What I Learned in 2015

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December Newsletter image

I am an early riser. No matter when I go to bed, I am usually awake by 6:00 am at the latest. That is not the case for the rest of my family.

Each New Year’s Day, I get up at the crack of dawn, make a cup of coffee, and sit in the peace and quiet with my journal while they sleep. I read what I wrote the last few years on January 1st. Then I reflect upon the previous twelve months—what I’ve learned and what I am thankful for—and think about goals for the coming year.

As I wish all of you happy holidays, I thought I’d give you a preview of some of the lessons learned that will make my list for 2015. There were many, but these three stick out as particularly important:

  • Work can provide comfort in difficult times. This past year, my father underwent treatment for metastasized prostate cancer. Thankfully, his recent scans show the cancer is in complete remission but the journey to get there was scary and difficult. During this time, my work provided comfort. I found peace in the mastery of tasks that I love, renewed energy from helping others, and a welcomed break from the worry. As we fit work and life together, it’s important to remember to focus on the good things we get from work and not just on the “overwhelm.”
  • You don’t have to wait for the perfect moment to make a change. I loved all our projects this year, but one stands out. It was remarkable because the senior leaders of a team said, “let’s give this new flexibility strategy a shot, even though it’s our busiest time of year and we aren’t meeting our deadlines.” Their risk was rewarded. At the end of the six-week pilot, not only had the group met their deadlines, but their core metric of utilization had never been higher. Too often we wait for the perfect moment before we try something new. Working with this terrific team reaffirmed that sometimes you just have to say, “let’s do it.”
  • The workplace is already flexible. Now, we need to put infrastructure and strategy around it. At the beginning of 2015, I decided to stop engaging in the same old, tired flexibility conversation we’d been having for the last two decades. It’s not about whether or not to offer a formal flexible work policy to your employees. Why? Because flexibility in how, when and where people work already exists (see our most recent survey)! Investments in technology, workspace redesign, and employee expectations have embedded some degree of flexibility in the workplace by default. Now, we have to help people, teams and managers use that work flexibility with deliberate intention.

Finally, because “find a better balance” will be on the top of many New Year’s resolution lists, I thought I’d re-share a couple of my most popular “how to” posts:

I’d love to hear the lessons you learned in 2015 and any tips you have for finding your work+life “fit” (not “balance”) in 2016. Let’s connect on Twitter and Facebook!

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New Work, Life and Flexibility Trends #CitrixChat–Join me LIVE 12/4 at 12 pm EST

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NEW Research: Employees Feel Surprisingly Trusted but Inefficiencies Abound in How We Work

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A surprising 9 out of 10 full-time U.S. employees believe their boss trusts them to get their job done regardless of where and when they do their work. And, while additional data indicates employees have become upbeat about their increasingly flexible workplaces, inefficiencies abound in how workers use technology and communicate, and there is a lack of training and infrastructure available to support flexible work.

These are among the key findings from a national probability telephone survey of 617 full-time employed adults commissioned by Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc (FSG/WLF) and co-sponsored by Citrix.

“With the growth of telework and open office environments combined with the ongoing introduction of new technology, work life flexibility is naturally embedded in today’s workplaces,” said flexible workplace strategist Cali Williams Yost, CEO, Flex+Strategy Group. “But we’re stuck in the 1990s with outdated work and management practices that, along with lack of training and infrastructure, put recent investments in workplace innovation at risk and could erode the current reservoir of employee goodwill.”

One-Third Telecommute — Mostly Men, but Women Gaining Ground
Employees were pretty evenly split between where they said they do most of their work. One-third work from a remote location off site, a slight increase from 2013, while 34 percent work in a cube/open office environment and 28 percent in a private office. Men continue to represent the majority of teleworkers—3 out of 5 in 2015, but the percentage of women increased significantly (39%) from (29%) 2013.

We Turn to Technology More than Each Other; Young People Like to Meet More than Boomers
Nearly 60 percent of respondents use email, word documents or spread sheets “frequently” to update colleagues about work progress and performance. That compares to 55 percent who meet in person and 43 percent who use the phone. Surprisingly, younger people prefer more face-to-face contact. Gen-Y (59%) and Gen-X (58%) were significantly more likely than Boomers (46%) to frequently meet in person to keep others informed. And, in a finding that helps to dispel the notion that teleworkers disconnect from the workplace, those who work remotely were more likely than those who work in a cube/open office to use the phone. Meanwhile, those onsite were more likely to use email, word documents or spread sheets.

