Managers: The Superglue in the Future of Work.

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Right now, whether they know it or not, managers are the single most critical role inside companies. Their success or failure is the success or failure of the companies that employ them. 

The news of late has been plastered with updates from companies about what’s next for the future of work and many are choosing to embrace flexibility, choice, and personalization.  Apple, Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, the list goes on and on.  They are all moving to a new way of work and the common thread across all puts team flexibility and choice in the hands of managers. As the wave of remote-first work slows down, companies, big and small, are tasking managers to develop flexible work schedules with their teams, make decisions on how their teams work best, and figure out how to create a culture that will push their teams to the next level.

Yet, managers are burdened with an overwhelming number of priorities: this system, that process, this fire, that meeting, this feeling, that concern…and most are not prepared for what’s coming next. Right now, these leaders need time in their day to both lead and execute, training to gain greater perspective, and tools to understand and make decisions on how, where, when, and why their team works best. A missing piece in the ongoing “future of work” story is the acknowledgement that people’s preferences and choices for what’s next are not the final answer. They are going to change and then they will change again.

We know flexibility isn’t one-size-fits-all but when it comes to personalization, things can get messy very quickly. So how do leaders manage this?

Structured flexibility.

  • Start by understanding your team's current needs and preferences. Have one-on-one discussions and utilize tools such as personal user manuals to learn about their preferred work/life preferences, typical working/unavailable hours, modes of communication, 6-month goals, etc. Understand that these preferences change over time, so it’s important to stay up to date (which is why Team Dashboards are super helpful!) 
  • Discuss how you can accommodate preferences while also accomplishing the work to be done. For example, a team at Microsoft found that all of their team members desired to work remotely and only come into the office for when it mattered. The team leader has to determine 'when in-person interactions matter,' and together, this manager's team has created 'team agreements'—a list of specific instances when meeting in person would be most beneficial for their team.
  • Focus on output, not hours: Shift the focus from the number of hours worked to the quality and quantity of output. Encourage team members to set goals and measure their performance based on results rather than time spent at the desk.
  • Evaluate and Adjust: Regularly review the effectiveness of how your team opeates Collect feedback from team members, assess productivity, and make adjustments as needed to improve the system continually. For example, Microsoft’s ‘team agreements’ are constantly shifting and very from manager to manager. 

So what does the way forward look like? It’s going to be fluid – change will persist. It’s going to be better – more human, more inclusive. It’s going to be manager-led – more than ever, managers will be the superglue that holds it all together. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to flexibility, with the needs and preferences of team members at the forefront.