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Flexibility or Bust: Employee Enlightenment Requires Corporate Rethink


Wooded cube block on white background with word EVOLVE
Image: Monster Zstudio -
A lot has changed in the working world during the past two years. The forced work-from-home scenario has made employees realize that they want to work differently, and employers realize that they have to take these views seriously.
The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), for example, has found that more than half of U.S. workers would choose to work from home permanently if given the option. Of those who would choose to work permanently from home, 35% would even accept a cut in pay to do so.
And if they don’t get what they want, they are quitting — in higher and higher numbers. A recent study from Future Forum, a consortium backed by Slack (a team collaboration app maker recently acquired by Salesforce), found that resignations are rising almost uniformly across all types of companies. The biggest reason, says Brian Elliott, executive leader for Future Forum and a vice president at Slack, is because they see companies as being inflexible on this topic. More importantly, he says, “employees have spent the last 18 months proving that they can be productive in different environments.”
All of this has made companies think more seriously and creatively about how to reorient business processes in ways that satisfy employee demands for work-life balance and retain productivity.
Take the example of onboarding a new employee. Traditionally, employees come to a central location for a few days to fill out paperwork, get their laptop, undergo training, and learn about the company’s mission and vision. Fast-forward to 2021. Paperwork can be filled out online, tech setup can be handled asynchronously by an employee at home, and training can be done via videoconferencing, To balance things out, consider pairing new employees with mentors, who can guide them when needed, Elliott recommends.
Of course, there are valuable reasons to meet in person, but these times should be carefully planned out. Much of the prep work, like developing an agenda using a digital whiteboard or sharing documents, can happen without setting foot in an office. That way, group time is reserved for what groups are good at — filtering ideas and making decisions.
Moving more processes to a “digital first” format also opens companies up to a broader pool of talent. Not only can companies recruit people from different geographies, but they can tap more diverse, often less expensive talent.
Of course, productivity is a top metric for every company, and it’s important to be able to measure productivity for fully remote, hybrid, and in-office environments.
“The old way of measuring team productivity was based on inputs, such as how many hours people were sitting at their desk or in the office. But that never worked very well anyway,” Elliott says. “It’s better to actually measure the quality of output. You can measure how well your product is doing in hitting its customer service goals, or how well you’re meeting your sales or marketing goals. These are actual, measurable outcomes on functional levels that may be harder to triage back to a specific person but can definitely measure the productivity of a team.”
Companies that are taking the steps necessary to rethink processes are reaping the rewards. Future Forum’s surveys over the last three quarters bear that out. By the second quarter of this year, they found a 57% difference in productivity scores for people working at corporate innovators than laggards.
“There is no doubt that we need to move from an office-centric to digital-first approach,” Elliott says. “That doesn’t mean people aren’t ever together in an office, but it means that companies are rethinking processes and the way people work.”

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