Episode #12

Workplace 2.0 Summit: The Employee Perspective

At our 2nd annual Workplace 2.0 Summit, speakers from Accenture, HOK, and PwC participated in a compelling roundtable discussion about the employee perspective in a hybrid workplace, during the pandemic and post-COVID. Access the full summit on-demand: https://learn.tangoanalytics.com/workplace-2-0-summit-2021
Workplace 2.0
Workplace 2.0
Workplace 2.0 Summit: The Employee Perspective
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In this Episode

At our 2nd annual Workplace 2.0 Summit, speakers from Accenture, HOK, and PwC participated in a compelling roundtable discussion about the employee perspective in a hybrid workplace, during the pandemic and post-COVID.

Access the full summit on-demand:

https://learn.tangoanalytics.com/workplace-2-0-summit-2021

  • Transcript

Episode Transcript

Bart Waldeck:

For those of you who were unable to attend the last session regarding the future of work, we’re kind of going to continue the discussion, really diving into the people, the human side of hybrid work and what we’re calling Workplace 2.0 here at Tango. This roundtable will focus on specifically the employee perspective. I’m sure we’ll touch on some of the employer side of things and how it affects employees, but we really want to hone in on the employees themselves. So hopefully you were in the last session and know Julia from that great, very data rich session about what PWC is seeing there. Joining the discussion will also be some leaders from Accenture and HOK.

So why don’t we go ahead and just do a quick round of introductions? Julia, why don’t you go ahead and give a little bit of background on your role and your work at PWC?

Julia Lamm:

Sure. Hi, everyone. Thanks for sticking with us if you were on the last one. I’m Julia Lamm. I’m a partner at PWC, at our workforce strategy practice. I’m based out of New York. Over the last fifteen months, my focus has really been primarily on COVID-related workforce transitions, productivity, employee engagement but generally speaking, I focus on broader topics around workforce strategy like workforce planning, upscaling, talent management and the like. Very nice to be here. Thanks, Bart.

Bart:

Awesome. Megan?

Megan Perrin:

Hi. I’m Megan Perrin. I work for Accenture. I’m in our real estate and workplace solutions practice. I have historically been working on IoT and connected space, so thinking about all types of technology for the built environment and specifically over the past year or so been focusing on workplaces and the back to work experience. Good to be here.

Bart:

Great. Thanks, Megan. And last but not least, Adam.

Adam Stoltz:

I’m Adam Stoltz. Hi, everyone. I serve as the firmwide director of consulting at HOK Architecture and Planning, an interiors firm also based out of HOK’s New York office. I work globally with specialists that focus in workplace specialists, real estate and portfolio strategy and change management. We like to ask questions like, “Why even have space in the first space,” which of course as a design firm suggests that there are very good reasons. We just want to make sure that we know what those foundational elements are first before designing it. So, thanks.

Bart:

Welcome. All right, great. So let’s jump into it. We met as a group prior to this event and kind of laid out some topic areas and some questions that we thought would be good to cover, so let’s start in kind of the general category. I’m interested in each of your opinions on this. So the question is how have you seen the vision of the post-pandemic workplace change over the last year for the employee side as well as the employer side?

Adam, why don’t you kick us off here because Julia probably needs a break.

Adam:

Sure. Okay. I would say to some degree, I think the vision has actually become a bit murkier than clearer, particularly of late. What I mean by that is that it seemed like at the beginning, when I say the beginning a year and a half ago nearly, sort of reaction mode. Go home, figure out how to be effective as best you can given a less than ideal circumstance to say the least. What’s happened, particularly in the last few months, is that I think decisions about how to navigate return to office, the frequency with which you might use the office, what it might look like, how it’s going to support people and how you’re going to navigate working with those who are there and those who are not has become a lot more complex and actually less certain I would argue than more certain as we’re getting closer to it.

Bart:

That makes sense. A couple of the previous sessions touched on that fact, the equity between the in-office and not-in-the-office folks. Megan, how about you? What are some of the changes to the vision of the workplace in a post-pandemic world?

Megan:

Yeah, I think we’ve seen a lot of the same. It was very much a year or so ago, “When are we getting back? When are we getting back to normal? When are we coming back to the office? This is just temporary.” As time went on, I think there was a big realization that we can be productive from home. I think a lot of managers weren’t certain about that. I think maybe it is complicated, as Adam was saying. Also as time goes on, people are getting like, “Okay, I got to get out of my house. I want to go back. I want to see people.” I think that’s where this kind of hybrid now, employers and employees, are kind of thinking, “Well, we’re going to come back but in what … How much? How often? What are we coming back for? What are we going to do in the office?” Those are some of the questions we’re starting to see our clients asking now.

Bart:

And Julia, a lot of the data you went through before highlighted a little bit of disconnect between employers and employees about timing of the return and number of days in the office and those types of things. What are you seeing as far as the vision to both sides of the coin about the future?

