Instead of “Hybrid” or “Remote” Let’s Call it Strategic Flexibility
Jessica DeGroot and ThirdPath Institute were recently featured in the Society for Human Resource Management’s newsletter.
Here’s the link to the full article, or read on for an excerpt that helps illustrate how we as change agents, can make the most of this moment in time.
DeGroot has seen the power of strategic flexibility in the community of leaders her nonprofit supports. Long before the pandemic, these leaders were experimenting with remote work as one of the options offered to employees to develop an integrated approach to work and life—one that allowed them to be successful at work while having time and energy for life responsibilities. This paid off during the pandemic. At ThirdPath’s recent Leadership Summit, DeGroot discovered that, unlike many businesses today, none of the participants had lost a disproportionate number of female employees during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, she has also heard a number of less-progressive stories, including those that illustrate outdated thinking by HR. “Too often, HR sees itself as rule enforcers for the way things have always been done,” she said.
DeGroot shares the story of an engineer who had successfully worked remotely a few days a week his entire career. During the pandemic, he and other team members were laid off, but his confidence in his ability to work remotely inspired him to apply for a position that was physically located a four-hour drive from his home. It was a company he had been following due to its groundbreaking work, and since its employees had been working remotely for a year, he saw it as an opportunity to join the organization.
When interviewed by one of the company vice presidents, the engineer was told, “HR’s policy is that you cannot work remotely. There’s nothing I can do about it.” But then the vice president confided that he had two team members who worked remotely long before the pandemic, one living even farther away than a four-hour drive.
DeGroot believes HR can be instrumental in creating strategically flexible workplaces. “This includes messaging to current employees and potential new hires, partnerships with managers to help them develop the skills to manage remote work teams and revising job descriptions,” she said. In this way, and with the support of senior leaders, “HR can make a major contribution to their organizations’ success,” she added.
The article then goes on to share the story of how Delta Emerson, one of our amazing ThirdPath community members, used strategic flexibility to transform her workplace.
As Delta explained, “We had some old-school leaders who couldn’t imagine the kind of workplace we were envisioning,” she said. “Over time, however, as positive results became evident, resistance dissipated.”
The article concludes with this powerful truth: “Because of the pandemic, numerous organizations that had never contemplated strategic flexibility before have had to adjust. Now, rather than returning to the old ways, let’s take advantage of this otherwise disastrous event to rethink how work is done.”
GOOD NEWS! Delta Emerson will be joining us for the launch of our new season of Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars. Stay tuned!
Take A Vacation: It’s Time To Recharge Your Batteries
Taking a vacation is good for you, its good for your family and it turns out its good for your organization!
Here’s what we at ThirdPath have learned about the importance of vacation time over the past 20 plus years of advocating for doing work and family differently. You can also listen to our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar where we discussed this topic by clicking on the SoundCloud player.
However – some of us might need to challenge a few work norms to make this happen: the fear of being perceived as an under performer; the pressure to see it as a win-lose proposition – either we meet our client and customer needs or our own personal needs; or the worry that maybe there’s no point to take a week off given the demands to be available while away and the difficulty transitioning back upon return.
But there’s a lot to gain when we push back at these norms.
– Time off can have several health benefits like reducing risk of heart disease, stress and depression.
– Seeing new places (even if it’s only a short car ride away) and experiencing different things can have a positive effect on our overall outlook on life, providing a fresh and new perspective.
– Time away from work can also help us remember that work is just one part of who we are and remind us that we have friends, family and other life interests.
Here’s a list of ideas to help increase the enjoyment of your time away and maximize the benefits upon your return. For the full list, click here.
Vacation Check List:
- Plan vacations around the “seasonality” of your work. Try scheduling longer trips for less busy periods of work and “long weekend vacations” when work is busier.
- Block off pre and post “quiet” work days. Avoid scheduling meetings and phone calls the day before you leave and the day you return to allow for the “unexpected” and for catch up time when you return.
- Create a “what can wait” list. A week before you go, create a list of things that you can wait to get done after vacation, versus tasks that must be completed before you go.
- Decide how “connected” you want to be. If you need to check email or voice messages, plan ahead around what’s least disruptive.
- Carefully define emergencies. Think ahead about what challenges could arise. Clearly define emergencies to avoid everything becoming one.
