Ep 5: Designing Tomorrow's Work: Brian Elliott on Rethinking Productivity & Leadership

Wednesday, November 8, 2023
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Brian Elliott, a visionary from Google and Slack and the brains behind "How the Future Works", delves deep into the evolving work ethos. This episode sheds light on:

  • The synergy of data and team insights: Unlocking workplace magic.
  • Outcome over location: Why the 'how' and 'what' outweigh the 'where'.
  • The pitfalls of mandates: Top three reasons they often fail.
  • Leading with authenticity: The power of leadership vulnerability.

Unpacking the Impact of Hybrid Work

In episode 5, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Elliott, co-founder of Future Forum and an advisor to leaders and organizations in building a better work environment. He shared with me his experiences at Google and Slack, his expertise on the future of work, and the influence of data and research like the Flex Index in shaping the modern workspace.

We started off the conversation by discussing the impact that hybrid work has on the world today. According to Elliott, a fixed nine to five work schedule is often not optimal. Instead, research shows that flexibility increases productivity, trust, and the sense of belonging within an organization. However, bringing people together regularly also plays a crucial role in fostering relationships and connections.

Elliott went on to explain that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work; it varies based on individual tasks and preferences. It is essential for organizations to adapt and provide a balance between remote and in-person work to support their teams effectively.

“The biggest thing that you can do to some degree is listen to your own teams. I'm a big data geek. I love digging into the research and seeing what's working and what's not more broadly. But you've got to pair that with also talking to your own organization and your own teams about what's working for them.” - Brian Elliott, Product Exec and Co-founder of Future Forum

Valuing Output-Based Work Culture

Brian Elliott discussed the importance of focusing on outcomes rather than activities in a hybrid work environment. He argued that being present in the office doesn't necessarily equate to productivity and emphasized the need for trust in the team, effective usage of tools for asynchronous communication, and well-structured time for deep focus work.

“The worst mistake that people make when it comes to hybrid work is rewarding people based on the visual aspects of hustle culture—as opposed to outcomes.” - Brian Elliott, Product Exec and Co-founder of Future Forum 

How we spend our time is more important than where we work, Elliott proposed. Leaders should set constraints and expectations around availability so employees have dedicated blocks of deep focus time. Elliott explained that leaders should hold weekly one-on-one meetings with employees to help establish trust and keep everyone aligned on goals. Trust can also be built by holding employees accountable to outcomes rather than monitoring their physical presence.

Why Top-Down Mandates Often Fail

Brian Elliott explained that the biggest mistake in implementing hybrid work is adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, such as mandating specific days in the office or allowing only one designated work-from-home day. Mandates can create resistance among employees and may not work for distributed teams, as different teams have different needs. Companies should embrace a flexible approach where they tailor their hybrid work models depending on the rhythms and needs of their teams.

Elliott used industrial giants like Ford and Allstate as examples of companies adopting hybrid work schedules. These companies recognize that to attract, retain, and engage talented people, the traditional office setup needs to be revised, allowing for greater flexibility in work locations and schedules. 

Designing With Intentionality in Hybrid Work

Brian Elliott emphasized the importance of intentional design, particularly when it comes to encouraging creativity and innovation in a remote work setting. He emphasized the necessity of shifting from traditional whiteboarding groupthink to more inclusive tactics, such as using a practice called 'brainwriting' that fosters diversity of thought and avoids pre-filtering of ideas. Digital tools and technology (like Miro and Mural) play a crucial role in connecting distributed organizations and enabling productivity.

“If you really want group participation, you have to intentionally redesign that process. We did this during the pandemic at Slack. The team built a set of playbooks around what are the types of things that you can do with your team virtually to help build connection and cohesion.” - Brian Elliott, Product Exec and Co-founder of Future Forum

Elliott also discussed the importance of enabling employees to be their own hosts in a hybrid work environment. Companies should help teams become self-sufficient in hosting their own networking events and off-sites to better meet their unique needs and preferences. He suggested leveraging playbooks, guidelines, and tools for teams to utilize in their connection and team-building activities.

Leading With Authenticity and Vulnerability

Brian Elliott put forward some important points about the struggles and biases that can arise in a hybrid work model. He discussed how certain demographics (women, caregivers, people with disabilities, and people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds) prefer more flexibility in their work setups, which could potentially create inequalities in traditional office settings that value presenteeism

To mitigate proximity bias in organizations, Elliott proposed shifting the focus toward outcomes rather than presence, dividing executive locations, and establishing certain meetings as digital only. Overall, Elliott emphasized that creating an equitable environment requires conscious efforts to address biases and power dynamics and prioritize outcomes over physical presence.

Adapting to the Evolution of the Workforce

We ended our conversation with Brian Elliott sharing his perspective on the current evolution of the workforce. He said leaders should be open to not knowing all the answers and be willing to explore new ways of doing things. In order to navigate this future successfully, Elliott advises leaders to create a culture of experimentation and innovation by encouraging risk-taking and rewarding failure as a learning opportunity. 

“We're in a world of continual evolution and change from a demographic, talent, and technology perspective. You're much better off taking an approach that says we have to adopt a learning based culture in our organization, and we need to be learning based executives ourselves.” - Brian Elliott, Product Exec and Co-founder of Future Forum

Elliott shared the value of vulnerability and employee engagement in building a successful future. The role of leaders is to set the overall goals and aspirations for the organization, but they should also seek input and engagement from their employees in order to achieve them. He encourages companies to foster a culture where questions and shared learning is embraced to adapt and thrive in this evolving environment. 


Future Forum - A consortium backed by Slack in partnership with Boston Consulting Group, MillerKnoll, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow. From 2020 to 2023, Future Forum produced the Future Forum Pulse, a quarterly survey of more than 10,000 desk workers around the globe. We used that research to create playbooks designed to help decision-makers tackle real-world challenges.



Jenny Moebius

SVP @ Skedda | Angel Investor

Jenny is a top Go-To-Market (GTM) leader in the Greater Boston area, where she has a track record of building powerful brands and categories, generating demand (for both sales- and product-led orgs), and creating energizing mission-driven cultures of belonging in the B2B tech space.


Brian Elliott

Exec advisor, speaker, co-founder of Future Forum and best-selling author of "How the Future Works" | Startup CEO, Google and Slack Product Exec | LinkedIn Top Voice on Flexible Work

With over 25 years of experience as a startup CEO and operating executive at companies like Google and Slack, Brian has developed a deep expertise in strategy development, team leadership, digital transformation and the future of work.

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