2022 seems to have been the year that hybrid working really got into its stride. We've covered many aspects of hybrid and other ways of working topics during this year.
This episode is a look back at some of the highlights!
Here's a quick overview of the topics in this episode:
AWA Host: Karen Plum
Guests (in order of appearance and episode number if you want to check them out):
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00:00:00 Karen Plum
Hello there. It's nearly the end of 2022 and another 12 months of our podcast. We've had some amazing guests this year and we've covered a range of topics, including well-being, circular economy and of course, everyone's favorite - hybrid working.
We've also had a few more quirky episodes, including one about the world of work at the UK Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing St.
So let's take a wander back through 2022 to rediscover the insights and inspiration from the 36 guests that have contributed to those 22 episodes.
00:00:37 INTRO: Welcome to AWA’s Podcast, which is all about the changing world of work and trying to figure out what's right for each organization, because we know that every one is unique.
We talk to people who have walked the walk, who've got the T-shirt, and who've learned lessons that they're happy to share with us. I'm your host Karen Plum, and this is the DNA of work.
00:01:02 Karen Plum
If 2021 was the year when we had to really focus on the relationships we have with our colleagues, then 2022 was the year we really made inroads into making hybrid working really work. And if we personally couldn’t make it work where we were, we looked elsewhere. Phrases like the great resignation slipped into everyday speech - but it was hard to really get a solid handle on how much of that was actually going on.
On the podcast, we featured some great stories from organizations that had really put a lot of effort into consolidating their position – getting much clearer about their rules for the hybrid world, giving much more certainty to staff and managers and involvement in the creation of how things would work within each team.
It has been interesting to see the continuation of the theme of organizations trying things out, experimenting, to find the best way of operating. Here are three of AWA’s clients explaining the approach – you’ll hear from Liz Westcott, Managing Director EMEA of global market research company Mintel; Margot Power, who at the time was Faculty Change Manager in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Manchester; and Head of Organizational Change at the British Heart Foundation, Sarah Cousins:
00:02:21 Liz Westcott
Interestingly enough, an awful lot of our new starters want to be in the office more than one or two days a week. We're finding that they like to be in three days a week, 'cause they're building relationships with people, they're getting to know the business. So that flexibility is there for people to choose - how often they want to be physically in the office or work from home.
It's a lot to monitor. It's a lot to plan for, but I think going in with a test it, try it, listen to feedback and continue to develop and evolve, I think that's been our approach, constantly communicating around that as well.
00:02:57 Margot Power
The University put some principles in place last summer, so it wasn't a policy, it didn't have any hard and fast rules. It had some suggestions and some recommendations around how teams and individuals might approach hybrid working. There were obviously some kind of boundaries put in place, but really it was to test.
And I think that was partly in return for the flexibility and adaptability that staff have shown, so it was OK, over to you now, let's see what works, let's test it and that really is testing the hybrid working, which allows people to work from home some days of the week, to be on campus some days of the week and to really test what works depending on the role and the requirements.
So there's always been a thread running through, which means that we have to think about business needs, so it's not all about what suits individuals, it's about what suits the business. But if your role doesn't require you to be on campus five days a week, then what is the most beneficial way to approach that.
00:03:58 Sarah Cousins
The last thing I just want to call out in terms of success is experimenting as you go along. So we set up this program with the test and learn approach and it's been just absolutely vital, because I think that everything has just, as you're all aware, continued to change and you know as you go along, you're dealing with train strikes and heat waves and all sorts of things.
As we've gone along, we've taken feedback on board, because we set it up with that open, honest, we don't have all the answers to this, we don't know all the answers 'cause we haven't gone through this before. It's meant that we've been able to experiment and iterate and kind of deal with challenges as we've gone along.
00:04:43 Karen Plum
These examples show that organizations were transitioning from positions of ambiguity, to providing the clarity their people needed. It also continued to be clear that both staff and managers needed to adapt how they were working together. During 2020 and 2021, many managers struggled to adapt to managing people they couldn’t see – a new skillset was clearly required.