Julia:

Yeah. Well, despite the disconnect, I think this has been a really, while tragic, also a really good time for people who are working in offices. Ultimately, we had been working with clients prior to the pandemic about the concept of flexibility. You go in the office, it’s a cubicle farm, and people were still very traditional in terms of the ways of working. This has been a huge change in management exercise and people have learned to do work remotely. I’ve had very senior leaders say, “You know, I really thought that if someone was working from home they couldn’t be productive and man, I’ve been impressed. I’ve been surprised.” So I do think we brought a lot of people along, including leaders themselves who might be more prone to working remotely some days and not come in every day especially when we start to think about flu season coming up.

So I think it’s been really great progress from that perspective, but from an overall talent management perspective, too, just thinking about the definition of the workplace, this is something we’ve been thinking about. Now as you think about your workplace and not just the office, it could also be the coffee shop, the coworking space, your home office. The employers have to think about what’s their responsibility for workers who are in an alternative space so it starts to complicate that picture which previously was very clear.

Adam:

If I could, Megan said a few minutes ago that this idea of what are we coming back for and I won’t say every, right, because we’re not overgeneralized here, at least we’ll try not to, but the idea that a lot of organizations seem to be focused on, and certainly the headlines, seem to be focused on the days, right? The quantification of if there’s going to be a return, how many days is going to be and by how many people? Why are we … Let’s get a few more starting with, a few more companies, organizations starting with that idea of why do we have space at all? How about, “What is the purpose? What are we coming back for? If we’re going to ask people to return, why will we do that?” There are very good reasons. Of course there are. But let’s start there.

Bart:

No, I think that does make sense. I think one of the challenges, obviously, in wanting to understand the quantitative side of how many days you’re in and when you’re going to be in is the supply side of it, the space side of it. So how do we better understand what people want to do and then fit our spaces around that? That does begin with purpose. It’s not just, “How often are you going to be in the office?” It’s, “What are you going to come in the office and do?” It needs to be a purpose-driven visit, for lack of better word, and then you understand the flow of work. Then you understand the real estate needs. So that makes a lot.

So how about what advice you’re giving to HR and workplace executives about what work should look like given the dynamic of what has changed? Should it be hybrid? Should it be flexible? Does it depend on industry? Does it depend on culture? I’m sure you’re going to say yes to all of that, but what are you advising?

Megan:

I can jump in here. Off the back of the last topic, we’re kind of advising you’re moving from a when to why. We’re advising, “Why are you coming in? Start by looking at the roles. What is that you need to do? What is it that you’re doing and then looking at those tasks, where is the best place to do that? Is it collaboration? You want to be in the office. Is it heads down? Do you do that better at home? Or do you have a bunch of kids at home, you do that better in office?” So starting there, just figuring out at the role level, working with HR and then we define workplace to suit whatever the purpose is for people coming in.

Bart:

It sounds like a bit like the persona approach that you were talking about, Julia. How does that influence the workplace of the future?

Julia:

Yeah, the persona approach, just tying into, Megan, what you were just saying, we do a pretty rigorous analysis around defining personas and very generally you’re all remote, you’re hybrid, or you’re all in person to super overgeneralize, but then same general thought applied on top of that. What’s the requirement for the work and then beyond that, layer in the personal preference. We’ve been seeing a pretty interesting spectrum of how organizations are actually planning for that. Some are still doing total free for all. Like, “We’re going hybrid. Come on back two to three days a week and we’ll see how it goes,” which is really interesting. Those companies are already suspecting that Monday and Friday will be very quiet because those are the popular days to work remotely. Then all the way across the spectrum to very stringent control of what the hybrid model is going to be and when people are allowed to come in the office.

In many cases, there’s a tie-in there to a real estate cost and things like that. They’ve got a portion of the space that they’re going to let go or have already gotten rid of so trying to get a large number of people into a smaller space and those are being a lot more prescriptive so they’re kind of saying, “Hey, you’re in a finance function. You get a one day a week. That’s it and this is your day.” Whatever other business function and based on the work, this is how many days you can come in and manage accordingly.

So it’s been really interesting because I don’t pick up on a specific trend across that. It’s not all insurance companies are a total free for all and banks are on the other end of the spectrum. It really seems distributed on maybe it’s tied to culture or just general readiness, but there doesn’t seem to be a pattern emerging about why you’re at one end or another except for the real estate driver.

Adam:

I’d say I don’t think we’re going to be able to command and control our way out of this, this idea that companies, that some companies have about dictating what days in which employees will exhibit flexibility. That idea, those two things are at complete odds with one another in my view, and so the idea, again, or the suggestion, that we’re going to find success in suggesting this group all comes in on exactly the same day every other week except if it’s cloudy on a Tuesday and these five people are part of the A group and they come in Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. The minute someone’s kid is ill or they take a vacation, then they’re not in, it throws the thing out of whack. So that kind of dictating that, I think for companies that try it, will fall apart pretty quickly and I think they’ll just get really frustrated with it.

