Shaping the Post Covid World of Work

Posted in : Webinar Recordings on 18 February 2021
Kevin Empey
Issues covered: COVID-19; Future of Work

In this webinar recording, Kevin Empey of WorkMatters shares his experience of helping organizations to shape their ‘Future of Work’ models for the more blended, post Covid world of work we are all facing. 

While it will be some months before most employers open up their workplace to all employees, planning has already commenced in shaping what the new, blended world of work will look like and how it will be delivered. Over the past year, WorkMatters has been supporting organisations work through and plan what their “Future of Work” will look like in reality and what is needed to prepare their organisations, leaders and employees. 

During the session they share the lessons learned from this work and also what you can do over the coming months to shape a safe, productive and engaging work model and environment for the future. 

Hear what others have done and are doing to shape the future of work – and how Agility will be a critical capability at organisational and individual level into the future.  WorkMatters will also provide details of their Organisational Agility programme which will be offered at a 33% discount to attendees of the upcoming HR Symposium

The Recording


Scott: Good morning, everybody. My name is Scott Alexander. I'm from Legal-Island. Welcome to the latest webinar that we're running here. As you can see, that's Kevin Empey, who's the managing director of WorkMatters. And we're going to be looking at Shaping the Post-COVID World of Work. So there's Kevin and me. Kevin, we met, I think, 12 years ago or 10 years ago on an advanced presentation course. And we both passed, so let's see if they actually did the right thing by passing us.

A slightly different format, if you've joined us before on the webinars. It's going to be a presentation. We wanted to add some value here on this particular subject here. So Kevin is going to give a presentation for about 25, 30 minutes. And then we're going to take your questions.

You can see on your right-hand side of your screen, there's a little question box. So, if you have any questions for Kevin during the piece, send them into that question box, and we'll take them at the end of his presentation.

You will get all the slides. I know that's one of the questions that always comes in. You will get all the slides.

And we also have a nice offer for you as well if you're here today. If you sign up by tomorrow with Vanessa, you can see there, and come to the HR Symposium, which is about Employee Engagement in a Hybrid World, then you'll get that out the early bird price there.

If you're listening in the Republic of Ireland it's €145. If you're in Northern Ireland, it's going to be £145. You contact Vanessa and she will sort you out there.

There's also a special offer. Kevin is running a course on agility that he'll tell you about it later. And if you go to the Symposium, you can get a third of his presentation or his course, a series of modular workshops that he's going to be running later on.

So let's get to Kevin. Obviously, he's the MD of WorkMatters. He's going to explain a few things with you. I'm going to disappear for the next 30 minutes or so. The audience is still coming in, Kevin, as you can see on the right-hand side as the numbers are going up.

If you have to fade out, folks, if you lose something, don't worry, we're recording this and we'll send you the recording as well. But if you want to take part in the discussion, drop your questions into the question box there on the right-hand side and I'll come back around half past 11 and we'll have a little discussion.

So over to you, Kevin.

Kevin: That's right, Scott. Thank you very much. Good morning, everybody, and welcome. I miss your purple shirt there. We didn't quite coordinate our colours. It must be a Lent thing or something like that. I don't know.

But anyway, good morning. Yes, we said we'd spend some time talking about this point about shaping the next phase of work. There was a lot of discussion, particularly since the beginning of the year, really about, "Okay, 2020 was a sense of surviving through all the turmoil of 2020, if 2021 is going to bring us into kind of a back to work or a post-COVID world of work, what's that going to look like, and what are we doing about that?" So a lot of interest in this area.

As Scott says, Kevin Empey, managing director WorkMatters. I guess what we do is really help people, and have been for quite a few years now, in helping with the practical people and leadership consequences of the future of work. Really thinking about, "Well, what are the implications at a practical level in things like digital transformation, in disruption caused by technology?" but also just changing models of work generally, and changing demographics, and other disruptions that have been going on for the last 10, 15 years. We've been just helping with the people and leadership aspects of that, primarily.

And I guess if we move on, when it comes to things like the future of work, which has been with us as a phrase for many years now, it's not an unfamiliar topic. There was no such thing as the future of work before COVID. Here's a typical quote from . . . this is 2016. Really, we were talking about these trends that were hitting us around digital and automotive automation and robotics, etc., changing multiple generations of work.

