NEWSPublished May 19, 2020

Virtual Roundtables Live – Workplace Round-up

Abi Labaton

Head of Product

Inspired Business Media

On the 2nd of April 2020, the Workplace X Conference was due to be hosted by Inspired Business Media at the iconic venue of Ascot racecourse. Leaders in Learning and Development, Human Resources, Facilities Management, and Corporate Real Estate, were set to come together to discuss the future of the workplace, and the most prominent issues facing our business environments today.

Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented global pandemic of Covid-19, the conference was unable to proceed as scheduled. However, on the 13th of May, it was with great delight that we were able to welcome a truly inspirational group of leaders to take part in our first ever Virtual Round tables Live.

Chaired by David McGoldrick, Chief People Officer for Comfort Keepers, the discussion brought together perspectives from Asif Iqbal, Vice President of HR for Gulf Oil, Melanie Lepine, Group Head of Learning, Development & Talent from Domestic & General, Ben Almond, SVP and Global Head of Property from Pearson, Simi Dubb, Group Head of Talent, Development and Inclusion at British American Tobacco and Tim Rose, Global Head of Facilities for Elekta, to share their insights on “How to create a productive working culture for a varying workforce in the current climate.”

 

Working remotely can be a challenge for many people, there are factors such as mental health, technology, facilities at home and lack of culture to consider. What are the challenges your organisation is facing with regards to multigenerational needs? 

”We can all agree remote working is the future of work” said Iqbal. “Productivity and keeping our teams engaged and challenged is essential” he started. “Keeping culture front & centre” and using technology “in the right way and in the right place” was also a priority. “It has been a rollercoaster- but so far, so good” he finished.

“We can’t consider remote working as a multigenerational challenge alone” added Simi Dubb. “We need to view it more based on personal circumstance and need to focus on outcomes rather than just process. Businesses need to flex as much as possible as remote working needs to work for the individual”

Elekta’s Tim Rose echoed the thinking that emphasis needs to be placed on the needs of an individual rather than a multigenerational collective “trap” that some businesses might fall into. “Managing stress loads” and projecting the right core values were focuses that Rose outlined as being essential moving forward. “If we don’t, we risk losing good people”.

Lepine questioned, “how do you drive consistency of care and a consistency of communication with a group of managers and leaders who have never worked in this environment before?” She continued that she believed the answer to be that they must be able to provide leaders with the right skills to enable them to support their people in the right way.

 

 

Looking at these challenges from a different viewpoint McGoldrick asked Pearson’s Ben Almond “Do you think the current working from home experience and the challenge facing multigenerational workforce will have a last impact on the way we design our office space in the future?” 

“Everyone’s lockdown is personal” said Almond. Pearson is one of the world’s leading learning organisations, and so as a business, they focused on learning from their employees about What, if anything, are they missing about working in an office?

The poll results were interesting reading. Unsurprisingly the most prominent statistic with 70 % was that human interaction was the aspect that the majority missed most about an office environment.

One of the most intriguing results from the poll was how less than 1% missed a focused place to work. “This is particularly dramatic in terms of how we think about our current office setups” mused Almond, who went on to suggest that if workers are predominately computer-based “should they be in an office at all?” This was followed by a resounding collective nod of agreement from the rest of the group, who all acknowledged that they believed the office environment was about to undergo quite a physical transformation.

 

 

What are you finding is the most common challenge for your multigenerational workforce? 

“Maintaining morale and productivity. Therefore, we need to keep culture at the forefront of everything we do and ensure that we practise what we preach and project the right culture.” Said Iqbal.

“One size doesn’t fit all. We need to manage our people’s needs on a more granular and local level” added Rose.

The blurring of boundaries between work and home life were highlighted as being at the forefront of consideration at British American Tobacco. “We are a global business and flexible working has always been our ethos” said Dubb, who continued to say that with working hours becoming less defined, it was essential to be able to provide “access to the right tools at the right time” and to ensure that different digital channels are accessible to everyone.

There is no doubt that different people have reacted differently to the pandemic, and so in turn, a business needs to “react to the needs of the individual” stated Lepine. “Those who may be typically robust and resilient workers may now suddenly feel that they are out of control” she continued. “As a business, we can’t make assumptions about what people need from us”.

Ben Almond finished off with a view on the physical challenges he felt that workplaces would foresee after this global crisis had subsided. “Our current challenge is to understand Space -where do we need it, and how much do we need?” He then posed the interesting notion of the importance of location. “If we evolve into a fully digitally enabled workspace, our concept of location to attract talent changes”. He highlighted that the typical linear view of an office location was something that would certainly change, perhaps not straightway, but perhaps in the future.

 

 

  •     In a lot of organisations culture can be overlooked even when working directly in the office – Since WFH have you developed any strategies to keep culture levels high and to support your staff?

“We said at the very start of the lockdown that maintaining our company culture would be a top priority” said Elekta’s Rose. “Transparency is essential. Be honest about everything. We need to create trust”.

“Communication, communication, communication” echoed Iqbal. “As leaders, we need to be visible and vocal, and more importantly, transparent”.

“Our CEOs and senior execs need to be front and centre” agreed Lepine. She continued to reference the importance of how Domestic and General were ensuring that their communication channels were clearly defined and that the staff knew exactly how to access relevant information. The need to demonstrate consistency from leaders, and the importance of reassuring people that the “new normal” is being faced by everyone, regardless of seniority was something that the entire group agreed was a necessity at this time.

 

  •     The use of technology during these times can be challenging in relation to home internet, lack of support i.e desks and use of laptops – What is your organisation doing to respond to these challenges? 

For Gulf Oil, the provision of laptops for home use was nothing new. Iqbal ‘s perspective was that he believed that technology wasn’t so much the issue, but more so was the regularity of remote working every single day. “Again, for us, it is about making sure our people feel reassured and supported in everything they do at this time.”

BAT’s Simi Dubb told us how they have made sure that their people’s mobile phones all have relevant apps on them to create a better digital connection. ” Its key to understanding how to enable people to work and communicate better, and not just view it from a technical perspective” she added.

The sentiment of creating a better digital connection resonated with Pearson’s Ben Almond who said it was important for the business to be “seen to be doing the right thing” and shared one of Pearson’s key initiatives which were to share over 25 million pounds worth of digital content for free. In a business where online learning is at the heart of what they do, working remotely hadn’t been a technical challenge, and so we’re keen to facilitate a truly beneficial and positive online experience for others.

Tim Rose shared similar initiatives that Elekta had undergone to use innovative technology to support NHS workers. “Of course, technology use for the business has accelerated” he said, “but we also wanted to do something for the wider cause”.

The experience of Domestic & General was a transformational one. “We were in a hugely different situation. None of our staff had laptops and so we had to react very quickly. The mindset had to shift as it wasn’t just technology that we now had to give our people-it was our trust too” said Lepine.

It was with that keyword of Trust being echoed that McGoldrick closed and thanked the panel for their insights. Some truly insightful mindsets being shared from some of the worlds industry leaders, and certainly, concepts and ideas that many will be able to either relate too directly or hopefully will be able to positively share with their organisations.

One resounding notion form this discussion was clear. The current landscape is turbulent and unsettled, and not without its myriad of challenges- with more to come. But we are all in this together, and by working to support those who need it most, we will come out the other end a more dynamic, more resilient, and more innovative workforce than ever before.

 

Interested in Watching the Full Episode of Virtual Roundtables Live?