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The risky business of workplace flexibility

  • Posted on July 26, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 2 minutes

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” ― T.S. Eliot

At Avanade, we know that innovation means there may not be a roadmap. And to reap rewards, you must take risks. if we’re serious about being a people-first company — and we are — stepping out of our comfort zone means disrupting the where, when and how our people do their jobs. And innovating means getting comfortable with experimentation and a growth mindset. And we are.

Business as usual has always looked a little unusual at Avanade. We are a global team with consultants who — pre-COVID — spent much of their time at client sites. We have always benefited from the robust Microsoft ecosystem to collaborate across time zones and enable remote work for people whose jobs didn’t depend on a location. During COVID, we watched a lot of companies scramble to operate the way we did every day. By then, we were already looking at what was next.

We first piloted an Alternative Work Week, inviting a sample group of people to establish a non-traditional work schedule. Some opted for longer workdays with either a half or full day off. Others adjusted their work times to accommodate family needs or outside interests. With schedules that were consistent and well-communicated, team members could adjust expectations.

Giving people the flexibility to set their own schedules felt like it came with some risks. What if productivity dropped? What if teammates didn’t respect boundaries and expected people to respond outside their set hours? What if important work was disrupted and delayed because people’s schedules were out of sync? What if clients demanded our people be there during traditional working hours?

But, what if it worked beautifully and our people were happier and just as productive, without disrupting our internal operations or client relationships? What if experimenting with when we worked drove employees, from analyst to executive, to change their behaviors around how they worked? What if creating new ways of working aligned well to our purpose of making a genuine human impact?

The Alternative Work Week yielded far more rewards than risks and is now rolling out globally to all our employees. One participant adjusted her schedule to help coach her child’s running club. Another carved out blocks of time to write blogs and industry articles. Many used the time to connect with their families and friends. The fears we anticipated didn’t materialize, and people participating reported positive outcomes like more energy for work, higher engagement and job satisfaction.

As so often happens with our clients, one innovation sparks ideas and motivations to keep going. Our focus on outcomes and impact rather than outputs and working hours solidified the importance of changing our performance management model from yearly, formal sit-down evaluations, to agile, ongoing conversations about progress and opportunity.

We invested in employee wellbeing by creating monthly themes with activities and by encouraging people to prioritize and allocate some work hours to self-care, reframe well-being as an important factor toward performance and speak openly about the impacts of burnout. Think there is no place for a virtual painting class at the world-leading Microsoft services provider? Think again.

Each one of these activities comes with its own risks and rewards. We don’t let the risks stand in our way of trying. We don’t present an approach as perfect and complete. Innovating is all about moving forward, reiterating, sometimes with little steps and sometimes by great leaps. And correcting course as necessary. As we, as a society, navigate a return to our offices while COVID remains among us, we’re always evaluating risks and rewards, with our people’s well-being at the center of the scale.

Our vision is to advance the world through the power of people and Microsoft. In the process, we’re dedicated to advancing our workplace experience to benefit our own employees and to model ways for our clients to do the same. We’ll keep working at it — not in hopes of getting it exactly right, but to support our culture of experimenting courageously. We’ve already proven that we’re agile and resilient. Now our goal is to make this a sustainable way of working at Avanade in the future.

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