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Words to the Wise: How Much Flexibility Is Enough?


(August 2023)

Organizations have had to flex in ways that were not considered possible in the years prior to the pandemic. There was little choice and no time. New policies, procedures, and protocols were developed and implemented on a grand scale basically overnight. Over time, refinements were made as experience was gained. Reaction to the pandemic had forced all organizations to become agile and to transform for survival.


Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated in April 2020, We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. From remote teamwork and learning to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security—we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in a world of remote everything.”


As the world emerged from the pandemic, organizations debated about what the “new normal” would be. Three years after the start of the pandemic, organizations are still trying to determine the best ways to reconstruct the workplace to accommodate a different kind of workforce. One thing’s for certain – we’re not putting that hybrid/remote work genie back in the bottle. So, organizations have to figure out how much flexibility is enough. Every organization’s leadership team must consider the same factors. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The following guidance may be helpful in establishing some general boundaries as you work through the specifics for your organization.


Key Considerations:

  • Customer Experience should be primary. Impact of decisions on CX and relationship must be reviewed.

  • Management is most critical element to successful hybrid work strategy. Must be trained and equipped. Don’t make their hard job harder.

  • Unclear policies, lack of clear communications, inconsistent execution creates issues. Definitely do not put the cart before the horse.

The Balance Sheet

OPPORTUNITIES

CHALLENGES

Improved work-life balance

Less connection to organizational culture

Efficient use of time

Decreased collaboration

More autonomy

Less access to resources

Less fatigue, burnout

Coordination challenges

Higher productivity

Disrupted processes


Basic Concepts:

  1. Simpler is better. Resist the temptation to try to be all things to every employee. One, it cannot be done. Two, it just creates a management nightmare. Ironically, trying to be the ‘good guy’ can make you out to be the ‘bad guy’ real fast. Not everyone will agree with your decisions. Most important that there is alignment at the top, consistent communications top to bottom, and policies / protocols are followed.

  2. We’re running a business. So, decisions about workforce flexibility must be made with the customer and business operations up front. When individual decisions follow a simple decision matrix, it is very easy to explain and support the decisions.

  3. It’s not a binary decision. Doesn’t have to be either remote or onsite. The best organizations will allow for variations on the theme. But not unlimited variations. See basic concept #1. The only certain losers in the talent market will be those organizations that allow for zero flexibility. Somewhere between zero and 100% flexibility is where you want to be. But make it easy on yourself. Don’t be inflexible while you’re implementing flexible workplace policies – e.g., requiring managers to be onsite whenever their staff are onsite. Hard rules are hard to enforce. Allow for discretion. Trust and verify.


Things To Be Firm About

Expectations of Management:

  • Managers / Leaders are present. (Leadership philosophy statement is needed); if expectations for different levels of management vary, be clear regarding the logic.

  • Communicate clearly regarding employee decisions. (follow the guidance and utilize the resources provided by the organization)

  • Ensure new employee assimilation, collaboration, and team building are all happening. (it’s still your team, these things are harder to do, but just as important)

  • Ensure employees are productive and supported. (they’re still your employees, you need them to be successful, they need to know that you care)

  • Ensure ongoing attention to workplace health and safety concerns. (pandemic health & welfare matters are still top of mind for employees, use good judgment, help your employees use good judgment, ask if you’re unsure)

Expectations of Employees:

  • Understand the policies.

  • Follow company policy.

  • Ask questions.

  • Raise concerns.

  • Use good judgment.

  • Make good decisions.

  • Do your job.




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