Q&A: Upflex CPO Ginger Dhaliwal on Flex Work Policies That Work

“At the end of the day, it’s not about remote work, it’s really about flex work, and really accommodating the new type of work that people are doing.” –Ginger Dhaliwal on the evolution of the flexible workplace

In a recent MarketScale TV interview, Voice of B2B Daniel Litwin sat down with Upflex CPO Ginger Dhaliwal to break down the ways big tech companies are approaching flexible work policies: where they’ve dialed back, what approaches are working, and how effective change won’t come from the top down, but from a sincere look at what employees actually need — not on a company-wide basis, but on a team-by-team or even a case-by-case basis.

Below are some of our favorite takeaways for the post-COVID workplace.

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Watch the full interview on MarketScale.

DANIEL LITWIN: Several weeks ago Tim Cook announced that Apple employees would be required to return to the office, three days a week — Monday, Tuesday, Thursday — and he cited the importance of in office culture to the success and innovation at Apple. Apple employees then responded with an internal letter and a self-organized satisfaction survey to express their disdain with the decision, but to no avail. Tim Cook then doubled down on the mandatory hybrid work and that’s going to be a pain in that discussion for the foreseeable future.

I’m curious, what sort of impact do you see this having on not only Apple’s stability or employee retention, is there going to be an impact at all in your opinion, but also just on the broader tech space? Does it set any precedents that you think are worth breaking down?

GINGER DHALIWAL: One of the things that was really exciting to see during the last year was that working remotely is effective. Largely, people were excited, they were able to remain productive, and Apple admits that they had tremendous innovation that happened during that time.

So, Apple’s decision to bring people back into the office, I think, is that they’re really focused on maintaining that culture. And I think a lot of companies are looking at a hybrid model today, but I don’t think that companies are digging deep enough to really understand how work should be restructured in order to accommodate more flexibility for for people, and how work is going to be done in the future.

In a way, they’re going back to their comfort zone: having people come back into the office. In the long run, I think is going to be really difficult for companies to retain their talent, and also in terms of recruitment.

LITWIN: I’m glad you brought up that sort of self-defined flexible/hybrid dynamic we see today, because this isn’t the only company trying to reassess its work from home commitments. Lots of other big tech companies are pulling away from fully remote and some of the commitments they made there, trying to find some kind of balance… I’m curious, where do you see hybrid strategies being maximized and working best, and how flexible would you say flexible has to be to be a positive move towards more productivity or positive culture?

DHALIWAL: A lot of companies are taking different models in terms of what hybrid can look like. […] One model that’s really interesting to me is the GM model, which is all about “work appropriately.” Apple and a lot of these companies are making a choice that’s really top down, where they’re trying to have one size fits all. The reality is that what we know about employees and the dynamics of employees is that that model doesn’t necessarily work. What’s interesting about what GM is doing, is that you’re looking at managers, and at a team level, what’s appropriate in terms of a hybrid model, as opposed to taking a blanket approach, like “three days back into the office.”

Similarly, we’re having these conversations with companies at Upflex where what’s actually working is that you may have a large organization, but at each team level, or in various regions, they’re adopting different models that are appropriate for that group of employees — to keep that particular group of employees engaged, and to protect the productivity and collaboration that they’re seeking.

“In a way, [companies] are going back to their comfort
zone: having people come back into the office. In the
long run, I think is going to be really difficult for
companies to retain their talent, and
also in terms of recruitment.”

At the end of the day, it’s not about remote work, it’s really about flex work, and really accommodating the new type of work that people are doing. They’re working in different time zones, they have home commitments with their kids, especially in this time. There needs to be a lot more work-life balance.

So, I think over time companies are going to evolve these approaches and figure out what’s more appropriate at more of a team level as opposed to a corporate mandate from the top.

LITWIN: I’m curious, at the enterprise scale, when we’re talking about companies with the kind of footprint of Apple, Microsoft, Google, how feasible do you see a coworking model being for companies at that scale?

DHALIWAL: At the end of the at the end of the day, companies are comprised of people. People work in teams, and teams need access to space, to collaboration, to equipment — and they need to meet with colleagues. So what we do at Upflex is enable that collaboration closer to where people live and travel for business. Instead of spending an hour and a half commuting into a centralized office, you can make better choices in terms of your time and your team’s time, reduce that cost, and provide access to spaces where they’re needed. And we’re finding that more and more companies have been are adopting this model.

We’ve spoken to almost every single enterprise company out there about their real estate strategy. It’s no longer about a centralized office; it’s about decentralizing and giving access to their employees based on what their needs are: One employee may have small kids and needs to escape from working from home, a couple of days, they get passes for hot desks, whereas other groups of individuals need to collaborate on brainstorming they’re able to access meeting rooms or private offices on demand. And what’s wonderful about this is companies are saving cost, and then they can use those cuts to reinvest in employee wellness and other other benefits for employees.

“It’s no longer about a centralized
office; it’s about decentralizing and
giving access to their employees
based on what their needs are.”

The two biggest costs are people and real estate, and we’re helping companies reevaluate have cost savings that can then trickle down to the employees in terms of more interesting benefits and perks.

LITWIN: Based on some interactions you’ve had, are property owners feeling good about refitting office spaces into coworking hybrid workspaces to meet this trend head on? Or are you facing any resistance right now to any deviation that doesn’t include retaining that office HQ? Where are the sentiments at right now and how is that impacting this dynamic?

DHALIWAL: I think a lot of companies today are reassessing, What’s the purpose of the office? How do I encourage people to come back? I hear it all the time with our clients and our users as well: It’s like,I need to have a purpose for why I’m going into the office,’ and that purpose shouldn’t be about independent work — it’s more about collaboration.

And so companies, when they’re thinking about their HQ, they’re actually thinking about, while considering social distancing, reconfiguring their spaces for more collaboration. They’re also looking at ways to really encourage more company culture, make the whole office experience a lot more exciting, so people do want to come back to the office.

“I hear it all the time with our clients
and our users as well:  I need to have a
purpose for why I’m going into the office,’
and that purpose shouldn’t be about
independent work — it’s more
about collaboration.”

We also know that based on the demographics of your employees, this response varies. Younger employees are, we’re seeing, wanting to have a little bit more instruction at a, at the corporate office because they’re still at that early stage of their careers where they need the mentoring, so they’re looking for a lot more connection with the office where it was, you know, more seasoned employees are, are more willing to try out different types of spaces closer to home because of family commitments or work life balance, or whatever.

So, we’re also seeing the types of people going into office versus those accessing space on demand are slightly different. But, I think from an employer standpoint, to really bring in your employees back to the office, you really need to understand and really focus on having a really unique experience and ensuring that there’s a purpose to come into the office beyond what we did before COVID, when it was mandatory.

Watch the full interview on MarketScale.