What I am seeing, because Bart, you mentioned or asked about from an HR standpoint, really focused right now on working under the sort of assumption that there were things to fix about the way we approached supporting people in our workplaces before the pandemic, particularly around the experience of some people being present in the room and other people being remote but participating in that activity at the same time. We could have a lot of fun, right, acting out the typical hour phone call from a year and a half ago where somebody’s on the line for 58 minutes only to pipe up at the very end when the people in the room realize they’re still on the line but they haven’t been heard from the entire time, right? Then I say, “Oh, yeah, well, it was hard to hear,” but anyway.

That idea of focusing on training, on facilitation, on the ability to engage so that there’s a more equitable experience of participating and contributing to work, those are the kinds of things that I think that HR and talent can really focus on here, particularly in our return to the office so that it’s better, better than it was.

Bart:

You know, it’s interesting. I’ve heard, one through a client experience and one just reading an article I saw about Ford Motor, they’re kind of going to that forced structure type of concept where, and I’ve heard this a couple places, you set certain examples. So for example, one week out of the month your department’s coming in, you’re in all five days. Other departments that work with you are in that time as well and the remaining three weeks we’ve got other floors. If you do want to come in you can reserve a space, but that type of structure versus a free for all. Have you seen that kind of talked about out there?

Julia:

Yeah, especially early on in the pandemic it was the A B week concept. The challenge that we’ve been hearing is that that’s great for people who don’t have other non-work responsibilities like childcare or kids you have to get out the door for school. So for those individuals, being able to have more flex … What Adam’s talking about. The flexibility that’s really not just about, “This is your assigned day in office,” but really being able to come back. This concept of core hours has been around for a while. The core hours are 10 to 3 and you should be in office from 10 to 3 but maybe you drop your kids at school beforehand so you get in 9:30 and then you leave a little bit later. But there’s so many dimensions to it and I just think what we’ve been hearing, Bart, about the concept of the one week on, one week off or one week on, couple weeks off, people have trouble balancing and then you worry about disproportionate impact against women, ethnic minorities, people who are disproportionately impacted by that. So just some considerations. I don’t think that means it’s a wrong answer. I think companies just need to plan for it.

Bart:

Well, and I’ve unfortunately heard some leaders say, “Well, what did they do before the pandemic? None of these healthcare issues, none of these childcare issues, none of these personal …” So it’s kind of which is first, work or life? It came up in the other session, are you trying to figure life into work or you’re trying to figure work into life? So it seems like we’ve kind of switched into that fitting work into life, in a good way, in my opinion, but a lot of executives who are a little old school are saying, “Look, this is nothing new. We had this before. Why do we need to change? It wasn’t a problem before.” How do you respond to that? And maybe the employees respond to that with their feet, right? We talked a little bit about that with a lot of folks saying, upwards of 58%, 60% of workers would plan on looking for work if they are not allowed to continue to have flexible schedules.

Julia:

I can see that one week off, multiple weeks … Wait. One week on, in the office, multiple weeks off site working well given what’s happened from a physical move perspective with so many people who have moved to further commuting distances out of major cities or moved entirely. Maybe in the future that gives them the option to fly up for that one week they’re supposed to be in person and then go home. In some cases it might be a great solution. I think need companies need to listen to their employees and see where they’re at and then figure out what’s right for them and probably take it down to a team level, too. If that works for your whole team, great. Operationalize it.

Bart:

Absolutely. Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about the C suite and where this fits on the agenda of leadership. I know I’ve heard many a discussion where the C suite wasn’t as involved. They may be involved in real estate as it relates to enabling operations and manufacturing, kind of big things relating to business operations and then the cost side of it. But now with the return to work and hybrid work and all that, they’re sticking their nose in the tent, they’re asking a lot of questions and unfortunately a lot of real estate and workplace leaders are unable to provide those answers because they don’t necessarily have the systems. So are you seeing an elevated agenda item here for the C suite as it relates to this whole dynamic? Megan, why don’t we jump in with you first.

Megan:

Yeah, I think definitely from a leadership perspective, we’re seeing more the C suite kind of have a perspective one way or another, which depending on the business and the leader which way it is and they’re getting push back. One of my clients, for example, is saying, “Okay. We’re coming back. We’re doing the A B thing. Most people are vaccinated. Come back to the office,” and employees are like, “No, we’ve proven that this works. Why do we need to do that?” So definitely I would say we’ve seen a perspective at that level and I think we also know that leadership should be involved in the decision going forward and in the leadership if it’s going to be hybrid work model or whatever, maybe helping the managers understand that, “We can do this. We’re going to measure productivity differently.” However we’re going to make this work, that leadership should also come from the top, I think.