Throughout 2022 we’ve talked many times about the power of developing a new working arrangement together – both manager and team. A technique we call the working together agreement is a cornerstone of this approach, as my colleague and AWA Senior Associate Helen Guest explains
00:05:26 Helen Guest
At its simplest, the working together agreement really is, how we’re going to work together. It's around what is it that it's OK to do? What is it that it's not OK to do? And how are we going to explain that to each other? It's the output from a dialogue and I think one of the challenges people have faced and they've talked about these, and when we've talked with some of our clients is, that a lot of people focus on the location part of that conversation. So where are we going to work?
And particularly with the world of work being so different now, whereas previously they might just predominantly have been in an office, now there's more choice and people have become used to working in different places. And a lot of people don't want that flexibility to change.
00:06:18 Karen Plum
In that episode, Helen talked about the importance of the Leaders developing a working together agreement of their own – to agree how they as a team will work together. It’s a great starting point for managers.
After the break, we’ll be looking at the vexed subject of meetings – seemingly such a scourge for so many of us!
00:06:42 MESSAGE: Are you changing the way your organization works? Perhaps you're trying to make sense of hybrid working, or looking for ways to strengthen your virtual leadership skills? Maybe you're trying to work out how much space you really need?
AWA works with organizations to figure out the answers to these challenges. If you'd like to talk to us, go straight to our website advanced-workplace.com. We transform the world of work for the better - it's in our DNA.
00:07:14 Karen Plum
Welcome back. During the pandemic, meetings become overwhelming as people were still adjusting to not seeing each other. It seemed that online meetings took the place of all sorts of interactions and people struggled to get any work done.
Some organizations have tried to tackle this head on, as AWA’s Senior Associate and change management expert Anne Balle outlines:
00:07:38 Anne Balle
So we're actually working with this client on creating tools to help people plan meetings and facilitate meetings in an efficient way. Simple visual tools that are also being coded into existing tools. Tools that avoid that knee jerk reaction. So thinking about, do you really need this meeting? Does everybody really need to be there? Are there some of these participants that don't actually need to? These participants you've invited - what's their role? You know how are they expected to contribute to this purpose?
What is the purpose of the meeting? Can you be very, very clear on the purpose of the meeting? Is there a rational goal for the meeting and an experiential goal? So what's the experience that you want people to have in the meeting? But also, what's the rational goal of it? And what's the format that we're using for the meeting? Is it the right kind of meeting? So just thinking those things through.
And the interesting thing with that is, again, it's really not rocket science. It's very nuts and bolts, but it takes not only time but also bandwidth, mental bandwidth for anybody who's planning that meeting. And a lot of people are saying oh, I don't know that you know - I run a lot of meetings doing all that planning Beforehand for my meeting, you know that's not going to be realistic.
But on the other hand, if you have a meeting that's an hour long with 10 participants and you just find, even if you find out one of those participants doesn't need to be there, using 15 to 20 minutes on that is a fantastic business case for the organization.
00:09:13 Karen Plum
Some of the focus on meeting madness has been prompted by people being totally overloaded with their mental and physical health starting to suffer. With this in mind, we looked at the subject of well-being in the summer. Here is Boost Cognition's Trevor Alldridge.
00:09:30 Trevor Alldridge
And a very significant study we've been doing has looked at the beneficial effect to wellbeing of organizing work patterns, so there are days with fewer or no meetings. And the data about that suggests that when people have days with a period of no meetings, perhaps even a day with no meetings at all, it tends to lower the stress markers, it tends to improve that balance that Ken was mentioning between stress and recovery; and more than half of people in our studies exhibit better sleep quality when they have days like that.
So we would say it's really about empowering individuals, and it's about getting the right balance.