Despite widespread availability of video/web conferencing and project management technologies, frequent use of these tools was in the single digits. Conversely, 8 out of 10 employees have never used project management software and two- thirds have never used video/web conferencing. The survey also found employees were inconsistent in where they saved and stored work across company and personal platforms.

“Businesses have barely tapped what is possible when it comes to leveraging technology to increase productivity, collaboration and work life flexibility,” said Natalie Lambert, Senior Director of Workspace Strategy, Citrix. “We comfortably use collaborative technologies in our personal lives to communicate with family and friends and manage personal information from anywhere.

“But, unfortunately at work we struggle to apply the latest innovations to accomplish the same objectives,” Lambert continued. “This often stems from rigid IT infrastructures that require businesses to put control policies in place whenever they want to securely roll out consumer-like apps on any device. With today’s flexible digital workspace solutions, employees can use technology to stay connected and productive wherever they are, while the employer is ensured that their information is safe. Organizations can transform their business with infrastructure, training and a strategy designed with people and experience in mind.”

Technology Aids Working Flexibly and in Teams but Backlash Noted, Especially Among Men
Almost 7 out 10 employees feel the increase in workplace technology has made it easier to collaborate and communicate with colleagues, and more than half of respondents said it has made it easier to work flexibly. But that enthusiasm was tempered by the 28 percent who said the increase in technology has created more work and the nearly one-fourth that noted it feels a “bit like ‘big brother’ is watching you,” with men significantly more likely than women to voice that view.

Training Lacking for Most
In 2015, almost all full-time U.S. employees had some type of work life flexibility, unchanged from 2013 and 2011. Most of that flexibility is “informal” with 6 out of 10 making occasional changes in how, when and where they work, an increase from 2013. Employees feel increasingly positive with a majority (56%) that noted their employer still has a strong commitment to work life flexibility, up from 46% in 2013. A higher percentage (47%) also received training or guidance to help manage their work life flexibility in 2015, but more than half (52%) remained on their own with no instruction. Further, even though they comprise the majority, those who use flexibility informally received less training than those with formal flexible work arrangements.

“Modernizing the workplace is about more than new floorplans, shiny devices and mobility. Clearly we have an unmet need and a huge opportunity for more widespread training and infrastructure that supports flexible work,” Yost said. “Leaders need to capitalize on the current wave of employee optimism and manage to the good that exists in their organizations in order to truly unlock the potential of their business and people.”

This research is the most recent installment in a biennial series of FSG/WLF studies that have monitored the national progress of issues related to work life flexibility from the individual’s point of view since 2006. The 2015 survey was conducted by ORC International July 9-12 and 16-19 with a margin of error of +/- 4percent. A summary report with additional data and infographic are available at www.worklifefit.com/research.

Disrupt Yourself and Get Unstuck

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“Like a novice trapeze artist letting go of the old to leap to the new, we are sure to experience a moment of midair terror. But we are far less likely to fall if we fling ourselves onto the next curve. And, in the seemingly terrible moment of transition, your dreams—the engine of disruption—will buoy you. Are you ready to jump?” – Whitney Johnson, Disrupt Yourself

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. Too often change feels like drinking from a fire hose.  We need frameworks to help us absorb, process and respond thoughtfully and deliberately to upheaval.

In her fantastic new book, Disrupt Yourself, Whitney Johnson draws upon decades of experience as an award-winning investor and leading thinker on corporate innovation to put order and structure around personal disruption so it no longer feels like chaos.

We recently had a chance to discuss how she hoped Disrupt Yourself will help people become “unstuck” and realize their full potential.

CY: Whitney, you co-founded Rose Park Advisors with Clay Christensen, who first popularized the concept of “Disruption Theory” for organizations. When did you realize that the steps guiding disruption could also apply to and help individuals?