Adam:

I think it has to. I mean, we have, from a change management standpoint, we’ve learned over time that this idea of sort of grassroots change within particularly corporate organizational structures doesn’t work very well when it comes to workplace … The evolution of workplace policies and practices. So yeah, leadership, C suite, executive level involvement absolutely. Understandably so, they have a really … They’ve sort of made a name for themselves within the organization by making very well-informed decisions, usually data driven decisions. Now, whether or not people end up agreeing with those decisions or they pan out in the long run that’s fine, but they’re defendable and that’s where I think Bart was seeing a real disconnect.

This is what I think you were alluding to is the sense that they’re turning, right, executive leadership are turning to those that they rely on for information, for actionable insight and it isn’t there because we don’t have a very good understanding of how spaces were used previously, what current sentiment is, a plan of scenarios or an exploration of various scenarios about what return might look like and all of the what ifs that can be put together at a stage like this, nor are we ready with systems that allow us to occupy … To go back and occupy spaces and immediately begin to understand how that return is working from go. There is a lot of trepidation, right, about being able to sort of implement really big decisions like this without any new information.

Julia:

I would just call out one more thing. We’re also seeing boards interested in the decisions that the C suite’s making and that’s an interesting layer because boards are not in it everyday so you kind of remove the personal from the C suite. Boards are especially interested right now because of the anticipated turnover amongst the workforce and the talent risk and the risk it has to business performance so they’re increasingly asking for return plans, what’s the data you use to make this decision, so that’s been involvement as well.

Bart:

Absolutely. Okay one more question in this section before we move on. What are some of the benefits and shortcomings of a hybrid work environment? Who wants to jump on that one?

Julia:

Do we have time for the whole rest of the session? No, just kidding. I mean, I think that just from a benefit perspective, I would call out the remote working being a great equalizer. It’s not entirely true because so many people have … Some people have different Wi-Fi situations. There are some people who have distractions at home, but generally speaking, everyone’s the same size box on this call. Everyone has the same chance to kind of weigh in and have a voice and so I think that’s been a tremendous benefit.

I’d call out the work/life balance as well, although you could also argue that there’s less because the lines between home and office have been totally eliminated and so some are not doing well with that, but the ability to maybe … Maybe I should say instead of work/life balance, it’s the ability to integrate your work and your home life. I mean, maybe two of those are the biggest benefits from my perspective. I don’t know, Megan, Adam, what else you’d call out?

Megan:

Yeah, I would say the work/life balance thing, too. I mean, just cutting out the commute alone is good and if you’re able to sign off at home, you should have a hopefully better balance.

I think in terms of challenges, the hybrid work model is probably going to be more challenging than just everybody at home. I agree, everybody at home was a big equalizer. When we start getting people back in the office and people sitting at home, unless we’ve got the right technology sometimes you can’t hear on the other end of the conference line if there’s a bunch of people in the office, so that technology aspect might be a challenge as well as just adapting the workplace to hybrid work. I mean, there’s a whole bunch of companies that were working, everybody was coming in. They had 1:1 seating. Everybody had their own seat, their own desk. Maybe they’ve cleared those out over the past year and they’re looking to do more a hybrid model. Now I don’t know if I have a seat. If I come in, am I going to have a seat? So implementing things like the reservation system and going through those changes of the workplace, the way it operates, the way people use it, I think those will be some of the hurdles that we’ll have to get through for the benefit of the flexibility.

Adam:

For the sake of our audience, I’m going to mention one that I … Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that maybe there are some in our audience who think this would be a shortcoming but I’m going to turn it into a positive, and that is culture. This assumption that culture is as a result of people coming together in a required way in the built-in environment and that is I think that we can work, or we have an opportunity to break that tether, to promote and advocate for and celebrate and pursue and in some cases change organizational culture without relying on the space to do it for us it a huge opportunity that we have here.

For any organization who feels as though they need all of their people in all of the time in order to drive that culture or facilitate sort of the spread of that culture, I think this is a great moment for them to think about what would it look like for, I don’t know, for a year and a half we were a fully remote organization and still had to somehow spread our culture, our values, our mission, right? Our purpose. Because in some cases, sort of those things were put on hold over the last year, or at least sort of diminished, anticipating a return. Let’s think about rebuilding those without assuming that they’re going to happen just because we’re returning.

Julia:

If I could weigh in just one more on the list of cons. It’s all those moments of transition versus BAU, business as usual, right? So you are a new joiner to the organization? Well, now how are you going to figure out how things are getting done? You’ve got to be much more regimented and a self starter to navigate and make connections.

You just accepted a promotion and you’re going to be leading a new team or you’re elevating your role within a team, right, so you’ve got to learn and do your work in a different way. You’re kick starting a new project. One of the things, going back to our 6 Cs, our different types of work, if you’re collaborating on a project, you might get together to kick off the project then go work remotely because you’ve sort of stormed at the beginning of the team formation. Work remotely, come back together for big working sessions.

