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)

Coronavirus Could Change How, When and Where We Work

This week, the coronavirus (or COVID-19) took a more serious turn in the U.S. with warnings that it could very well impact how, when, and where we work:

“Disruption to everyday life may be severe,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned at a news conference Tuesday. “Schools could be closed, mass public gatherings suspended, and businesses forced to have employees work remotely.”

The global spread of the virus may be a moment that reveals whether employers are ready to respond rapidly to unexpected workplace changes. Business travel could decrease or come to a full stop. More employees may need to work outside of local “business hours” and use video conferencing to operate across time zones. And, if it gets bad enough, many could indeed be asked, or request, to work remotely.

Are organizations ready? Chances are probably not. And, for those open to rethinking how the work would get done, are they ready for the inevitable post-crisis question, “Why don’t we do this all the time?”

How do you prepare your organization to not only flexibly respond to this potential disruption but also to use it as an opportunity to re-imagine work broadly?

Here are five steps to get started: 

  • Acknowledge the possibility that all or part of your workforce may need to work remotely. Hoping and praying it doesn’t happen, or simply ignoring it, is not a strategy. Neither is handing everyone a laptop and saying “go work someplace else” on the day they expand wide-scale quarantines. Plan as if the only way to remain operational will be for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Gather a cross-functional team together now that includes business line leaders, IT, HR, Communications, and Facilities to start to plan for different scenarios and optimize execution should circumstances require a rapid response.
  • Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected. Note which roles and duties: 1) Can be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the workplace, 2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, outside of the physical office and 3) Not sure. Challenge any potentially inaccurate default assumptions about specific jobs you may have thought couldn’t be done remotely. And for those in the “not sure” column, be willing to experiment. For example, for years, I’ve been told, “administrative assistants can’t work flexibly.” And, for years, I’ve worked with teams of administrative assistants to prove that is not true. Yes, certain tasks they complete require physical presence, but those can be planned for. The majority of their tasks can happen effectively outside of the traditional model of work AND benefit the business.
  • Audit available IT hardware and software and close any gaps in access and adoption.  Assess the comfort level with using specific applications, such as video conferencing and other collaboration/communication platforms. Where you find gaps, provide training and opportunities for practice before people need to use them. Real-time mastery is not optimal and is inefficient. Identify devices owned by the organization that people could use and clarify acceptable “bring your own” phone and laptop options. Determine if there are any data security issues to consider and how best to address them beforehand.
  • Set up a communications protocol in advance that outlines: how to reach everybody (e.g., all contact information in one place, primary communication channels clarified—email, IM, Slack, etc.); how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet.  
  • Identify ways to measure performance during a flexible response to the coronavirus that could inform broader change. After the flexible response period is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and why. The data will also prepare you in advance to answer the inevitable question once the crisis has passed, “Why don’t we do this all the time?” Depending upon the outcomes, you may decide to continue certain aspects of the flexible response permanently. For example, perhaps you cut business travel by 25% and substituted video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a 20% decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization’s sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions.   

An unpredictable challenge like the coronavirus can be disruptive and confusing; however, it’s also an opportunity to proactively experiment with new ways of working. This can ultimately position the organization for future success after the crisis is over. Approach the experience as an opportunity to re-imagine how, when, and where work can be done differently. Something every organization should be doing anyway.

And if you plan and nothing happens? Then, at minimum, you have an organized, flexible work disaster response ready the next time there’s a challenge to operational continuity, which chances are, there will be!

Does your organization have a strategic response ready to implement? If yes, what does that plan entail? If not, why?

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?

The Strategic Use of Flexibility (NEW Article in Talent Management Magazine)

(This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of Talent Management Magazine and was co-authored with one of my Flex+Strategy Group partners, Donna Miller)

As the dust settles from the Great Recession and a new economic reality emerges, businesses are beginning to take a hard look at how they can manage their talent for maximum business impact. The urgency to review and rethink is driven by leaner headcounts, larger workloads and greater stress as technology and globalization.  These trends erased the traditional lines between work and life. The result is a shift in expectations about how to manage responsibilities on and off the job. Businesses are moving beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all model of work and career and taking a more strategic, flexible approach.

Since 2007, Work+Life Fit Inc. and Opinion Research Corp. have conducted a biennial national study to track the state of work-life flexibility from the employees’ perspective. The results of the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check study confirm that new, flexible ways of working have gained traction since 2007. However, organizations need to do more. Helping employees manage the way work fits into their lives and organizations’ profits and growth plans in a transformed economy will require making flexibility — informal and formal telework, flexible hours, reduced schedules and compressed work weeks — an integral part of the operating business model and culture.

