How to Approach the Reality of Remote Work

In this episode of Cybersecurity (Marketing) Unplugged, Yost also discusses:

  • The security vulnerabilities that remote work has created;
  • Remote work and its impact on productivity and social conventions;
  • How the reintegration of the hybrid workforce is placing pressure on employees and causing resignations.

Cali Yost is the leading authority on high performance work flexibility, a visionary workplace futurist, strategist, author and keynote speaker. Yost is the Founder and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group, a solutions company helping organizations unlock performance and engagement by reimagining how, when, and where work is done. Her commentary frequently appears in the media including the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, USA Today, NPR and the Today Show. Among her clients are Con Edison, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Quest Diagnostics, UBS, America’s National Institute of Health, United Nations, Columbia University and Stanford University. Yost graduated with honors from Columbia Business School and she has been cited as one of Forbes 40 Women to Watch Over 40.

The New York Times called Cali Yost one of the most sophisticated thinkers on the transformation of work. As the world navigates transitioning to a hybrid working environment, she shares her reflections on the how we can approach remote work thoughtfully and intentionally.

This really is a fundamental reimagining of work. And that’s the part that I think we haven’t come to terms with. … ‘The workplace’ as the central, organizing locus of work, no longer is that center. That does not mean that the workplace is not important. It is still an important enabler of work, and it’s something to be considered. But it is in partnership with technology, with the time people are working. It’s not just where, it’s also where, when, and how.

Full Transcript

This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. 


Steve King 00:13
Good day everyone, I’m Steve King, the managing director of cyber theory. Today’s episode is going to focus on remote work and the impact that has on both productivity and social conventions in the business workplace. Joining me today is none other than Cali Yost the leading authority on high performance work flexibility, a visionary workplace futurist, strategist, author and keynote speaker. Cali’s the founder and CEO of the flex plus Strategy Group, a solutions company that helps organizations unlock performance and engagements by reimagining how, when and where work is done. It’s very timely that we have you with us today called one of the most sophisticated thinkers on the transformation of work by the New York Times. Kelly’s commentary frequently appears in the media including the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, USA Today, NPR and even the Today Show. Among her clients are folks like Con Edison Memorial Sloan Kettering Quest Diagnostics UVs, America’s National Institute of Health, Ernst and Young Freddie Mac and Singapore government, United Nations Columbia University and Stanford University. Yost graduated with honors from Columbia Business School, or she’s noted as an alumnus changing the world in 2018 and was named one of the global management thinker is on the radar by thinker’s 50. And she has been cited as one of Forbes 40 Women to Watch Over 40. So welcome, Kelly, I’m glad you could join me today.

Cali Yost 02:01
Oh, it’s I’m thrilled to be here, Steve, thanks so much for having me.

Steve King 02:05
Sure. I noticed that our world has changed over the last 24 months, it appears that this new paradigm is not temporary. What in your estimation, are the unique vulnerabilities that this remote work has created both from a cybersecurity point of view, but also from a overall kind of social shift in the way that people are finding themselves in this in this new environment. So indeed,

Cali Yost 02:33
our world has changed over the last 24 months. And I think it’s very important to recognize that the transition to remote work, full time remote work was crisis driven. So it was not executed in a thoughtful, intentional way. So we’re still unwinding the ramifications of that rapid shift without a lot of planning. And as we begin the transition back into work places, and that’s actually going to be what most people are going to end up doing there is going to be mostly a flexible hybrid model that a majority will work within. And then you’ll always have sort of this 20%, that will be full time on site, basically, because that’s what their jobs entail. And then you’ll have maybe 15 to 20% that are full time remote at any one time. But you will have this in the middle the, in my opinion, the highest percentage going between on site and remote workplaces. So two things with that one, I think there was a rapid adoption of technology at a rate that definitely overshadowed what was happening before. And that’s a good thing on some level. But again, it was not done in a thoughtful, intentional way. So I think there were a lot of issues related to security that were not addressed up front. People just did it. Now we have to go back we sort of the wind back and say, Okay, so who would How have we adopted the technology? Is there a consistency in adoption? Do people know how to use it effectively? And also, what are these specific issues related to security? I often see organizations think a lot about getting technology set up and, you know, how are people coordinating and their use of that technology, but I don’t see enough conversations around. What do we have to do to stay safe? So that’s one piece of it. The other piece of it is as you move across these different dimensions, I think that does add an extra layer of possibility for having technology breached in some way. So in other words, you really do have to not only think about how you’re using technology, how you’re connecting with each other, when you are maybe everybody remote at the same time or when you have some people hybrid and some people remote and not even Just the synchronous technologies that allow us to connect in real time, but a lot of the asynchronous technology utilization, what does that look like? And how do you make sure that you’re keeping data safe and having the right share and access limits on when people can log into your system? And it’s just it’s all very interesting. You know, we’re just seeing it all play out in real time. And I think there’s a lot of conversation that has to happen again, specifically as it relates to security.