It’s those transition moments that are much harder to do in a remote environment that I think we’ll all be really appreciating being … Many of us will be really appreciating being back in the office for.

Bart:

Great point. Okay, let’s step into employee productivity and well-being, a very hot topic. Let’s start on the kind of built environment side of things. What are you guys seeing as it relates to what landlords and employers are doing to invest in the built environment, to improve employee well-being?

Adam:

Well, if I can start with one thing, I think, because I often jump to physical well-being when we start to think about this topic, but I think the most important thing that employers can do when it comes to thinking about the well-being of their employees is actually to think about their emotional, or psychological well-being when it comes to not just re-occupying or returning to the office, but in a sort of ongoing or in an effort to support the sort of ongoing connection and decision to continue to return to that office.

I think the best way to do that is actually by being able to more proactively communicate with and make information available to the employees so that they can make … Again, we talked about informed decision making, so that they can make the best informed decision for themselves as to whether or not it’s the right moment to be in the office, whether the conditions around the office, and that could be related to the environmental qualities of the office or even just the density or the number of people in the office at any given time, are right for them to be in that day. Are they going to get the space they need in the neighborhood they want and all of that sort of thing.

So I think being able to just make information more available and more transparent for employees to make better informed decisions for themselves will be a great start.

Megan:

Yeah, I’ll say I agree with the mental health aspect and I think that’s something our company’s certainly looking at, thinking about people coming back or working remotely or whatever. In terms of the physical, built environment, I think we’re seeing a lot of concern over air flow and air quality, so adding sensors for that type of thing. The physical distancing, I think that was … And partitions and things like that, I think that was a thing for a little while, but I think now that we’ve got vaccines and people are starting to get a little bit more comfortable, I think that’ll … I don’t think that’s as much of a concern, I think, going forward.

There has been, in terms of the data, certainly things like monitoring the space use. Well, I guess in terms of well-being, just helping people … Maybe it’s to stay distanced but using sensors and things to do that. I know it’s something we’re looking at in our offices because every new office we build has a certain number of sensors in it, we can tell where the density of people are and then we can do things like either proactively say, “Okay, too many people in this space. Let’s break it up a bit,” or if there were to be an incident, you could say, “Okay, we know that whoever badged in this day was there,” and we can go kind of do some contact tracing. So I think those are some of the data elements and technology that we’re using to help keep people safe and healthy in the office.

Bart:

And something you had mentioned, Adam, about community and culture. How do you better foster, or more effectively foster, the spread of culture and community in a hybrid type of environment? We’ve heard about the virtual happy hours. We’ve heard about the coming together physically at certain times. I think you mentioned, Julia in the last session, “Well, we’re not having a water cooler conversation but maybe I had one and then I can go share that with the rest of the team, but that means I got to go to my desk, I got to open up instant message or whatever, I got to distribute that information versus hey everybody, come over here. I’ve got something to say.” So how do you foster the community and the culture?

Adam:

Well, one of the ways, and you have to figure out a way to ensure that people who are not in the office can experience those things when they’re not happening in a room, right, because again there’s a lot of attention initially or sort of immediately being paid to, “How do we connect with people who might be working from different places when the rest of us are in a conference room, or in an enclosed space,” and we’re talking about speakers and monitors and ways of exchanging audio/video and other things happening in that space. As was said here, what about that interaction that occurs in the hallway? Is there a solution for that? Is there something in the kitchen or the pantry area that allows people who aren’t there to have a window?

Years ago, there were these sort of virtual, these sort of monitor-based water coolers. There were a number of companies that sort of tried to go down that path and looking back on that might really sort of suggest that they were ahead of their time, wanting to provide a portal from one break area to another break area, or for people who weren’t there but wanted to experience or check in with that. What’s happening in the break room right now? That sort of thing, as if they went in there themselves.

So I think opening our minds to, again, where we think culture happens, how it gets strengthened and deepened and woven together. That’s going to go a long way to our ability to enable it to thrive again.

Julia:

Yeah, I might just add obviously there’s an element of this that companies can control, or can influence. Let’s not control, it’s probably too strong. But when you think about the behaviors that you’re targeting from a cultural perspective, those things can manifest in some ways in person and in slightly different ways virtually. One of your cultural attributes might be care, or caring for each other and when you do that in person, it’s pulling out a chair for someone when you enter the break room or moving over, making space for them. When you are interacting in a hybrid model, it’s saying, “Hey,” taking the time to do a check-in with someone on your team or giving them a chance to talk on the conference where they weighed in at the very end. When it’s all virtual, it’s asking them about something that was tying back to a previous call or looking in their background and pointing out something and asking about that.

