American Express shows leadership with future of work policy - gives employees flexibility and control

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez October 20, 2021 Audio mode
Too many companies are trying to force employees back to the ‘old world’ with office work. Some are trying to get it right - American Express being one.

Image of an American Express card
(Image soured via American Express website)

Just a few months ago I noted how leaders have lost control of the office and that they need to realize choice is key. Whilst certain industries and job roles of course require being on-site for periods of time, knowledge workers over the past 18 months or so have proven how effective remote work and collaboration can be. 

As we enter the Vaccine Economy, there's a distinct impression that organizations are either scrambling to figure out their ‘future of work' policies, or are leading with ‘stick' and telling their employees to get back to the office ASAP. Some companies - Goldman Sachs, we are looking at you - have issued statements on their workplace expectations that now seem positively old-school, given what a lot of people have gone through during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And whilst there will be differing opinions on what best practice looks like, it's important to highlight forward-thinking organizations that appear to recognize that the game has changed. I fear those that don't understand this will lose out on the best talent in the marketplace and be less competitive. 

This week American Express released its official policy for its approach to the ‘new way of working' - Amex Flex. And I have to say, I'm rather impressed. That's not to say that it's ‘job done' and that the company doesn't have lots to work through still, but it appears to be laying the foundations for an effective framework that gives employees control over how and where they work. 

Amex Flex has been developed using feedback from employee feedback (points for this, already) and will start in effect on 24 January 2022 at the earliest in the US, UK and Germany. Other makers will make their transition to Amex Flex based on local conditions and regulations. 

Writing to all American Express colleagues, Chairman and CEO Stephen J. Squeri said: 

Our traditional way of working has changed. The office is no longer the only place where most colleagues can effectively get work done, as we've proven throughout the last 18 months. We want to build on the progress we've made working virtually, including how we've become more efficient and agile, gained greater flexibility to manage our professional and personal lives, and levelled the playing field for colleagues across band levels and locations.

At the same time, the office will continue to play an important role in Amex's future. Being together, in person, has huge benefits that our colleagues have missed and want to regain, including spontaneous connections and idea sharing, meeting new colleagues and rekindling existing relationships, team bonding and camaraderie, workspaces designed for creativity and collaboration, and more opportunities for mentorship, in-person coaching, and networking.

Ultimately, our goal is to achieve the best of both worlds - recapturing the creativity, connections, collaboration and relationship building of working together in person, while also retaining the flexibility and progress we have made together in this virtual world.

No one said the office is dead

Whilst American Express is a large company with many different functions and job types, Amex Flex is broken down into three core components:

  • On-site - these employees will work in the office four to five days per week. Limited to select roles that can only be performed in the office, those who cannot perform their roles effectively remotely, or for anyone who wants to come in every day

  • Hybrid - hybrid employees will work a mix of in-office and virtual days; coming into the office one to three days per week on average. Leaders and colleagues will plan common days for in-person connection, collaboration and events

  • Fully virtual - virtual colleagues will work from exclusively or for the vast majority of the time. They will likely have 0 days in the office. 

CEO Squeri noted the importance of maintaining some colleague face-to-face time, which means most Amex employees will be hybrid. He said: 

We fundamentally believe that in order to fuel our special culture, it's important for most colleagues to spend a portion of their time together in the office. Most of our colleagues want this too - in our survey earlier this year, nearly 80 percent said they want to come back to the office at least some of the time. As a result, we expect a large majority of our colleagues will work hybrid schedules. At the same time, we expect to have more fully virtual colleagues than we did pre-pandemic, and those who need or want to work primarily onsite will be able to do so. 

For employees that want to be 100% virtual, Amex has committed to making the request for a virtual arrangement as simple and consistent as possible. 

Work from anywhere

In addition to the above, American Express is also introducing a ‘work from anywhere' component for those that can work remotely. This means, as part of Amex Flex, employees will have the opportunity to work up to four calendar weeks from a location other than their primary work location each year, during which time they won't have to come into the office at all. 

This new policy is inclusive of Amex's pre-existing policy, which allows employees to work up to 15 days outside their country of work. For example, hybrid employees may work four weeks from a location other than their primary work location, 15 days of which can be outside their designated country of work, without having to come into the office. 

Squeri concluded his note by saying: 

We believe the Amex Flex model will result in clear benefits for our people and help our business remain strong. Most colleagues have told us that they would like variety and flexibility in their work environment and experience. We trust one another to do what is right for our colleagues and our customers. We are in learning mode, and together we will make the appropriate changes over time in order to retain our position as one of the world's best places to work, an accomplishment that we have worked hard to achieve and will work even harder to build upon.

American Express has the best people, and we aim to help everyone thrive at work and in life because we believe the best way to back our customers is to back you, our colleagues. Our culture is special because of you and the relationships and connections you build here, both in person and virtually. We designed our new Amex Flex work model to enable our special culture to grow even stronger into the future.

My take

There's a lot to like here. Clear communication from the top of the organization. A flexible framework that gives employees and leaders scope to adapt, as well as room to apply the principles to varying needs of individual employees. And a recognition that the old 9-5 hours full time in the office are actually not conducive to excelling in a digital-first environment. The option to work abroad for a few weeks is also promising, as it shows that Amex is listening to what people want, whilst probably trying to limit too many HCM or tax complications. 

But this isn't where the work ends. With a policy in place, Amex now needs to focus on its maturity model for enterprise digital teamwork - which my colleague Phil Wainewright outlines here. Most companies are still working out how best to use a combination of digital tools, remote collaboration and in-person time to work effectively. And collaboration vendors are working at pace to give companies what they need to get work done. 

This will all take time and will require organizations to adapt as teams figure out what works best. Hopefully the likes of Amex will share how these practices develop too, as we emerge from the pandemic into the Vaccine Economy.