WJ: My “aha moment came as I read The Innovator’s Dilemma in 2005. As an equity analyst, I was already persuaded that the frameworks of disruption explained why mobile penetration in Mexico was quickly outpacing fixed-line penetration. But as I read the book closely, I wondered, do these frameworks also apply to individuals, and to me, in particular? If innovation is an inside game, can an organization truly drive corporate innovation without personal disruption?

CY: In a world where change seems to be a constant day in and day out, how does disrupting yourself help regain some control over what can often feel like chaos?

WJ: Each of us has a view of the world that is powered by personal algorithms. We look at how all the component pieces of our lives interact and try to come up with patterns to help us predict what will happen next. When systems behave linearly and react immediately, we’re fairly accurate with our forecasts. That’s why toddlers love discovering light switches, flip a switch and the light goes on. But when they don’t, our predictive power plummets.

One of the best ways to help us deal with these time delays is the S-curve model because it provides milestones we can watch for.

When we first try something new (like start a new job or become a new parent) we know that progress will appear to be slow as we build momentum. Think about the base of a capital S. This helps us avoid discouragement. As we put in hours of practice, we become increasingly competent — and our confidence soars. This is the sleek steep back of the S. Then at the top of the S, we may be quite good at what we are doing (whether as a parent or an employee), but at this point, a lot of effort really does lead to little progress, resulting in boredom and frustration. If you are a parent, you need to let your children go off to college. In your career, take on a new responsibility, or change jobs. In either case, if you don’t jump to a new curve, the seeming plateau, can become a precipice.

How does understanding disruption help manage the chaos? Because the non-linearity, the sense that cause and effect are disconnected, in part, creates that chaotic feeling. When you understand that huge effort now may yield little, and high output today may be the consequence of prior work, you regain a sense of control.

CY: What is the one thing you hope people walk away with after reading “Disrupt Yourself?”

WJ: Companies don’t disrupt, people do. Disruption is a skill set. The more disruptive, the better you’ll get. If you can ride the S-curve waves of learning and mastery, you will have a competitive advantage in an era of accelerating disruption.

Distilled — personal disruption is about moving from stuck to unstuck. If I can inspire even one person to be unstuck, I will be happy.

CY: Thank you, Whitney! I know you’ve already helped me. Pre-order Disrupt Yourself, and jump!

When Play in the Workplace is Serious Business

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Are there moments of fun and play in your work day?

Earlier this month, I contributed to a TODAY Show segment that explored how some companies are making periods of play and fun part of their culture.

When executed with intention, play can be important. It’s not goofing off — it’s serious business meant to encourage innovation, team collaboration and employee engagement.

For example, a bank in Nashville gave employees an optional break from their normal routine for one afternoon. They hosted a corn hole tournament that gave people time to re-energize, forge new connections and build camaraderie outside the context of their regular day-to-day routine. Twenty teams of four from across the organization competed and the afternoon was wildly successful.

Even if moments of fun aren’t officially incorporated into a workplace culture, each person can identify the type of “play” that re-energizes and helps them be their best, on and off the job.

For example, I talked to a trauma nurse who intentionally tries to interject what she called “moments of joy” into an otherwise high-pressured workplace.  Whether it’s a quick joke or a funny/happy story she’s heard, she finds a moment to share it.  Realizing how these “moments of joy” helped to manage the high stress of their day-to-day work, some of her co-workers have now joined in.

At the end of the TODAY Show segment, Matt Lauer says, “I would think that this type of play would make me less focused. I would be thinking about who pegged me at dodgeball all afternoon.” His reaction is a reminder to organizations: one size doesn’t fit all.  There are different definitions of fun and play.  Some people will prefer organized, competitive options, but others might like an impromptu “dishes from around the world” tasting lunch where everyone brings a favorite food from another country to try.

Successful implementation requires a culture and guiding framework that supports (but doesn’t mandate) the creativity to identify what moments of fun and play can benefit both the business and its people.

I’d love to hear from you. What kind of play has encouraged innovation in your workplace? How do you make time for these moments at work? Share your ideas in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

Fix Top Open-Office Productivity Drains

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I think it’s important to note when you see a trend.

At this moment, every corporate client we’re working with has at least one group transitioning from high-walled private cubicles and closed-door offices to open, collaborative work configurations.

While the business case for this open office shift is well-defined—increased employee density equals lower overhead costs—the more subtle impacts on productivity are less clear.