Steve King 05:36
Yeah, and I, you’re spot on I, I wonder what you whether you think that what kind of roles denial has played in, in our sort of inability to put the brakes on and say, okay, okay, I accept the fact that this is the new reality. Now, let’s re engineer ourselves for that kind of a reality.

Cali Yost 05:56
This really is a fundamental reimagining of work. And that’s the part that I think we haven’t come to terms with, I still think we’re approaching it, like there’s the traditional work model still, and maybe we’ll slap a little remote work around the outside the model of God like the the workplace, the workplace, as the central organizing, Locus of work, no longer is that center. Now, that does not mean that the workplace is not important. It is still a an important enabler of work, and it’s something to be considered. But it is in partnership. Now, with technology, it is in partnership now, with the time people are would be will be working, you know, again, it’s not just where it’s also where, when, and how. And you have to start with the work. And the work has to be in the center of that decision making that planning that coordination, and that execution. And that’s just a whole different way of approaching it. So I think the denial is in the fact that that change has happened. And once that’s been acknowledged, then you really do find organizations start to think about all these things holistically, in an integrated way. So HR sits down with technology at the same table sits down with facilities at the same table sits down with health and safety at the same table sits down, everybody’s together and saying to each other. Okay, so what what do we need to do? And how, when and where do we do this best, and technology gets to raise its hand and say, this is all great and everything. But these are the issues we have to think about in terms of security in terms of how we’re actually using technology and rolling it out. And then HR gets to say, okay, so if we’re going to set a policy, what aspects of this new way of working does have to be governed by a policy and what really is process driven? And you’re going to find out a lot of this is really process driven. It’s not so much about policy. And then facilities gets to say, okay, so if we’re having these collaboration spaces where we’re supposed to be able to hold these hybrid meetings, I need technology to tell me what, how I have to configure these spaces to support that. So again, it’s you don’t get that however, if you haven’t made that shift. So I think the denial is mostly in the fact that the model has changed. And we have to now execute around this new way of working.

Steve King 08:26
Yeah, I know that your work has not been entirely focused on cybersecurity. But the nature of remote work has changed. The playing field here certainly causes an asymmetric shift in the relationship dynamics between the attacker and the defender it it makes the attackers job easily easy, or it makes the defenders job harder. Is the reintegration of a hybrid workforce placing even more pressure on employees do you think

Cali Yost 08:55
it is? And I think this is another piece of this puzzle, right? I think, to effectively work in a flexible hybrid operating model requires a different level of intentionality on everybody’s part, it’s not just the manager, it’s the manager has certain role and responsibility and making sure priorities are clear. And people understand the guardrails within which they can work and how when and where they’re able to do their jobs based upon those priorities. But also teams need to be coordinating with each other more directly like you do. They have to be working with each other to say okay, so based upon what we need to get done, how and where are we doing it best with each other and then the individual plays a greater role as well because there is an extra level of thoughtfulness and planning and understanding all these different aspects of work that you need to pull together in order to be able to do your job. And that does include being savvy and mindful about how you are using the various technologies You have to coordinate and collaborate, and not just in terms of how you’re using the functionality of those systems, but what it means in terms of how you have to maintain security. And just make sure that you’re to your point, that attacker and defender, you know, that’s actually happening. And know that, you know, and I want to say this is interesting, Steve, I’m thinking about this question. We were having a lot of problems with this pre pandemic. I do agree with that. I heard this because remember, I’ve been doing this work for a long time. So I was creating flexible operating models for organizations that kind of saw the future and did it in advance of being forced to, and these issues around technology, and people not understanding how to keep their data safe and what their role was in that was really a problem. And, you know, so I think, again, this is the pandemic has just accelerated something that was needs to be addressed anyway. So the more the industry can educate individuals, and prepare them to play that role in the defender, I think being able to execute this name next way of working will be more even more effective.

