We need to take action to give Moms support

Yesterday, we honored moms…today, we need to take action to give moms the supports that help them, their children (our future!) and all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves:

–Consistent, affordable, quality child care
–Paid family leave
–Equal pay, AND
–Flexibility for moms, dads, and grandparents to fit work and life together as a help each other do their jobs and raise the children they love.

What do I mean by “all of us thrive even if we don’t have young children ourselves”?

First, it’s the right thing to do but it’s also the smart thing to do.

–A mom with consistent child care, paid leave and flexibility for herself and others caring for her children is someone who can participate in the workforce which helps the broader economy that is in desperate need of workers.

–She is a colleague who isn’t forced to quit leaving everyone else to do the job she was good at but can no longer do because she doesn’t have the support she needs.

Parents+Omicron+Flexibility: Now More Than Ever!

Yesterday, the U.S. posted 1 million new cases of COVID. That’s twice the number from just four days ago, and it’s the most any country has ever reported, according to Bloomberg. The next few weeks will likely become even more challenging, especially for parents–moms and dads–and the managers who employ them.

I share my thoughts on how managers and parents can start a problem-solving dialogue NOW.

Work together to find flexible, creative ways parents can work and manage the uncertain, ever-changing realities of caring for their pre-school and school-age children in the face of Omicron. And why everyone benefits.

This is my first experiment with quick, real-time video when I have something particularly important to share! Let me know what you think.

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

Feeding my Soul

I love music. And I love seeing my favorite artists live.

In 2017, U2 (my favorite band) played at the Meadowlands as part of their Joshua Tree tour (my favorite album of theirs). The last three times they played the Meadowlands prior, I had been there and it was amazing. But in 2017, I was “too busy” with work and my life to swing it. I ended up missing what one of the many people I know who did go said was “a magical, perfect night. Best U2 concert I’ve ever seen.”

In 2017, Tom Petty was on tour. I love Tom Petty but again, I was “too busy” with work and life to figure out how to see him live. “Next time” I told myself. Tom Petty died that year. There will be no next time.

Last night we saw Genesis live at Madison Square Garden (below). We booked the tickets on faith months ago that we’d be able to go because Genesis was part of my high school soundtrack and I’ve always wanted to see them live. I am technically “too busy” with work and life now to go but I went anyway even with the omicron variant uncertainty. Because who knows…this may very well be the last time they tour. And it was worth it.

I learned from my research into the secrets of the #worklifefit naturals for my book #tweakit that to make what matters happen, habits are important but so is prioritizing important moments, like seeing the artists who have given you so much joy live. I’d forgotten that in 2017 and regretted what I missed deeply. Now in 2021 I’m doubling down on all of the moments that feed my soul. I will never forget again.

#worklifefit #wellbeing

The Hour of Reckoning: Leadership and the Willingness to Reimagine the Way People Can Work (or Not)

My husband, Andy, and I kicked off the new year by co-presenting to 25 college students from our alma mater, Bucknell University, who participated in a week-long leadership intensive over their January break.

This was a hand-picked group of impressive, motivated young people.  All had to apply for acceptance into the program, and most were from the school’s Management College.

The recently-retired business school dean and former Fortune 500 CEO who taught the class asked Andy and me to speak about our leadership experiences and philosophies because we have taken two very different career paths.

Andy’s has been more traditional and corporate.  Mine, less conventional, and more entrepreneurial.  The instructor also thought it would be insightful for the group to hear from a couple that has supported each other’s professional pursuits while managing our ever-changing personal responsibilities and interests.

It’s important to emphasize a couple of points:

  • This was a leadership class.  It was not a discussion about reimagining the way work is done or how to flexibly manage your work+life fit, although the students knew that’s my area of expertise from my bio.
  • This was a diverse group of students, with men and women equally represented, and
  • These are young adults who voluntarily cut their winter break short to participate in a rigorous leadership program led by a former business school dean and Fortune 500 CEO.  They are by no means “slackers.”

Honestly, Andy and I weren’t sure what the group would want to know. Would they be more interested in Andy’s corporate career path or how I changed lanes from commercial banking to being an entrepreneur, author, and workplace strategist? Would the men direct more of their questions to Andy, and the women to me?  What actually happened surprised us and is an urgent “heads up” for senior leaders who want to attract, retain, and develop this next generation of top talent.

The questions were evenly split between us and covered a range of challenges and opportunities we each faced throughout our careers.  But what struck us both were the number of questions from the men in the room about how, when and where they would be able to do their jobs and find “balance” (which of course was the perfect opening for me to share the wisdom and power of work+life “fit” because there is no “balance” which they loved!).

Their questions weren’t about working less or not as hard. These students are clearly willing to give their all to future employers. Their questions reflected a sense that, in many cases, the rigid, traditional model of work was obsolete and needed to be modernized.

They wanted to understand how they, as future leaders, could encourage and contribute to the process of reimagining work.  They valued professional success and were realistic about the level of effort required to achieve it, but they also valued personal well-being.  They saw both as mutually-reinforcing, not mutually exclusive.

Again, this was mostly from the male students.  What their curiosity and passion confirmed to me is we’ve finally reached the hour of reckoning.

