Last updated: Feb 15, 2023
Asynchronous schedule flexibility is quietly shaping the future of work. The stakes are high: 70% of professionals would consider leaving an inflexible job, according to a new survey by Slack’s Future Forum.
As employers promote remote and hybrid arrangements to retain talent, workers are increasingly concerned about a commodity much more precious to them than location: time.
Asynchronous schedules are quietly emerging as a key factor shaping the future of work. While 80% of workers want location flexibility, 94% desire schedule flexibility, according to the latest quarterly survey published last week by Future Forum, a future-of-work think tank launched by Slack in 2020. The organization surveyed more than 10,000 knowledge workers across industries, company sizes and seven countries.
“Time is actually more important than place,” Brian Elliott, Future Forum’s executive leader and an SVP at Slack, told The Org. “A lot of organizations are getting past this whole debate about how many days a week somebody needs to be in the office…and thinking more about time, and how we use it, and how we give people time to focus during the day.”
Working whenever can boost employee and employer alike. Professionals with schedule flexibility felt 35% more productive than those without, Future Forum found. Yet, just over half of surveyed workers reported having little to no ability to adjust their hours from a preset schedule.
What’s more: flexibility is also tied to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the workplace. Among the surveyed group, 88% of Asian and Asian-American professionals (up from 82% in February), 83% of Black professionals and 81% of Hispanic and Latinx professionals said they prefer hybrid or fully remote environments, compared to 79% of white workers. It’s also key for supporting working parents. Sixty percent of working mothers desire flexible working arrangements at least three days per week, as do half of working fathers.
The issue stretches beyond personal preferences. An inflexible workplace can encourage proximity bias situations, in which leaders tend to reward employees who they actively see working. In the second quarter of 2022, just 31% of executives rated proximity bias as a top concern, down from 41% in the two quarters prior.
“People coming into the office are more often white, male, non-caregivers, more senior…if you give people rewards for showing up…that proximity bias risk is a real risk,” Elliott explained. “I do find it troubling that awareness of this as an issue is slipping to some degree in the executive consciousness.”
Underrepresented knowledge workers are crucial to the success of any organization, added Future Forum co-founder Sheela Subramanian. “They feel a stronger sense of belonging and feel more productive when given the choice of how they want to work,” she said.
Top employers have fostered flexibility for years, even before the pandemic began. But at one point, they’ve all confronted a key question: Where to begin? Elliott suggests managers start with a “team-level agreement” laying out how to think about calendars and time together.
Elliott’s own bicoastal Slack team has implemented daily “core collaboration hours” between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Pacific time, during which one-on-ones, team meetings and cross functional meetings can occur. His team-level agreement also includes initiatives like “Focus Fridays” — one day each week sans internal meetings — and defines boundaries, like appropriate protocol for contacting peers after typical work hours.
Startups have found success with flexible schedules, too. Trusted Health, a job-matching platform for travel nurses and a fully remote workplace, optimizes for asynchronous communication among its 360 employees. In practice, this looks like ensuring deliverables are well-documented or otherwise explained in writing so they can be reviewed even when live discussion is not possible.
“We think about flexibility in terms of helping people to integrate work within their lives, and not the other way around,” said Kjerste Lee, Trusted Health’s VP of People. She added that her team regularly surveys employees to find out what’s working best, and she has even hired a remote-work consultant.
Software marketplace G2 formalized a “working from anywhere” policy during the pandemic, according to its chief people officer Priti Patel. The Chicago-based company, which has about 700 employees spread across North America and countries including the U.K. and India, also embraces flexible work schedules — except for most client-facing employees, who need to be available for external meetings.
“I think what is inherent is trust in our employees that they know what's expected of them, and we trust each other to do it when they deem is best for them,” Patel said.
Seventy percent of knowledge workers say they’d consider leaving an inflexible job, but that’s not the only factor driving turnover. A whopping 55% of polled employees indicate they’re open to finding a new job in 2023, even if flexibility isn’t an issue.
Could a recession change this calculus? Recent layoffs at companies from Twitter to Tesla have stirred anxieties among tech workers, and remaining employees fear they could lose some of the flexibility they secured amid the hot pandemic labor market.
Elliott is skeptical the pendulum will swing back dramatically: “Generally speaking, trends don't go backwards,” he explained. “Maybe it will scare some people into coming back into the office, but scare tactics generally aren't a great way to attract and retain people, let alone to motivate them.”
And despite warning signs like tech layoffs and scorching inflation rates, the outlook isn’t doom and gloom just yet. Unemployment has remained below 4% for three months straight — some of the lowest rates in decades — and hiring dipped only slightly last month.
“If the economy is doing great, or if the economy's doing horrible, highly talented people are almost always the number one objective and concern from a CEO perspective,” Elliott added. “Talent is what drives outcomes.”