Steve King 11:14
Yeah, sure. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And I think there’s a lot of a lot of not knowing on everybody’s behalf here, there’s some to say that the direction we’re getting from the top, if you want to call it that is been sporadic is sort of a sort of an understatement. You know, we have no idea what to expect here in the way of futures, and both near term and long term and the impact of new strains that, you know, are able to more 50 different ways from Sunday and show up all over the world. And you know, as we open up international travel a week later, we close down in interest of all, we open up interstate travels and we close it down we have we need, you know, some kind of vaccination passport one week, one week, we don’t. So across the board, I think very few people have any actual understanding of what we’re doing here, we’re all sort of scram eyed, feels like we’re all sort of scrambling around to try to get to some state of normalcy, that nobody’s defined yet. A lot of folks returning to conventional office setting after whatever it’s been 24 months now in the wild, are struggling with the existential question like Why am I doing this? In your experience? How larger problem is this sort of post traumatic hybrid Stress Syndrome, which I’ll call it? How bigger problem is that likely to cause? And what should employers do to mitigate, you know, what I think is likely to be a potential wave of resignations?

Cali Yost 12:51
This is a really great question. I think where we are right now is, I’ll go back to what I said at the beginning, I think there’s this grappling with understanding that, honestly, we’re not going back to the way we work before because people have just been working differently for way too long. But what does the integration of on site and remote work look like? And how do you execute that? And when I’m hearing, why am I doing this, it’s more, okay, we’re coming back to the office three days a week, that’s our policy. And then people show up three days a week, no rhyme or reason to when they’re coming in, right. And it’s being driven by the days, it’s not being driven by the work. So they get in, and then they’re doing zoom calls they could have been doing remotely from home. And so, yeah, it’s there’s no planning in that there’s no coordination, there’s no matching the task to the place and that, and so I think where we’re gonna have to evolve, I actually know this is where we’re gonna have to evolve, is it’s going to have to be more based on managers, working with their teams to say, Okay, what do we do? What are our priorities? What’s our purpose here, like, and then going through the exercise of saying when we accomplish this task, and we are trying to execute to this purpose? how, when and where does that happen most effectively, and together, create a structure within which they will work. So in other words, when we’re doing these things, we are all together on site. When we are doing these things, it really kind of doesn’t matter. And actually, when we’re doing these things, it’s better when we’re remote. I mean, we’re hearing it’s so interesting that people are saying, okay, so certain planning meetings, we’re hearing people feel it’s better Omar all together. But we’re also hearing that sometimes there’s some document sharing exercises that happen when you’re working together on a project, that it’s actually easier to do it when you’re all remote because you can share the document more effectively, or their private conversations that people will plan to have when they’re working remotely, because when they’re in the office, a lot of the offices don’t have that level of privacy. So really, it’s interesting. That’s kind of starting to happen. But it’s happening in an ad hoc, disorganized way. Whereas I think organizations can go in and say, Okay, so here’s the process we’re going to follow, everybody’s going to follow the same process to figure out what this combination is going to look like, how you’re going to operate across these different dimensions, and even adding time into that how you’re going to use the technology that’s available to you. And then we’re going to pilot this, and we’re going to see how it’s all going to work. And then we’re going to adapt based upon what we learn from that experiment. And continue to do that, until they get to the to an ultimate model.

Cali Yost 15:45
If that is happening, then people are not going to be asking, Why am I doing because they will be involved in the process of figuring out in advance, how to match the task with how when and where it’s being done. So there’s a logic to it. And it also allows for those who can’t work within whatever that flexible model is that the team comes up with, to say, I can’t do that, I want to do something else. And then they can put together a plan and propose an alternative way of working. But again, it’s based on a thoughtful conversation and decision making process versus just to say, you know, again, I don’t want to work this way. So what I believe managers can do to mitigate a wave of resignations is specifically do three things, one announce, we are not going back to the way we work before we understand that it’s going to be different, it is going to be some degree of flexibility that we are now going to work together and follow a consistent process all of us within our teams to determine what that’s going to look like for us. And it’s going to look different across teams, this is one of the things that organizations are grappling with by trying to keep these policies in place. They’re too rigid, they don’t adapt to the realities of different groups. So the fairness will come in the process, not in the policy. So you’ve announced you’re not going back, it’s going to be some degree of flexibility based upon a thoughtful process to determine what that is going to look like. And then you’ve got to train people, you really have got to train managers, teams and employees in the skills and tools, they now need to capture and leverage that flexibility, plan and coordinate across those different dimensions with each other. And that training has to include cybersecurity training, like that’s where you put it in, you say, Okay, so now let’s get trained all the technology that we’re going to use, and oh, by the way, here’s how we have to be thoughtful about security. But unfortunately, because it’s not part of that holistic execution process, it sort of sits out there on some kind of website with videos or something that people are supposed to do on their own time, people don’t understand how it fits into what they’re doing more broadly. So if that was all coordinated as an execution, I think we would get a lot further in terms of holding on to people, getting people invested in what they’re doing, and building this new model together. And understanding the role of technology and security in the whole process.

