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


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

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

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

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

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

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

To get started:

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

1) Can be done, even partially, remotely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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?


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?

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


3 Signs Flexible Work is Strategic–And Not Just Window Dressing

(Post originally appeared in Fast Company)

Research shows that a majority of employers offer at least some type of informal, day-to-day and formal work flexibility, and a majority of employees agree that they have access to it.

Therefore, the question is no longer simply, “What is telework, flexible hours, etc.?” We get the concept. The focus must now shift to “How do we use work flexibility strategically and deliberately to achieve our unique business and personal goals?”

Unfortunately, too often the flexible work that exists is either random with no clear, coordinated, widely understood goal behind it. Or it’s a program or policy that sounds and feels good but hasn’t infiltrated its way into the day-to-day business.

So how do you tell if an organization’s approach to work flexibility is deliberate, strategic and targeted, or if it’s random, window dressing? Here are three signs:

Sign #1: When a business challenge or opportunity appears, managers naturally ask themselves, “How can we address this by being more flexible in how, when and where work is done?” And then they understand how to pull the team together to make that flexible work solution succeed. For example:

  • The group is covering clients across all time zones and is burning out; therefore, “How can we be more flexible with our work hours so that if you are on a call with Asia or Europe overnight, you don’t have to be at your desk by 9 a.m. the next day?”
  • Business is down and we are getting pressure to cut head count; therefore, “How can I reduce schedules to save labor costs and the valuable talent we’ll need when the business turns around?”
  • An employee has to care for his mother who lives in another state and was recently diagnosed with dementia; therefore, “What if we let him telework so he doesn’t have to quit?”
  • There may be a new business opportunity in a market but there isn’t enough revenue to justify renting an office; therefore, “We can have the initial start up team telework from their homes until revenue grows?”

Sign #2: The organization consistently connects the dots between all of the tactical, siloed applications of work flexibility. (Click here for more)


How to Move Past the Fear “If I Give Flexibility to You, Everyone Will Want It”

(This post originally appeared in Forbes.com)

Even though 82% of the respondents to our 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check national study of full-time employees said that they had some form of work flexibility, I still hear stories of people experiencing resistance from their managers because of the “floodgates fear.”  What’s the floodgates fear? The scenario looks something like this:

Employee to manager: Susan, here’s my plan to work from home every Wednesday. I’ve outlined how I’m going to get my work done, how I’m going to communicate and handle any unexpected needs that might come up.”

Manager to employee: “Chris, this flexible work plan looks terrific, but if I give to you then everyone is going to want it.”

Susan, the manager, has been paralyzed by the fear that the floodgates for work flexibility will open and chaos will ensue. In fact, one manager confessed that he became so frightened that he imagined that he was in a big white room with hundreds of desk. On each desk was a phone. All of the phones were ringing and he was the only person in the room to answer them.

The managers who usually struggle most either haven’t ever had an employee work flexibly, or they’ve tried it in the past and it didn’t work.

So how do you help your manager move beyond the fear that the flexible work floodgates will open?  Here are a few tips:

Don’t take their reaction personally. Realize this fear is so common amongst managers that it has its own name, the Floodgates Fear. It’s based upon the very real concern that if they allow you to work differently, then suddenly they will be inundated with requests. The manager doesn’t want to be the bad guy or gal and have to say “no,” but they also have a business to run. If you don’t take their reaction personally, then you can work together to come up with a compromise that’s comfortable for everyone. You do this when you…

Agree to keep the lines of communication open with your manager. Another big fear that managers have about flexible work is that once they say “yes,” to a specific plan they can never ask to change it. The reality is that circumstances do change. It will give your manager a sense of comfort to know that if they need to come to you and say, “You know what, I can’t have two people working from home on Tuesdays. It’s affecting customer service on those days,” that your reaction will be, “Okay, let’s talk about how to fix it.”  This will…(For more, please click here)


How Do I Tell My Boss I’m Pregnant

“How do I tell my boss that I’m pregnant?” When a young woman posed this question to a career panel I participated in recently, she reminded me why it’s important to review the basic work+life fit questions periodically. It’s easy to assume everyone knows the answers, when the truth is we often don’t.

So here’s a recap of the “when and how to tell” advice the panel offered:

First, tell your boss as soon as you are showing. Your boss, as well as the rest of the team, will know you’re pregnant. But they’ll be too scared to say something potentially illegal. So as soon as you are comfortable disclosing your good news, share it. The earlier they all know, the sooner everyone can plan for your time out of the office.

Second, offer no apologies when you break the news. Be happy and proud. This was great advice offered by the two senior executive women on the panel with me. Both of them had stories of taking new jobs only to find out a couple of weeks later that they were pregnant. Breaking the news to their respective new employers wasn’t easy but in both instances they received nothing but support.

Third, by the time you are ready to leave to have the baby, make sure that all of your work is covered by and transitioned to others. Trouble happens when you leave and the people you work with don’t know what’s going on with your projects, where to find information, etc. If managed the right way, maternity leaves should be an employer’s favorite work+life fit challenge. Why? Because unlike illness, a natural disaster or eldercare, pregnancy usually allows time for advanced planning.

Fourth, be clear about your expectations related to connectivity to work while you are out. Some women will want to send and answer emails on the delivery table. Others don’t want to have any interaction with work at all. Neither choice is right or wrong. It’s what works for you; however, try not to send mixed messages. If you email during your leave, work will assume that you want them to keep you in the loop. If you start one way and then change your mind, just let people know. Don’t suffer in silence.

What do you think?  How do you tell your boss that you are pregnant? Obviously this is a question on the mind of many young women. How can we help them navigate this big, happy transition as smoothly as possible?

(This post originally appeared on Forbes.com)


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?