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?

Fast Company: “Help,” “Thank You,” and “Reach”–My Three Words for 2010 (What are yours?)

My first post of the year was going to be my predictions for 2010.  But prognostication is a tricky business, especially this year when so many variables are in flux.   I decided to take another tack and focus on what I could control—my actions.   Specifically, what actions in 2010 that would achieve the results I wanted to see personally, professionally and culturally?  Even more specifically, what three words best embodied those conscious actions?

Three words?  My inspiration for this word-based approach came first from Seth Godin’s recently released free e-book, “What Matters Now.” It is a compilation of 50+ experts from a variety of industries and disciplines musing on a single word that’s important to them.  Then, I came across Chris Brogan’s “My 3 Words for 2010” blog post.  It turns out he has been picking three words to guide his efforts for the coming year since 2006 and has found it very powerful.

Following their lead, my three guiding words for 2010 are “Help,” “Thank You” and “Reach.”


I’ve always tried to be helpful, but honestly my helpfulness was, more often than not, reactive.  If someone said they needed help, I would readily provide it.   Then, last year I began to wonder, “What if I offered my assistance proactively, before people asked?”  It started with Jonathan Fields, a career author/blogger, who signs on to his Twitter account (@jonathanfields) everyday, “Morning, great people!  Who can I help today?”

Even though I’d never met Fields, who is a “Dad, husband, author of Career Renegade, lifestyle entrepreneur, marketer, and blogger,” when his question popped up on my Twitterfeed each morning, I found it made me think differently about my day.   I’d ponder for a moment, “Yeah, who could I help?”

Then I turned thought into action.  I began to test “preemptive” helping.  Most people responded to my unsolicited offers of help with surprise and, “Thank you so much.  I can’t think of anything right now but I will let you know.”  I realized that unprompted, sincere offers of help are so rare that they caught people off guard.  But it felt great to ask, so I decided to continue, “How can I help you?”

I didn’t appreciate the lasting impact of this simple question until my friend, the Authentic Organizations management expert, CV Harquail told me what happened after I asked her, “How can I help?” a couple of months earlier.

Because CV is not only smart but very generous, it was easy at the end of our lunch two months prior to say, “How can I help you?”  While clearly surprised, she thoughtfully considered my offer and asked for my input on a couple of issues.  She thanked me.  I loved our conversation, but didn’t give it much further thought.   However, to CV, my question had become, “Cali’s killer question” (not realizing at the time that Jonathan Fields was the original inspiration).

It turns out that after our lunch, CV decided she would begin to ask others, “How can I help you?” because it had meant so much to her.   But she wasn’t prepared for the intense reaction she experienced after posing the question to a longtime colleague whom she hadn’t seen in awhile.  Toward the end of their visit, she said to him, “How can I help you?”  As she recounted to me, “He stopped.  You could tell he was shocked.  And then he began to tear up and said, ‘No one ever asks that question.’  He was visibly moved and stunned by my offer.”

I’m not the only one motivated by Jonathan Fields’ daily offering of service on Twitter.   Alexandra Levit, author and Wall Street Journal columnist wrote a piece entitled “A Habit of Generosity,” mentioning the power of Fields’ daily missive.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the world would be like if all of us started our day by asking how we can be of assistance.   Perhaps grown, successful businessmen would no longer be brought to tears by the simple question, “How can I help?”

So, wonderful readers, “How can I help you?” in 2010?  I really want to know.

“Thank You”…Concretely and “Reach”…Widely (Click here for more)

Jack Welch is Right “There’s No Balance,” But His Reasoning Needs Updating

As reported in The Wall Street Journal‘s The Juggle blog, Jack Welch was quoted at a recent SHRM conference as saying “There is no such thing as balance.”  While his comments set off a firestorm of response, fundamentally, I believe he is correct–there is no balance.   However, his explanation of “why” needs updating.

