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“Redesigning Forward” for the Future of Work

July 14, 2023

TRANSFORMING
WORK

WITH
SOPHIE WADE

“Redesigning Forward” for the Future of Work

“Redesigning Forward” for the Future of Work

Brian Elliott is a veteran executive leader, advisor, speaker, and best-selling co-author of “How the Future Works: Leading Flexible Teams to the Best Work of Their Lives”. After several years in leadership at Slack, he co-founded and was the Executive Leader of the Future-of-Work think tank Future Forum. Brian shares wide-ranging insights including: executive/employee trust issues, how executives feel disconnected if not engaging in the (virtual) spaces where their teams are, how productivity can be gamed, the disease of meetings(!), building for the future based on where we are now, and the need to create constraints to channel new ways of working.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

[02:38] Brian explores his desire to be a professor doing research and analytics as a case writer at HBS.

[05:02] Brian likes to put himself in situations where he has to learn and grow.

[05:41] Brian gets great feedback which helps him evolve and improve as a manager.

[07:25] Survival depended on culturally aligning people from different disciplines and backgrounds, sharing understanding of problems and solving them.

[08:35] Being transparent about the P&L was critical and treating people like adults.

[09:10] Getting to know each other was essential, regularly breaking bread together.

[10:33] Brian's resume redemption move—transitioning to Google doing product development.

[12:10] The first issue to address was mending culture—dysfunction across a diverse team.

[13:40] Establishing (early) protocols, enabling distributed teams to have effective meetings.

[14:50] Brian moves to Slack to help integrate a variety of partners.

[15:42] The origin story of Slack as a communications backbone.

[16:27] The impact of Brian’s team being 9 to 5 office-based but not co-located at HQ.

[17:49] Three things came together during the pandemic to create Future Forum.

[19:49] Brian repeatedly builds teams/departments and then moves on to something smaller.

[20:52] Brian leans into his experiences in external facing communications.

[23:15] Henry Ford experimented with five, six, seven, and even four day work weeks!

[24:17] We haven’t revisited our inherited systems of work, when offices initially did “factory” work.

[25:21] Why do we perpetuate past habits thinking they continue to be the “recipe for success”?

[26:40] Trust is the core issue, which wasn't questioned when we had to get through the pandemic.

[27:45] Trust is being questioned as executives to return to empty offices and they aren't where the conversations are happening.

[30:26] Disconnected communications across spaces are resulting in pushes to return to the office.

[33:35] Disparity in perceptions about transparency lead to discord, while planning without employees’ inputs.

[34:09] A consensus driven approach to decision making and anecdotal storytelling driving policy.

[34:40] Gen Z's are looking for a balanced approach—not all in the office or at home.

[36:07] If we get frustrated, we can't go backwards.

[36:37] Intentional design—who does the current office design actually work for?

[39:09] Feedback and the mediocre management problem.

[40:00] Productivity is easy to game.

[42:40] What date are we building from for our futures? Are we redesigning forward?

[43:54] Why returning to the office full-time is illogical and counterproductive.

[46:10] How to develop guardrails and prevent extremes.

[48:16] The “disease” called meetings which hinders offering flexible hours.

[49:22] Top reasons behind having too many meetings—including obligation and FOMO.

[50:54] Brian describes the need to put constraints in place to create new work habits.

[53:35] What worked for Brian at Future Forum for optimal teamwork.

[54:43] Brian’s hope for his children as we move further into the Future of Work.

[56:54] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: Figure out what problem you are trying to solve, engage directly with a trusted group of your employee population, and listen to them.

QUOTES

“If there's a through line throughout my entire career, it's continuous learning and putting myself in situations where I am going to be a little—if not a lot—uncomfortable, but learn, grow, and develop.”

“The only way that we survived was figuring out how we got people from different disciplines and backgrounds aligned in moving together. Having a shared understanding of the problems we were trying to solve, and transparency about what was working and what wasn't in the business.”

“You hire adults, don't treat them like children.”

“It was about getting people who were more experienced to occasionally sit on their hands and listen to people who are more junior, who may have had a different idea of how to do things and giving them the space to bring those ideas forward.”

“We spent decades not questioning that even while technology changed really fundamentally, even while demographics changed fundamentally, even while the nature of the work itself became a lot less rote, and we still found ourselves in that rut.”

“As a leader, I experienced things as I was growing up that led to my success in the 1980s and the 1990s, and I believe that that's the recipe for success and therefore I think that the rest of you should follow my example.”

“I've had these conversations with a lot of people and the question often comes back to a couple things: What are you doing to measure outcomes in the business? What are you doing to see how the business is performing, how your teams are performing? What are you doing to train your managers to do that? But the other part is how involved are the executives themselves in where the work is happening?”
“The challenge is those executives aren't where the conversations are happening. They're happening in Slack and they're happening in Teams. The executives are not where the team is.”

“If an executive says to their employees ‘I'm worried about productivity, so the answer is I need you back in the office three days a week.’ Everybody looks at them and says ‘what you're saying is you don't trust me.’ If an executive says ‘I think we have a problem with productivity and I think we have too many meetings.’ You know what happens? Everybody cheers because executives agree with this and so do their employees.”

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