So you can have very similar cultural attributes that just the way they manifest from a behavior perspective will look a little different remote and in person. I think companies that do tackle this and try to influence this, they’ll go through an exercise to find those cultural attributes and start to talk about how you try to start shifting mindsets and you could go through that if you’re finding that your organization is having a crisis of culture or you’re not able to connect in the ways that you were able to previously.

Adam:

And we shouldn’t wipe things aside or sort of sweep them aside. Right word I was looking for there. Sweep them aside just because they might be a little harder. So yeah, if you want to have cupcakes for someone’s birthday, by all means have cupcakes for someone’s birthday but recognize that I might be working from home and I still want to join in the cupcakes. Send me a cupcake. We can ship anything anywhere at any time. There’s no reason why I can’t … Now, all right. Fine. If you don’t want to buy a cupcake for everyone who’s working remotely that day, encourage them to go out and get a cupcake and join at a particular time so that we can experience that. This suggestion, again, that people who aren’t there are participating or don’t get to be in it, because it’s hard, let’s just jump right over that to the other side and say, “Yeah, it might take a bit more effort, but it’s worth it.”

Bart:

Yeah, absolutely. So a question about productivity. When you fracture the workforce to being some in office, some out of office, does that by definition fracture business processes, the flow of work, how work get executed? I know that depends very much on what the job is and what the function is, but my question is are you seeing companies looking at retooling their business architecture, for lack of a better word, to be able to operate in the fluid nature of in-person and remote?

Julia:

Yes, we are. I think it’s basically to be able to handle any of those scenarios, right? So right at the beginning of COVID, we were polling CEOs about prioritizing their investments and we were finding that they were de-prioritizing physical investments, they were increasing their priorities around digital investments, so tools that would enable you to do your job from anywhere, shifting things to the Cloud, eliminating that in-person need and so we still expect, and actually I showed data in the last one about this, that CEOs are still expecting to be prioritizing the digital investments much more so.

Now, I don’t know if the number would be so different without COVID, right? People were already prioritizing going digital and streamlining processes but I do think, Bart, especially for things that are faster moving where perhaps there’s less control, there’s some things, and this is the argument that some of the big banks and the deals teams and all are arguing that we need to be in for, there’s an element that’s easier if you are all together, right? You don’t have to worry about taking that water cooler conversation, typing it into your group chat and sharing the idea out. But I think the point is, is when is it really critical to all come in and sacrifice all these other benefits? It’s not all day, all the time, everyday so where can you find the happy medium?

Adam:

I’ll share a quick one. I’m familiar with a finance team that 18 months ago, you never and they never would have thought or suggested that working outside of the office would work for them, that they had any interest in that, that it would be effective for their organization, that they could get the information they needed from people in their organization right around sort of planning and forecasts and revenue projections and all that sort of stuff. A year and a half later, are probably the most vocal advocates for not returning to the office full time. Not, of course, not never but not full time. I think it in large part has to do with they haven’t written a physical check that requires dual signatures in almost a year and a half. Well, that process was possible a year and a half ago, accelerated and implemented in the last year and a half and it’s just sort of one, quite tangible example of something that they were doing in the office together that now they’ve experienced not doing it in the office but still doing it together, like a lot better. They’re like, “Great. Let’s do more of that.”

Megan:

Yeah, and I’ll echo that. I mean, I think this has accelerated the pace, I think, is what we’ve seen. Things were going that direction and maybe in some industries at the pace of an iceberg, and now it’s just overnight we’ve seen it can happen and certainly the move to the Cloud and the investment in more digital technologies to facilitate that offsite work, hybrid work is definitely what we’ve seen over the past year.

Bart:

Okay. Let’s shift into the talent side of things. So I know you talked about this a little bit, Julia, in the last session. Some of the challenges that hybrid presents is onboarding, promotions. I know there’s concern that if you’re not in the office as much you wouldn’t be seen by the boss as much, assuming the boss is in the office, you wouldn’t have as many promotional opportunities. So how does the hybrid environment impact onboarding, personal development, career advancement, those types of things? And what would you suggest as how to level the field? I’m going to guess a lot of you are going to say it’s a lot of things I’ve been saying, right? We need to equalize the in-person and the remote and try to level that field and that will get us there, but are there any other things that you would suggest?

Julia:

I think it’s tricky, too, because when I think about picking up one role in particular, like the role of a manager or a leader, when you start to do the analysis for describing around the personas and evaluating the work, and then looking at who they actually interact with on a day to day basis, right, you start to see that the leaders and managers are collaborating and working more across silos, generally speaking. So generally speaking, they might be the ones who have to come in more than others and that sends a signal to everyone else, “Hey, should I also be coming in? My leader, my boss is coming in four days a week instead of the two that our team’s mandated. There’s a business reason, but I want to go up for promotion. I want that opportunity.”

So it’s … I don’t think there’s a perfect answer here except to be really thinking about how you give and are inclusive of everyone on your team to make sure you’re considering everyone based on impact, based on outcomes of the work they perform, the chance for the stretch opportunity versus the one who’s just there in person.

