Flexible Work: The new rules of the modern workplace

FlexWork

The way we work has changed. For most organizations, this change happened suddenly and without warning due to Covid-19. Now, virtually every company is thrust into this new way of working, whether you like it or not.

Work changed suddenly, but the writing was on the wall

A few forward-thinking employers saw the warning signs (or opportunity) years ago and started creating a flexible work environment for their teams, uncoupling work from a rigid 9-5 schedule and a single office location.

The forward-thinking companies understood that people can do their best work at different times of day, in different geographies, and made it possible to have a healthy work environment that respected friendships, family relationships, and hobbies. They understood that there was more to life than work and they built their business around this reality.

Forward-thinking companies allowed employees to leave work early to pick up their kids from daycare, because why not? They hired great people no matter where they were based. They trusted their teams to do great work and act like adults. It didn't matter if the work was completed at 5am in the morning by one colleague or 8pm at night for another.

Forward-thinking organizations created a flexible work environment.

These organizations have been able to attract high-performers, improve productivity, and end up creating a great place to work that retains key talent for much longer than their brittle, inflexible counterparts.

This tectonic shift is happening right now, what are you doing about it?

If you refuse to accept this change and adapt, you will be left behind. Your star performers will leave and find a better place to work. They will go work for a company that respects their contributions and treats them like adults. Meanwhile, your pace of innovation will slow. Your team or business will suffer because you don't have the best people moving the ball forward.

The genie is out of the bottle. What are you going to do about it?

You can accept this new reality and adapt. Or you can bury your head in the sand and watch your business suffer in the months and years ahead.

The secret is out in the open (for those who look)

What do the forward-thinking companies know that the rest don't?

Why does one organization thrive at these new rules of work, while another struggles and is unable to make the transition?

It turns out, the secret to a more flexible workplace is hiding in plain sight and is visible for all to see. We just need to look at what the companies who are thriving in this new environment are telling us.

Example #1: One of the first fully distributed companies

On a recent Sam Harris podcast, Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic (a fully distributed company with nearly 1,000 employees) describes the evolution that a company goes through to adapt to this new way of working. You can jump ahead and start at the 10 minute mark or you can see the highlights in this post.

The idea is simple. Over time, a business starts to recognize the advantages of flexible work and starts to shift to fully realize the benefits.

There are five levels in this framework:

  • Level 0 - a job which cannot be done unless you are physically there
  • Level 1 - no deliberate effort to make things remote-friendly
  • Level 2 - everything is still synchronous, your day is full of interruptions.
  • Level 3 - being remote-first, or distributed
  • Level 4 - when things truly go asynchronous
  • Level 5 - consistently perform better than any in-person organization could

These levels may feel a bit confusing. What's synchronous? What's asynchronous? Who cares? We'll talk about that later, but here's another example first.

Example #2: The world's largest fully distributed company

Gitlab is the world's largest fully distributed company, with over 1200 employees in over 65 countries. They are clearly doing something right. Similar to Automattic, they've written about the evolution that happens as well.

In this video, Sid quickly summarizes the key takeaways:

"The first wave is when you take your existing processes, like meetings and instead of having it in a conference room, you have it on Zoom. The hallway chatter - instead of having it in the hallway, you have it on Slack. This is the first phase. But you aren't taking advantage of the stuff that remote gives you."

Both of these examples provided mention the word asynchronous, but what does that even mean and why should I care? Perhaps this vague word holds the keys to a better way of working?

What precisely needs to change?

At this point, you may be convinced that your business needs to be more flexible and resilient. You may be convinced that we should look to leading companies who have already made this shift.

But it may not be clear what precisely needs to change.

Let's talk about that now.

The current state of the workplace is real-time

The de-facto work experience for many involves regular real-time meetings in a conference room or Zoom, water-cooler conversations to help you understand what's going on, and taps on the shoulder from coworkers with "quick questions", either in-person or via workplace chat.

These ad-hoc, random real-time conversations create potential bottlenecks to getting work done. You need to wait for your coworkers to assemble at the same exact moment in time for work to move forward.

To recap, most of your work communication with others happens in real-time.

If you spend most of your time doing work through real-time conversations, you have created a brittle company that will not adapt to the new workplace reality.

What the best companies do differently

The flexible companies listed above have adopted their communication processes and shift the burden away from constant, real-time interactions to create a more flexible work experience. 

If you spend 75% of your workday communicating with others in real-time, how is it possible to enable a work experience where someone can work at 5am in the morning and another at 7pm at night? 

If most of your communication happens in real-time, how can one person leave the office early and go pick up their child early from daycare?

If most of your work communication happens in real-time, how can you hire someone across the world who works in a different timezone?

This is why Automattic, Gitlab, and others say the secret to remote work is shifting communication so it happens asynchronously (the opposite of real-time).

asynchronous

This shift to a more flexible workplace evolves away from real-time water-cooler conversations, virtual offices, and constant meetings, to a scenario where each individual is able to do work and run at their own pace. This unlocks productivity and a better work/life balance at the same time.

A flexible workplace isn't about ditching meetings, eliminating real-time social interactions with colleagues, and writing all the time instead.

It's about picking the right communication tool for the job at hand

FlexWork is about using the right communication tool for the job and being thoughtful about the way you work and communicate. Some meetings could be emails. Some Slack conversations should be meetings instead. Maybe you don't need to hold a meeting to give status updates?

If most teams spend 80% of their time communicating in real-time, it's about asking the question, how can we find a better balance? What if our communication was more like 50/50?

The minute you start asking these questions and digging deeper, you will start to understand what the future of work will look like.

In my next post, I'll show you how to pick the right tool for the communication job at hand. If you subscribe, I will notify you when it's live.

At Friday, we are dedicated to building tools to make Flexible Work a reality and something any company can adopt. Because the future of work is here and every company should experience the benefits.

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