But it's a bit like with the COVID situation now, it's as if the future is not quite what it used to be. If we look at the COVID consequences, it's brought an acceleration, if you like, or a real focus to "Where is the world of work going?" We have this opportunity and this need and necessity in front of us, whereas some of this future of work debate about what we should do to prepare for the future of work was around, but it was not maybe as urgent compared to short-term issues and short-term demands that we've all been facing for the last 5, 10 years.

But I guess COVID has been, to use the parlance, a circuit breaker in some sense to get us to think about, "Well, actually, what are we looking at now and towards the future?"

And if we peel back the layers of the onion, if you like, on the future of work and look at some of the realities that we're faced with even before COVID, if you strip away all the sort of hype around the future of work . . . and let's face it, there has been a lot of hype, a lot of noise about technology and automation and jobs, etc., being replaced by robots, etc. If you strip away the hype around that, we know that we're left with some realities in terms of what we need to do in our organisations, in ourselves as individuals.

This is coming from research and work with clients around, "Well, let's get to the practical kind of things we need to solve for when we're talking about future work and future work preparedness".

I guess these last two are what we're going to focus on today, which is this idea about work and workplace expectations are changing fast, and they sure are now.

And in fact, expectation management in the post-COVID world will be actually a big issue for us as organisations. But also we've all been experiencing a huge exercise in agility. And this was one of the big topics, I suppose, pre-COVID that people were trying to think about. "How do we bring agility into our organisations for us to be more adaptive, more flexible, more responsive to the speed of change that we know is going on, and indeed, new technologies, etc.?"

But now that we've had that little experiment with agility, the question a lot of people are asking is, "How do we embed that now? How do we take that forward, that agility muscle that we've been developing, how do we sustain that and bring that into our go-forward work models post-COVID so that we're not just having to respond in episodic ways?"

So we thought we'd just explore these two kind of really pressing trends, if you like, that people are talking about now, which is the changing world of work and this agility piece.

So certainly in terms of work and workplace expectations, real acceleration by COVID where people to some extent or another are beginning to redefine what their work and workplace strategies are for the future.

And that's kind of the main topic for this morning. Let's share with you some examples of that, because I guess in our work as early as last spring, and certainly into the summer, some organisations were already thinking about this because they were maybe facing big change in their organisations anyway apart from COVID, or they were facing big choices around how they're going to use their real estate and their property. They were coming up with big lease or purchase agreements or whatever around property.

So they were coming to us and saying, "Well, look, we're going to have to figure out what our new model of work is going to look like, hopefully, post-COVID". Now, when people talked to us last summer, they were talking about September, or Christmas, or whatever, and here we are.

But certainly, it's becoming more of a live issue now for a lot of people as to, "We need to put some planning in place so that we are ready for a post-COVID kind of model of work, and that we're taking advantage of that change to bring in maybe changes to the workforce and the workplace and ways of working that would be good for us to do anyway, and to learn indeed from some of this COVID experience".

So this seems to be on the agenda more and more this year. And this is just bearing that out in terms of employers preparing for permanent shifts. These numbers are not surprising in terms of the extent to which people are thinking about this issue from an employment perspective, that, "We're not going back to the way we were", at least for a lot of business models. "But what are we going back to?" is the question.

And for employees as well, the COVID experience, if you like, has been a mixed one, hasn't it? I mean, we all are feeling this. And we were just talking before coming on about the relative dip that people are in right now. Maybe we've had a couple of highs, if you like, in terms of the last 12 months or so where, "Hey, we know we can do this. No commute. I can work from home, etc. Maybe there are some positives". And then we have a bad day and then a good day, and it's been a roller coaster for us as employees.

But just as employers are looking ahead, we as employees as well need to look ahead to say, "Well, actually, hopefully, we're getting closer to a day when the restrictions, if you like, around where we work are not going to be as present as they are now. We're going to have choice or we're going to at least have the ability to go to an office again or to go to a workplace". The question then to ask is, "Well, what does that look like? And what extent of flexibility can we expect as employees?"

