Future of Work: Allstate's Flexible Work Strategy Unveiled

The Next Practices Weekly call series has become a well-attended and wide-ranging discussion for HR leaders each Thursday at 11am ET / 8am PT. On this week's call, Lorrie Lykins, i4cp's Vice President, Research and Executive Editor, and i4cp Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone, were joined by special guest Bob Toohey, Executive Vice President and CHRO at Allstate. Here are some highlights from the call:

  • Prior to joining Allstate as CHRO, Toohey was President of Pymetrics and was also briefly CHRO at AOL. Before that he worked on the business side, as an SVP and later President of Verizon Business for several years. Working on the business side at both Verizon, and before that GTE as well, has informed how he approaches HR today.
  • In particular, Toohey sees HR COEs as "products," always asking the question: Would our customers (business leaders and employees), if they had the choice, buy our HR services? If not, what should we be doing differently to provide real value and align with the business? This is a different mindset than how many others see HR.
  • Allstate values listening to employees--their HR customers. They are moving over time from the typical annual employee survey(s) to more of an always on, pulse-checking approach to employee listening.
  • Toohey said "Don't ask if you don't want the answer," or don't plan on taking action. You can't please everyone, all the time of course--so it is important to be transparent, and explain the "why" of what actions you take after doing surveys.
  • We asked the following poll question of event participants: "What is your organization's current work model policy?"
    • 2% Onsite full-time
    • 16% Fixed hybrid
    • 60% Flexible hybrid
    • 12% Fully remote
    • 10% We do not have a defined work model policy
  • Toohey shared more details on what was featured in a Fortune article titled: "Allstate cut half its office space after adopting flexible work. Job applications soared 23%, with large increases among women and people of color".
  • Allstate looked at their office utilization rates, asked many questions of employees, and considered carefully what kind of work will people do best in the office vs. working remotely. They decided on 15 locations, which they now call pods instead of offices, based on where the largest and most strategic masses of employees were located. These pods have been designed specifically to optimize for collaborative work, in-person meetings and training, open cafes for networking, quiet library-style spaces, etc. They are also testing additional flex spaces, especially in areas that lack a pod location.
  • There has been a mindset shift away from consistently coming in 8am-5pm each day, and instead doing so for purposeful work. And each pod creates its own cadence and approach, e.g., Toohey noted that at the Charlotte location, Thursday is a consistently very busy day at the office, but Monday very less so (even though neither day of the week has mandates either way).
  • When asked about how they measure productivity today, Toohey said his view is: "However you measured productivity before all this [change], measure it the same way." Tracking goals and outcomes is what matters, not attendance or activity.
  • One learning has been that many employees feel very connected to their direct manager and functional area, but could use more connection across functions. So they are focusing on that going forward.
  • Allstate's approach to work design has been a boon to their employer brand--in short, Allstate does not have a candidate pool problem. The flexible model has made the inflow of candidates very strong.
  • Toohey said that culture is not a sign on the wall, but rather who you are, how you do things, how you operate, etc. He admits that their approach to culture and flexible work might not work for all companies. But what he has found is that if you provide flexibility, and make on-site days really valuable, people will like those days and suggest a few more of them--to which he responds, go for it!
  • An area they are leaning in more on is providing the best support possible for leaders and managers to optimize the results of their flexible work design. They are also focusing on new hires and early in career employees, so that the culture can be maintained even with such a large amount of remote work. They have encouraged things like buddy programs, as well as online office hours in Zoom, where people can "stop by" to talk or ask questions of each other.
  • Toohey noted that they don't know all the answers, and managers who work with their teams every day often have great ideas. So they allocated a budget, $10 million dollars, and also removed friction from the systems, and then said "You decide how you want to get your teams together." The only requirement was that the managers needed to report back what they did, what they learned, and whether it succeeded or failed. So they are testing and learning with managers--a great example of learning with their HR customers, i.e., the organization's managers.
  • Toohey noted that they continue to do a lot of virtual training, and are leaning into using AI more in L&D, and emphasizing more microlearning and learning in the flow of work. That said, where it makes sense to do in-person training, it often is added to days when employees are otherwise on-site for a partial day anyway.
  • Regarding overall trends, Toohey said HR needs to continue to mature in the direction of providing consumer-grade experiences for employees. This is why having a product-centric approach to HR is so important.
  • Technology is obviously important to the future of HR, but employees should rarely notice the technology: when I get to work, the technology should know I have certain things to do, and help enable me to do them effectively. Toohey said that regarding technology, they are "trying to leap-frog where they are trying to go."
  • When asked what he looks for in HR professionals to join his team, Toohey emphasized passion, perspective, and a desire to learn--and of course an emphasis on product and customer.
  • Keys to having a product and customer mindset in HR: anytime you are planning to roll out something, ask what is this going to do for the business? Also, emphasize usability and ask critical questions such as: Why am I doing this? Is it simple? And is it going to help the business?
  • Toohey said they also use a lot of design thinking in HR, and have embedded it into their systems.

Links to resources shared on the call: