March 29, 2022
Making sense of an uncertain but energetic return to some sort of normal
The first Omnirama event on the 23rd of March launched the series exploring different factors challenging the world of work in a time of prevailing uncertainty. Underlying Ominirama’s raison d’etre is that recent events have turned the status quo on its head with some major structural and systemic changes taking place. Nobody seems to have any clear idea of how to deal with this enormous transformation in the ways we work All the playbooks and all the guidance that we have all relied upon for so many years have now gone out the window.
The main question we have to ask ourselves is: How do we make sense of the uncertainty we’re facing today?
The challenges we face indicate one major focus area – that we need to be really clear about the link between people and place. To help people explore that link, which we’ve never had to really think about before. The reason being that the siloed thinking in the workplace, for example CRE, HR, IT, leadership development and other organisational departments all did their own thing. Business leaders take that as ‘the norm’ as it’s been going on for years. Providing a workforce to meet the very different demands of 21st century post-pandemic working has now become mission critical.
We need to have really honest, open conversation about what are we going to do about the implications for all of us in the ever-changing world of work. However we want to approach it differently, in terms of looking at everything through the lens of people, policy, leadership, and wellness.
The idea is that we will not actually give you an answer and this is the difference. Omnirama is not here to give the answers. We see ourselves as a platform which fuels debate and question things, giving you insights into how we can work with uncertainty, so together we can co-create solutions.
Our first event focused on the ‘Uncertainty of People’ and our four key speakers kickstarting the debate with four interrelated themes:
Perry Timms – Founder and Chief Energy Officer: People & Transformational HR Ltd, Author of ‘Transformational HR’ and ‘The Energised Workplace’.
George Muir – Futurist and Business Strategist. Founder of Udal Cuain AB and Co-Founder of Everything Omni. Developed and led IKEA’s future workplace programme and retail business in Eastern Europe and China.
Wanda Wallace – Managing Partner at Leadership Forum LLC. Author of “You Can’t Know It All: Leading in the Age of Deep Expertise.” Radio show and podcast host of “Out of the Comfort Zone”.
Paul Conneally – Global Director of Communications at LiveTiles. Specialising in corporate communications and digital transformation, change management and business development.
Theme One – Modern working must have humanistic focus, but what does this really mean?
This segment questioned the concept of organizational hierarchy being in the last chapter of its existence, as well as the demise of bureaucracy and large organizations with divisions and departments
Instead of a hierarchy there would be a the ‘wired-archy’ around people connecting and building how best they work together, as well as creating decisions and a policy. Rather than organisational policy/structure being some idea of a ‘constitution’ that was a top down decision made to be followed.
Having influence without authority is another way of reducing hierarchy. The principle of “how do I persuade people to take an action even when I can’t force them” is something business leaders should focus on and is part of ‘wired-archy’ thinking.
The ‘wire-darchy’ means giving people a voice or more simply of thinking of people as humans. One of the key aspects of this approach is experimentation. By bringing together a diverse group of people sparking off each other and co-creating together makes for improved outcomes, more innovative thinking; leading to increased productivity and ultimately a better bottom line.
Theme Two – Business policies control the do’s and don’ts of the way we work. What needs to change?
Business policies are the guidelines developed by an organization to govern its actions. The rationale being that they are generally designed to protect the company and usually designed to close the gaps between the legal system and the business’s responsibility
However now with the complete upending of the ways we work much has to change. For example, the pandemic lockdowns saw two years of disruption where employees have been using their homes as workplaces. Some have been using company equipment, and others have been using their own. Some people have returned to the office as per normal, working nine to five with some hybrid/flexible system in place. Some groups have moved to a different way of working, different time zones and even to a different location with others moving to a different country.
Most organizations, even traditional ones, are all focusing on moving into hybrid at scale
Policies are a comfort blanket for a lot of people; but now the upshot is that there is not ‘one size fits all’ and there is no answer that fits all in how an organisation approaches policymaking.