So this is where people are at the moment, is trying to figure out . . . this is like a spectrum of flexibility, if you like. The left-hand side reflects maybe where we were pre-COVID largely, for instance. It's not the same for everybody, obviously, but for some it was, "Yeah, the office was the place where we did work and where we experienced work". And I guess COVID has been the opposite, the other end of the spectrum.

I guess as we try to chart the future here, we're now beginning to ask some of these questions about, "What's our culture going to look like? What's our work model going to look like? To what extent are we going to allow flexibility and bring flexibility in to the workplace?" So it's this spectrum that people are trying to figure out.

And in coming up with a plan, coming up with a roadmap on this at a very high level, maybe something like this, which is, "Well, we at least need to create a bit of a vision". And very important at the leadership level as well to just get some consensus as to, "Well, what is the future state now for us?"

And if not in 2021 . . . because 2021 is going to be a messy year, let's face it. In 2022 and beyond, what is the kind of desired state that we're facing in terms of future work and the way in which we want to work and workplace to be? Taking advantage of some of the experiments or realities that we've had in the last year, and also maybe bringing in some cultural changes that we were already planning on, and that this provides an opportunity to do.

So organisations beginning to try to frame their story, if you like, in something like this, which is, "What's the vision? Where are we now? We had a normal way of working before COVID. We've had some learnings during COVID. And if we layer on our objectives for the future, that really represents our story so far. We create a vision of what that future is going to look like".

And now is the tough bit, right? The interesting bit in the middle as to how we use this time, in 2021 particularly, to take some of these steps to develop a transitionary phase into that future.

And again, just to give you some examples maybe of what that has looked like for some others who have already maybe moved down this direction, if you want to move on there to the next slide.

It is one of the areas that people are doing, is taking a step back to say, "Do you know what? We need to look at work at kind of a holistic level. It's not just about where work gets done, whether it's remote at home or in the office. This is an opportunity for us to think about flexibility in our work models at a wider level, and how work gets done, when it gets done, who does the work, and what work gets done where and what work would be best done in the office, at home, etc."

So just taking time to take stock and look at the extent of flexibility could look like in the future, not just about location. This is one of the practical steps, and we've got a whole framework, a toolkit, around this to help people maybe work through this.

And some of the examples would be where you go out and do research, for instance, with your leadership or your employee base to get an understanding of the level of ambition or change that we're going to be looking at.

Just on the next slide, you'll see some output there, where it actually shows where people have thought about regarding the extent of change they want, and what has worked well and what hasn't worked so well.

And here's an example, for instance, of a framework where you could look at in terms of what the learnings from COVID have been. What are the things and practices that you might want to bring forward, if you like, into that post-COVID world in terms of work and how work was done?

That research I was mentioning . . . for instance, here, if you look at some of the outputs of it regarding . . . doing research with leaders is the next slide I think . . . what the output kind of looks like for maybe leaders, employees, looking to say, "Right. What is the extent . . . if the blue line there is the level of flexibility we had around work before COVID, what is the level of the desired state now in a post-COVID vision?" and to get different opinions about this.

This case study was interesting. The level of ambition and the scale of change that this organisation was seeing was quite significant. And they were actually saying, "Oh, gosh, we really do want to push this out".

The interesting thing when we benchmark this data against the market, their level of ambition was no more than other organisations, which really brought up the question for them that, "Actually, it's not a question of wanting our choosing to do this. We're going to probably have to offer a more flexible work model in the future, because it's going to become a competitive issue in the market in terms of talent". People will be comparing your flexible work strategy, if you'd like, to competitors, and maybe voting with their feet.

But learning, again, as earlier said, from the COVID experience, what's worked, what hasn't worked, but also making sure we take on board the messages about what is best done together as a group, and what can be done remotely, etc.

So this is the kind of work, I suppose, we just wanted to show you in terms of what's going on right now.

Another aspect of work too in this holistic design of work is doing what we call a persona analysis. It's just maybe taking a number of representative roles and really playing out "How is this role . . ." Scenario testing. What's this role? What's a day in the week going to look like, or what's the week going to look like for some of these roles? How much of their tasks, when you break it down, their activities are routine or creative or planning? And therefore, based on that analysis, what extent would flexibility be possible?

So it's not just about asking people what they might like to do in terms of flexible . . . and by the way, Mondays and Fridays will be pretty popular, as we know, to work from home.

