As organizations begin to open their offices back up, they are faced with the challenge of determining what the “next normal” will look like. Some have gone remote and are never going back. Others want to return to “the way things were.” Most organizations are exploring hybrid options somewhere in the middle.
Leadership is trying to strike a balance between employees’ preference for flexibility and the desire to ensure collaboration and a solid organizational culture. The devil is in the details. Where many firms are letting individual staff members dictate their schedules, new research from MIT professor Robert Pozen and technology researcher Alexandra Samuel suggests that a more deliberate approach will yield better results.
Although their research doesn’t uncover any universal best practices – which is what I think we were all hoping for – it does highlight five key factors that every organization should consider when making decisions about flexible work. These factors – Function, Location, Organization, Structure and Culture (FLOCS) – are outlined below to help you deliver the best flexible work experience for your organization. And yes… any framework worth the space it’s printed on requires a compelling acronym like FLOCS!
What are the key aspects of your employees’ jobs? If their work involves extended periods of concentration, this may favor home days. If their work involves frequent collaboration or brainstorming, in-person work likely suits best.
Hiring in a single metropolitan area means you can join your teammates in a nearby office or meet up easily for one-on-one meetings. Conversely, there’s no point in making employees report to the nearest office if everyone they work with is in another city.
OrganizationThe organization factor represents how flat or hierarchical the organization is. If the organization is relatively flat, people working remotely don’t feel far from the “center” of the organization. If it’s more hierarchical, those working remotely may be at greater risk of proximity bias.
Companies with an individualistic culture seem to make a smoother transition to virtual work; by contrast, companies that stress “us” over “me” have been slower to adopt online collaboration.
This factor covers the practical issues of scheduling. Suppose schedules are similar and work is interdependent. In that case, it’s good to encourage everyone to work at roughly the same time and come into the office on the same days to benefit from social bonding and collaboration. If employees live in different time zones, it’s better to set a few common windows for real-time communications like videoconferences and let most other work unfold through email or document sharing.
In summary, there is no objective “right” answer. It becomes a matter of balancing the different factors to best suit the interests of both the organization and its people. In my view, the keywords are “equitable” and “intentional.” When policies are created as a reflex or based on the “squeaky wheel,” it increases the risk that the solution to one problem becomes the root cause of another. A diverse group of stakeholders should be heard to ensure all perspectives are taken into account.
To close, I would be remiss for not mentioning that the smart application of technology can enhance the success of any organization’s approach. If you would like the experts at designDATA to take a look at your current technology and optimize it for a hybrid work model, do not hesitate to get in touch.