Most organizations, even traditional ones are all focusing on moving into hybrid at scale. Certainly companies operating on an international level adjust their policies to accommodate their global footprints and requirements. They have different range of cultures across continents, countries, and they thought of a policy framework, which is their ‘go to’ solution strategy for dealing with this.
Another school of thought on policy is that they are meant to drive behaviours, particularly things like equality, diversity, inclusion and sustainability policies. These are the policies that are not just intended to meet the needs of law but intended to support people and drive behaviours. They are also about changing cultural activity and mindsets rather than people thinking of them as ticking the compliance checkbox.
Another major aspect of organisational policy is the element of trust. Some business leaders are still thinking in terms of keeping up a semblance of how things were pre-Covid, which means the ghost of presenteeism is still not exorcised. They still don’t trust their staff to work remotely, which begs the question – Why on earth do you employ these people, if you can’t even trust them to put in the hours that you’ve contracted them to do?
So hybrid/flexible policies have become something they feel they ought to do so they don’t end up looking like ‘dinosaurs’ and it is not really a policy which has been thought through and it comes across like a compromised ‘mandated’ form of trust.
That is why we’re suggesting a move towards this notion of collective ideas, putting together scenarios and developing new opportunities for policies and non-policies, specifically around wellness and the hybrid/flexible work experience.
And to ask ourselves these fundamental questions – Is it a policy or should it be an agreement between humans? Is trust what we really need and do we get a policy for that?
So perhaps there are too many policies that police the workplace and business leaders might radically need to understand the notion of a ‘non-policy’ policy approach. It’s not about removing all the policies – it’s more about removing the ones that don’t work – the policies that damage the spirit of work. Remove the obstacles and hindrances, and keep the policies that protect what needs to be protected within an organization and the way it works.
Theme Three – Modern working needs a new form of leadership, an empathetic leadership. Do we know what this means?
Leaders are in existential crisis because they are incredibly out of their comfort zone, since they and all the people around them are being asked to do something they have never experienced before.
They can go down two paths – do nothing and hope business goes back to pre-Covid ‘normal.’ However the impact on talent retention and productivity will be an issue with that approach. Or leaders can lean into doing some experiments, changing and questioning how they can add value as a leader.
However this is inhibited by the preconception of the ‘job to be done as a leader’, which limits how leaders see their role, with four main models:
- Vision and direction – cheerleading, cajoling, pointing the way to show the direction of where my people should be going and ultimately find the answer.
- The fixer or solver – their value is the ability to do something and fix an organisational problem or to tell people what to do to solve it.
- The teacher – Having knowledge which must conveyed in the most positive, constructive way, so that their people get smarter, better and more productive.
- The controller – Not the old-fashioned command and control. A controller of quality, risk, and ultimately policy and regulations.
There are problem with those four models and they are the reason that sometimes progress is inhibited going forward:
Vision is no longer enough. People want a sense of purpose. Why are we doing this and what is my part in doing what has just been articulated?
For the fixer/solver and the teachers – the joy is in learning and in allowing people to figure it out and discover things for themselves.
That means that leaders have got to lean into being able to ask questions, to help people discover and to do something they never had to do very much in the past – just listen to their people.
For the controllers and everyone in general – there is way too much uncertainty to think that we have the answers. Firstly, we need to know what has to be done before we can write the required policies.
However there is a new fifth model – setting up guardrails. People can’t be allowed to go off the rails doing anything and everything, anywhere they want. They need some guidelines, and it is the leader’s job to create those guardrails for people within the requirements of the organization, so they can experiment.