But actually, we need to think about also what the role requires, what the job requires. And different roles might have a different rhythm, if you like, and different aspects of how they work best, either at home, remotely, or in the office.

The collaborative workspaces that come up, for instance, might look different for the technology function than they do for the marketing function. So what we're finding is that this work design is helping, even done at quite high level, even now to the extent on this page. It is about just helping to inform decisions, give some data to inform decisions, rather than just saying, "Oh, it's going to be roughly this or that".

So there are a couple of poll questions actually, and I could miss out on one. We might come to that. Maybe we take that first poll, Rolanda, if you like, and then we might look at the second one as well.

We'd love to just hear from you as to what extent have you started to formulate your plans for a post-COVID work model and back-to-office strategy? Just tell us a little bit about that. How would you answer that? And we'll come back to that question. It's an interesting one, as I say. We find two or three categories of employers at the moment, some that have already moved and created some of their plans and principles. Some are starting to do that and others not yet started because they've just got other priorities.

Interesting, isn't it? So just started 52%. Planning complete, smaller number. Well underway. Not yet started. Okay. Good. Thank you for that. Hopefully, that's interesting data for you to take back to your teams.

I suppose to ask another question around this idea of flex. We've talked about the flex working piece, and the extent to which you see that in your future work model. Answer this question. Assuming your plans involve some continued remote working where the role permits . . . because we know some roles won't permit that flexibility. So excluding those ones, where flexibility is possible, how many days will likely be office-based?

Again, this might be helpful data. So the one to two days, for instance. The two to three days. Yeah, interesting. That's the sort of current number going around quite a lot. Thank you very much for that, Rolanda. Maybe we'd be able to share those results for people as well so that they have this for their own organisations and conversations.

But that 60%, for instance, is often used as sort of a 60% occupancy, if you like, as sort of a guide, and that's helping property and everything and other decisions.

But the thing is this kind of work needs to be done, this sort of scenario testing, because for some teams, it could be 80%. For some, it could be 20%. Until you kind of dig into the detail a little bit about really scenario testing how work will be done in the future, will you be able to come to that number?

And then the question will be dealing with the equity and fairness across the organisation, too, about how much flexibility is allowed. And then, of course, we have the legal situation too, which we might mention later. How's that going to affect things as well in terms of, certainly, in the South of Ireland, the whole area around the plan to bring it into law in terms of the right to flex?

So, hopefully, that's just giving you a little sense of the extent to which planning is happening, and then the extent to which flexibility will be part of working life, and some of the analysis that can be done to maybe help with that.

What this kind of analysis then does . . . I know this is busy. I don't expect you to take all this in. It's the idea to use that sort of data both from . . . remember, we showed you some employee data that we're picking up, some market data, and also some of this role analysis data. To use that to inform us around our work plan.

So we have a programme of work between now and whenever you are thinking ... certainly, some folks I've been working with have been saying, "We need to create a plan that brings us to a potential start of September for a new way of doing things". Others are saying it's going to be phased. "We're going to phase in teams". Others are saying, "We're going to give ourselves 2021 to really work this out and 2022 will be the real year when we execute".

So all the property and technology, people, and process planning is happening in this year. And this is a way in which we start to help people, I guess, focus or filter through all of the work that needs to be done.

There's some very basic infrastructure, if you like, pieces of work that just have to find their way into the critical path of your planning towards a post-COVID work model.

And then there are also some foundational areas as well, governance, legal, like we just mentioned, leadership being on board, communications engagement. There are some really foundational pieces, again, that have to find themselves into the critical path.

And then there are going to be some other areas like people, policies, and processes that maybe we can adapt along the way. Maybe not all of them have to be completely reinvented. We can tweak them, and we can work with what we have. But this is just one way of helping to, I guess, categorise and organise some of the work that is underway in terms of plotting and planning the future work model in organisations.

And finally in this section, just in terms of the work and workplace, again, just to help you maybe, some lessons learned. As I say, we've been doing this now for some months, and not just in Ireland, but internationally, where some of the plans have been probably quicker than maybe here in terms of our experience.

Some folks will have been working towards this sort of new model of work post-COVID as early as last summer, as I mentioned, and have started to execute those plans now. These are just some of the lessons learned. And I won't go through all that, but just might help.