What I don’t see are honest discussions about open offices and productivity. These conversations aren’t happening for two reasons. Either people assume they’re the only one struggling to focus, or they aren’t aware of small, simple changes that can make a big difference.

Here are five common open-office productivity drains and quick, flexible work tweaks you can make the fix the problem.

1. Problem: Distractions from conversations at neighboring desks.
Flexible Fix: Wear a set of noise-canceling headphones that cover both ears.

2. Problem: Interruptions when you’re in the middle of a call or thought.
Flexible Fix: Establish a clear “rule of engagement.” For example: “When I have my headphones on or when you see a Do Not Disturb note on my computer, please come back later.”

3. Problem: Noise from groups meeting in close proximity.
Flexible Fix: Even when no one says anything, assume noisy group meetings bother others. Find breakout spaces to hold spontaneous group meetings or reserve a meeting room in advance.

4. Problem: Lack of focus for work that requires deep, unbroken concentration.
Flexible Fix: Work from a remote office (home, library, coffee shop where you don’t know anyone) as needed.

5. Problem: Inability to have private phone conversations.
Flexible Fix: Plan calls in advance as much as possible, and reserve a breakout room or use an empty office. If you have a number of calls, work from a more private remote location as needed.

How do you stay productive in an open office space? I’d love to hear your tips in either the comments section or on our Facebook page.

Midyear Check In: Simple Calendar Strategy for Work+Life Fit in 2015

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(This article originally appeared in Time.com in January, 2015.  But as we approach the middle of the year, I thought it would be a good opportunity to review and regroup)

A combined priority list helps reestablish solid boundaries around what you need and want to get done

For many of us, another new year means another new calendar; however, if you’re like a majority of all U.S. full-time workers, you’ll start several new calendars or have no calendar at all. This could be one reason why your work-life balance New Year’s resolution usually fails.

As part of our most recent survey of full-time U.S. workers conducted by global research firm ORC International, we found that more than half (53%) of all respondents said they either keep separate calendars/priority lists for work and personal events/tasks (36%) or don’t use any calendar or priority list at all (17%). Forty-seven percent of respondents said they keep one, combined calendar/priority list that tracks all their work and personal events/tasks in a single view.

That simple single calendar approach may be one of the keys to work and life success. For more than a decade we’ve studied the secrets of a group we call the work+life fit “naturals,” those unique individuals who seem to intuitively understand how to fit work and life together in a way that allows them to be their best on and off the job. Almost all of them keep one combined calendar/priority list that clearly shows what they are trying to accomplish, daily and weekly, both at work and in their personal life.

By displaying both their work and personal to-dos together, the naturals shift from “reactive overwhelm” to “deliberate intention.” As the line between our jobs and our personal lives continues to blur, a combined calendar and priority list helps the naturals reestablish solid boundaries around what they need and want to get done. It also forces them to prioritize and to think about the best way to accomplish the activity or task entered.

For example, when a natural receives a request from a colleague to start a meeting at 1 p.m., but had planned to take a 30-minute lunch walk at the same time, the combined calendar forces a pause and a moment of conscious choice. The natural can either accept the meeting and walk earlier or choose not to walk at all. Or he or she can ask if the meeting could start 30 minutes later.

Setting up a combined calendar/priority list is simple. Platforms like Gmail, iCalendar, and Outlook allow you to view your work and personal calendars together, and adjust privacy settings to limit which entries can be seen by whom.

Some naturals note entries as specific as “call mother to check in,” “order groceries,” or “review 401K,” while others simply block out periods of time knowing clearly what they want to accomplish without writing it down. The point is the boundary has been established with deliberate intention, which increases the likelihood that what matters will actually happen.

When it comes to calendars and priority lists, and finally breaking the cycle of “balance” resolution failure, apply that old saying “less is more.” Just one calendar may be the key to increased professional success and personal well-being in 2015.

What about you?  Do you keep one combined calendar/priority list, two separate (one for work and one for the other parts of your life), or none at all?

I invite you to continue the conversation on Twitter @caliyost or on Facebook.   

 

New Year…New Logo: 3-D, Always-Changing, Multifaceted Work and Life Reality

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To kick off 2015, I thought we needed a new logo that more accurately depicts the modern, everyday reality of work and life.