Bart:

Yeah. I mean, the hard thing is whether … It seeps into the psychology. If you come in every day and you see someone’s there when you get there every time and when you leave and they’re still there and you’re like, “Wow, that person really works hard,” or they send emails all through the weekend and into the night, and regardless of whether they’re productive or not, there’s a certain psychological belief that these people are working very hard and therefore they’re productive and therefore they should advance. Whether you can parse that out in this environment and be objective I think is one of the challenges.

Adam:

And there is, I’m going to say unfortunate, right, sort of lend my personal bias to that, but I think some unfortunate data that’s been published, studies around the promotability, those present having a greater likelihood of promotion than those who are not and in some cases, because … Back to this. It’s easier, it seems easier to tell who’s better at their job than others based on how often they’re around, just whether or not I can see them, or a manager can see them. I just don’t think our workplaces should be the kinds of environments that perform based on ease of something happening. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we don’t do it, or at least give it a go. So yeah, I mean I’m all for performance, not presence.

Megan:

Yeah, I think there’s an element of also being more purposeful and diligent, maybe, about analyzing performance and productivity. So instead of the once a year feedback, make it monthly. Make sure that managers are checking in more often and people are checking with their managers and you’re kind of on this continual … Giving feedback continually and rewarding feedback continuously and things like that so that it’s top of mind even if you’re not in the same environment.

Bart:

How about the retention side? There’s been several studies that have been released indicating that a lot of workers, more than 50%, would consider looking for a new job if the remote work wasn’t an option, or hybrid, flexible, whatever you want to call it, go forward. I know, Julia you talked a little bit about that in your study and results, I should say, of your presentation last time. How does that play out and what do employers need to do to kind of work on retention in this type of environment?

Megan:

I can jump in here. I would say they need to, first, understand what their employees are looking for. If the employees are saying, “Hey, we’re working fine remote,” take that into consideration when you’re looking at all the other things of can this, should this be done remote, things like that. I think there is an element to the cultural thing and in terms of getting people back into the office, which could help a little bit with retention, we’re looking at updating the work environment, making it a more attractive place to be so that you’re choosing outcome. “This is the place I want to be and I want to go see these people, even if it’s just one day a week,” something like that to kind of attract people back to the office whether it’s just a nice place to be, we’ve got nice amenities, the technology’s better, it’s making my job easier. I think those are kind of all elements that people are looking for.

Bart:

Julia, you mentioned that this is kind of elevated to the board level, right, which that’s a surprise to me but it isn’t when you say it. It makes sense. So what’s your opinion on the talent retention side?

Julia:

Yeah, I mean, just given all these studies that are coming out around how much turnover we’re expecting and how many people may be looking for new jobs and in some cases, exiting their current job without another job, it’s really fascinating and my concern for those companies who have not done what Megan’s describing, right, like listen to employees, understand their sentiment, try to get some flexibility in response, try to not be too prescriptive. It’s perfectly fine to have a communication strategy that’s, “Hey, nobody knows what we’re doing right now because no one’s ever been through a situation like this before, so here’s what we’re going to try. We’re listening to you. We’re going to get feedback and we might pivot after we see if it’s going well or not.”

That is a great communication strategy and some of our clients are actually airing on the opposite, just being quiet, because they haven’t planned through everything and they’re creating a lot of anxiety around that. I just think it’s all very closely connected. People are about to start jumping ship. They’re burning out. They’re exhausted. They may not feel appreciated. They may not have that interpersonal connection they used to have. So all of this is kind of creating a really unique talent challenge as we go forward.

Bart:

Absolutely. Okay. Well, we have about ten minutes left here. I want to shift into the privacy side of the equation here and how it relates to employees. I know as a software provider in this space and the expansion we’ve heard in several discussions today of investment in IoT, another type of data collection mechanisms as well as the whole health backdrop of COVID. Are you vaccinated? Are you not? Do you have a personal situation at home where you’re taking care of someone? All these previously maybe topics or questions that weren’t asked or answered between employer and employee really leads to a lot of data being gathered and some concerns about privacy have come up.

So let’s start out with kind of the IoT side of things, and I’ll let you jump in on this one, Adam. I always remember hearing stories of back in the day when sensors were first coming out. Under the desk people would just rip them off and throw them in the garbage can because they didn’t want Big Brother knowing when they’re there and when they’re not there. Now there’s legitimate business reasons for trying to understand at a more granular level when someone is occupying a space or not and if it’s being used effectively or not, both to serve productivity and the employee but also to manage the economic side of real estate, which is a top five expense for most organizations. So how do you see privacy and the willingness or the reluctance to share data between employee and employer?