I think the second one there about managing the conversation through this process is very important. There are going to be expectations regarding the return to work. "What's it going to look like for me? Can I have Mondays and Fridays, please?" Well, if everybody says Mondays and Fridays, it's going to be nobody in the office on Mondays and Fridays, and the place will be creaking on Wednesdays.

So the messaging around all this, and putting it in a positive way as well around the opportunity that is here amongst everybody to engage in what the next world of work is going to look like.

We have found that in all employee surveys that we've done as part of these programmes, and projects and exercises, there's kind of record participation in focus groups or in the research tools that we have, because people are really vested in what that shape of work is going to look like.

And it's a way to also maybe lift people outside the tough kind of yards they're going through right now. The realities of current work is to get them a little bit involved in what the future is going to look like, and you certainly find energy coming back into teams when you get into that.

Particularly for people managers as well. They really have a huge, "What's my role? How is it going to change for me? I'm going to be operating in a blended world, which is kind of more messy even than a remote world, and certainly different to what I was used to pre-COVID. So help me understand my role and how I can be enabled".

So communications, leadership enablement, leadership consensus, a lot is coming up. The agile approach, and we'll talk about that shortly, being very helpful because we need to move through things. If anybody says to you that this kind of work plan and this transition is a linear thing where once you get to Step 62, you take a left, it's not going to be that clear. It's going to be more messy. We know we're going to have to move and learn and adapt as we go here, and to do just enough analysis without doing over amount to get the organisation used to the idea that we're going to be experimenting this and trying things.

Number six there, iteration. One organisation went and said, "Look, we're starting with a principle of two days out of the office for those roles that can. We're going to trial it, but we're not giving any commitments because as we experience together what that feels like and looks like, we may need to tweak it". So I think kind of a sensible approach rather than trying to kind of answer every single scenario upfront.

Thinking about tooling and targeted training and getting some of that training done now so that people can take that step when it comes, and agility being part of that, helping them prepare to be agile, if you like, in what's going to be a very different kind of work dynamic for them.

And then understanding what the people and culture implications of all of this are, and focussing on the one or two or three areas of culture, or behaviour, or of skills that really will make the difference for success in the post COVID world. There are a ton of things we could do. But actually, there are two or three behaviours or practices that if we got them right, we would be doing as much as we can to prepare people for the next phase. So there are just some ideas of the lessons learned.

To finish, we just wanted to talk to you a little bit about one of the on-going . . . because every time we do this work, the question of agility comes up, the idea of, "How we can adapt . . . we've learned so much about being agile, but what does it mean now in the post-COVID world? How do we bring agility into our organisations and into our own working lives personally as a more sustainable thing, and capability, if you like, so that we can thrive in the next phase rather than just cope and get by?"

So what does that look like? It's about time we had that conversation. It's about time we developed those skills. Because agility is maybe one of those words or concepts that is often thrown out there, but it's not really very well defined, or indeed executed very consistently.

We know this from the research about how important it is. And that last quote there from McCann and Selsky, for instance, says, "Agility along with resilience, at organisation, team, and individual level, is a key adaptive quality required for dealing with change". And we are going to be facing more change in this blended world of work.

So this agility and resilience relationship is a skill set, if you like, that we think is very valuable to prepare people for the next phase, and indeed to help them kind of learn from their COVID experience too about how agile they have been themselves, and to use that experience for their future career to be future-fit and future-ready, etc.

So, for instance, this next slide just gives you a sense of when we talk about agility with organisations, it needs to be kind of understood or looked at a number of different levels.

For instance, HR folks really need to take attention to the organisational agility. How are we enabling agility with our HR programmes and practices, with our culture, etc.? How is agility working at team level in terms of practices? But at individual level, are we doing what we can to help people be resilient and agile in their own selves and how they conduct their work, particularly with so much change going on? And then, of course, all of that influenced by the leaders' role and the leadership agility question.

So we find that this model just helps when you talk about agility to . . . it helps to kind of isolate where it is we might need to do some work, where we're maybe stronger, and where we maybe need to develop.

And that's led us to develop an organisational agility programme, which also looks at the individual journey as well. So we know from our research about what the qualities and skills are of personal agility.

