The pandemic has been a lot of things to a lot of people, but one thing is certain – the world of work has changed, and these changes are more than likely here to stay.
At the Best Managed Companies Awards Symposium, organised by the Irish Management Institute, Cali Yost, founder and chief executive of the Flex+Strategy Group, will be discussing the emerging shift away from the traditional ‘place-based’ work model and what we can do to make a success of it.
“Because of the pandemic, we now know that work isn’t about ‘where we go’, it’s about ‘what we do’ and being flexible about how, when and where we work best,” Yost said.
“Right now, for many, the answer – from a health and safety perspective – is to work remotely, but one size will not fit all, and our new working practices will continue to shift as realities change.”
As Yost sees it, on-site workplaces “still matter”. “Along with remote work, we need to consider technology, and schedule flexibility when optimising work based on the realities of a particular business, job or person’s life,” she said,
The trend towards a more flexible, dynamic way of working was under way before Covid-19 took hold, according to Yost, but the recurring lockdowns we have since endured accelerated its rollout. For companies now, the challenge is to learn how to adapt.
“In 2019, our national research of a probability sample of full-time US workers found one-third did most of their work away from the worksite – in other words, remotely,” Yost said.
“Covid-19 simply accelerated the transformation to scale, and we are not going back. So, going forward, we need to learn how to avoid letting the ‘way we worked before’ overtake this historic opportunity and, indeed, reimagine how organisations can operate in the future.”
This new way of working – whether it’s at home, in a co-working space, an airport lounge, an office, customer worksite or any other location – is getting a lot of attention right now, but there are other issues that require just as much attention, according to Yost.
“There are also new ways of using technology to rethink workspaces, and both collaborative and shared private offices,” she said.
“Time flexibility is also important and can optimise coverage and leverage performance across time zones.”
Then there is the composition of ‘teams’, comprising full and part-time members, on-demand workers, reduced schedules and project-based talent.
Although all of these variables present their own challenges, this new way of working also offers many potential advantages.
“Assuming work flexibility is executed well – which means it’s not a ‘policy’, but a digitally enabled way of operating your organisation across workplaces, spaces and time – there are positives,” Yost said.
“Firstly, the ability to work remotely has kept many organisations in business, when they would have otherwise been forced to shut down.
“Then, there is the increased productivity, engagement and wellbeing, as people match the priority they need to execute, both at work and personally, to how, when and where it’s done best.
In addition, Yost says, companies will attract, retain and develop the best people because of their ability to work flexibly.
“As one senior leader we work with said recently, ‘we are competing for talent on three fronts – money, opportunity and flexibility. Without flexibility, we don’t have a chance with the other two’.”
As flexible working becomes more commonplace, Yost urged employers to remember that “two opposing things can be true at the same time, especially during a period of unprecedented disruption”.
“This is based on the work of the psychologist William Bridges,” Yost said. “As you manage yourself and lead those who report to you, it is not only normal, but expected, to feel both open to, and energised by, the possibilities involved with change while at the same time feel uncertain and sceptical.
Yost calls this approach “realistic readiness”. The trick is to recognise that, and not let the uncertainty and scepticism stop energetic forward motion toward possibility, she said.
“I believe that, in ten years, we will look back and wonder at how ‘going to work’ meant being in the same place with the same people every day – but that doesn’t mean I think everyone is going to work remotely 100 per cent of the time.
“We have seen this time and again over the years and, when you allow businesses and teams to determine how, when and where they work best based on the unique realities of their work and lives, most will pick some degree of onsite presence with each other.
This typically equates to on average two to three days per week on-site, “because people like to be with other people”, Yost said.
“But, it needs to be purposeful. Part of the execution of a flexible operating model is setting the operating framework and cultural capability to identify what needs to get done and then how, when and where it’s done best.”