Traditionally, that meant writing a policy or training managers. But strategic flexibility requires dedicating people, time and money to a coordinated culture change process — one that clearly defines a business’ unique rationale for greater flexibility, establishes a shared vision of how managers and employees will use it and executes with relentless communication.

(Click here for more)

Strategic Flex and the Weather–Will You Be Open for Business Tomorrow?

(I’m watching the path of hurricane Irene from my book writing cave. and praying for the best.  I want to ask business leaders the same question I did in February 2010 as a blizzard approached–will you strategically use telework to stay open and not ask employees to risk harm to get to work?  Or will you have to close down?  Here’s the original Fast Company post.)

As we brace for the second wave snowstorm bearing down on the East Coast, I’m remembering an experience I had a few years ago at a major pharmaceutical company widely recognized for their work+life strategy.

As I presented a series of Work+Life Fit seminars to the employees and managers, snow began to fall.  On that particular day, I was scheduled to facilitate one session in the morning and another after lunch.  Midway through the afternoon session, a few inches of snow had accumulated and you could tell people were anxious to get on the road.  Then the most amazing thing happened…

A number of managers in the room stood up and asked their team members to meet them in a group.  As the various teams gathered, you could hear everyone sharing how they planned to work the next day.  Some would work remotely, others thought they’d wait until after rush hour and come in later, and a couple planned to take personal days if they couldn’t find child care for their very young children.

As the teams reached agreement and dispersed, the managers gathered together and opened their laptops in a circle and began to coordinate with each other.  How would they conduct meetings that were scheduled?  Some decided to cancel meetings while others converted theirs to webinars.  One manager who oversaw a manufacturing facility sent emails to the plant foreman flexibly coordinating the staffing for the next day.

I watched in awe.  Finally, the manufacturing manager saw my faced and asked me, ‘’Why are you smiling and shaking your head?”  At this point, all of the managers in the room looked up.  I responded, “Do you realize how much money you are saving by flexibly coordinating tomorrow’s work in anticipation of the snow?”  You could tell they were a bit confused.

They didn’t see what they were doing as unusual.  It’s how they flexibly managed their business and in their culture.  So I pointed out, “See your competitor down the street?  Do they use flexibility as easily and strategically as you do to maintain operating continuity even if it snows?”  Another manager said, “No they don’t.”  I continued, “Okay, so who’s open for business tomorrow and who isn’t?”  Now they were smiling and shaking their heads, “We are.”

This group of managers knew that their company supported flexibility, but it was the first time they consciously realized how they were using it to meet a business need–staying open when nature strikes!

What about you and your organization?  Will you be open for business, or not?  Are you having coordinated conversations today about how everyone plans to work tomorrow, or if they plan to work?  Or will you just take your chances?

Flex And The C-Suite: Barbara Taylor Of BDO USA, “Don’t Be The Last Person To The Party”

The “Flex and the C-Suite” series periodically showcases leaders who have made flexibility in the way work is done a key strategy for achieving business results smarter and better. In other words, they get it.

Barbara Taylor is the General Counsel of the national professional services firm, BDO USA, LLP. For the past five years, she has also been the senior leader champion of the firm’s award-winning BDO Flex strategy.

Our group has had the privilege of working with the internal BDO team helping them develop and implement their business-based approach to flexibility in how, when and where work is done. In our interview, Taylor shares important insights into why work+life flexibility is a strategic imperative and about the process the firm has followed to make it part of the culture.

Cali Yost: What are top challenges/opportunities you see for business over the next year or two?

Barbara Taylor: The economy will continue to be a very big challenge for some time. For BDO, this means a very competitive business environment and the pressure to do more with less. In addition, the 24/7 global work environment is here to stay. The challenge with that is how to manage work, schedules and resources across every time zone and keep up with everything that happens in the course of a continuous global workday.

I think the opportunity that comes from the challenges is that any business that can figure out how to manage those dynamics (such as matching people with client demand, maximizing use of space and resources, equipping teams to work across time zones) will have a distinct competitive advantage.

Cali Yost: In your opinion, how does work+life flexibility help an organization address those challenges or seize those opportunities?

