Young Manager working hero

Let Managers Manage Flexible Work, but…

When it comes to workplace flexibility and decisions about where and when employees work, Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) CEO Kevin Oakes advises, “let the managers manage.”  

In the recently published report examining flexible and hybrid work policies and practices—From Cube to Cloud™: The Next Era of Work—Oakes presents key findings from the study, which captured survey responses from 1,452 business and talent leaders worldwide. Further insights were uncovered during i4cp’s interviews with talent leaders from high-performance organizations, including Fortune 500 companies Bristol-Myers Squibb, Jones Lang LaSalle, Land O’Lakes, and Mondelez International. 

As a headline in the report, “let the managers manage” drew attention. But expecting managers to orchestrate flexible work arrangements without preparation and ongoing support isn’t the way to go. In fact, a respected talent leader in one of those Fortune 500 companies interviewed by i4cp punctuated this point succinctly when she said, “Flying by the seat of your pants is not going to be the way to lead in the future.”

Oakes agrees, noting in the report that top companies “…will develop guidelines for managers on how to address new ways of working and provide extensive training and tools to help managers and employees arrive at the best work arrangements.” 

An example of this is agribusiness and food company Land O’Lakes, which has developed a Workplace Flexibility Readiness tool for use in conjunction with manager training. The tool assists managers in constructively discussing flexible work arrangements with their reports. As part of her company’s participation in i4cp’s community and research, Land O’Lakes HR director Tiffany Kramlich has shared this tool exclusively to i4cp members.  

Another study participant from a top national building design and construction firm underscored the importance of extending training to both managers and employees. Her company’s guide for workers encourages thought and responsibility in designing hybrid work models, provides talking points for discussing flexibility with managers, offers tips on effectively working flexibly (such as building team relationships and pursuing career growth in the hybrid work environment), and wraps all of the advice and instruction within the context of company values and philosophy. 

Some companies choose a different flexible work strategy 

Among the informative assets associated with i4cp’s From Cube to Cloud research is a case study on the online real estate company Zillow (How an Agile Company Moved Its Headquarters to the Cloud).  

Acting on its perception that the extensive pandemic-driven changes in work models offered opportunity, Zillow’s leadership chose to reinvent the company. Previously an organization with an “in-office culture,” according to chief people officer Dan Spaulding, Zillow moved its headquarters—and most of its employees—to the cloud. 

“Our dream is to work anywhere anytime,” Spaulding says. Zillow’s Cloud HQ Guiding Principles underscore that idea, declaring the company’s aim to create “new experiences for our employees, that maximize flexibility and drive business performance.”  

Despite the move to the cloud, Zillow’s business, which includes mortgage underwriting and other services, still necessitates a presence in some physical offices. However, Spaulding says that the company made a conscious decision to take who-works-where decisions out of managers’ hands by creating job profiles.  

Although the profiles are still evolving, Zillow has specified four that are characterized by (and determine) employee location: 

  • Remote employees live anywhere and occasionally travel to a Zillow office location to collaborate.  
  • Field employees live where they wish, but the location must be within driving distance of the city in which their work is done.  
  • Hybrid employees must spend more than 10% of their time at one of Zillow’s core office locations (although workers have significant flexibility in scheduling that time). 
  • Office-based employees work in positions that cannot be done remotely and perform their jobs on company premises.  

Says Spaulding: “We worked with our executive team to get consensus on the profiles so we didn’t run into the kind of discrimination complaints that some organizations may experience when they leave the determination up to manager discretion.” 

A still-evolving situation demands flexibility about flexibility 

While i4cp’s research found that about two-thirds of organizations overall involve their managers in who-works-where decisions, Zillow and other companies demonstrate that, even when it comes to being flexible, companies may need to be flexible and find the decision-making approaches that best serve their unique cultures, needs, and objectives. 

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us nothing else, it is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges business and talent leaders must negotiate each day. Organizations continue to evolve their policies on flexibility and onsite, remote, and hybrid work models. To provide our members with the support and tools needed to drive success, i4cp is publishing more features and resources from its From Cube to Cloud study, while also moving to the next level with new research and a publicly available biweekly call series on Getting Hybrid Work Right

Additional resources are available in the From Cube to Cloud Series.

Carol Morrison is an i4cp senior research analyst.