And so what we're finding is that this is quite popular amongst people thinking, "Whatever goes on as organisation or team level, what are the things I could do to help me thrive in a more agile work environment, a more complex and a more fast-moving environment?" But also, "What are the skills that will future-proof my career, that'll help me keep agile in terms of my role, my career, and my skills?"

We won't go into this today, but this is some very good guidance regarding the soft skills, if you like, of individual agility.

One thing we've done in our training . . . we do consulting and training, and in our training programmes, we've brought this to an online platform now where we look at agility through these different lenses from the organisational context, but also Course 2 there, the individual agenda, what team agility looks like, what leadership agility looks like. And indeed, for HR and the people and talent agenda, what does agility look like from that perspective?

This is an online programme now that we offer, where there's a lot of information and content on the online campus, which people look at before them coming on to live interactive sessions where we can really look at the practical application of agility and how you bring it in to organisations, and particularly how we bring it into the post-COVID work models of the future.

This is the programme that was referred to that we're offering a special discount on, either on the individual courses or on the whole programme itself, for folks who are attending the Symposium next month.

This programme launches at the end of the month, so about the 23rd I think of March. We'll be sending more information on this if it's of interest.

So just to wrap up, because I'd love to get into some of the questions and conversations with Scott. This point about really the new next phase of work providing an opportunity to reset work and working life, and agility becoming something that we can look at as a more deliberate capability, and to get very practical.

We've all had really practical individual examples now of agility and flexibility in the last number of months. So how can we use that experience and create a more deliberate and conscious approach to that into the future?

And certainly, even bringing it down to the individual level is something that we're finding very important for people as well. You can talk about agility sometimes, Scott, in abstract terms, but when you bring it down to the individual level, that's where it's of real value. Organisations are essentially made up of individuals, right? So we need to understand what that looks like.

Role of Line Managers in Shaping the Future

Scott: Yeah. That was interesting, Kevin, with that slide you had at the beginning with the roller coaster and how people are going through a whole gamut of emotions. One of them would be, "I feel great today. I feel agile. I can do all kinds of things. I'm superhuman". And maybe not the next day, but we're getting beaten down by this constant change to rules and such like.

People won't be agile all the time, and I think that there needs to be an understanding. I've never seen the how, what, where, when, who slide before there in that regard. But just the way that managers themselves have to be much more understanding . . . and it may be because we're all going through it. We're going through the same thing. We're going through the same emotions. I don't know if you've any comments or not.

Kevin: I think the manager agenda is something very sensitive too. We've had focus groups with managers talking about . . . and it's a really good time to catch them now, because they're living through this now, and you're asking them to say, "Well, what is the future going to look like, and what do you need to enable you to be successful so that you have more good days than bad days?"

And some of them are very, very interesting. Some of them are saying, "I have this pre-COVID way of managing my team, and what I've been doing in COVID is trying to just bring that model and do that remotely. But I'm exhausted, and it's just such a struggle to do that and to be there for every individual and to be doing all the wise, responsible things I should be doing as a manager. But in a remote setting it's just really hard, and I'm only learning that now. I'm doing my 12-hour days and trying to keep up on top of this".

And then you've got other managers who are saying, "I could see that from the beginning. And in fact, I had some experience . . . " They're saying, "I had to adjust my mental model regarding what being a manager is because I simply can't be everywhere and do everything perfectly. I can't be the Zoom entertainer. I can't read body language of 12 people at the same time. I just can't. So, therefore, I'm going to have to come up with mechanisms so that I can be . . ."

The whole idea of servant leadership, Scott, is coming up. So I'm manager, but I need you as a team member to help this relationship work and to help me help you, if you like, so that I can maybe start to delegate more to team members, and I can start to spread the responsibility of the team.

So it was very interesting. Some managers are already saying, "I know I need a new model for myself in terms of managing folks". And they're going to need that change again, because the blended word is going to be quite messy, isn't it? I'm going to have two people ringing in and dialling in from home, I'm going to have six people in the meeting room, and I'm trying to juggle all that. Unless I create principles and practices to compensate for that.

So I think the role of the people manager is a really, really important one for us to start really understanding and talking to them about what they need.

Scott: We've a number of questions coming in, Kevin, so I'm going to try and get through quite a few of them.

