How the Future Works Book Summary - How the Future Works Book explained in key points
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How the Future Works summary

Brian Elliott, Sheela Subramanian, Helen Kupp

Leading Flexible Teams To Do The Best Work of Their Lives

4 (126 ratings)
19 mins
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    How the Future Works
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    Step 1: Identify principles that will guide your flexible work strategy

    In June 2021, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced a new company policy. It required employees to work from the office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, giving them the option to work from home the other two days. The backlash was swift – many valued and talented employees resigned immediately.

    It was quickly clear that Cook had made a fundamental error. He’d believed that flexible work meant letting employees work from home on days of his choosing. But coming into the office on those days wasn’t going to work for many individuals. They wanted choice about when they were on-site and were prepared to find employment elsewhere if Apple didn’t offer it.

    Effective flexible work strategies aren’t underpinned by a one-size-fits-all policy that comes from the top down. This is especially true for complex, global companies whose employees perform diverse roles. So if a series of rules like Cook’s doesn’t determine flexible work practices, what does?

    The answer is a series of principles.

    To effectively implement a flexible work strategy, you and your fellow leaders need to identify why you’re introducing this new policy. Is it to attract or retain talent, become more agile, shift from a physical to a digital HQ? Your why will create an objective which will form the basis of your core principles.

    Once you’re clear on your why, you can formulate three-to-five principles that evoke a sense of what your new work model will look like. These principles shouldn’t contain tactical targets, like minimum on-site hours. Instead, they should identify the mindset that leaders and management need to adopt to support this organization-wide change.

    For instance, the Royal Bank of Canada’s set of principles includes a statement that proximity is still important. This identifies that the bank values bringing all employees together regularly. But, by not stipulating how regular – as Cook did – managers have the scope to negotiate this with their teams in a way that supports individual and team outputs.

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    What is How the Future Works about?

    How the Future Works (2022) provides a blueprint that company leaders can use to implement flexible work policies. It offers a step-by-step guide detailing how to manage this transition effectively so that organizations can benefit from this new way of working.

    Who should read How the Future Works?

    • Leaders wanting to make flexible work strategies the norm
    • Executives who are skeptical about flexible working models
    • Managers who want their teams to transition successfully to flexible work arrangements

    About the Author

    Brian Elliot is the executive leader and senior vice president of Slack’s consortium, Future Forum. Before working at Slack, Elliott spent 30 years leading teams and building companies as a startup CEO and product leader at Google. 

    Sheela Subramanian became vice president of Future Forum after working as Slack’s head of global enterprise marketing. She previously cofounded Google’s Global market development team, as well as several startups.

    Helen Kupp is Future Forum’s senior director of product strategy and partnerships. After holding product and BizOp roles at Thumbtack and Bloomreach, she led Slack’s strategy and analytics team. 

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