Work flexibility success - key questions in 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." So, 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. Consider neurodiversity 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 than others based on how they produce Oxytocin. The point being, "how we think" profoundly impacts how work flexibility policies impact 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 key questions.

You may have questions about work flexibility in the post-pandemic world. I think we all have questions. It is an interesting time. The post-pandemic world is the mother of all-natural experiments and we are only scratching the surface of our learning. Here are a few questions and related solutions to ponder:

In a more ”work from anywhere” world, how do we get the full value of the intangibles?

Haskel and Westlake wrote a super book called Capitalism Without Capital. It is about how firms drive success in the "Intangible Economy." The four main properties of the intangible economy are Scalability, Sunkenness, Spillovers, and Synergies. In particular, how do you get the network spillover effect if people are not physically together? There is a reason why San Francisco seems to be the nexus for tech people! As we discussed in our article Choose neurodiversity to integrate the rich pandemic lessons, this is more of a "how" question. The technology exists to capture spillovers. It will take companies really thinking about integrating the technologies into their culture. We have had 18 months of practice. Also, if the pandemic had happened 20 years ago, this would not have been a question. The technology, including the bandwidth, was not good enough then. It is today and it is only getting better.

How do you know we are more productive in a remote environment?

We do not know this for sure. But some recent studies show evidence we are more productive working outside the office. In a paper published by Stanford University, Nicholas Bloom found that work from home increases productivity by 13% (To be fair, this is a single company example, based on a technology, consumer-oriented company called Ctrip). Also, in another recent paper, Bloom found that Americans, pre-pandemic, commuted an average of 54 minutes a day. Upon shifting to work from home, people spent 35% of the time-save on work. I consider this as a win/win. Both the employer and employee appear to benefit when commuting time is decreased. Finally, Raj Choudhury, an economist at the Harvard Business School, did a study on the U.S. Patent Office. The Patent Office allowed a group of patent examiners to Work From Anywhere ("WFA"). It created a natural experiment because only a subset was provided this opportunity. The outcome showed the WFA group was 4.4% more productive than the non-WFA group.

What these studies have not focused on yet is "who is more productive." Neurodiversity is likely impacting job satisfaction and productivity.

What do we have to learn from the consulting industry?

I have worked for both KPMG and IBM financial services consulting organizations. Before my consulting days, I worked for Wells Fargo and Citibank in the financial services industry. My perspective is, the industry has very much to learn from the firms they hire as consultants. Consulting firms are already good at mobility, able to rapidly shift teams worldwide or working from home. Consulting firms, pre-pandemic, already had a "hoteling system" that allowed them to maintain a fraction of the office seats needed for their total employee population. Consulting firms are already good at creating culture remotely and collaborating virtually. The good news, there are already success stories for implementing hybrid or totally virtual organizations.

Is neurodiversity dilutive to visible diversity efforts?

My belief is a properly implemented neurodiversity program will accelerate visible diversity efforts. The potential challenge with visible diversity relates to a misalignment of incentives across visible groups. That is, those in the majority class may not feel compelled to actively advocate as a minority affinity ally. The visible-majority class behavior may be more passive. As a solution for driving diversity awareness and action, diversity leadership should encourage converting passive visible-majority members to affinity visible-majority members. Please see the graphic.

A recent study suggests, most of the visible-majority class is passive in their attitudes toward diversity. (1) This is where neurodiversity comes into focus. Pair visibly diverse members with similar neuro-affinity attributes. (e.g., an Asian person and a white person that shares introversion as a common neuro-affinity) Through their shared neuro-affinity, they will be more likely to extend the affinity to their visible diversity. Ultimately, sharing a business smart neuro-affinity may help accelerate visible diversity affinity.

While these questions are considered, 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) In a 2016 poll called Diversity Best Practices, they surveyed 7 companies to understand employee diversity-oriented resource group participation. Based on this survey, the median participation rate is 10%. This could be a proxy for visible-majority affinity and visible-minority. As such, this would leave 90% as either visible-majority passive or visible-majority unavailable.

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