4 Workplace Flexibility Trends

In this predictable interval of 2014 prognostications, let’s think a little further ahead.

Science fiction author William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace,”once observed, “The future is already here – it’s just unevenly distributed.” Thus, it occurred to me that thinking about the latest trends does not create much innovation or competitive edge. As a student of and consultant on the topic of workplace flexibility, here are four important areas of focus I forecast:

More formalized training for managers and employees for success with flexwork – Although flexwork has become more commonplace, training for success is rare. According to WorldatWork’s Survey on Workplace Flexibility:

  • 83 percent do not train employees to be successful with flexwork.
  • 79 percent do not provide training to managers of employees using flexwork programs.

No other strategic initiatives are supported by such a low level of training commitment. A 2015 imperative will be providing flexible workers and their managers with the training, development, coaching and other tools they need to make the arrangements work for the individual, team and organization. For example, we’ll see:

  • Training for managers on how to coach their employees to greater performance.
  • Better accountability frameworks collaboratively developed and enforced by managers, with clarity and specificity around duties, deadlines, consequences of underperformance and progress reporting mechanisms.
  • Designed alliances among teammates about their shared values, goals, standard operating procedures, culture, expectations of one another and measures for success.

Migration to more robust, agile, cloud-based technology tools – Many organizations are effectively tying people’s hands behind their backs by failing to equip them with the best tools for maximizing productivity. Such communication and collaboration enhancing tools will be adopted for everyone on the team, remote or not, by 2015. Companies that are now slow to adopt such applications will have finally figured out the security, policy and infrastructure obstacles that have deterred them from replacing legacy IT platforms. While the debate is currently focused on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, shrewd leaders will be thinking about apps to help people perform at their best instead.

Benefits extend well beyond employee productivity and also include crowdsourced innovation and improved communication with customers. For example,

  • Red Robin equipped all restaurant staff with Yammer-enabled iPads, with which servers were able to convey real time feedback to headquarters about new burgers and give customer ideas for improvements. This accelerated their time to market for new burgers immensely.
  • More than 1,400 faculty, staff and students at UCSF registered for a “game” to share their audacious ideas on how the university could maintain its leadership in patient care, research and education. “Social-structed” teams like this engage your own people to solve workflow, product innovation and other challenges that used to be the sole domain of high-priced management consultants.

Workload management initiatives – We recently saw Goldman Sachs announce a revamp of the workflow for its junior investment bankers, who traditionally work late nights and weekends. They redesigned inefficient, redundant and unnecessary tasks, thereby smoothing out workflow to more sane levels so the firm can compete for young talent with tech firms and other options with better work-life boundaries than Wall Street. Similar efforts to streamline workflow will be mainstream in 2015.

A variation on this is task routing, in which Pfizer was an early role model by outsourcing tasks considered less value-added via their innovative PfizerWorks program. While bigger companies like Pfizer can afford to develop their own programs, there are a growing number of “collaborative consumption” or “micro-tasking” options available to any company of any size for reasonable prices, such as Upwork, TaskRabbit, zirtual and e-lance. We’ll see adoption and utilization rates skyrocket on outsourced services that can tackle low-ROI tasks and do them well.

Intentional or mandatory technology breaks – A concomitant organizational focus on improving employee well being will have spillover effects in the flexwork arena. As 24/7 reliance on devices for both onsite and remote workers hastens, so does the unhealthy addiction to them. This behavior is unsustainable, and as with any addiction, intervention is inevitable. More concerted managerial efforts to arrest further addiction will be commonplace. We already see concerned companies implementing solutions like “no email Fridays,” “no tech vacations,” and organization-wide email server shutdowns during non-business hours. While those ideas may not be practical at all companies, creative solutions will emerge. Back to the future, welcome to 2015.


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