Work flexibility success - considerations for the post-pandemic world
So, here we are. Many firms are announcing their new, post-pandemic work policies. Some are more flexible than others. In a May survey release, Ernst and Young announced "More than half of employees globally would quit their jobs if not provided post-pandemic flexibility." The big questions remain - What does the new normal look like? How much flexibility will there really be? What is my employer doing differently? Do I have to be tied to a particular office or am I free to roam?
In our article Choose neurodiversity to integrate the rich pandemic lessons we approach this question from a "How we think" standpoint. Think of neurodiversity among people as the difference between our neurobiology that may drive personality differences (like Introvert or Extrovert) or even differences in how our neurotransmitters mix. For example, some people are naturally prone to create and value company culture more than others based on how they produce Oxytocin. The point being, "how we think" profoundly impacts how work flexibility policies affect different people. In our article, we provide suggestions for how to identify neurodiversity needs via our diversity councils. We also provide work flexibility success considerations and cover key questions. Next, are those work flexibility success considerations.
Work flexibility success considerations in the post-pandemic world
The following are ideas for putting neurodiversity considerations to work in your business context - especially following the 2020-2021 pandemic.
Work from anywhere - the pandemic has revealed something interesting but not surprising. Introverts like to work from home or in a place other than the office. They are productive and energized when they have downtime from communication and the extrovert intensity of the office. This is not to say that periodically being in an office would not be helpful, but probably far less than desired for the extrovert.
Collaboration - one concern from our pandemic separation is 1) whether our less experienced teammates are being mentored by more experienced folks and 2) whether brainstorming and other creative-based collaboration are as effective as before the pandemic.
Mentoring - With the traditional mentoring being done in a physically proximate environment, it turns out, introverts are people less likely to need proximity to be either the mentored or the mentee'ed. They can easily write helpful guides or read those helpful guides, with perhaps only a brief need to dynamically confirm. Those interactions can certainly be remote or in-person. This is not to say that being together periodically would not be helpful, but probably far less than that desired for the extrovert. Also, there was a recent technology study called the Virtual Watercooler. This facilitates more senior managers connecting with more junior staff but in a more relaxed virtual environment.
Brainstorming - Brainstorming interactions are important. Being remote requires a change of thinking about how we brainstorm, but can certainly be done as effectively. For example: Schedule planning and debrief discussions on either side of an important event. Say, you have an important meeting with your CFO. Make sure your team has active discussions scheduled before and after. This simulates the "hallway" conversations that often occur. The bottom line, it will take a little more commitment to structure remote-enabled brainstorming.
A matter of culture - people with low oxytocin concentrations are simply less likely to internalize the need for high tribal affiliation (1). While they intellectually "get it," they do not need high tribal affiliation to be productive and may find it more distracting than helpful. Sure, periodically getting together as a company-wide team is important for leaders to share information and demonstrate firm values and beliefs. High oxytocin people find this much more helpful than their low oxytocin counterparts. Plus, those communications may certainly occur remotely.
Effective teams - Consulting firms and other companies are usually good at inventorying staff skills. Especially in consulting, where project teams are regularly forming, disbanding, and reforming; putting together effective and diverse skilled teams is critical. Skills are relatively easy to inventory. This can be done by combining resume-based skills and years of experience. Unfortunately, neuro-propensity is generally more challenging to inventory. Could you imagine if all members of a team were extroverts? or introverts? Like the investment firm Bridgewater, some companies are good at inventorying and utilizing neurodiverse attributes to fine-tune team complementarity. (2) It takes time and skill to test neurodiversity. Without formal testing, leaders must use their judgment to assemble appropriately neurodiverse teams. Unfortunately, as studies have demonstrated, human judgment can be fraught with both bias and noise. (3) Without objective support, leaders have a much higher likelihood of getting neurodiversity-related judgments wrong.
While new company policies are being put in place, the war for talent is raging. The other thing employers must consider: It is a seller's market for talent and sellers want significant work flexibility. I had a recent conversation related to the securities trading industry. It went something like this: "Yea, I just got the news I am going to be required to be in the office after labor day. The new policy is pretty in-flexible. I'm not too worried about it, though, I bet it will change. Especially since my LinkedIn inbox is 20 offers deep with positions offering more money and more flexibility."
(1) Inc., The Cult-Like Cultures of Amazing Start-ups
(2) Ray Dalio, Principles, Life and Work
(3) Kahneman, Sunstein, and Sibony, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment