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As the shift to distributed work speeds up the adoption of new digital tools, companies need to observe closely how workers use the new technology–and maintain a dialogue with them about its impact on their work lives. Are the new tools improving operational efficiency? Do they help employees focus more on higher-value work? Do workers have the right training to make the best use of the new tech? How many tools are too many? And what are the ingredients of a sound digital strategy, vs. pursuing new tech on an ad-hoc basis? From Day One gathered experts for a virtual conference in April. Among the highlights:

Bringing HR, Tech and Real Estate Together to Make the Future of Work Possible

Work teams are more fluid now than they’ve been in the past. “A decade ago, a lot of the teams were much more fixed, more based on functional groups,” said Loretta Li-Sevilla, who leads the future of work, collaboration, and business incubation at HP. “Now, increasingly, we’re seeing more agile teams, smaller teams that are based on the skills of people. They’re more autonomous and based on a project. It’s more time-bound. This rise of dynamic and agile teams is something that has been coming up more, and especially now, as we move into a hybrid work environment.”

Li-Sevilla is in charge of making sure HP’s workplace reflects the future of work, that their dynamic teams can seamlessly collaborate, that they’re equitable, and that they succeed in a hybrid workplace. To open From Day One’s virtual conference, she spoke in a fireside chat about how to spark collaboration and engagement in a new work environment.

Not only has where we work with each other changed drastically since 2020, so has the way we work with each other. In order to make the new way of work, well–work–Li-Sevilla believes three departments have to come together: HR, tech, and real estate.

One of the most noticeable ways the future of work will be different is how physical office spaces are designed and used. First, the new workplace has to take into consideration the technology that’s needed to easily connect those in the office to those outside it. Before the pandemic, Li-Sevilla said she would often fly from her base in Palo Alto, Calif., to meet with management teams in Houston. “I didn’t want to be the one person who is not in the room, especially if I’m presenting.” But trips like those are rare now, so it’s necessary that the ones who aren’t in the room–and in a hybrid environment there will be several–feel like they’re on an equal footing.

“There are 90 million conference rooms worldwide, but less than 10% are video-enabled. Right there is where we have a mismatch in equity,” she said. Universal connection with good audio and video can help. According to HP’s Future of Work report, 75% of people judge others based on their audio quality and 73% based on their video quality. “That’s why it’s so important, having those digital tools for enabling collaboration.”

The tech that enables hybrid work is not helpful if the people using it aren’t trained on inclusive behavior. “You need to make sure that everybody is also trained up on the latest tools and the rules of engagement to ensure people who are remote feel just as part of a meeting or an engagement that’s happening in-office,” Li-Sevilla said.

Journalist Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza, left, interviewed Loretta Li-Sevilla of HP in the virtual conference (Image by From Day One)

A healthy working relationship is built on trust, she said. Do you have a rapport with your colleagues that makes you comfortable reaching out? Can you trust your employer to include you in important conversations and meetings? We have to learn new behaviors for the hybrid environment. “You need to ensure that everybody who is remote can see and feel like they’re in the room, and then you need the people that are in the room to be inclusive of the people that are remote.”

According to Li-Sevilla, community and collaboration have to be at the center of the new way of working. That’s where real estate meets culture to generate innovation. “We’re seeing redesign of spaces toward more social, more collaborative areas.”

Because teams don’t look the way they used to, offices are changing too. “The role of the office is around making sure that we build that sense of community, that we have the spaces for them to collaborate, spaces that can enable hybrid collaboration where you can have people come in remotely.” Eighty-seven percent of people feel that the office is necessary for building a sense of community and collaboration, according to HP’s report. “The role of that office is around making sure that we build that sense of community, that we have the spaces for them to collaborate, spaces that can enable hybrid collaboration where you can have people come in remotely.”

HP has added more spaces for stand-up meetings and quick huddles; they’ve created mobile video carts so teams can easily roll with their remote colleagues.

Equally important is making the office a place where employees can achieve deep focus. Li-Sevilla says that it’s important that employees don’t feel like they have to sit at their desks all day. At home, we can work at the kitchen table, take a call on the porch, or answer emails while stretched out on the floor. Facilitating a dynamic office environment full of opportunities for what she calls “micro-mobility” is a big part of the future of work.

