Brian Elliott is the executive leader of the Future Forum, a consortium launched by Slack. Prior to Slack, Brian was the general manager of Google Express, Google’s full-stack commerce platform. Earlier, Brian was CEO at software and e-commerce start-ups. He also had a stint with The Boston Consulting Group as principal.
The hybrid mode of work which many espoused as the future mode of work comes with many challenges such as sustaining company culture, proximity bias, etc. How are these work modes and policies evolving globally?
Flexible working models–those that accommodate different locations and schedules–have been proven time and time again to be more efficient and productive than we would have imagined possible. Research has consistently shown that employees want to maintain the flexibility they were able to adopt during the pandemic. As a result, the majority of companies are now experimenting with hybrid work models as they navigate this brave new world.
Concerns that hybrid work models might damage employees’ sense of connection to a company also seem unfounded. According to our Future Forum Pulse report, remote and hybrid knowledge workers are equally or even more likely to feel connected to their immediate teams as those full-time in the office. And, across the board, they are more likely to feel connected to their direct manager and their company’s values.
It’s worth noting that transparency is another key enabler of connection and healthy work culture. People who believe their leaders are transparent feel nearly four times higher sense of belonging with their teams and report more than six times as high satisfaction with their work environment.
But, how much flexibility is good for employees and employers? What’s your advice for leaders on how to fulfil these changing demands?
Younger workers are least likely to want either extreme of full time in the office, or fully remote. It’s important to help them and their teams find the right balance point. Our own phrase for this is that “Digital-First doesn’t mean never in person.” But the needs of a sales team and an engineering team, for example, can vary widely, so we need to give managers the tools to create their own Team-Level Agreements.
But we need to move beyond worrying about how many days a week people are together. While most conversations about workplace flexibility have centred on location—where people work—the question of when people work may be even more significant.
Schedule flexibility is highly correlated with positive employee sentiment, satisfaction, and performance, and leaders have an opportunity to gain a competitive edge by providing schedule flexibility more broadly.
The future of work is flexible, inclusive, and connected, and employees are demanding work environments that foster the ability to work together flexibly, across locations and time zones. Adopting collaborative technology that ensures employees not only feel connected but also have a voice is critical. Leaders who listen to their employees and embrace the shift in workplace expectations by leading with trust and transparency will shape a more productive and fulfilling future for their people and their businesses.
Can all-remote or majority-remote organisations survive as workplace expectations evolve? What’s essential to make work-from-anywhere work?
Future Forum Pulse research shows that 94% of knowledge workers want flexibility in when they work, while 80% want flexibility in where they work. In short, hybrid work is here to stay. And the last few years have proved that we are just as effective, collaborative and productive working remotely. In fact, some of the largest companies in the world – many of which had previously made offices the cornerstone of how they work – have produced record-breaking profits with a remote workforce.
Today’s workplace environment is centred around flexibility, and employees without it, or under threat of it being taken away, will remain at strong risk of attrition. The office remains an important anchor for employees, but the primary purpose of office space is shifting. A hybrid work model offers the best of both worlds: the collaborative and social aspects of interacting face-to-face with co-workers and the convenience and flexibility of working remotely for heads-down work.
As hybrid workplaces become the norm, maintaining employee satisfaction and an always-connected positive culture is more important than ever. And Slack is the connective tissue that brings people together. Slack is our digital headquarters, and it’s the digital headquarters for many organisations around the world.
Due to all these changes and shifting business priorities, the world of work today appears fuzzy and uneven. Five years from now, where and how do you see work?
Today, leaders are making decisions about whether to “return” to what worked – for them — in the past, or move forward and redesign based on everything we’ve learned in the last two years. Redesigning a future of work that’s flexible, more inclusive and more connected will allow those organisations to tap top talent and move faster than their competitors. That equates to a competitive advantage.
To get there, leaders need to redesign how we work and leverage modern tools for collaboration. Gartner sees the need for a digital layer as inevitable; they predict that the market for workplace collaboration software is set to nearly double by 2023.
If you were to share two messages from your book - How the Future Works, what would they be?
There are three essential ingredients to success in this digital-first age.
First, focus on outcomes, not attendance: For too long, managers and leaders have focused on measuring inputs (hours in the office, tickets closed, keystrokes) as a means of measuring performance. We need to shift to managing outcomes. As leaders, we must establish clear goals, focus on them relentlessly, and ask our teams to pursue them.
Second, listen to your teams: 60% of execs tell us they’re doing their “future of work” planning with little to no direct input from their employees. Our jobs are to set direction, but then support them, and we can’t do that from the corner office.
Third, invest in frontline managers: Middle managers are the lynchpin of your success, and they are the most burned-out people in our organisations. We need to equip managers with the training, tools and support to be highly effective coaches, not hallway monitors.