Barbara Taylor: I see flexibility as one of the main tools that organizations can use to manage the business environment. At the core of the issue is that there are only 24 hours in every single day and people need to sleep at some point! Using flexibility–allowing people to shift their start/stop times, equipping people to work from home, and empowering them to flex around their work demands (e.g. after 3 am conference call, they sleep in and start work at 11)–are relatively simple ways to use flexibility to meet business demands.

At BDO, we have also started to think differently about people’s schedules and workloads over the course of a year. Making people more productive doesn’t just mean making them work more. It can mean re-thinking how to match their schedules with client demands. In accounting, there are times of the year we need people to be as productive/billable as possible. At other times of the year, we have more staff than work. There is an opportunity to use flexibility to better match salary costs to client demand. If someone reduces their hours during slow times it allows the employee more time for their personal lives and to recharge and also provide a financial break in salary costs for us. Then, that person can come back refreshed and highly billable during crunch times.

Flexibility also helps us manage growing real estate costs. When we open new offices, we have think about who can go to offices located in the suburbs, who can work from home, and who can share offices, which has real bottom line impacts.

Cali Yost: What three factors have been most critical to the successful implementation of flexibility at BDO? (Click here for more)

(This post originally appeared in

For more about how to make work+life flexibility part of an organization’s culture and business model, sign up to receive our “Make Flexibility Real” Newsletter and join me on Twitter @caliyost.

How to Use the Manager Flexibility Buy-In Curve to Your Advantage

(Did you receive our How-to “Make Flexibility Real” e-newsletter this week via email?  If you did, the article below would have shown you how to leverage the Manager Flexibility Buy-In Curve.  Plus we shared a case study that’s exclusive to the enewsletter. Click here to sign up!)

Sixteen years of anecdotal evidence gathered from helping organizations of all sizes launch flexibility strategies shows that manager support for flexibility tends to fall somewhere along a bell curve:

What Does Support Look Like in Each Segment?

Managers who “Really Get It” do one or all of the following:

  • When they find out that the organization is taking a more strategic look at flexibility, they respond, “Why? I already do that.”
  • They don’t call what they are doing flexibility, they call it, “Getting the job done.”  Interestingly, this can make identifying these innovative applications of flexibility in the business more difficult.
  • Intuitively engage in an ongoing problem-solving dialogue with their team to create win-win flexible solutions.
  • When asked, “Where do you see flexibility in five years?” The response is, “There will only be more of it and here’s how the business will change and benefit…”

Managers who “Sort of Get it, but Aren’t Sure” do one of more of the following:

  • They willingly participate in the discussion regarding flexibility but initially think it’s nice thing to do on a limited basis perhaps for women, particularly mothers.
  • Will cautiously respond to possible business applications and benefits of flexibility such as expanded global client coverage, staying open in bad weather, real estate cost savings, etc. with “yeah, but…”.
  • Look to “the policy” for the rules instead of seeing flexibility as an ongoing conversation within the team.

Managers who “Don’t Get or Actively Oppose It” do one or more of the following:

  • Refuse to participate in any part of the flexibility strategy development process.
  • Make comments such as, “How do I know people are working if I can’t see them?  I need people here,” “If I give it to one person, everyone will want it and then I’ll be left with all of the work,” or “I didn’t have flexibility when I had kids and I survived. They can find another job if they don’t like it.”
  • Challenge peers offering more flexibility, and question their management capabilities.

How Do You Leverage Managers in Each Segment to Increase Broad Buy-In?

Use managers who “Really Get It” as your flexibility evangelists. They will have the most influence over their peers, especially those who sort of get it but are on the fence. As the organization creates a shared vision for “why” flexibility and “what” it will look like, have these managers tell their stories of how flexibility helps them manage their businesses.  Get them to patiently address the “yeah, but..” concerns. Their insights will have the most credibility within the culture.

Use managers who “Sort of Get It” to identify the potential cultural and operational roadblocks that can derail a flexibility strategy unless addressed upfront.  Those “yeah, but…” concerns are red flags that there might be a misalignment between cultural expectations.  For example, “yeah but, the senior leaders walk around at 8:00 am to see who is here.”  Or there might be a mismatch in operating procedures, such as “yeah but, below a certain level we don’t get smart phones which makes working remotely tough.”

Use managers who “Don’t Get or Actively Oppose It” as your biggest champions, or as an example of money left on the table. Every now and then, the most vocal naysayer can turn into an ardent champion of flexibility.  This happens if you can find a way to engage him/her in the change process.  Get them to see the strength of the shared vision, the mutual responsibility of the employee and manager, and the win-win for the business and the individual.