Adam:

Yeah, there are very good business reasons, right, for this to happen, but also there have been very good business reasons for this to happen. What we haven’t done very well as an industry, right, thinking about real estate workplace decisions, is we haven’t created or offered to the employee enough value to make more comfortable the trade, this privacy for value equation that as consumers, as individuals in our personal lives, we make in favor of trading privacy for value. Again, I’m speaking generally. I’m sure there are some out there who choose otherwise, but we generally make, every single day, hundreds of times per day when we choose to check Facebook, when we choose to order something on Amazon, when we choose to take that Uber or order lunch from Grubhub. We choose to get value from trading some degree of privacy in lieu of the benefit to us.

So as an industry, we have to start offering a greater degree of value for employees to overcome concerns that the information they’re sharing is going to be used for nefarious purposes, right, or to hold something over their head that would later cause undue concern or pressure or sort of feelings of negativity in some way. When we start doing that, this … I don’t want to say the concerns about privacy will go because they are very real and they are to be addressed, but the resistance will lessen to a much more manageable degree.

Bart:

Yeah, you know, the question is does the employee want the employer to know that level of information? I draw the analogy, too, I see those commercials for Allstate or whatever type of auto insurance where I can take this device, I can stick it on my car and it’s going to say how fast I drive, whether I take the right turns, whether I’m obeying laws. I don’t drive a lot of miles on my car, so it would be the smart thing for me to get because the mileage would show so low, but for some reason, I don’t want them to know my driving habits and I don’t know why. I don’t know if employees have similar types of challenges and thoughts when they go through, “How do they know I’m in the bathroom five times a day, or that I take an hour and a half lunch instead of a 45 minute lunch,” so-

Adam:

It’s always the bathroom. Always the bathroom.

Megan:

It’s always the bathroom. It’s the number one concern. Nobody’s tracking them in the bathroom I would say.

Bart:

What do you guys see, Megan and Julia, in that area? What’s the sentiment on both sides?

Megan:

So in terms of monitoring things in the office, I would say we’re seeing on the employer side, and recommending, quite frankly, to employers to understand how their space is being used and that involves some level of sensors and data and tracking, which is not a great word. I think the first recommendation we have around that is to do it in an anonymous fashion when possible. So you can know how your space is being used by putting in people counters and things that … Sensors that just basically detect heat and you generally you can know that people are there or not there. That’s one way to go.

When we’ve done kind of more interesting scenarios like you’ve got a mobile app and so obviously you can know who that person is, that they’re connected to the Bluetooth in the office or you could find a person that way, we allow some amount of control. So maybe I can switch that part of my app off. I’m in the office today but I don’t want anybody to come find me. I have control over when I’m found and when I’m not.

Then I think the third thing is, as Adam was saying and Julia was saying earlier around the communication is just transparency. Yes, we’re collecting this data and this is what we’re doing with it and just sharing that information with the employee so they at least understand what’s going on.

Julia:

I would just say outside of the sensors, when we’re gathering feedback from employees, we’re also seeing a small amount of employees opt out from responding about preference, about including vaccine/no vaccine. I’m guessing that’s the part they’re really opting out of. “No, I don’t want to make any statements, I don’t want you to know anything about it,” even though asking if you’ve been vaccinated or not and asking them to share that information, that is permissible. Beyond that, you don’t start getting into, “Why? What’s your underlying health condition?” There is a small population of employees we’re hearing from clients, too, who don’t want to disclose.

Bart:

Is it really the separation of work and personal life? I know, as an example, I typically have a personal rule is like I’m not going to friend many people on my social networks that are my work environment. Not that my personal life is something crazy and fun, but I like the separation of it from a work standpoint. Is that maybe some of the psychology behind it? Is there a generational element to this where younger or older individuals are more or less willing to share?

Julia:

I do think we’re seeing a little bit. You’d expect that younger are more and more willing, but there’s a bit of a backlash and we were getting feedback and did see that through these variety of workforce poll surveys we are running that younger employees were certainly feeling the impact more about being away. I don’t think we were surveying them purely about privacy concerns, but there’s other studies that do talk about that, that they’re starting to draw a line more and more between the personal and professional. So maybe it’s a generational, cyclical thing a little bit, Bart.

Adam:

Well, and there’s a component, right, of awareness and control of what to share or for what purpose that information is going to be shared, particularly for younger generations who’ve sort of grown up not believing necessarily that there is no privacy but that they have some role to play in deciding what to share and again, for what purpose and what they get out of it, which again is why this is a very sort of popular topic in data and privacy circles right now. The questions that are being debated around how organizations make use of … Having nothing to do with sort of workplace, how organizations make use of information and data collected by individual users of various platforms, et cetera.

Bart:

All right. Well, we are up at one hour and that’s a wrap for day one of Workplace 2.0. I really appreciate, Adam, for joining Megan and Julia. I know it’s been a long day, but it’s been great information. I think there’s a lot of insight and value that yourselves as well as the other presenters have been able to provide. So thank you very much.

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