00:10:16 Karen Plum
The study used wearable tech to monitor the stress markers by tracking heart rate variability. This provides solid data about what’s really going on for people. During the pandemic, lots of organizations started to think more about wellbeing, but if initiatives are simple tick box exercises, like running an Everest challenge for example, it’s likely they’ll only appeal to the already fit, and fail to draw in a wider community. So it’s vital that organizations take a strategic approach to wellbeing, and to be very clear about what they are going to do and why.
Trevor’s colleague Ken van Someren explains by outlining the pitfalls of not taking a strategic approach:
00:10:59 Ken van Someren
There's a combination of things we can do here. We can look at the wellbeing and the energy levels and the cognitive function of individuals. We can do it at a team level as well, and we can work with organizations to say, well, what are the metrics that matter most to you, and we absolutely should be identifying those up front and then measuring them and evaluating them over time.
Otherwise we are at risk of shooting in the dark here. So that's sort of one area of pitfalls and I think the second one perhaps aligned to that is, there really is no one size fits all, Yes there's good principles, but actually how we embed it, how we do that depends on the organization, their culture, their ways of working, and what their particular challenges are.
The translation into actually making the behaviour change and the wellbeing change for those who need it most or who could benefit the most, isn't always there. So I think they are some of the key pitfalls to watch out for.
00:12:05 Karen Plum
Ken also explained that the impairment to our cognitive function of things like lack of sleep, dehydration, distraction and uncomfortable working environments is akin to being over the UK blood alcohol level limit for driving. That’s pretty serious – nobody wants a workforce that’s drunk on the job!
Moving on, during this year we’ve taken a look at how different industry sectors have been responding to challenges both specific to their sector, and the wider impact of hybrid working and an increase in competition for talent from other companies and sectors.
We talked to experts from the energy, insurance, tech, life sciences, charitable and higher education sectors. It was clear that they shared some challenges – everyone was considering the impact that hybrid working is having on the amount and the configuration of space that they now need.
Here’s Fiona Condron, an Audit Partner at global accountancy, tax and advisory firm BDO, talking about the situation in the charitable sector.
00:13:10 Fiona Condron
So lots of charities that I work with have used this as an opportunity to reduce some of their overheads and the footprint that they have through owning or leasing properties and that's obviously accelerated that need for flexible and hybrid working because they don't have sufficient office space for people.
But I think like all organisations, it's getting the balance right that's important, so whilst encouraging and supporting people to work in a hybrid way, you need to ensure that you can work out the best way of getting people together to collaborate and to sort of innovate, but also to help with people's own personal development through that learning on the job, if you like.
00:13:56 Karen Plum
For universities, the use of space has been changing much like in other industries, but for the academics and researchers, where the allocation of space is part of the social contract that they have with the university, there are still some aspects that continue to evolve.
Here's Nick O'Donnell, Director of Estate and Facilities at Kings College, London.
00:14:16 Nick O’Donnell
Space is part of the social contract that we enter into with our academic and our research community. They want their offices, they want their labs, their workspace, their workbenches. And it's a problem that's been running for approximately 200 years at Kings.
We have made great progress over time and we're considered leading amongst UK universities by virtue of the fact that we have sharing agreements across most of our campuses where academics will effectively share two to an office, recognizing that they're not in that often.
The value of the office has many different meanings to the academic. It's part sanctuary. It's part a place of study. It's part of place to meet students and it is definitely a place to dump their books and their rubbish and their models and their awards. And it's a very, very difficult subject to chase them down on.
00:15:12 Karen Plum
With sustainability and the focus on net zero, energy companies are also looking to reduce their footprints, as AWA's Senior Associate Sofia Fonseca explains.
00:15:24 Sofia Fonseca de Nino
You see a lot of the companies after COVID reducing their footprint because across the board everywhere, including in the tech sector, in the health and science sectors, we see that people are using some of the virtual and remote working capabilities, which means they're coming less days into the office. So that sustainability, net zero reduction mindset is now becoming a footprint reduction driver that we are seeing also on the real estate side.