If that doesn’t work, the other alternative is to use their resistance as an example of money left on the table because of inflexible work practices. The best way to do that is to conduct a survey, cross-tab flexibility and engagement data and then compare different groups.  Inevitably the group with flexibility will report higher levels of engagement than those with less.  Again, money being left on the table.

Join us on Friday, July 8th from 12 pm to 1pm EST when we will consider these and other key issues related to How to Make Managers Fall Deeply in Love with Flexibility (or at Least Like It).  (Sold Out–join us for the next webinar in Sept.)

What is your experience with the different levels of manager buy-in to and support for flexibility? How have you leveraged it?

If you liked this article, I invite you to sign up to receive our e-newsletter via email, which will include a how-to “Make Flexibility Real” article as well as a case study of success.  Also, be sure to join us on Twitter @caliyost and at our FastCompany blog.

WEBINAR–How to Make Managers Fall Madly In Love with Flexibility (or at Least Like it More!)

How to Get Line Managers to Fall Madly in Love with Flexibility  (or at Least Like it More)

DATE: Friday, July 8th
12 pm EST

73% of the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey respondents answered “True” when asked, “Work life flexibility is only possible if your employer and/or boss provide it.”  In other words, most of us believe that without the support from our bosses, greater flexibility in how, when and where work is done is out of reach.  Their support is critical to the success of flexibility, but often elusive and inconsistent.

Over the past 15 years, we’ve watched line managers fall in love with flexibility, as they recognize that its a powerful lever for running their business, and for helping their people manage their work+life fit better and smarter.

Join us for this value-packed webinar and we’ll show you how!

Some of the insights we’ll share include:

  • What’s the most important question to ask a manager if you want their support?
  • What’s the role managers dislike the most, and often makes them hate flexibility?
  • What are the three most common manager fears that, if addressed directly, remove all roadblocks?
  • What is the best way to involve line managers in the flexibility strategy development process to maximize buy-in and support?

If you are interested, click here to learn more!  Hope to see you there. SOLD OUT

911! Six Tips to Triage Your Work+Life Fit When Thrown a Curveball

What do you do when an event comes out of left field and lays waste to your carefully planned work+life fit?  This is the question I discussed with my friend, radio host Maggie Mistal, when I appeared on her “Making a Living” program last Friday.

Life recently threw Maggie a curveball when her newborn son arrived two months early while she and her husband were on vacation.  Now, they are living and working temporarily from another city until their son is able to travel back home.

At some point, most of us will deal with a sudden change in circumstances.  My most recent curveball happened five years ago when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Immediately your priorities shift.  How do you triage and rethink your goals, your schedule, and your responsibilities both at work and in the other parts of your life?  Here are some of the tips that Maggie and I discussed during the show:

Remember that curveball events typically have three distinct phases:

  1. The initial crisis—You are just making it through minute-by-minute
  2. The holding pattern—The crisis has passed, but the situation has yet to resolve itself or settle into a new reality.  You’re operating less minute-by-minute and more day-by-day.  And finally, you will move into…
  3. The post-curveball reality—You’re clearer about what your work capacity will be going forward and you’ve regained some level of control over the other parts of your life.

Try not to fall into all-or-nothing thinking, and avoid making a rash decision to quit.

Especially, during the crisis phase, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  You start to think “I can’t deal with this and work at the same time.”  Even I had this reaction when I got the news about my mother.  But thankfully I pulled myself back from the edge, and took a breath.

While quitting may seem like the only choice at the moment, it may not be the best answer.  First of all, most of us need the money.  Secondly, you may be surprised to find that work is a welcome distraction especially when you move into the holding pattern.  Try not to make any major work or life related decisions until the crisis period passed.

Be honest with your boss, team, clients, friends, and family.

99% of the people in your life will be understanding and supportive at least in the crisis phase and early stages of the holding pattern.  In terms of how much you share, both Maggie and I agree that you should tailor the information to your audience.  However, in my experience, managers, clients and team members appreciate simple, consistent updates.  This is especially true once you move into the holding pattern period, and you can start actively testing your capacity for more work.

Unfortunately, 1% of the people in your life won’t be able to show up for you emotionally or physically—let it go.   Don’t expend the extra energy you don’t have now.  File away the lack of support and, if you need to, deal with it later.  A woman who called into Maggie’s show talked about how unhelpful the president of her company was when she needed time during the adoption of her child. But she waited until after the adoption was completed to quit and get a new job.

Gather your resources.  You don’t need to handle the curveball experience all by yourself.

