Apple’s new work policy, which requires staff to be in the office three days per week, eliminated the flexibility of their hybrid approach. The statement was met with strong resistance from employees, including the resignation of a high-level director in protest.
If a flexible-work policy can increase workplace satisfaction and employee retention, as well as a company’s capacity to acquire and keep the finest talent, why do some employers still need employees to return to the office?
In an open letter to Apple, a disgruntled employee cited “fear of the future of work, fear of worker autonomy, fear of losing control” as the reason behind the choice.
Bringing employees back to the workplace represents a regression.
“Offices are an artifact of the industrial age,”
Brian Elliott, executive leader of Future Forum
Instead of demanding a return to the office to restore control over employee output, businesses should welcome new technological methods for enhancing productivity. With the emergence of digital technologies such as Slack and Zoom, it has become easier not just to centralise virtual work — eliminating the need for shared physical places and conventional 9-to-5 schedules — but also to track, measure, and enhance output.
Construction, transportation, and film production, among many others, are examples of activities that cannot be performed from home. However, the majority of jobs fall along a continuum of flexibility. According to a McKinsey study, finance and insurance offer the most potential for remote work, with 75% of time spent on tasks being able to be completed remotely without a decrease in productivity.
EFFECTIVE COMPANIES ARE DATA-DRIVEN
Customizing work policies across teams and departments can be a complicated and time-consuming endeavour. The businesses with the highest likelihood of success in developing flexible work arrangements will be data-driven, continuously collecting data and feeding it back into the system to facilitate continuous learning.
So how can leaders utilise data to facilitate flexibility? Software engineering teams provide an intriguing illustration. The day of a developer comprises numerous feedback loops. Some loops are large, such as ensuring that a feature satisfies requirements, while others are modest, such as ensuring that a code update works in a local development environment.
When developers are confronted with complexity and friction (such as many meetings, a lack of automation, and connected architectures), it takes longer to complete a single feedback loop.
Effective teams optimise feedback loops so that more may be accomplished in less time, hence increasing the system’s overall throughput. For instance, if a team observes an increase in the time required to ship a new product, the team may question if code reviews are being done in a timely manner. If not, the team can set up reminders for code reviewers whose work is falling behind or designate a specific time for code reviews.
A similar methodology can be implemented in nearly every area. Just as engineering teams strive to release software frequently in tiny batches (elite teams release software multiple times per day), finance departments want to implement continuous closing processes to minimise end-of-quarter work peaks.
Accounting teams can monitor the time required to close the books each month and then experiment with techniques to bring them closer to a continuous close, such as implementing change management, lowering the quantity of data feeds, and employing machine learning to identify and flag irregularities.
Given that every team and department is unique, it is essential to collect data that assists teams in answering such questions: (and as a result, home in on the right policies and processes that enable flexible work).
DATA VISIBILITY ENABLES FLEXIBILITY
As the co-founder of a business that has analysed the developer productivity of 300,000 developers, I have a unique perspective on the work-policy restrictions that many companies face. For instance, we discovered that developers code less than one hour per day globally, which may signal a need for the industry as a whole to safeguard more developer concentration time.
When establishing a plan to empower individuals and teams with data, there are three lessons that have become obvious from the study of software development that can be widely applied to all departments: preserve privacy, dimensionalize data, and assess change over time.
Individual data should always be kept private unless the individual consents to its disclosure. Employee surveillance is self-sabotage; in an effort to answer a question about productivity, it destroys psychological safety and fosters a culture of fear. Teams should use data as the engine for positive change rather than as a measure of individual productivity.
Individuals may feel that they will be micromanaged if facts are made available for the sake of enhancing collaboration, even if the aim is genuine. Using the “data for one, data for all” strategy, managers can emphasise the benefits of collecting and measuring data. Individual data is never shared with management; instead, everyone sees the same aggregated and anonymized team statistics on a single dashboard.
In some instances, making data available can also be a catalyst for beneficial department-wide change. Historically, product analytics, for instance, has been compartmentalised within product teams.
“By making customer data visible across all teams—including product, marketing, sales, and customer success—everyone can work within the same context,”
James Gross, cofounder of customer growth platform Variance
Metrics such as the conversion rate between product milestones and the average time to complete each milestone can be instrumented by revenue teams. Teams may improve the time required to convert product-qualified leads by configuring notifications when milestones are reached and using those alerts to direct clients via a product funnel.
Because context is important, teams should also dimension their data. Microsoft’s SPACE framework is based on the premise that software-engineering productivity cannot be reduced to “one metric that matters” and should instead be balanced over at least three dimensions. Engineering teams can balance quantitative metrics for performance and efficiency, such as code review velocity, lead time, and deployment frequency, with satisfaction metrics gathered through surveys and one-on-ones.
“Making feedback a regular, cultural practice is key to not only improving the happiness and retention of employees, but also building a high-performing team,”
Andrew Zhou, cofounder of Kona, which provides daily mental health check-ins for remote teams
Teams are their own best reference classes, which is why it’s important to measure change over time.
In a company update last year, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy shared his perspective on the future of work, and it was refreshing: “We’re going to be in a stage of experimenting, learning, and adjusting for a while as we emerge from this pandemic.”
By establishing tools to monitor short- and long-term trends, teams may assess whether feedback loops are improving and conduct experiments to determine the efficacy of flexible work practices. For instance, engineering teams that invest in better documentation might reduce the onboarding time for new workers, which will be a major determinant in how successfully firms retain tech talent in the future.
There are a variety of solutions, methods, procedures, and technologies that can assist teams in thriving in a flexible work environment. Instead of mandating that workers work from an office, executives should concentrate on establishing the digital infrastructure and processes that enhance visibility and empower teams to make independent decisions.
I believe the majority of CEOs are currently concerned about the two most significant factors. How to bring employees back to work and how to prepare for a possible incoming recession. In prior articles, we discussed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s 4 Hybrid Workplace Tips and how a firm may be more productive while still providing employees with flexibility.
After two years of Covid-19 lockdown, the world’s leading CEOs face a multitude of obstacles. Fortunately, they have an arsenal of top management to combat the current difficulties.