- Keep track of what worked well. Create a list you can refer back to of helpful ideas for planning your next vacation.
And don’t forget, creating vacations that really recharge our batteries may also require us to change how we approach vacations as a family. Two parents working together as a team to plan and make the most of a vacation, makes it a better experience for everyone. (And while you’re at it, don’t forget to plan a romantic getaway for just the two of you!)
Want to learn more? Join our OMG 12-call series to help you develop 21st century work-life integration skills.
Renegotiating Remote Work for a Post Pandemic World
When remote work is working for you but everyone else wants to head back to the office, how do you convince your boss to let you stay at home (at least some of the time)?
To learn more, read our guest post by Heather Cluley, Associate Director, Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. Or click on the YouTube video to listen to the great advice from our April Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar.
Step 1: Get clear about what’s working and what you want
The first step is to objectively assess your remote work experience and think about adjustments that will improve your productivity and communication with your colleagues and clients. Before the pandemic threw us all spontaneously into remote work, these types of arrangements were proactive and well-planned affairs. And that was a good thing because that meant productivity could be optimized, teams could better coordinate their efforts, and managers expectations could be better managed.
An example of just how organized these arrangements can be can be found in the 40-page Guide to Telework in the Federal Government. It spells out exactly the conversations that would need to be had between employees and their managers when a telework arrangement is requested. While you may be well beyond this conversation now, this survey tool, developed by my friends at the ThirdPath Institute, can help you (re)assess and recalibrate your remote work plans. This will help you think through how your continued remote work arrangements can benefit you, your work, and your team, as well as how to improve the arrangement (now that we’re not in crisis mode).
Step 2: Frame your request from the managing up perspective
Now that you know what works best for you, you need to honestly reflect on what works best for your boss and your organization. Taking this bigger picture view will help you figure out how to frame your request for continued remote work in a way that will make it harder to say no to. BTW, this ‘managing up’ approach can also help you at work generally. When it comes to your manager, think about their goals and perspective. What are their plans and pressures? Also, what is your boss’s communication style and decision-making style? Does your boss prefer written or face-to-face communication? Do they want to know all the details and all the options, or do they just want your recommendation for moving projects forward? A boss who values face-to-face communication might be more open to an arrangement that is part-time remote work versus one that is full-time.
You will also want to frame your request with an understanding of your workplace’s culture. For example, a split schedule – where you’re working some hours during the day and some in the evening – might work well in a 24/7 work environment because it can allow you to be responsive to those evening requests. But a work arrangement that is more 9 to 5-ish might work better in a work culture set by more traditional business hours. Try to meet your own needs while also staying within the framework of the organizational culture and your boss’s work style.
Step 3: Make the request using the triple win
“Hey boss, I want to continue to work remotely after the pandemic (sometimes, all the time, on Wednesdays…). I have thought about how to make this work for me and my work, for you and the team, and how it can be really great for serving our clients. Let me tell you about this triple-win proposal…” Honestly, if I am your boss, I’m all ears in this conversation. If you can truly lay out a plan that is a win for all stakeholders, you’ll be well on the road to a yes. A few other tips to seal the deal: consider pitching this proposal as a trial or pilot test. Suggest it as a time-limited experiment. Then build in advance a timeframe for review – when you will discuss what’s going well and what adjustments are needed. Then spend the trial phase doing an awesome job, so there is no question when that review time comes around, that things are going well. Competent work (being predictably good) and great communication are two key ingredients to building trust.
I’m going to use this post-pandemic opportunity to rebuild my life into a life I want, not one that is shaped by outdated ideas and needless inefficiencies. (Ok, I’m probably also going to end up back where I started when it comes to running a child around to way too many activities.) For me, I’ve been in a pretty good situation for a while. Nearly ideal. The remote work arrangements and flexible schedule I’ve enjoyed used to be unheard of in many organizations. But now is the time to start making work more fun and less stressful by building on what we have learned about the possibilities that seemed so untenable until now.
Heather Cluley, Ph.D. is the Associate Director in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. She also happens to be one of ThirdPath’s AMAZING ILAs.
Prioritizing Time Alongside Money
As a society, we have been trained to believe that more money is always better. People in the ThirdPath community have turned this assumption upside down. Instead they ask, can we design a financial solution that allows us the time we want, not just the money we need?
