5 ways businesses can cross the chasm to flexible work

An important digital and cultural lesson from 2020 is that for some work is not a place. Successful companies recognize that employees should be able to work from anywhere.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

Conversing from a 22-foot Airstream "Sport" trailer parked in his own backyard, Jeremiah Owyang epitomizes work in transition and the ability to work from anywhere. Owyang is an industry analyst based in Silicon Valley who helps his clients solve how new technology connects companies to their customers. He is well recognized by both the tech industry and the media for his grounded approach to deriving insights through rigorous research. The independent technology consultant consolidated his COVID-19 commute from thousands of airline miles each week to a mere 29 steps each day. His "virtual keynote stage" and "executive conference room" is bandwidth rich and distraction-free.


Jeremiah Owyang and his awesome work from home office.


Between the ring lights, lavaliere microphone, webcam, and 30-inch monitor, it's easy to mistake him for a television reporter on the scene of a breaking story. And, in a way, he is -- sharing headline news about how the future of work is rapidly evolving. And what every company must consider building an effective work from anywhere culture.

As employees increasingly want the Future of Work to Be Hybrid -- with flexible options to work from home, from the office, or both -- how do organizations plan for success?

Train for transition

"One company I've worked with wasn't ready for work for home," Jeremiah recalls. "They sent employees home without a clear plan with respect to communication tools, processes, training, or the right software. The culture wasn't ready, and the workers suffered because of it. Now, the company is setting up training for their executives to learn the correct use of digital tools so that they can set an example for (their) employees." Leverage learnings from your own rapid transition to revisit communications strategies as well as tools and processes. In order to train for the transition, you must cultivate a culture of trustworthiness and accountability. In a digital economy, growth is a function of relevance and speed to value. To achieve optimal speed, you must design for movement. The best way to design for movement is not to constrain your workforce to a physical location. 

Build a culture of enablement

"The most successful companies don't focus on micro-management," says Jeremiah. "Instead, they enable a collaborative group of workers to succeed by working in smaller independent groups. For example, Amazon's 14 Leadership Principals concentrate on entrepreneurship, quality of work, and moving to action -- without waiting for extensive executive review. This collaborative culture is already set up for workers to work at home independently. To start small, enable employees to communicate via multiple channels: Text, calls, video, audio-based, with a mixture of asynchronous, real-time options like collaborative documents." I believe culture is what happens when the managers leave the room. Are your employees do the right thing, for the right reasons, even in the absence of authority? When working from home, you have the autonomy and opportunity to delight your stakeholders, without the day-to-day interactions with your managers. A culture of enablement means that all employees, at every level, have the right mindset, heartset, tools, and freedom to practice their company's core values and guiding principles. Cultivating a culture of enablement also means adopting a hybrid -- work from home and office -- office re-opening methodology. Shift management, contact tracing, and wellness monitoring while social distancing is more practical when companies can reduce the office traffic by implementing a hybrid model of work. 

Pilot an on-demand workforce

Discover how to offer flexible work options to your current workforce by piloting a limited, on-demand workforce. "Companies are tapping into on-demand workforce rather than just relying on full-time workers," Jeremiah explains. "There are numerous marketplaces that enable businesses to obtain on-demand marketers, designers, coders, researchers, and operations workers for specific "gigs", including services like Catalant for business consultants, Upwork for a variety of workers, and Time Etc (which I use for administrative assistants and more). Workers who participate in this gig economy have the flexibility to set their own hours, and drive their own destinies and rates -- in exchange for the safety of full-time salaries with benefits." 

Invest in talent retention

"Currently, employees in large, expensive, dense cities are relocating to the suburbs now that they have been set free from going into a regular office every day," says Jeremiah. "These employees will be looking to purchase homes with dedicated offices. Of course, in some company cultures, employees will eventually be heading to the office every single day just as before. However, those workers that don't like this work-style will have more options to find an employer that offers remote or hybrid work."

Social while distant

"Ensure that employees have a place and time to socialize digitally," Jeremiah coaches. "This can manifest itself in regular happy hours, or a casual spot for employees to chatter on an internal social network, or a virtual world or game where people can connect. Socialization not only forges much-needed social bonds that we as humans crave, but it also provides opportunities for new ideas to birth, grow and move to action."
Amidst answers about the future of work, Jeremiah pauses to pose a question of his own. "If you made 10% less money, would you work from home full-time?  He's already received over 700 replies to that top of mind question, prompting him to publish this video of insights. "In summary," he concludes, "With respect to income, you might even end up making more money working from home -- it all depends on the changing economy, your location, and how the nature of work evolves."

What are you discovering about the future of work?  Join us on Twitter @karenmangia and @valaafshar to share your discoveries.

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.

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