One that has come in, as I anticipated, is, "Can we get the slides?" And the answer is yes. We'll send the slides out to everybody.

Addressing Poor Performance of Remote Workers

But there's a question here that came in. "I have some concerns about addressing poor performance for remote workers. Do you have any thoughts on how to handle this? Because not everyone is performing well".

Kevin: It's one of those ones. And I think this is probably going to come up in the Symposium, actually, this very topic, about what's going to change. And if we were poor at dealing with poor performance before, it's been even tougher in COVID, and now it's going to continue. So that's why we're bringing some of that legacy with us.

But there's no doubt that I think it's an opportunity, perhaps, to tweak the performance management conversation.

I had a conversation with one company doing exactly this transition, and they're actually changing it to being . . . rather than performance management, they're calling it expectation management. So they're saying, "What are my expectations of you and what are your expectations of me?"

We're going to have to be more grown up about this. Also, the same organisation dealing with this tension between, "You've got more autonomy now and flexibility to get in or out of the office, but with that flexibility comes responsibility. So what's the responsibility? What's the tweak in terms of our performance contract almost, or our expectations that we need to tweak so that we don't have to have the tough conversation?"

I guess it's setting themselves up for success on that issue is what folks are trying to do to create maybe a revised model for how that conversation can take place.

Scott: Okay. Moving . . . oh, sorry.

Kevin: I was just going to say it's the same issues, though. Good conversations and . . .

Staff Surveys – When to Conduct These?

Scott: We'll discuss that at HR Symposium, as you say, but there's one here just about the surveys that you were chatting about. "My leadership team want me to do a survey on what all staff would like. I'm afraid of asking the question, because too many want what we cannot fulfil and will end up disappointed. Would you recommend an all-staff survey at the beginning or the end of the planning stage?"

Kevin: Great question. What we've definitely noticed is a shift in this, and we're very sensitive to it in the work we do on the surveys. Probably up to now, a lot of the surveys have been very much about, "Are you okay? What do you need?" It's in a pandemic. You're home-schooling. You've got all these responsibilities. So it's been about a very supportive kind of dialogue, if you like, through some of the research, right?

This research we're talking about is changing the tone of the conversation a little bit to say, "As we look now towards the future, we would, yes, love to hear what your preference would be, because we will put that into the mix. But we also have a number of questions which ask tougher . . . start the dialogue to dial up the conversation a bit to say, 'Well, if you were to have that extra flexibility, what would be the impact on your teams, on your customer, on your performance, on the organisation?'"

So, to balance that research with not just preferential stuff, but actually about getting their views as to impact of that. So, if you're all doing all this wonderful flexibility, what will the impact be?

And it's slightly educational, isn't it, Scott? You're kind of sending messages that actually there is an impact of flexibility. We are researching that as well as your preferences and we're going to be putting together a model that is a balance between the business, the organisation requirements, and you. But do not expect this to be a free for all. And that's what I meant right up there about the lessons learned. It's about managing the conversation.

Scott: I suppose in mini way we've all done it with regard to holidays. So, unless you have a closure of a business, you're trying to balance up holidays, and same with flex time. But I don't know how well managers have actually managed all that kind of thing, and how it's management led, I feel like, as opposed to led by certain employees. There are a lot of challenges for managers going forward simply by the distance.

The one thing I keep coming back to is that we're sharing the experience. I've had days where I'm sure I'm rubbish, quite frankly. I just can't get going. Some days you wake up . . . I never used to have that. But I find now just working from the same place, looking out the same window every day, not meeting people . . .

There was a question there about performance. You're not getting together to spark the way that you used to do. You'd do training and white boards and you'd be moving around the room and doing physical activities. A lot of that is tough now. And to get around that and recognise the difficulty that we're all having, I think sharing those experiences will maybe help get people on board.

Kevin: I agree with you. And also to energise people that that's not the experience. We are going to have those moments back. We're going to be able to craft what those collaborative and connection experiences are going to be because we won't be restricted anymore. So that's part of this kind of messaging. What we're trying to do is to create a model that works for us.

So I think that sense of owning the dialogue and kind of changing the question is helpful to get people to see they have a share in what the future is, but it's not going to necessarily be a free-for-all as it were.