Steve King 18:18
Your business must be fantastic these days. Because if I were a thoughtful leader, any size business, I would need some counsel here for sure. Because there’s so many risk factors involved in both immediate term and long term with whatever decisions I make about how I reorganize this, this work environment, whether or not we continue to have new pressure from New COVID-19 varieties or, or, you know, additional stuff that nobody’s imagined yet. Once you unlock the doors, you know, and you let folks out and they’ve been doing it one way for 30 years, and all of a sudden, it’s like wait a minute, there’s another way to do this. I think that’s very hard to read, lock the door. So I and I get I get totally get the need for social interaction and, and the values that, you know, one has when one’s working, you know, physically, person a person in, you know, physical space, and I think it’s super important for cultural development, no question about it. You know,

Cali Yost 19:36
people are fine with that. Actually, you know, it’s a it’s a real, I think, myth that people don’t want to go into the office.

Steve King 19:44
Well, people are fine with it so far. I’m not willing to accept yet that that is a non value component of this whole formula. We may not understand yet how important that social interaction is. Oh, I

Cali Yost 19:58
think there’s there’s that’s that’d be part of the conversation in a much more specific way. And I think your to your point, I think part of the challenge is I don’t know if everywhere, people really are able to execute a new way of working in the way that ultimately they will want to only because of the need to continue to adapt to to the COVID pandemic. So I think we’re still in this transition period, I think there is an opportunity to begin to really unlock some of the true strategic benefits of a flexible operating model, and that it allows you to recalibrate. So as you’re able to have people on site, you, you add that back in, but as things have to be adapted, you recalibrate it back out. And it’s not an all or nothing. And I think there’s too much focus on dates, or the date, we’re going back, it’s like, you know, what you don’t exactly know when that is. So instead of waiting for the date, to begin to start putting some of these things in place in a very intentional way, including issues related to technology. That’s all something that can happen right now. And that just then you have the structure in place. So then when you able are able to add more workplaces to the equation, you just add that back in. And I do think there has to be more conversations around what what is the value add, when we are all together? And what does that look like? And how do we make that happen? And then how do we make the things that don’t really require that part of our day to day operating? flow as

Steve King 21:33
well? Yeah, right. As we try to imagine our future work environments in this, from this perspective, from standing here in the middle of this sort of perfect storm or chaos, I guess? Is choice going to become the new black? Or are there many of these suppositions that we’ve presumed to be true? Are they true? In fact, at all? I mean, for example, we think that flexible and remote work is new and that work? Yeah, and that work follows you wherever you go. We also think that most remote workers are women that money is the main motivator for job seekers and that hybrid policies will be one size fits all. Yeah. How about some myth busting here? I’m sure that

Cali Yost 22:18
Steve so many myths, I

Steve King 22:20
have to? Yeah, yeah,

Cali Yost 22:22
it’s interesting for me to watch, right, because I’ve done this work for so long. And actually, there was a lot of flexibility before the pandemic, it was just really organic and uncoordinated, like it was not strategic in most organizations. But it was happening every two years, we would do a national study of full time US workers with RC International. So it’s a really good valid study. And we consistently found that a third of full time US workers said they did most of their work from a remote location, not on their employer site. And most of those met most of those remote workers were men, not women. So you know, again, we kind of come into this crisis, it just rapidly accelerate something that was already happening. And as we move into this next phase, I think it’s important to recognize this is not new, this is this moment, where we are in a pandemic, and we are transitioning in in unforeseen ways back into the workplace, that’s new, that is new. But what flexibility and remote work looks like in action day to day, that is not a whole new model, there are models there, they can be replicated you we can learn from them. And so if we can move past this point, it’s new, we can begin to think about that. And we can begin to execute from that point, you know, remote workers being women, as I said, right now, women, unfortunately have had to take on most of the burden of non existent care system. And so that’s why right now, you see a lot of women really having to have the ability to work remotely, or they just can’t manage the personal responsibilities they have in this unusual time. But as we move back into hopefully having caregiving back to some degree of normal, if not even better, if we can get more infrastructure around that bill, you’re gonna see women, I hope be able to work more remotely, because before they were penalized for it. So now hopefully, it’s D gendered, it’s not about parents. It’s not about man. It’s not about women. It’s just the way we work. So it allows everyone to optimize where they work and how they work best. I think money being a motivator for job seekers, absolutely. People still want to be paid. But it’s a three legged stool. Its money, its opportunity, and its flexibility. And I’ve said I’ve talked to many leaders who have said, you know, flexibility now is almost like the table stakes part of that equation. Like you just have to have it. And then you’ve got to compete on opportunity, and on money. And so to your last point around Harvard policies being one sided fits all, I think that’s where we’ve been getting into trouble is we think that flexibilities an HR policy, it’s an arrangement. It’s not, it’s the way of operating your organization. And it’s got to be process based. And that process can and should be consistent. But one size fits all policies are just too rigid. They don’t, they can be guidelines, they can be, you know, guardrails that you want to try to try to operate in for the most part, but a policy or rule, it’s, it just doesn’t work. So that’s kind of where we are right now.

