Emily Klein is a strategy and organization development expert on implementing mobile work initiatives, strengthening virtual workplaces, and building high performing teams. She has created strategic, performance, and change management plans and designed education and training programs that have been highly regarded among executives and managers across the public and private sectors. Emily has authored articles on virtual teams, collaborative tools, organization cultures, and career advancement for women, and she  is a co-author of Workshift: Future Proof Your Organization for the 21st Century. Follow her @flextimeglobal.

1MFWF: What exactly does “Workshifting” mean, and why is it important to the future of an organization?

Emily: We refer to “Workshift” as a program or initiative in the book, yet it doesn’t represent a single workplace approach, program, or strategy. Workshift is a collection of methods organizations use to align employee workstyles and manage goals with business needs. In a Workshift culture, employees and managers determine where they are most productive—in an environment where they’re supported by leadership, technology, and corporate culture.

Teams may work together for part of the day in a conference room and spend the remainder of that day working in a shared workspace or small huddle room, as Iron Mountain created in their Boston headquarters. Other days it can mean working remotely and coming into the office two or three days a week, which is a workstyle Hubspot employees embrace.

Workshift underscores an agreement between employees and their employers to enable flexibility for the mutual benefit of both: employees determine when and where they work most effectively; employers realize greater loyalty and increased employee productivity.

1MFWF: Can any organization adopt a Workshift model, or is it limited to certain industries or types of work?

Emily: Many organizations have the opportunity to adopt a Workshift model. Looking at organizational cultures and evaluating management behaviors that drive day-to-day decisions is important. Workshift needs to be embraced by executives and cascaded throughout an organization but can be more limited in certain industries where the prevailing mindset prioritizes or requires face-time. Traditional manufacturing roles, for example, can be viewed through the lens of activity based working to identify opportunities for employees to flex work hours in ways previously not thought possible.

Not every company will end up with a largely remote workforce like Automattic or Buffer, but that shouldn’t deter traditional industries from exploring ways a Workshift model can benefit their workplace.

1MFWF: Might Workshifting lead to overwork, in our always-on, always-connected modern world?

Emily: Our attachment to smartphones and other devices makes this an easy potential outcome.  An essential part of working outside an office environment, for just one or up to five days a week, requires individual and organizational boundaries to be set. Creating productive environments demands self-regulation and knowing how to determine what’s important in your life to mitigate burnout. Teams that create guidelines and norms and hold themselves accountable to them do well. How do you stop sending email and texts or listening into conference calls when you might otherwise have another commitment outside of work?  A choice is made daily and weekly to manage boundaries both within and outside of teams.

1MFWF: You have three co-authors, and you are all spread across North America. How did you all find each other (and did you ever work in the same physical space together)? What are some of your takeaways from working on this virtual team project?

Emily: Jay Morwick and I met a few years ago, and we discovered synergies in our professional backgrounds and interests. We both shared a longstanding commitment to helping organizations evolve and embrace mobile work and had led distributed teams for years.

We felt there were missing conversations about flexibility in the workplace—how as a strategic business imperative, tying work flexibility to corporate scorecards would demonstrate the ROI across HR, IT, CRE, and Sustainability goals for executives eager to understand the value of flex beyond its perception as an HR benefit alone. We also saw disruptive changes occurring in the workplace, some led by employers, some by employees, and employers were asking for help to address limitations of organizational cultures, to train managers, or to learn how to design flexible work pilots. Jay subsequently met Tim Lorman and Robyn Bews and discovered they were working on a similar book showcasing how companies achieve significant efficiencies and cost avoidance through the reduction of real estate while implementing mobile work solutions. When we connected as a group we discovered our complementary strengths would make writing Workshift a unique collaboration.

Workshift was birthed entirely in the backdrop of a virtual setting across two countries and four cities. We leveraged many of the same tools dispersed teams use and experienced the same milestones a team encounters when you initially coalesce and create a product together. Our passion for sharing our professional expertise and bringing the Workshift methodology and thirteen multi-national organization success stories to life united us across a two-year journey. We had not worked together previously, and like any other virtual team, sharing ideas, negotiating differences, committing to a publisher and deadlines, fostering trust, and shared leadership were important touchstones for us.

1MFWF: Who should read your book, and what can they hope to take away from it?

Emily: This book is for executives, senior leaders, managers and individuals seeking to evolve the workplace. In the book, we outline a Workshift spectrum that underscores an important reality: no two companies are alike when it comes to creating a mobile work culture. Some organizations have offered flexible work to employees informally for years and now want to formalize a corporate-wide initiative while reducing real estate costs. Other organizations experience a stall in scaling flexible work and need to address management tripwires that undermine success. Individuals and managers may want to create a business case for mobile work that senior executives resonate with. And entrepreneurs can learn from companies who successfully built their businesses with a largely remote workforce. Readers benefit from understanding where they are on the Workshift spectrum, as well as a way forward through the roadmap, and they can tap lessons learned from organizations who’ve shared successes and challenges along the way.

photo credit: Emily Klein