7 steps to designing a flexible work schedule

Mall organizations have focused over the past year on or employees do their jobs, determining how many days they expect people to be in the office, for example. (This is at the root of recent tensions between companies like Apple and their staff, for example.)

But when asked, some 93% of workers surveyed last year said when they work and the flexibility they have in this regard is important.

A book released this week, How the future worksis both a manifesto for such an expanded conception of flexible working, where place and time are reinvented, and a detailed manual on how best to enable it, based on the latest research and case studies.

Flexible working is about “breaking free from the outdated notion that work = office and workweek = 9 to 5,” write the authors, Brian Elliott, Sheela Subramanian and Helen Kupp, co-founders of Future Forum, a future de-consortium launched by Slack. “Instead, we can push the boundaries of our thinking about the ways we can work together and give people more freedom and autonomy to get things done in a way that works best for them.” (page 15)

How the future works is specific and methodical in its prescriptions, drawing on Future Forum’s own research and the experience of Slack and other organizations at the forefront of new workplace practices. The book has a particularly useful section dealing with what managers need to do (the chapters titled “Step 6” and “Step 7”), such as teams sharing “personal operating manuals” on how each individual tries their best and focuses on business results when giving feedback. The Future Forum’s surveys of the BIPOC worker experience have been particularly valuable during the pandemic, and How the future works relies on them to recommend inclusive approaches.

The authors propose seven steps for the future of work:

1) Agree on the purpose and principles of flexible working. “The goals may vary somewhat from company to company, but they all come down to addressing one key issue: talent,” they write. “Flexible working helps companies attract top talent. This allows them to recruit from a larger pool of candidates. This helps them engage and retain the talents they already have. (p. 33) Sample principles: “Digital-First does not mean never in person” from Slack. Specific standards and policies derive from these objectives and principles.

2) Create guardrails for the behavior. These include organization-wide practices, such as “one screen per person” when there is a hybrid meeting to ensure a level playing field for anyone remote. Strongly discouraging unnecessary meetings—those that don’t involve debate, discussion, decision, or development—is another recommended guardrail.

3) Develop agreements at the team level. These are user manuals that teams develop to explain the standards and expectations of flexible working. Establishing “core collaboration hours” is one of the best practices for teams, setting a three- or four-hour period each day that they can expect their colleagues to be able to participate in meetings. or fast communications.

4) Establish a culture of learning. The authors recount how Slack adopted its practices for hybrid meetings through a process of experimentation, with attendees eventually setting up laptop stands at every location in the conference rooms and using their own screens but a shared audio connection in the room. room. They also discuss how Dell ended up ending a policy of letting workers sign in at 2 p.m. on summer Fridays in favor of letting employees decide individually when in the week they wanted that flexibility.

5) Create a culture of connection wherever you are. This requires making digital platforms the headquarters of an organization, making company-wide online forums the main place for communication, and sharing online what happens offline, for example by posting recordings of meetings.

6) Train and support managers. “Here’s the hard reality: most of your managers aren’t equipped to embrace flexible work arrangements or lead distributed teams,” the authors write. “Managers need to move from gatekeepers doing status checks to coaches leading with empathy.” (p. 130) They offer specific ways for managers to be transparent to build trust, provide clarity through direct feedback, and empower team members to perform at their best through fair practices and limits against burnout. Asking “What is one thing I could do to make your life better this week?” is a question they recommend managers ask each team member.

7) Focus on results. Managers must abandon the mindset of monitoring workers and focus instead on achieving agreed business goals. Additionally, for example, BCG regularly polls teams on metrics such as “Does our team like working here? » and « Is the work sustainable? (p.161)

When faced with concerns about the impacts of flexible working, Elliott, Subramanian, and Kupp recommend answering questions with questions. For example, a response to “How will I know that my employees are working and productive?” could be “How did you know they were productive before?”

Be certain:

  • The book does not address the climate crisis. A vision of how the future will work should certainly include a discussion of how any workplace transformation must also translate into greater environmental sustainability.
  • The authors do a painstaking job of debunking most concerns about the shift to flexible working, but don’t fully address the argument that young people lose training and relationships when they’re not primarily working from a office.
  • Some of the recommendations are more easily implemented in a company like Slack with expanded resources, such as the practice of assigning a coach to support each manager. And the book is primarily aimed at knowledge workplaces, rather than those — like a hotel, manufacturing plant, or hospital — where work must primarily be done in person and on specific schedules.
  • In addition, the digital vision of work that the book advocates is one where, surprise!, Slack’s tools are particularly relevant. However, to be fair, the book contains limited references to Slack, the product itself.

Anecdotes and memorable facts:

  • Slack has grown from 2% of its engineers working remotely before the pandemic to nearly 50%. It saw a 70% jump in applicants for key roles after allowing location flexibility. Slack sales teams increased the number of sales calls they could make each day with video conferencing, and Salesforce Zoom customer calls saw 25% more C-level customer presence than before .
  • Royal Bank of Canada has decided that “proximity always matters” is one of its flexible working principles. “For the majority, that means residing within a commutable distance of the office,” he told employees. (p. 30) But that left teams how often they met and employees how far they could tolerate to travel.
  • Slack got rid of the executive floor of its San Francisco offices to signal that its main headquarters was now online and executives mostly met with their teams when they came into the office.
  • MURAL, a collaboration software company, held an elaborate virtual meeting for its staff in 2020 that simulated a trip around the world and into space, with workshops where employees had to interact with colleagues and have them “dab” virtual passports that they had all created. .

Ultimately, if you want to know the latest research-based practices for how to redesign work, How the future works is an excellent guide. He is precise and thoughtful in his answers to common questions about how to have an inclusive and successful flexible workplace. The right answers will surely evolve over time as the global flexible working experiment unfolds and new research is conducted, but How the future works is a great overview of what we know so far.

You can order How the future works to Bookshop.org or Amazon.

Lily Elliott coin for Charter on the three myths of returning to the office. Lily all our book briefings here.

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