“A key part of the office is enabling this agile, dynamic environment, and not just for collaboration. It’s also important to ensure that people are productive in the office, that they can find a desk, and when they find a desk, everything’s working and it has what they need so they can feel comfortable,” said Li-Sevilla. It’s about being just as productive in the office as we have been at home.—By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Helping Managers Surf the Hybrid Work Wave

There’s no question that the digitalization wave can crash directly down on the human elements of work, impacting critical manager-team ties and leaving employees feeling untethered. But just as digital transformation can create risk for that manager-employee relationship, it can equally create opportunities–if you have the right tools. In a Thought Leadership Spotlight at the conference,  Julia Markish, director of advisory services for Lattice, a people-management platform, discussed the perils of the digitalization wave and how managers can use technology to better connect with their team.

“My professional purpose is to drive connection and belonging within organizations, which makes sense, because two of my top five strengths according to the Myers-Briggs strength-finding test, are inclusion and restorative,” said Markish, who also shared aspects of her identity, including her Soviet Jewish ancestry and membership in the LGBTQ community, in her introduction. “Why have I told you all of this? Not only is it relevant to the credibility of this talk, but it’s also really relevant to my manager. If she hopes to manage me well, information about my home situation, my background, how current events might be affecting me, and they are affecting me, my strengths, my passions, my career trajectory to date, my professional North Star going forward.”

All of this information, according to Markish, is a collection of data that can and should be used to inform the types of projects an employee might or might not excel at. It also reveals where an employee might be able to lend expertise, and where they might need additional training or feedback for their role. It’s information that very well might be the difference between an employee feeling like they are cared for and belong at a company, and them looking for a new job. And, this is information that is revealed over time, by building a trusting a personal relationship over lunches and coffees and walk-and-talks.

Julia Markish, director of advisory services for Lattice, a people-management platform (Photo courtesy of Lattice)

“These personal relationships in the workplace have been slowly eroding with the introduction of technology,” Markish said. “Task management apps have replaced in-person goal check-ins. Recognition applications have replaced handshakes and high-fives. Messaging platforms have all but replaced the old swing-by-the-desk maneuver.” The result: The waves of digitalization have pummeled our capacity for real human connection. But Markish believes team leaders have the power to reverse this trend–without stopping the technology wave that is, in many ways, very useful.

Markish’s No. 1 suggestion for surfing the technology wave with more finesse is personalizing workflow updates. Instead of relying solely on a task management system or update tool that collects standardized productivity information, employers should supplement that with personalized updates. Markish proposes asking people not just what they’re doing, but how they’re doing. “What if we asked questions like, ‘What might be helpful for me to know outside of your work life?’” she said. Or, “What’s one thing outside of work that’s taking up mind space for you right now that you’re open to sharing?” Even just, “How are you feeling this week?” Even seeding an update template with questions like these could give managers an idea of how they could get beyond the limits of the project-status update.”

One-on-ones are an increasingly lost art in the age of digital tools. Why connect in-person when you can see everything your employees do over email, Slack, and Google Drive? And even if you do connect, there’s so much operational fodder to get through and so little time to do it. So how do you even get past those surface topics down to the deeper harder ones? According to Markish, this is a multi-layer challenge. The first layer is to ensure managers schedule and keep their one-on-ones with their team members. This may be a matter of training and communication, especially for new managers, but it's also a matter of rewarding the right behaviors.

Markish suggests tracking where and when one-on-ones are happening in your organization with an integrated planning tool, a calendar plug-in, or an engagement survey. She also recommends influencing the content of these meetings with a one-on-one platform that reminds managers to check-in with their team members, and also suggests topics of conversation.

“Having a culture of feedback is pretty much every company’s dream,” Markish said. “But as hard as it was for folks to give feedback in person, I think it’s become even less top of mind from behind the screen.” This is another area that technology can help with–both making sure it’s happening and that it’s done well.—By Jennifer Haupt

Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this Thought Leadership Spotlight: Lattice.

Teaching Managers Empathy and Good Judgement for the Hybrid Workplace

An ongoing phenomenon that companies have been reckoning with is a workforce struggling to balance careers and personal lives in a hybrid workplace. And in many scenarios, direct managers are tasked with supporting employees both emotionally and professionally.

The problem? Most corporate environments don’t train managers on how to be these vital lifelines in these new hybrid workplaces.

The transition to remote life was particularly challenging for some companies. Melynda McConnell, head of HR for the U.S. and Mexico at the global transportation company Mammoet, describes a situation where 75% of the company’s workforce was in the field, with many working in rural locations or still relying on flip phones–highlighting cases where a broad remote-first plan simply doesn’t apply. McConnell spoke on a panel of experts, moderated by Bryan Walsh, editor of the Future Perfect section on Vox, on the need for helping managers get up to speed to handle this new work environment.

For all the talk about preference to work from home, it’s clear that a significant demographic of employees who onboarded remotely have revisited the value of in-office interactions. Some people have viewed the return to office as a second on-boarding, as many were meeting colleagues for the first time. Still, others acknowledge the proximity bias that exists with in-person interactions, and how managers recognize the need to understand that the absence of a person’s physical presence does not translate to a decrease in productivity.

“You just have to get intentional about how you connect at the hiring stage and give them a solid onboarding experience,” said Amrita Bhaumik, an HR leader at Valvoline, the supplier of automotive products. But because the onus is now on managers to uplift work communities, how can HR leaders support them in their newfound role responsibilities?

Chantal Veillon-Berteloot, a VP of HR at pharmaceutical maker Bristol Myers Squibb, said it became immediately clear that the role of manager was central to everything. “The angle through which we’ve been supporting our managers is through the lens of empathy and psychological safety. She added that the ability of her company’s leadership team to be vulnerable about their personal experiences–discussing it at town halls, fireside chats, andglobal team meetings–has helped lift the pressure from a lot of the managers who were worried about making mistakes.

Katasha Harley, the chief people officer for Bravely, an employee-coaching platform, said the learnings that managers developed over the past two years induces a level of natural empathy. Her company cultivates space for managers to share what they are struggling with, or need to learn more about from a team or peer, for the purpose of equipping them with the skills to become better at managing.

But with these novel work settings in flux, how do managers accommodate for the different needs and working styles of employees?

Speaking about managers and their role in hybrid work, top row from left: moderator Bryan Walsh of Vox Media, Anna Marie Lannon of the E.W. Scripps Co., and Chantal Veillon-Berteloot of Bristol Myers Squibb. Bottom row: Katasha Harley of Bravely, Amrita Bhaumik of Valvoline, and Melynda McConnell of Mammoet (Image by From Day One)

“We put a new focus on around career conversations and being intentional about talking to people about their journey,” said Anna Marie Lannon, and organizational development leader at the media company E.W. Scripps. “Our job is to educate those managers–not just how to have those conversations, but think about nontraditional paths. We miss opportunities to connect people with a passion if we don’t know it exists.”

Mammoet’s McConnell said she takes a slightly different approach. “I wanted to know why people were staying,” she said. “I started creating ‘stay’ interviews and making story podcasts so people can see why some stayed and what their journey has been. When you’re not in the office, you don’t get to meet people or hear those stories.”

Young people at the start of their careers have had a particularly tough time starting a new job in a remote-first environment.  As far as career advancement prospects, Harley shares that it is critical to “build in elements within the framework to think about what those paths look like for hybrid and remote employees, and not just give the advantage to the employee who you can grab a coffee with next door.”

At Bristol Myers Squibb, employee support groups (ESGs) are important for focusing on the work habits of different generational groups. “They’ve done a lot of work bridging across generations and understanding that not everyone is operating the same, not everyone has the same career aspirations,” said Veillon-Berteloot.

In many corporate environments, the idea persists that innovation occurs in a room where people are bouncing ideas off of each other. But now, companies are tasked with setting up workflows in a hybrid environment that enables innovation via new approaches. At Valvoline, said Bhaumik, said the company took direction from organizations in countries that experienced the devastation of the pandemic early on. When it was time to transition back to hybrid, the organization took into account elements of projects and determining whether there was a need for certain days that team members should unite physically.

She added that successful workflows and project completion is a two-way street: “Managers are definitely learning the skills and changing the way we can manage our teams with empathy and intention. Since employees get the flexibility of working from anywhere, they are also responsible for ensuring that they deliver and show up wherever they’ve committed to.”

Lannon said that at E.W. Scripps, professional development is an intentional aspect of its career-structuring program. She caveats this by adding that it can be a bit hierarchical in this way, as such structures can lead to groupthink, “as opposed to organizations where conversations are happening at all levels, regardless of your role,” she said. “We’re not trying to make the old thinking work in a new situation. This is our environment today: let’s look at what the situation actually is and what our needs are and leverage our technology and people to help us achieve our goals.”

That being said, the debate between who can work remotely versus hybrid remains as fierce as ever. How can companies navigate this terrain with caution without alienating either side?