The “balance” scales don’t work.  The one-dimensional pie chart is inadequate.

The new image needed to show the flexible, 3-D, always-changing, multifaceted fit between our work, personal lives and careers.

So, I asked our graphic designer extraordinaire, Jen Francis, to give it a shot:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think?

Now, if we could just get it to move, like a kaleidoscope!  Then it would be perfect.  Maybe next year ;)

 

The Simple Calendar Strategy to Achieve Work-Life Balance in 2015 (That Most of Us Don’t Do!)

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(Article originally appeared in TIME.com)

For many of us, another new year means another new calendar; however, if you’re like a majority of all U.S. full-time workers, you’ll start several new calendars or have no calendar at all. This could be one reason why your work-life balance New Year’s resolution usually fails.

As part of our most recent survey of full-time U.S. workers conducted by global research firm ORC International, we found that more than half (53%) of all respondents said they either keep separate calendars/priority lists for work and personal events/tasks (36%) or don’t use any calendar or priority list at all (17%). Forty-seven percent of respondents said they keep one, combined calendar/priority list that tracks all their work and personal events/tasks in a single view.

That simple single calendar approach may be one of the keys to work and life success. For more than a decade we’ve studied the secrets of a group we call the work+life fit “naturals,” those unique individuals who seem to intuitively understand how to fit work and life together in a way that allows them to be their best on and off the job. Almost all of them keep one combined calendar/priority list that clearly shows what they are trying to accomplish, daily and weekly, both at work and in their personal life.

By displaying both their work and personal to-dos together, the naturals shift from “reactive overwhelm” to “deliberate intention.” As the line between our jobs and our personal lives continues to blur, a combined calendar and priority list helps the naturals reestablish solid boundaries around what they need and want to get done. It also forces them to prioritize and to think about the best way to accomplish the activity or task entered.

For example, when a natural receives a request from a colleague to start a meeting at 1 p.m., but had planned to take a 30-minute lunch walk at the same time, the combined calendar forces a pause and a moment of conscious choice. The natural can either accept the meeting and walk earlier or choose not to walk at all. Or he or she can ask if the meeting could start 30 minutes later.

Setting up a combined calendar/priority list is simple. Platforms like Gmail, iCalendar, and Outlook allow you to view your work and personal calendars together, and adjust privacy settings to limit which entries can be seen by whom.

Some naturals note entries as specific as “call mother to check in,” “order groceries,” or “review 401K,” while others simply block out periods of time knowing clearly what they want to accomplish without writing it down. The point is the boundary has been established with deliberate intention, which increases the likelihood that what matters will actually happen.

When it comes to calendars and priority lists, and finally breaking the cycle of “balance” resolution failure, apply that old saying “less is more.” Just one calendar may be the key to increased professional success and personal well-being in 2015.  How many calendars do you keep?

I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and on Facebook.  

 

Work-life does not imply age, gender, or parenthood

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I was honored when the The Boston Globe asked me to contribute to “The Work Issue” they published this past weekend in honor of Labor Day.

The article, “Work-life does not imply age, gender, or parenthood,” included graphic highlights (above) of results from the recent national study we conducted in partnership with ORC International.

Key points I make in the OpEd:

Recent news events — reported abuses by employees at the US Patent and Trademark Office, Yahoo’s high-profile pullback in 2013 — may suggest otherwise, but research shows that remote work has become a fundamental way that a surprisingly large percentage of the American workforce gets their jobs done. Now organizations, managers, and individuals must catch up.

We need to de-parent, de-gender, and de-age the perception of the flexible worker. Among the respondents who said they did most of their work from a remote location, nearly three out of four were men. Further, there was no significant difference between remote workers with or without kids, and no significant difference in the age groups of remote workers.

If we can no longer isolate telework neatly into demographic boxes, that means we all need to acquire a new skill set to use telework to get our jobs done — and manage the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, in that same study, a majority of workers — nearly 60 percent — received no training on how to manage their work-life flexibility, and this lack of guidance made them feel like their boss had all the control.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

What do you think?  Have we reached the tipping point where telework has become a fundamental way we get our jobs done, regardless of gender, parenting status and age?

I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and Facebook.