Generally, if you speak to real estate agents in Houston, and in the Gulf Coast, you see a reduction of footprint - there's a lot of subleases happening right now, and there has been at least a quarter of all the real estate in Houston that was empty, so that's a really big number.
00:16:24 Karen Plum
Another focus for many sectors is the development of the right skills to suit their changing business models. Lisa Whited, Senior Associate at AWA, explains that for some organizations in the insurance sector, there's a need to change their image to attract and retain talent in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
00:16:44 Lisa Whited
The ones that have recognized the need to focus on learning and development also are more successful. You know one of our clients actually created sort of its internal university, if you will, to promote advancement and learning and development, which is really critical when we're hearing from people about you know what would cause them to stay with an organization.
They want a clear path toward advancement and that learning and development, it's an intrinsic human motivator, right, to master new information. So it's beneficial not just to the organization, but also to the individual. It's how we grow and develop as humans and it motivates us. So that is one place I've seen those that are winning the war on talent, if you will are focusing more so on what they can offer their people as a clear path forward.
00:17:35 Karen Plum
Another topic which emerged in our episode on the life sciences sector was about innovation and what those needing to be genuinely innovative need from the workplace experience. Here's AWA’s Director of Innovation, Colombine Gardair.
00:17:49 Colombine Gardair
It's an interesting question. In general, in organization and sectors that have a genuine need for innovation, where innovation is the core of their business, it's not that there is need for the experience be different, I think it's the fact that they are much more inclined to already foster that collaboration and networking and exchanging of knowledge and ideas, because they know this is how it happens.
There's maybe a greater awareness and therefore maybe a greater desire to innovate in how do we do innovation? I'm still a strong believer in face-to-face interaction and I think there is a quality of eye contact, for instance, that you just can't get on the Zoom call and we know that eye contact is something which is key to enabling trust between people.
But I believe there is hope to sustain for a longer period and improve that trust, and that social cohesion in remote ways in between longer period of time not being face to face.
00:19:06 Karen Plum
As we've always said, you have to look at the nature of the work, what's needed in terms of an experience, and then design the workplace and the experience to match the need.
To wrap up the contributions from our sector reviews, here's Michael Hirahara, Principal and co-founder of Fulcrus Investments touching on the conundrum of managers and their promotion from technical roles to being responsible for people. Something we've addressed on the podcast many times.
00:19:34 Michael Hirahara
For these managers, if they were promoted from technical roles, how they got success in those technical roles was they were brilliant at solving technical problems, developing technical solutions, and in some cases driving a process.
So my original background comes from engineering. And I was blessed by having some great mentors and managers and coaches along early in my career, who very quickly told me yeah, what you've done as an engineer is going to kill you if you want to be in management. And it was a rude awakening for me, but you know, thankfully, even though I am a little hard-headed, I did listen, and I learned.
And the experience has a lot to do with realizing that they are human beings, right, that we're working with, not human doings. And so if you focus too much on the doing and not dealing with the human right, not interacting, then as a manager we lose the point.
00:20:51 Karen Plum
The next exciting area we featured on the show is AWA’s new Hybrid Working Index which launched in the summer and saw its second set of results published just before the year's end.
As AWA's Josh Sumner explains, we are tracking two key metrics and also gathering brief insights into what types of hybrid policies each organization are operating - from no policy, to the requirement to attend the office for a fixed number of days each week.
00:21:20 Joshua Sumner
Back in June this year we decided to launch an index to really track the development of hybrid working strategies and office attendance over time and across different organizations and jurisdictions.
We initially launched it to a slightly smaller subset of our contacts in order to get an understanding of how their offices are being used and how many people are coming into their offices.
We're mainly tracking two key statistics, one of which is attendance, which is, very simply the number of people that are coming into the office on any day; and then the other statistic that we're using is desk use, which we calculate by understanding the number of desks that any office has, and then relating that to the number of people that are using the office.
00:22:05 Karen Plum
And here's Founder and Managing Director of AWA Andrew Mawson, explaining why the index was established.