For McConnell, the answer was clear: don’t try to make the old type of thinking work in this new environment. “We didn’t go out of business in the last two years, so obviously our workers kept us going. To have these conversations that people must be in the office just doesn’t make sense,” she said.

She serves as an advocate for employees to be a proponent of pushing conversation forward for senior leadership buy-in–and on the flip side, needing employees to be able to communicate well-articulated reasoning for their continued desire to work remotely, and define transparency and accountability, McConnell said. “We still have a business to run, we still have to make some hard decisions. But we can at least open the doors to have thoughtful, well-constructed conversation, understand where both sides are coming, and try to figure out best path forward.”—By Tania Rahman

The Covid-19 Experience: What We Can (and Can’t) Learn from It

Fifty years ago, women entered the American workforce in record numbers and, this time, they stayed. The resulting change to workplace culture was seismic, and continues to inform the ways  everyone works. Today, we may be on the precipice of another shift with potentially equal impact on labor.

“If we really adopted some of the hybrid [work models], this would be the biggest change in a couple generations,” said Peter Capelli, professor of management, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and author of The Future of the Office: Work from Home, Remote Work, and the Hard Choices We All Face.

In a fireside chat with Bryan Walsh, Capelli provided insight into the challenges people managers face as employees demand work-from-home arrangements, as well as predictions on how companies may approach them. In helping to set expectations and policies, Capelli called HR folk the “frontline workers” of Corporate America’s dash toward amenable solutions.

While the majority of employees today desire some remote-work options, many don’t want to work from home all the time either. Therefore, “hybrid work models” has become the buzziest of buzzwords because, as Capelli noted, “it could mean anything.”

Speaking on the future of the office: author and professor Peter Capelli, left, and moderator Bryan Walsh of Vox

In addition to having to choose from any number of solutions–viable to some, abhorred by others–what further complicates things for people managers is that every individual worker wants to have a say in their schedule structure, Cappeli said. In turn, he continued, HR teams will have to be flexible and open-minded to employees taking on that responsibility. “That’s about the only way I could see this working,” he said of remote-work arrangements. He added that, usually, empowering workers to develop their own schedules “works pretty well.” However, he warned, “you do have to trust the team to do it.” Companies have increasingly turned to employee scheduling software for assistance in this area, which can help make the process move along more smoothly, optimizing both communication and transparency.

Research shows that, in spite of the many benefits remote work has for both employees and employers, it does make some things that are essential to workplace operations more difficult. Onboarding, for example, has suffered during this recent time period where virtual arrangements were required out of safety concerns. With fewer people in the office, Capelli predicted onboarding procedures might get worse before they get better, unless companies boost investment in the process, and ensure that efficacy rates for all-remote, hybrid, and in-office workers are equal.

Another issue with remote work is that employees who do not report to the office on a regular basis often do not get recognized for their work at the same rate that in-person workers do. Work-from-home employees also have fewer opportunities to get promoted. Rectifying this problem, Capelli said, “requires a lot more from supervisors to basically keep hybrid workers who are out of the office in the loop as to what’s going on and trying to treat people equally.” Not doing so, he said, could easily lead to class-action lawsuits.

As the prospect of a return to the office became more imminent, many began to speculate that companies would revert back to an office model made popular during the dotcom boom called “hoteling.” In the hoteling concept, some workers clock in on given days and lay claim to desk space, while the rest of the employees work from home. They switch places other days of the week, allowing companies to maintain smaller office spaces, while not cutting personnel. But according to Capelli, “employees hated it,” and by about 2007 it was a largely abandoned format.

“Back in the office, 20 years ago, you needed to plug into the IT system,” Capelli reminded the audience. “You don’t need to do that now. The reason I want to be back in my office is to talk to my colleagues and coworkers, but there’s no reason to think that they’ll be there the day that I go there, and if I am there in a hoteling environment, there’s no reason to think I will be near them. I could be anywhere in the building.”

Work-from-homers in close proximity to each other can simply meet in, say, a cafe if person-to-person collaboration is necessary. So Capelli thinks any consideration of hoteling will be short-lived, and he’s observing that many companies are instead investing in larger spaces with wide-open floor plans and numerous desks.

“So if you need to be in that day, fine, you pull up a chair,” Capelli said. “The problem is that bumps right up against the continuing pandemic fears — we’re going to have everybody in a big room, right next to each other. So I don’t know if that’s going to work, but we hear a lot of companies saying that that’s what they’re thinking about doing, so we’ll see.”—By Michael Stahl