Steve King 25:34
Right? We see, you know, rules change every week, almost right. So one week, its kids are back in school full time with masks, the next week, it’s kids are back four days a week with masks in their home on Fridays. And so I will kind of an MP, you know, that’s a has a significant impact on folks that are trying to work out their, their daily work, hybrid home office schedule, as well. And those kinds of policies are not integrated. Of course, they’re sort of dictated from whatever you want to call teachers union government perspective, where, you know, folks don’t really have a lot of choice in that. And yeah, that must drive people crazy, at least from from my point of view, and I’m conscious of the time here, Kelly. So from a final question, kind of point of view, I, I think that this intense focus, we now have on getting back to the office, getting back to the way we used to do things is actually preventing organizations from, from optimizing and, and from experimenting with different flexible operating models that, you know, maybe equally as important and maybe better than the old ways that we used to work. What are your thoughts in in regards to that? And what do you advise your clients in it with respect to taking advantage, both of the obvious increase in freestanding proof productivity that they’re getting from this, from this huge port from home employee base, in addition to that sort of almost cross purpose, need to get them back into the, into the physical office space?

Cali Yost 27:21
So all I can say is yes, I agree with you. We should be optimizing and experimenting with new flexible ways of working right now. Because this transition period where we are consistently having to sort of dial up and dial down the amount of on site work. That’s just a feature of a flexible operating model. That’s not a bug. That’s actually something that is a benefit of being able to work flexibly. So you should start building the structure of this new way of working right now. And don’t wait. You don’t have to wait. What would I tell leaders, I would say this, it’s what I say when I speak to groups of leaders. It’s what I say, when I speak to employees, I just let them know that I have done this work for so long. I love what I do, specifically, because I wait for the moment I call the spark. And that’s the moment after an organization has defined the guardrails within which people will work. So they’ve defined the norms and guidelines around where they will work about the technology, they will use the time they will work, they follow the process where teams have sat down and thought about what it is they do and how when and where they do it best within that structure. They’ve trained people. And then they go, and I’m going to tell you to watch it happen to watch the amount of the increase in collaboration, coordination, the innovation, people start questioning why we’re doing things, the way we’re doing it, maybe we could do it better. The way they adopt the technology even more effectively, diversity, equity and inclusion is improved. Because all of a sudden, people are able to manage their life and work and how they optimally work in a way that really does allow for all sorts of different people to succeed effectively in the organization. I could go on and on. But I would say just know that and know that you want to take this moment to begin to unlock that for your organization as well, truly. So just know that and start the process of execution from that place.

Steve King 29:29
It’s good advice. And unfortunately, we’re out of time today, Kelly, but you know, and I often tell guests, you know, we’d love to have you back in a few months and see how the world has changed. But in this case, I very much want to have you back in a few months because this world will change and it’ll be fascinating to see what we what we have come say March April of next year and if you don’t mind I would I would love to have you for another half hour we can. We can see what’s happened and what we think about Fisher moving forward from there. So I’ve had the great, thank you. I wanted to thank you, our guests, Kelly Yost, again, for taking time out of your schedule to join me what I thought, you know, we didn’t change the world, but I think it was a pretty thought provoking exchange. And there’s a lot to think about here for business leaders and employees alike, because oftentimes the employees are left out of this conversation and, and they definitely have a role to play here. So I hope everybody gets benefit from this. And thank you to our listeners for for joining us and another one of our unplugged reviews of the complex and sort of brand new world of our digital reality. So until next time, I’m your host, Steve King, signing out.