Leaders can no longer ignore the strategic imperative to build a culture in which everyone, including this next generation, knows how to flexibly leverage time and tech tools, place, and workspace, as well as process and pace to achieve the goals of the business, get the job done and manage life.

Unfortunately, too often leaders dismiss any challenge to the traditional work model as, “Young people just don’t want to work hard” when, for most, it’s just the opposite. They want to explore how to work differently, but they need guidance.  Leaders that seize the opportunity potentially leave new levels of innovation, productivity, and engagement as their legacy.

As one young man asked, “What do you say to senior leaders to get them to understand how important it is to rethink work?”

My answer, “First, I help them link high performance flexibility and positioning their business for success today…and tomorrow.  Second, I show leaders how to marry the traditional strengths of their organization with new ways of working. But, ultimately, my message is simple—either you adapt, or you aren’t going to make it. And after speaking with all of you, I am even more certain of that.”

The hour of reckoning has indeed arrived.  How is your organization responding when this next generation challenges the traditional ways work has always been done?  Are you dismissing them as “slackers,” or are you listening? Are you using their questions to fuel innovation that will position your organization to thrive now and in the future, or are you doubling down on “business as usual”?

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.

(To receive weekly insights in your inbox, sign up for our High Performance Flexibility newsletter here).


The Tornado and My Rapid Reset

How prepared are you and your organization to flexibly, and rapidly reset the way work is done in response to an unexpected event (e.g. weather, cyber-attack, transit strike)?

I experienced a dramatic and unexpected work+life fit reset on Halloween when an EF1 tornado roared through our New Jersey town in the middle of the night. No one was hurt (thankfully) but our house took a direct hit.

It’s moments like this when being able to flexibly reset the way my work and life fit together on a moment’s notice is priceless.

One week later, all of the pieces were essentially put back together, and I could re-focus on other priorities.  Most importantly, I didn’t lose a week of work waiting around for various tree removal and home repair contractors to show up.  I didn’t have to take PTO.  But I was prepared.

I had my contingency plan in place for how, when and where I could work should some type of unexpected event happen.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would a tornado in New Jersey…hey, you never know.  You never do.

Are you prepared for how, when and/or where you could work in response to the unexpected work+life fit reset?  What I find is that most people and employers do not have a contingency plan in place to quickly adapt the way work can be done.  You can wait until the unexpected strikes.

(To receive weekly insights in your inbox, sign up for our High Performance Flexibility newsletter here).



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.

Why Work+Life Fit vs. Balance: One Person’s Spot On Perspective

It’s one thing for me to passionately extol the virtues of shifting from work-life “balance” to work+life “fit.”  It’s quite another for someone else to explain why it makes a difference for them.

During a recent Knowledge@Wharton interview on SiriusXM, Morra Aarons-Mele, author of Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Guide to Getting Out There When You’d Really Rather Stay Home, was asked “What most people call work/life balance, you call work/life fit. Explain the difference for us.”  Here’s what she said:

“The term was coined by a mentor of mine, Cali Yost, [CEO and founder of Flex Strategy Group]. I love it because, first of all, work/life balance is a lie. Anyone can tell you that. I don’t like work/life balance for two other reasons. The first is that I think it’s become totally twinned with parenthood and being a working mom, and that is not good for anyone. There are a lot of people who don’t have kids at home and who really crave a life. Let’s be honest: It’s not about having kids.

The other thing is that we want to work in a way that suits us, like we just talked about. You’re on, and then you’re off for a little while. That’s your work-life fit. I have friends, clients, my husband, who love to work all the time. I don’t judge them. That’s their work-life fit. I really love my work, but I need to work in a space that I can control.

I am no good at showing up at an office for 10 hours a day and sitting in an open-plan cubicle. That’s not my thing. I’m bad at it. But give me control over my time and space, and I’m amazing. I think fit is about what works for you, with compromise at the edges, and becoming the best person you can be in your career. It’s so much healthier than balance.”

Spot on, Morra! And thank you for the shout out. 😉

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

Strategizing the Flexible Workplace

Traditionally, work flexibility has been the sole domain of HR.  But, increasingly, I see Facilities teams in organizations, and the vendors that serve them, initiate the flexible work culture change process because transforming the workspace can be a great opportunity to rethink how, when and where work is done more broadly. Check out the insightful questions OfficeSpace Software asked when they interviewed me for this terrific article (below).

Flex+Strategy Group CEO and Founder Cali Yost breaks down the importance of a strategic approach to flexible working.

When you hear “work-life balance” do you just hear “work less?” What does it really mean to have a flexible workplace?

Cali Yost, CEO and Founder of Flex+Strategy Group, has dedicated her career to helping organizations find success in flexible working. She knows the value of having a strategic plan in place and how important it is to be able to communicate that value to the C-Suite.

How were you first introduced to flexible work cultures and why did you become interested in helping build them?

Cali: Believe it or not, I actually first became aware of the need for flexible work cultures in the early 1990s when I was the young, newly-minted manager of a bank. A number of bankers that worked with me, including a dad, were having trouble fitting work and life together. I saw that it was hurting my business and it just made sense to me that if I gave them a little flexibility, they would be able to deal with the challenges of having newborn children and still be able to remain productive and contribute to the work we had to do.