He’s right that we need to stop talking about “balance.”  The sooner we discontinue thinking that there’s a right answer or “balance,” the quicker we will see that every one of us has a different work+life fit at different times in our lives.  There isn’t one  way to make work and life fit together.  Only what works for us and the realities of our jobs.

But here’s where the “why” behind his argument needs to be updated:

Update #1: He, along with almost everyone else, is stuck in the land of  the “all or nothing / CEO or stay at home parent” which is not where most of us live: Unfortunately, Jack Welch and many of those responding to his comments online are still stuck in the all-or-nothing, all work-or-no work dichotomy. This  keeps us from seeing the many creative, flexible ways to manage our unique work+life fit that exist between the extreme all-work reality of a CEO like Jack Welch, or the no-work reality of a parent who chooses to leave the workforce for an extended period of time to care for their children.  That doesn’t mean work-primary CEOs or life-primary stay-at-home parents are wrong.  Their work+life fit choices work for them–but most of us live somewhere in the middle along that continuum.

Image how different this story would be if Jack Welch had responded to the question, “Look, I chose to become the CEO of GE therefore I had to give 100% of my time and attention to work.  That was my choice; however, that isn’t the only way of managing work and life if your goal isn’t to become the CEO of a multi-national company.”

Update #2: It isn’t just about moms and women. To be fair, Jack Welch was being interviewed at the SHRM conference by Claire Shipman who just wrote a book Womenomics, therefore, chances are the conversation was about women which is why he answered it in that context.  However, the fact of the matter is we need to stop talking about work+life issues as women’s issues.  In today’s economy, we all–men and women–need to strategically manage our individual work+life fit choices day-to-day and at major life and career transitions such as partnering, parenthood, elder care, and retirement.

Update #3:  It’s also about flexibly redefining success. Just as there’s no one right way to combine work and life, there is no longer one rigid, linear definition of success.  Welch did reference the fact that if you take a career break “you may be passed over for a promotion,” and “that doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice career.”  What he’s saying is there are many different ways to define success personally and professionally, at different times in our lives.  Yes, you may choose to pull into the slower lane from the fast lane when passed over for a promotion but that doesn’t mean later when your circumstances change you won’t raise your hand and pull back into the fast lane (as you define it).  Remember, Welch was a CEO; therefore, anything less than that would probably be a “nice” career to him, but a very successful career to everyone else.

Bottom line,  it’s work+life fit, not balance.  There is no right answer.  It’s not all-or-nothing, either be a  CEO or a stay at home parent.  There are countless flexible, work+life fit options in between which is where most of us live.  And that’s where we need to focus our discussion and problem-solving.  It’s not just women, it is all of us at all stages of our lives.  The sooner all of us, including Jack Welch, realize this, the faster we will begin to have a productive, up to date dialogue that moves us forward.

Thanks, Jack Welch, for keeping this important “there is no balance” debate on the radar screen.  What do you think?

(Update: Since writing this post, I’ve learned that Jack Welch is recovering from a very serious spinal infection.  My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family for a full recovery.)

Seizing Opportunity in the 24/7 Work Reality–Beyond the Old, “9-to-5, M-F” Mindset

The work+life topic in the media this week is the downside of the 24/7 work reality (WSJ- 3/25/06, New York Times-3/26/06, NBC Nightly News). Most of these stories focused on longer hours, specifically people getting to work earlier. While I can see where this might be a negative development for some people, my first reaction was, “This is great!” I love getting up early. My optimal work day would start at 6:30 a.m., and end around 4:00 p.m. In fact, most mornings I’m at the gym by 5:45 a.m. But by 8:00 p.m., I’m worthless (I am notorious for falling asleep in even the noisiest places if I’m out too late).

There are a lot of early birds out there—catch us at 6:00 a.m., we’re on fire. But after 5:00 p.m., prop us up in a corner so we’re out of the way. There are an equal number of people on the other end of the spectrum—the night owls. These folks don’t begin to function before noon, and are at their most creative after 9:00 p.m. And, of course, there are endless variations in between. (more…)