With many companies allowing employees to work from home until the end of 2020—or even indefinitely—both employers and employees are adapting to a new workplace normal. Many organizations are adopting a flex work approach where employees have the freedom to work when and where they’re most productive. This approach offers many benefits, including allowing employees to better balance their work-life responsibilities. However, it’s also uncharted territory for many organizations and employees, with everyone learning from their experiences in real time.
At Bloomfire, we’ve been having many conversations with customers who have been succeeding with this new flex work model. We recently hosted a (virtual) fireside chat with two of our customers so that they could share some of the lessons they’ve learned from their transition to flex work. Jenna Kitley, Senior Strategic Account Manager at Bloomfire, joined Tanner Frevert, CCX Insights and Customer Voice Manager at Capital One, and Melina McPhee, Manager of Global Customer Care at The Estee Lauder Companies, for a conversation about the benefits and challenges of flex work, as well as best practices that other organizations can apply.
The full recording of the fireside chat is available now: watch it here.
Check out a recap of some of the biggest takeaways from our conversation below.
Initial Benefits of Flex Work
Flex work can offer many long-term benefits to both employers and employees, including time savings, increased productivity, greater employee autonomy, and reduced overhead costs. After several months of working from home with decentralized teams, both Tanner and Melina have already noticed several positives.
Tanner noted that it’s easier to focus and get more work done at home, and that by cutting out things like commuting to the office and walking between different conference rooms, he’s able to save significant time.
On a personal level, Tanner said that it’s “nice to be invited into coworkers’ homes” through video meetings. “It’s nice to understand a little more about people’s home element versus just their business life,” he said. “It adds empathy.”
Melina agreed that the increase in face-to-face video meetings has helped to build empathy between co-workers. “It takes down some of the walls that you would have in the office,” she said. “You can say, ‘I get you a little bit more.’ And when you understand someone, it’s much easier to work with them.”
Another benefit of flex work that Melina pointed out was the expansion of the talent pool. “There’s so much talent around the world that might not have the opportunity to show up in New York City [where The Estee Lauder Companies is headquartered] to get an interview. Not only is there so much untapped talent, there are so many different points of view that we now have access to.”
Mastering Remote Collaboration
While there are many benefits to flex work, there are also several challenges and considerations that businesses need to address. One initial challenge that many organizations faced after suddenly shifting to flex work was training everyone to use remote collaboration tools effectively.
“There’s no way to get around it. You need the right technology and you need to empower people to use it,” said Melina. She noted that when you have a wide range of employees, it’s difficult to know everyone’s level of tech expertise and how comfortable everyone is with different technology. One way Melina’s team addressed this was by providing written guidance on how to use different technology in their Bloomfire knowledge engagement platform. Estee Lauder has seen engagement with their Bloomfire platform increase since their teams began working remotely as their teams need one central place to get answers to their questions.
Because Tanner and his team members were already used to working with other team members across Capital One’s multiple corporate locations, they already had a lot of experience with remote collaboration tools. “My personal experience is that we haven’t really missed a beat,” Tanner said. “Even under normal conditions, we were already using collaborative tools like Zoom and Google Drive. And we’re using Bloomfire to post our research findings so that different teams can access them and spark inspiration and ideas for future research.”
According to Tanner, one thing that’s changed about the way Capital One teams collaborate remotely is that everyone is highly encouraged to be on camera for meetings. He believes this helps create a more comfortable environment where everyone feels that they can share their ideas and input.
Creating Psychological Safety
Our conversation with Tanner and Melina revealed that both leaders see psychological safety—the idea that team members feel they can share ideas that will be taken into consideration without negative repercussions—is essential in a flex work environment.
“If you’re in an environment where you don’t feel like there’s a lot of communication, it creates discomfort and you don’t know where you stand,” said Tanner. “My experience with Capital One has been very positive in that our leadership is open and quick to communicate.” He noted that it’s important to acknowledge that you hear your coworkers and set expectations for the next steps based on their ideas. This makes team members feel valued and encourages them to continue sharing their knowledge and ideas.
Melina agreed that ideas need to be validated with concrete actions, otherwise people won’t continue to share. As a Global Customer Care Manager, psychological safety is something that was top of mind for her even before Estee Lauder’s teams began working remotely because “it’s a disservice to the company if you’re creating a space where people don’t feel safe sharing their ideas.” She added, “The most important thing in a company is listening to the people right on the front lines,” as they’re the ones directly interacting with customers and learning from those experiences.
Building Human Connections
Another essential flex work ingredient—which goes hand-in-hand with establishing psychological safety—is strengthening human connections. When team members are working in different locations, there are no organic encounters in the break room or kitchen, and everyone has to be much more intentional about how and when they communicate.
In many ways, this need to be intentional about communication can be a good thing. “[The flex work environment] almost feels more collaborative because you have to directly reach out to someone to get their opinion, and we’ve let our guards down and allowed ourselves to be a little more vulnerable,” said Melina. “It allows for more creativity.”
Tanner shared that one thing helping him feel connected to his coworkers is recognizing that everyone is going through the same experience of shifting to flex work. “Any discomfort that you’re feeling, recognize that other people are probably feeling it too,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to shoot someone an email or chat saying, ‘How are you doing?’ Just because we’re at home doesn’t mean we can’t do that.”
We’re all still learning how to navigate the new normal of flex work, but leaders like Tanner and Melina are already sharing valuable takeaways that other businesses can apply to create their own flex work culture. If you’d like to hear the full conversation with Tanner, Melina, and Bloomfire Senior Strategic Account Manager Jenna Kitley, watch the recording of our fireside chat now.