This is especially difficult for people who are used to being in control.  Regardless, you need to let others help you.

Perhaps there’s a work colleague that you respect who can take on some of your responsibilities.  Delegate “to dos” to your family members and friends who’ve offered to pitch in.  I can never repay the group of women in my town that provided meals to my family three nights a week for the last few months of my mother’s life.  But I will confess, initially, I refused because I didn’t want to be a bother.  It took my friend Nola saying, “Shut up, Cali.  They’re coming whether you like it or not,” to make it happen.  And it was a godsend.

Also, if you work for a company that offers work+life benefits and leaves, use them.  Remember the Families Medical Leave Act doesn’t have to be taken all at once.  It can be used over time in small chunks.

Once you’ve move into the holding pattern phase, begin to test your capacity for taking on more work but be patient.

Your priorities will continue to shift and change.  See what you can and cannot comfortably take on.  Perhaps it will help to be more creative and flexible in how, when and where you work.  For example, on Friday, Maggie broadcast her show remotely from Florida, while I sat in her New York studio.  You wouldn’t have known the difference.    When my mother had cancer, I often worked remotely from the hospital.

Build in even small moments of wellness.

This is so important yet can be incredibly hard, especially in the crisis phase.  But once you’ve moved into a holding pattern, gather your resources and use them to find time to care for yourself.  Take a 30 minute walk outside.  Try to get a good night sleep.  Eat at least one healthy meal a day.

Again, think small steps taken consistently so you aren’t overwhelmed.  The goal is not just functioning at your best during the curveball event.  You want to emerge from the experience as strong as possible and ready to move forward in the post-curveball reality.

Has life ever thrown you a curveball that’s made you triage your work+life fit?  What helped you reset your work and personal responsibilities and goals when your priorities changed overnight?

Did you find this post helpful?  If so, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @caliyost and at Fast Company.  Also, please sign up here to receive our NEW “Make Flexibility Real” How-To Newsletter.

Fast Company: How to Talk About Work and Life Without Getting Into “It”

What is my vision of work+life fit nirvana?

  • Every manager would know how to talk with his or her employees about work+life flexibility. The discussion would focus on how to get the job done while acknowledging that employees have lives outside of work that they need to deal with. The manager doesn’t come up with solutions, but everyone feels comfortable enough to talk about options, without getting into the details of or judging “why” they need to work differently.
  • Every employee would have the skills to take the initiative and present a work+life fit plan that adjusts how, when or where they work in a way that’s a win for them and the business. They would do this in response to any change in their personal or professional circumstances that would cause them to rethink the way work fit into their life. They don’t suffer in silence because they have the skills to present options that make sense for everyone.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in work+life fit nirvana:

  • Most employees have no idea that they, not their manager, need to come up with solutions when work and personal circumstances change. And, even if they did, most wouldn’t know how. Further complicating matters is the fear saying anything in today’s economic environment that would put their job at risk.
  • Most managers are afraid to say anything that would get them sued, and quite frankly, they “just don’t want to get into it.” They don’t know enough about each person’s life and tasks of their job to come up with a workable solution, and they aren’t comfortable getting into the details of “why” behind the desire for a different work+life fit.

As a result, the ongoing conversation doesn’t happen which leads to a productivity-draining, engagement-sucking, stress-inducing stalemate that hurts everyone.

How to break the stalemate and start the conversation without getting into “it”

Thankfully, more employers recognize that they need to break the deadlock. Increasingly I’m being asked, “How do we get employees to tell us what would work for them and for us? And how do we get managers to feel comfortable having the conversation?” Here’s my advice:

  1. Keep it simple by asking the question, “Do you have the flexibility to manage your work+life fit in a way that gets your job done and meets your personal needs?” The question opens the door to the discussion, keeps the focus on the job and doesn’t get into the details of the individual’s personal life. I recommend that managers pose the question to everyone at least once a year (proactive), and then use it to address any issues that come up unexpectedly before the stress and strain becomes noticeable (reactive).
  2. Give employees the tools to be an effective partner and come up with a plan once the door is opened. For an example of this skill set looks like, check out the three-step work+life fit process outlined in my book. Highlights can be found in the Work+Life Fit in 5 Days series.

With a simple question and the skills to create a win-win plan, it’s possible to encourage a conversation about work+life flexibility that benefits everyone … and gets us one step closer to nirvana.

What do you think makes managers and employees more comfortable talking about how to manage life and the complex realities of work in a difficult economic reality?

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