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Kyra Cavanaugh's picture

This is excerpted from a longer blog post at Corporate Voices.

For the last 15 years, the Sloan Foundation has invested $120 million in more than 350 projects focused on work/life issues.  And that investment paid dividends in elevating visibility of workplace flexibility issues--all the way to the White House. 

It brought us sound research that framed flex as a critical business strategy.  It moved us beyond gender and family stereotypes.  It funded critical partnerships, highlighted best practices, and on and on and on...

But it's not enough.  Despite sound data, companies are slow to adopt flexible practices.  The media is tired of covering work/life stories.  And employees at award-winning workplaces continue to lament their lack of flexibility. 

Despite the investment, the resources, the data, the will and interest of critical business leaders and the president himself -- we're still not there. 

So what's next?

There are big barriers to adopting and sustaining flexible work practices. So it's time to shift our focus to Flex 2.0

If Flex 1.0 was about convincing companies to implement flexible work programs, Flex 2.0 is about helping companies overcome internal barriers.  It's about making flex a living, breathing part of corporate culture:

  • Re-engage senior leadership.  For many, implementing a flexible work policy served a need. "It's like they checked the box, and moved onto other things," one award-winning company told me recently. Senior leaders need to understand they need to visibly support flex and invest resources to help it grow.
  • Help managers overcome resistance. It's difficult for managers to imagine how flexible work teams can help improve results. Organizations need to offer training, providing managers with tools to lead flex teams.
  • Decentralize flex. Enable teams to choose their own flex work arrangements and style.  Train managers on how to build their own flex teams, and implement supports for managers, such as accountability partners and brown-bag lunches.  Communicate internal successes and de-stigmatize flex.
  • Identify the latent need for flex.  It's not enough to measure flex through usage rates and engagement surveys. If employees don't feel it's safe to request flex, then it's hard to know if they need it. 
  • Engage cross-functional flex teams. Are real estate, HR, and IT working together on flex? Flex 2.0 will require these departments to build collaborate to support the company's flex culture.
  • Research focus on implementation.  They see the need, but what's not at all clear for most organizations is how to get there.  Future research must focus on implementation, effective manager engagement, change management, and identifying the elements of truly flexible work cultures. 

It's time to move from the WHY of flex and focus on the HOW.  Only then will flexible work become a mainstream reality for America's workers.

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