Flex Summit Roundtable on Flexible Workplaces
Flex Summit is just around the corner! Before our speakers take the stage, we connected with them to get their thoughts on coworking, productivity, and the future of work. Check out their responses below, and stay tuned for more posts leading up to the event. And for more information on Flex Summit, click here.
How will the ability to work across multiple offices, remote locations, and co-working spaces affect blended teams’ communications, productivity, and work/life balance?
Dr. Alaa Murabit, United Nations:
New freedom and independence for employees that lead to higher job satisfaction and improved productivity are probably the most often mentioned benefits of an increased use of flexible and remote working. Equally important, but less discussed, is how these new HR policies have the potential to advance inclusion and gender equality. Having already eased the access of global talent to the labor market, remote and flexible work opportunities could contribute to lifting the disproportionate caregiving burden that obstructs women’s equal employment (meanwhile we ought to change this injustice too!). Virtual office spaces, if designed in the right way, also represent an unprecedented opportunity to fight many of the factors that drive gender and racial discrimination at the workplace.
If mismanaged, multiple offices, remote locations, and co-working spaces may also negatively affect the productivity and mental health of employees. Already at this early point, studies report that 85% of workers want to feel closer to their remote colleagues and employee disengagement as a consequence of staff isolation could exacerbate a problem that, for example, costs the U.S. economy up to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.
Elias Torres, Drift:
The communication tools teams now have access to are game-changers – especially video and messaging technology. But people need to figure out what works best for them. For example, I know some people at our company will close out of Slack and email during certain times of the day so that they can focus on a project. Or, they have the “do not disturb” setting on Slack after a certain time at night and before a certain time in the morning so they can protect that time at home.
In addition, despite the access to all of these tools, companies need to prioritize company-wide time and communication in order to ensure everyone has the same goals and expectations. For example, while we now have three offices (Boston, San Francisco and Seattle), we ensure that everyone tunes in for “Monday Metrics, “Show and Tell” on Fridays and our monthly “All Hands” meeting. And while everyone is constantly able to connect via email, video and Slack, these in-person meetings allow us to all be together and communicate the same message at the same time. We also keep a very up-to-date and detailed Wiki so everything is documented and shared across the team. We try to eliminate the accumulation of solely “tribal knowledge,” because that’s just not scalable.
Ryan Merkley, Creative Commons:
Let’s be up front about it: flexible work is, at first, slower, more challenging, and more complex. The traditional tools we use to manage humans in offices don’t work as well remotely. We lose spontaneous interaction, the natural peer pressure that creates urgency from presence, certain types of team cohesion, and even the ability to see non-verbal cues. But if we take an intentional approach, acknowledge the differences, and add new techniques, we can unleash the greater benefit: high productivity, better retention and loyalty, greater accessibility to all potential employees, cost savings, and increased hiring options.
Sophie Wade, Flexcel Networks:
Working across locations is not easy or obvious initially and needs to be approached thoughtfully. Everyone works slightly differently, finds their flow under different conditions and at different times of day. This isn’t necessarily evident at the office, but is highlighted when people are spread out, especially if they are not used to working together. With the right attention to conditions and set up—with relevant management and tools to ensure communication is strong across distributed teams--the results can be excellent. Productivity should increase when all team members are able to work where and how they can do their best work and be least distracted by non-corporate obligations and stresses.
Tom Cheesewright, Book of the Future:
Future-ready organizations know that they don't want their people to be present, they want them to be productive. That means working wherever they need to be, whether that's close to the customer or closer to home.
If you can match the infrastructure that allows people to connect wherever they are, to a culture that supports people in making positive choices about their own productivity, you're moving in the right direction.
Michael Hopkins, The Solo Project:
That’s three different questions, really. In reverse order: 3) Work/life balance can be far better. (But that’s “can be,” not “will be.” It’ll take some perceptive managing.) It can be so much better that it’ll provide flexible teams a competitive advantage if they get it right. 2) Productivity will rise, even taking into account the new coordination “friction” of managing across virtual voids. 1) Communication will worsen—unless (until?) teams and managers attack the inevitable communication challenges hard. . . with the right platforms, the right habits, and highly prioritized intentionality.