By getting clear about life priorities, being intentional around spending, and creating financial buffers, there really is a way you can create more time for the things you love.
The way to do this, Matt Becker would argue, is by following a “life-centered approach” to finances. Matt is the founder of Mom and Dad Money, and he talked about this on one of our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars. Click on the YouTube recording and you can listen to his insights right now.
While discussing these ideas, Matt encourages parents to think about the time they want for different things — family, partner, your kids and other highly valued non-work activities — then to use these “life goals” to become more intentional about how to manage earning income and spending to achieve them.
For example, being conservative around spending can help you afford to use time in a way that is most aligned with your values. It also helps you better manage unexpected changes in employment, or the need to temporarily reduce the number of hours you work.
Members of the ThirdPath community apply the life-centered approach to family finances in a variety of ways.
As one mom explained, “Live at or below your means, but never above your means.” Another father told us, “Avoid the assumption that the person who earns more should work more. Instead, find solutions that advance the family’s needs, and each parent’s professional goals, as a whole.”
Just as there are different “North stars” there are also a wide range of ways ThirdPath parents “balance” the competing needs of time and money. (Learn more about this by downloading a *FREE* of our ThirdPath Leader Guide.)
We all need money to live, but the exact amount depends on how much we spend, how much we save, how much debt we have, and what our values are. With the right amount of reflection, conversation and visualization, each of us can find our own unique life-centered financial equation.
What’s the right “life centered approach” to finances for you?
Black Career Women and Strategic Mothering
Once again we will have Riché Daniel Barnes join our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars this month. Her amazing book, Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood and Community taught me how much the Black professional mothers in her study have in common with our Shared Care families.
Her study reinforced how the dichotomy between work and family isn’t working for anybody.
To challenge this, these Black professional mothers had adopted a more flexible approach that provided a wider range of options to meet their responsibilities around work, family, community and marriage.
When I asked Riché what prompted her to begin this study, she explained, “I was in grad school, so I had time to take my daughter to the library a couple times each week and I kept on noticing the same Black mothers who were there as well. Every Black woman I knew had always worked. But this group of women were showing up week after week. Some of these mothers were taking time for family alongside their careers. Some were not planning to go back to work. Some were planning to go back, they just weren’t yet sure when.” And all of them, Riché pointed out, were doing this without any role models.
Riché uses the concept of “Strategic Mothering” to describe what she observed.
This is an approach Black women have used for generations as a way to strengthen their communities through their work as caregivers, culture bearers and community builders. Whether flexing a full time job, working reduced hours, or temporarily stepping away from their careers, these Black professional women were searching for ways to break down the dichotomy between work and family.
In a previous interview, when asked how their more flexible approach to work and family was an example of “Strategic Mothering”, Riché answered, “In the time span that I interviewed these families, only 2 have ended in divorce. These women saw having an intact family as important to the community. Family life is devalued. Marriage is devalued. The majority of black children are being raised in single-parent households. These women saw what they were doing — by staying together — as ‘raising the race.’”
Read more …
However, as Riché clarified, these mothers hadn’t arrived at these answers just by choice.
Their strategy was based on a history that included slavery, Jim Crow and systemic racism. This historical context helped illustrate why, as Black women, it was assumed they would combine work and motherhood. It also underscores how the ongoing racism Black families face – including Black professional families – makes it extremely risky to rely on just one parent’s income.
Riché explained, “These families knew they were making a precarious decision. Even as professional families, most were just one generation away from not having had anything. And because their financial circumstances were often dependent on an employer – they knew they had to put other types of financial solutions in place for themselves.” For many, this meant having some other type of income producing activity on the side, whether it was real estate, something entrepreneurial, or something else.
Riché points to the need to create better public policy to address this problem.
Riché argued, “We are putting more responsibilities on families to take care of themselves, and we’ve eroded the safety net that so many of us have worked hard to create.” Going forward, we need to create good public policy and good workplace policies. Unfortunately, Riché concluded, our country does not seem to be going in this direction. “We need to pivot our conversation and recognize that families can’t do all of this work themselves.”
Check out the above YouTube video to listen to our first conversation with Riché. Then register to join us on 1/14/21 @ 1pm ET to learn more about this important topic.