Flexibility, the foundation for so many workplaces going forward, can also be a catalyst for chaos. Who’s in the office tomorrow? How much childcare will I need next week? Where did I leave my phone charger?
As more employees have the option to work anywhere and on schedules better suited to their needs, another, less-discussed principle is only growing in importance: the human need for predictability.
Schedule predictability has long been tied to greater wellbeing among hourly employees. And among full-time knowledge workers who previously went into offices five days a week, the need for predictability manifested in smaller ways: For example, one study found that the majority of employees will try to sit at the same desk each day even if they don’t have a dedicated seat (something we’ve also noted).
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It’s this desire for predictability that’s helped shape PinFlex, the new work-from-anywhere program unveiled by Pinterest earlier this spring. PinFlex is certainly flexible: Its roughly 3,400 workers globally can live anywhere in the country in which they’re based, with the expectation that they’ll visit a Pinterest office at least once a year.
We recently reached out to Christine Deputy, Pinterest’s chief people officer, to understand how the tech company developed PinFlex, and she spoke about its efforts to provide predictability in a flexible structure. Here are some key takeaways (her responses are lightly edited for clarity):
Establish new routines based on team or department need.
It’s early days, but a number of companies from Harry’s to Ford have elected to have their employees decide at the team level how to work together. Developing team-level agreements is an oft-cited principle underpinning flexible work schedules.
Deputy: “Under PinFlex, schedules are decided at the senior team level. Marketing has a series of routines, HR has a series of routines, the engineering and product organizations, and the design team. They each have a process. So every leader of those functional or business areas has created a this-is-how-we-work [plan].
For example, our marketing team has a quarterly planning meeting that’s three or four days. They have monthly calls where they’re getting together to review operationally what they’re doing. Then they have all-hands or all-team meetings that are virtual. So those are the routines that happen on a quarterly basis. You think, ‘Ok, those are set, now I can work my timelines around those routines.’”
Clarity around scheduling can also help bolster recruitment efforts.
Pinterest has found that its routines don’t just help its workers—it can make its jobs more attractive to candidates as well.
Deputy: “Our ability to give people clarity around the rules of engagement has definitely helped us move faster through a recruitment cycle. Candidates look for certainty. They want to know what the rules are. And when we weren’t able to give that to them, there were definitely impacts.
Now that we’ve shared all of our policies, we’re seeing our acceptance rate increase over time. We’re starting to see more and more people say ‘yes’ to those roles because they’re actually able to say, ‘You’re meeting my requirements around the flexibility that I want. I don’t have to relocate. I can understand how you want me to work, and I’m excited about that.’ So we’re seeing that have a positive impact on our recruitment efforts.”
Commit to giving lots of advance notice around schedules.
Giving employees extensive advance visibility helps mitigate the downsides of a physically distributed workforce and is particularly important for employees who care for children or other family members.
Deputy: “We’ve made a commitment that we can let employees know one quarter in advance what their schedule will be, because I think that’s also something that is really important….We’ve asked our leaders to really think about planning when they’re having meetings, what their operational routines are.
Let’s say I’ve decided to live where I have to take a flight to get into the office. I’m going in once or twice a quarter, so we really focus on making sure people can plan for that. And we’re excited about that because we think that gives people both that flexibility and the predictability.”