced meditation religiously. She suggested that I try to be quiet for a few minutes each day. Because I’d exhausted all of the medical options for treating my symptoms, I gave it a shot. It’s was a miracle.

Twenty minutes a day of sitting quietly, journaling, breathing, made all the difference physically, emotionally, spiritually. Introverts tend to stop and regroup naturally because they crave it. We extroverts have to be more thoughtful and deliberate about our down time, but we benefit from it just as much.

Introverts are also excellent, natural listeners. My husband can go to a party, talk to just a few people, but gather information that I hadn’t heard even though I’d talked to everyone. I’ll ask him how he does it and the answer is always the same, “I stopped talking, paid attention, and listened.”

While my natural inclination remains to say “hi” to and know as many people in a room as possible, I catch myself periodically. I try to spend more one-on-one time with fewer people and I make myself stop talking (if I remember) long enough to listen more. I’ll never be like my husband, but I enjoy experimenting with aspects of his style.

What do you think? Are you an extrovert who has benefited from understanding the gifts and behaviors of your more introverted friends, colleagues and family members? What have you done differently once you gained that awareness?

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012) is a wonderful guide to help us all understand ourselves and each other more fully.  Here’s how you can learn more and connect with Susan Cain:

(This post originally appeared in Fast Company)


Why I Disconnected to Draft My Book

Since late November, regular readers of this blog, my blogs on Fast Company and Forbes.com and my followers on Twitter may have noticed that I essentially disappeared.  I’d pop up now and then on Twitter from “my book writing cave. But for the most part, over the last two months, chose to focus my undivided attention on finishing the first draft of my new book.  Why?  For the following three reasons that will continue to inform how I approach serious, deep-thinking work in the future:

A constantly distracted brain can’t think deeply: One of the experts I interviewed for my new book was Maggie Jackson.

In 2008, I wrote about her wonderful, must-read book “Distracted” (Prometheus Books, 2008) in my Fast Company blog.  During our recent conversation, Maggie reminded me of an important point in her book that I’d forgotten, “Because we live so much in the sphere of technology, it makes us unconsciously forget the idea of slow incubation, of percolation of ideas, of sort of hanging in the moment of uncertainty and frustration that’s really part of learning or research.”

I needed to give myself the uninterrupted white space to go deeper and allow for the work to happen.

Creativity requires making mistakes and learning from them: Another amazing expert I interviewed for my new book is Julie Burstein, the creator of Studio 360 for Public Radio International and the author of “Spark: How Creativity Works” (Harper, 2012).

Over the years, she’s met with and interviewed hundreds of artists.  From those conversations, she’s identified a framework for creativity, and she told me that to be creative you have to allow time to tinker, edit, add, purge and mold.

The reality is that there are only so many hours in the day to create the room to make mistakes, experiment and revise, so something needed to go.  I still had a consulting business to run, and a family to care for over the holidays.  That meant I needed to let my virtual connections rest for a few weeks and trust that they will be there when I returned.

I am an extrovert, so to disconnect after connecting is hard for me. Introverts love time alone, which is what you must do when you write a book.  You spend hours and hours, day after day alone.  Unfortunately, I am not an introvert.  In fact, I am a pretty extroverted, extrovert.

In the beginning, I tried to connect for certain periods, then disconnect again.  But I found it was so hard to get back into the creative groove.  Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012), who is also in my new book, helped me realize that being alone day-after-day is not my natural habitat.  The minute I’d reach out and start connecting, I didn’t want to go back. But I loved writing my book, so it was easier for me to construct a temporary metaphorical “cave” around myself.  Thankfully, I’ve begun to reemerge.

So where am I in the process?  I’m very please to say that the initial draft is done (Yeah!), and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Now the editing with my publisher begins in earnest which will make the final product even better. I’m excited, and I’m back for the near term.  However, I plan to apply the lessons learned from this period of disconnection and creativity to future projects that require focus and attention.  So this will not be my last visit to “the cave.”

What about you? Do you think it’s necessary to disconnect to do your best work?  Why or why not?


Work-Sharing Policy as Flex Alternative to Layoffs Gains Steam, BUT Implement Strategically

As long time readers know, I’ve been a loud proponent of using flexibility in the form of reduced schedules, furloughs, telecommuting, job sharing and flex scheduling to minimize layoffs since the beginning of the recession.  And since the recession started two years ago, some innovative employers have indeed incorporated this more flexible approach to managing costs and resources into their downsizing strategy.

But more employers haven’t followed their lead because there wasn’t the incentive to move beyond the knee-jerk “cut” response that is rewarded, at least in the short-term, by the market (here and here).

As the internationally recognized management expert, Jeffrey Pfeffer, pointed out in a recent Newsweek cover story, “The Case Against Layoffs,” unless your industry is disappearing, layoffs do much more harm than good.   Thankfully it looks like an incentive to seek an alternative to layoffs has arrived, and not a moment too soon as early indications are that mass layoffs may be inching up again after a brief hiatus.

According to an article in today’s USA Today entitled, “Work-share program that cuts hours vs. jobs could grow,” work-sharing legislation may expand to more than half the states by year-end and provide employers the incentive they need to think differently and more flexibly:

“Seventeen states already have programs in which employers can cut the hours of all or most employees in lieu of layoffs. The workers get jobless benefits to recover part of their lost wages.

Work-sharing lets employers avoid the costs of severance and of training new hires when the economy rebounds. For workers, it eliminates the trauma of layoffs and helps preserve morale.

The number of employers in the programs soared last year as the recession deepened and the jobless rate climbed to 10%. A record 166,000 jobs were saved in the 17 states that offer the option vs. 58,000 in 2008, according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies…

The Gear Works of Seattle, which makes gears for wind turbines, sliced workers’ hours 20%, skirting layoffs for about 15 of 93 employees, says executive Mike Robison. Machinist Robert Foster, 38, who worked four-day weeks for 10 months, says, ‘I like it vs. the alternative.’”

And our research has confirmed that employees do prefer flexible downsizing to the alternative.  Most respondents to our nationally-representative 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check study said they would accept a change or reduction in schedule, or take a cut in pay to save their jobs.

Work-share legislation can provide the much-needed incentive, but for flexible downsizing to succeed it can’t be a one-off  “program.” To be a strategic lever for managing through the recession, it must be implemented, reviewed and revised as operating realities change.  Here are some important insights and resources to help the strategic implementation process taken from previous blog posts I’ve written on the subject:

As Recovery Simmers, Limit Lagging Layoffs with Flexible Downsizing (Not Just Furloughs)

One Year Later–Flexible Downsizing and Hard Choices Post-Recession, Pre-Recovery

Get Started Tips to Navigate Post-Recession, Pre-Recovery Flexible Downsizing.  Highlights of the advice include:

  1. Go back and assess where you are.  Know where you stand in the business.
  2. Once you have the facts on paper, reset the organization’s flexible response to match today’s realities.
  3. Reframe and communicate the business case behind either the continuation or discontinuation of any type of flexible downsizing in the post-recession, pre-recovery era.

Finally, to help leaders work through a cost-benefit analysis of layoffs versus a more flexible approach to downsizing, I joined with a team of work+life experts to develop a tool  entitled  “Flexible Rightsizing as a Cost-Effective Alternative to Layoffs.”

Today’s news that work-share legislation is gaining steam across the country is very welcome.  However, for organizations, leaders and employees to truly benefit from the more flexible approach to managing costs and resources it must be implemented, review and revised thoughtfully and strategically.

What do you think?  How important is this legislative incentive to encourage a more flexible alternative to job cuts?