We need to get more comfortable with being afraid
That brings in the challenge of vulnerability and empathy. First thing most people think about empathy is the phrase “putting myself in somebody else’s shoes.” Ironically the worst advice anybody could ever give for being empathetic. Ultimately empathy is “I can appreciate what you are feeling, even if I react differently to it” because no one can actually ‘live’ someone else’s experience. That is a very different take on empathy and the understanding that a person has a very different feeling in a given situation – that’s the art of empathy
One of the things that this whole empathetic humanistic leadership path requires is that we get more comfortable with being afraid and admitting that we haven’t done this before. Also that we don’t know how to do it and we’re going to make some mistakes.
Another guaranteed hallmark for leading well in today’s environment is getting to know your people on a much deeper level, which is not about invading their privacy – Knowing your people’s ambitions, knowing what they want to learn, knowing something about their family life and their situation. What are their hobbies?
As a leader you cannot get anything if you don’t have the sense of caring for people. You can’t inspire people, give or get feedback from them, get creative, innovative contributions and it’s impossible to get psychological safety, if people don’t think you care.
Also abandoning the difference between manager and leader – because it is ALL about leading- management tactics are also effective leadership tactics.
Theme Four – Work is about work – so how can a company be engaging and empathetic?
Regarding hybrid world of work – whether we like the definition or not – it’s this very flexible, changing way of working. A survey was done at the end of 2020 of approximately 1400 LiveTiles’ customers 70% or so said they were going to commit to a hybrid work model at the end of 2021, that ended up as 82%, by the end of 2022 that is now likely to be 92%.
Many of these companies were obviously dealing with hybrid working in different ways. One point being the view of hybrid as a compromise to keep up with everyone else since the decision is still quite top down . The employee voice is still missing probably as a matter of policy, but also as a cultural shift and mindset shift.
However, if there is no flexible work model in the hybrid world of work and no provision is made for really flexible options for employees; an organization misses out on a huge reservoir of talent and diverse groups of people that could be hugely valuable to the enterprise. The benefit of more diversity and inclusion is a far more authentic employee voice for your brand and for your organization.
The benefit of more diversity and inclusion is a far more authentic employee voice for your brand and for your organization
The number one employee experience issue is flexibility, particularly for younger workers. 48% of younger workers, from 18 to the age of 30, would leave their job for a workplace which was more flexible, that’s half of the younger working population. That goes beyond work life balance, flexibility is considered a currency more valued than salary, in many instances.
The other challenges being seen now is engagement with employees, whether they are in the office, in a work hub, sitting at home, or very importantly those on the front line.
Another lockdown phenomenon has been that many organizations have woken up to the role frontline workers play for them, critical in keeping the economy running, as well as keeping things going and the population safe and protected. So there was a huge acceleration in ensuring that they have digital workplace tools that were fit for purpose. This is more than just accessing digital workplaces, but getting the information resources so that they can connect, share experiences, feel supported and be engaged.
Another important factor is the engagement of younger cohorts of workers. They want much more than just turning up and carrying out tasks or even socialising at work. They want their own sense of identity and purpose to be reflected and amplified through the work that they do. So that sense of connection with culture, purpose and each other has become really crucial .
The whole issue around employee experience as a part of the whole issue of community, communications and engagement and the importance of feedback and empowerment – organizations should see that not just as a challenge, but a great opportunity for them to transform.
As Millennials and Gen Z are evolving in organizations, the digital nomad phenomenon will become more prevalent, future employees will be grasping at this way of working. Even more traditional companies, like Citibank, have now recognized that flexibility is a key issue. They are allowing their younger employees to work in a Citibank work hub in Malaga, while still on the career path with the bank. This is going beyond a work life balance and organizations will be required to go above and beyond in managing all these different cohorts of workers, working in multiple locations with wide-ranging work style demands.
So all the things discussed around trust, extending to the well-being agenda in the workplace are all enormous consideration for organisations. Wellness in the workplace is no longer a ‘nice thing to have’ it’s crucial in the post-Covid working era. This is a huge vocal community and the indestructibility and the resilience that people crave for, which will be chosen above all of the other issues is key. It is also a factor organizations must realise in order to survive that they too must be adaptable and resilient.