It takes structure, resources, and an appropriate culture for an organization to support remote work and a flexible workforce—both of which are important for recruitment and retention as well as access to independent talent. Companies of all sizes are testing ideas and learning to adapt, but it can be a more complex shift within enterprise organizations. Here’s a look at three global brands that are exploring new ways to work and change the status quo.
This summer, Microsoft Japan piloted a program called Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019. As explained in The Guardian, much of the program revolved around three key decisions:
- Offices were closed on Friday
- Standard meeting times were halved from 60 to 30 minutes—and standard attendance was capped at 5 people
- People were encouraged to collaborate via chat instead of through email or meetings
“I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20 percent less working time,” Microsoft Japan president and CEO Takuya Hirano explained on the company’s website.
Why we like it: The results of the pilot, which included a 40 percent jump in productivity as well as cost savings, are noteworthy. But the program also called out two notorious time-wasting activities: email and meetings. In one workplace survey, nearly half of respondents said their job should take less than five hours per day—if it wasn’t for other factors. Initiatives like this one challenge workers to communicate more effectively and find better ways to work.
Spain-based BBVA, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, is trying a different approach to work-life balance by telling employees to disconnect from work devices and email between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m., whenever possible.
This move echoes “The right to disconnect” legislation in passed a few years ago in France, which gave some workers the ability to negotiate whether they needed to be available outside standard business hours. The results to that legislation are mixed; while few people doubt the underlying problem, it doesn’t apply equally to everyone and it’s possible for companies and workers alike to ignore it.
Plus, as one French Dropbox employee noted, the legislation imposes a schedule rather than encouraging the flexibility people are actually looking for: “Each individual must be free to work the way that makes the most sense for them,” said Héloïse Boungnasith, French language specialist.
The bigger hurdle, she noted, is that if companies won’t change the traditional mindset that encouraged the problem in the first place the law is counterproductive.
Why we like it: Being available 24/7 may seem important but, as noted above, it’s also regularly identified as disruptive and disproportionately time-consuming. Recognizing the impact this mindset can have on focus, productivity, and downtime is part of the equation, but unless expectations change it’s difficult for workers to reset their habits and manage their time differently.
“A strong culture starts from the very top,” wrote Anne Donovan, the U.S. People Experience Leader at PwC. “That said, that is only where it starts. The action comes from the bottom up.”
Over the past decade, PwC has gradually shifted its culture to embrace flexible and remote work. In an article for HBR, Donovan highlighted what the organization has learned about setting expectations, true flexibility, trust, and change management.
“This did not happen overnight,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, there were growing pains along the way, and we’re still learning.”
Why we like it: Individual priorities, schedules, and business needs are always changing. As Donovan observed, “Flexibility is a two-way street”; there should be give and take on both sides. While some companies have pulled back from flexible work, others recognize how important it is to leave room for variety—especially when it comes to attracting and working with the best talent.
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