Scott: Okay. There's a question in here. "How likely do you think the right to flexible working will be brought in the South?" It's going to come, but it'll be the right to request.

We're also dealing with that, and the right to disconnect is coming along as well, I would imagine. But we'll deal with that in the legal session on the 5th of March.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Hybrid Working

Scott: Question here. "How would you recommend organisations measure the effectiveness and build the business case for hybrid working, including the benefits for the business and customers?"

Kevin: Yeah, that's another great question. In the roadmap we have for this work, it's actually right up there in that first phase along with the engagement and leadership consensus piece, is the business case question. It's to say, "Before we launch into this, have we considered even at a high level what the hard and soft costs are going to be of a blended kind of world, and also the hard and soft benefits of the future state?"

Now, you can spend months doing this, or you can just spend a couple of days doing this.

But one interesting thing we did, for instance, in terms of the hard benefits from the employee . . . and the employer, by the way, I should have said. So hard costs and benefits, soft costs and benefits, and then looking at that from two points of view, the employee and the employer.

What we did with about 2,000 or 3,000 staff was they were able to map . . . because they had people's home addresses, HR, etc. They were able to map the commute model for this organisation, before and after, if you like, and they were able to able to quantify the actual time on the road savings and the costs involved, and put that into that equation about the mixture of what's going to be achieved.

So the answer is kind of, yes, it is important to look at that, but making sure that it's not just hard costs, it's soft costs as well.

And the other point I just make about your manager point and the holidays idea, we're finding . . . it just might be interesting for people as they're framing some of their strategies. Guideline-driven versus rules-driven type of approach to the future, too. Some favouring guidelines because each team will be different, and others are saying, "We need hard rules, because to be fair to everybody, that means then I am not going to get accused of bias or favouritism". So, therefore, this tension between guideline-driven and rules-driven is another topic that comes up.

Scott: Okay. There are a number of questions coming here, and we can follow them up. Kevin is speaking at the HR symposium, and you see the slide in front of you there, along with several other top speakers that we've got. We'll send you a copy of the programme. So, if you come along, obviously you'll get the discount on Kevin's agility course.

Logistics of Employee Surveys

But maybe to wrap up here, there's a question here about . . . let me get the right one. "I love the expectation management comment. How would you do an employee survey if not all staff have work emails?" I mean, just those practical issues with people that have to go into work, and you've never had a staff email because you're working on the shop floor or whatever. What do you do about things like that?

Kevin: Again, I suppose this has been prompted by new methods of employee research and engagement, which because of COVID and remote, people are more used to doing this now remotely. So what we've done in that situation is actually come up with a hybrid almost between a focus group and a survey. In other words, a bit like what we've done today: having engagement with staff, and that could be hundreds of people or it could be smaller groups, but intersperse that structured conversation with some polling and some research, some questions, so that you get some hard data out of that conversation as well.

So there might be other alternatives than just a focus group or just a survey. There are blended models that are out there now as well. So happy to follow that up if somebody is interested.

Scott: Okay. Thank you, everyone, for listening. That was Kevin Empey from WorkMatters. You can contact Kevin. We have his details coming up as well.

If you want to come along to the HR Symposium, you can type "yes" in the question box right now, but we'll get back to you anyway. And of course, you've got that offer there, which ends tomorrow.

Our next webinar that we have, I think, actually is a new series, Kevin. You'll be glad to know. We're going to have "An Audience With", and it's "An Audience With RDJ". Ronan Daly Jermyn are going to be speaking to us about a number of employment issues. And the first one is going to be looking at the bullying code or the unified code on bullying, statutory defence to harassment, and dealing with WRC claims.

So that was Kevin from WorkMatters. Hopefully, we'll see you at the HR Symposium, if not before. I've been Scott Alexander. Thank you very much, everybody, for listening. You'll get the recording. We'll send the recording out, we'll send you details of the HR Symposium, and, indeed, the agility course that Kevin is doing as well.

So thank you very much. Thank you, Kevin. It's been brilliant. I think you rightfully passed that advanced presentation course. Thanks very much. I'll see you later. Bye.

Kevin: Thanks. Take care, everybody. Bye.

This article is correct at 18/02/2021

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Kevin Empey

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