I started exploring what that could look like and realized other people were starting to have these conversations as well. I decided to dive into this newly emerging recognition that there needed to be flexibility in how, when, and where work is done for business reasons.

I have always come at this from a strategic business perspective because I could see from my front row seat as a manager that people who got flexibility were able to continue to contribute and they often contributed more. It was a win-win. The problem was I was only one lone junior manager in a much larger organization and realized that this needed to be a full organizational business strategy for managers like me and individuals who worked for managers like me.

How do you think flexible work culture has evolved in recent years? Why do you think it has become such a prevalent way of working?

Cali: It’s evolved from a policy and a perk that lived outside of the daily operating model of the business in HR. That’s where it still lives in a lot of organizations, it’s something you sort of sign up for like any kind of program or policy. It has to be an active, intentional, strategic way of getting work done. That’s going to depend on the changing realities of the business and its people.

I’ll use workspace as an example because it really is one of the key drivers of this way of working. Leaders at organizations have figured out that if they put more people in the same amount of space, they’re going to save a lot of money. Yes, to a degree, you get more collaboration from that densification of space, but for a lot of people it’s tough on day-to-day productivity.

What I’m seeing with my clients is a recognition that you need to expand the definition of workspace to onsite and off and give people the flexibility to determine where they’re going to work best based on what they’re trying to get done. You’re still able to retain all the benefits of growth within the same real estate footprint, but you’re allowing people the flexibility to utilize that space in a way that allows them to get their jobs done most effectively.

What are some of the key elements to keep in mind for an organization that is in the process of introducing a flexible work culture or struggling to properly manage one?

Cali: First and foremost, understand what a flexible work culture is and what it is not. It is an active, strategic way of working based on the ever-changing needs of the business and people.

People (individuals, teams, and managers) need to have the right mindset and skill to be able to leverage how they’re using technology, when they’re optimizing time, what workspaces they’re using, and where they are working. When you know what that looks like and have that picture in your mind, then you’re able to say “how do we get there?”

The technology department can’t just roll out different software and hardware that’s not contextualized or that people aren’t trained on. They need to sit those people down and say “here are all the tools we have available to you. How do you use them to get your job done flexibly? Let us train you on that.”

There also has to be coordination with the facilities group because in that flexible work culture, facilities is not limiting the onsite options for people, they’re encouraging people to consider the offsite workspaces they could be using as well. Facilities is taking a much more holistic role in helping people see the options for themselves.

Then you have HR and it isn’t just about writing one-size-fits-all rules. They’re helping give a manger, for example, the skills to partner with people to make sure they know what’s expected of them and getting updates on where people are in terms of their performance on a regular basis. From that place of knowing that people are doing their job, you’re able to then give those people the freedom to be flexible in how, when, and where they’re doing that job.

How do you think the physical workplace should be set up in order to better facilitate flexible workers? What strategies can be put in place to ensure everyone is still a cohesive team?

Cali: I think workspaces should be developed around the general rule that, for the most part, most people like the ability to work remotely but also want to be in the office on most days.

I’ve seen this play out over and over. When people are given complete freedom to choose how, where, and when they work best, they will generally choose to work remotely maybe one or two days a week. Maybe three, but the sweet spot is one or two days.

Workspaces, both onsite and remote, should be developed around the particular type of work that a person would do. Let’s say you have a group that is graphic design heavy and they tend to be very desktop-driven. You have to make sure the graphics people in that department are able to have access to a desk that has the right equipment they need at all times, but also access to the software they need to work remotely as needed.

You’ve used the term “work-life fit” as an alternative for “work-life balance.” Could you break down what that term means and why you prefer using it?

Cali: I know when this happened because I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and she is now 20 years old. I was at a large multinational bank doing a flexible work strategy project and I was talking to an executive. I was very passionately describing all the benefits that he would get if he supported the work-life balance of his people.

He stopped me and said “I’m going to be honest with you: every time you say ‘work-life balance,’ all I hear is work less.” I told him it’s not about working less, it’s about fitting work and life together in a way that allows people to bring their best to work but also to other parts of life. That “work-life fit” is different for everybody and it’s always changing. Your goal is to create flexibility that allows for all those different workplace realities to live together.

All of a sudden, it was like a lightbulb went off in this guy’s head. He totally got it and started telling me about his work-life fit and how he plays squash. Honestly, I didn’t even know what I said, but something very major just happened here. I almost had to replay the tape in my head and thought “oh my gosh, it was that ‘work-life fit’ term. That just changed this entire conversation.”

I started using it over and over again and realized it was a basic, fundamental, powerful thing. Everyone has a work-life fit, that senior executive could talk to me about his work-life fit as well as all the other realities of people who worked for him. Nobody was right and nobody was wrong, so it suddenly removes the judgment of who’s doing it the right way. Work-life balance is just this big deficit model where you can never achieve “balance.” Work-life fit is a verb, it is not a noun. It is always changing and you are managing it which gives people a sense of power.

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