00:22:12 Andrew Mawson
Well, there's a lot of comment and stuff in the news about hybrid working and everybody’s got an opinion about it, whether it's a good idea or a bad idea, or good for the economy or bad for the economy. And there are some very powerful forces in play, particularly around the property industry.
And we just felt that it was right and proper for an independent party like ourselves to be trying to track what's going on here, because I think in the minds of many senior executives - spoken this way by one or two - an aberration, in which you know, the world had gone mad and everybody was working at home and nobody was coming into the office.
So what we want to try and do is just track the reality and to see whether in fact people are returning to pre pandemic normal life and to get some objective data on the table.
00:23:06 Karen Plum
Having established that the much lower levels of office attendance compared to before the pandemic aren't showing any signs of changing, Andrew concludes that organizations need to start changing their views about what this means for space, for workplace experiences and for their people.
00:23:23 Andrew Mawson
If you think about now, we've got people on average attending the office one and a half days a week and that means that they're not attending three and a half days a week. Well, in the old world, that statistic was turned around the other way. And so that is a very profound change, really, when we start thinking about the way we go about managing communities of people and maintaining things like visibility and trust and managing to build community and all those sorts of things.
And those are not things really that many managers had to focus on quite so strongly. So I think we're at a very profound moment here, where in order to be able to deliver success, there is no doubt in my mind that senior leaders in organizations are really going to need to shift their thinking. And if you look at what has been happening and it’s very much an over generalization, but I do think from the data what you see is that the vast majority of people want a different kind of life.
00:24:33 Karen Plum
And at the end of 2022 I have to agree that the seismic shift that we've seen over the last three years doesn't seem to be reversing. There really is no going back.
The next round of data gathering for the index will start in March 2023, so if you'd like to get involved, head to our website advanced-workplace.com and send us a message on the contact page. It's free to take part, and you'll get a report and an invitation to a workshop to discuss the results.
And finally, in recognition of the climate emergency, we had a fascinating discussion about the circular economy, with the Managing Director of SOENECS David Greenfield. SOENECS stands for SOcial, ENvironmental and EConomic Solutions.
David gave me a simple explanation about the concept of the circular economy.
00:25:24 Dr David Greenfield
So the circular economy is best understood when we compare it to the linear economy in which we currently live. We currently take resources out of the ground in many cases, produce things, consume things and generate waste. This has some problems with it and I'm just going to highlight three.
Firstly that the population is growing faster than the scarce resources that we currently use for the linear model. We use a lot of non-recyclable materials and fossil energy that cannot be easily regenerated.
Second, we know all about the environmental issues that we have on this planet, including the quantity of CO2 put into the atmosphere, changes in temperature, availability of clean water, and the existence of non-degradable elements in the biosphere. These are all significant threats to our current model of living.
And the third issue, which is key, is to understand the opportunity of circular economy. In many cases we are actually losing money. We're losing value. We're losing materials. And in particular when we waste things, we lose those materials that have been used to create something; lost the energy used to create that product, and we're also throwing away water.
So fundamentally we're currently working in a linear model that is throwing away money.
00:26:48 Karen Plum
The suggestion that resonated most with me when I chatted with David was that the time for developing strategies is past. People now have to act. We're running out of time and the planet’s burning as so many of us will have seen this year through heatwaves, massive fires and droughts. So this is the time to try something new to help save our planet and we'll be returning to this and many other topics on the podcast in 2023.
My thanks to all the guests that came on to the DNA of work podcast during the year. Without your insights and willingness to share your expertise, we wouldn't have a show.
And thank you for listening. If you've recommended the show to a colleague or a friend, thank you for doing that. Recommendation is the best way to grow your podcast audience.
I look forward to your company in 2023 as we continue to explore the changing world of work. It's in our DNA.
00:29:01 CLOSE: If you'd like to hear future episodes of the DNA of work, just follow or like the show. You can contact us on our website, advanced-workplace.com. Thank you so much for listening. See you next time. Goodbye.