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Interview for Oksigen newspaper Turkey on future of Human Resources - September 2022

What changes will occur in working habits and HR in the next ten years?

We will see continuation of many long-term workplace trends, especially amongst workers under the age of 45.  

COVID just accelerated a few of them. So we need to go far beyond virtual teams or hybrid working.

For example: a growing focus on better work-life balance, more flexible hours, permission to work at home at least two days a week. 

But these things will not be enough.

We will also see a greater focus on corporate purpose, helping each team member understand how they make a difference at work.

What changes will occur in what employees want from businesses during the next 10 years?

Inspirational leadership has always mattered in building high performing teams, and this will be even more so in future. 

Employers want to feel proud to belong, to be part of a family, to be appreciated, recognized and understood.  

Personal career development will also be very important.  

Companies need to offer better opportunities for team members to grow in skills and experience. 

And they will need to be more sensitive to the pressures on parents, whether routine child-care or at times of crisis.

During the pandemic, companies learned how to work remotely. What other business norms will be altered as a result of technological advancements?

I think we need to look at this question the other way round.  

It’s too easy for businesses to focus on their technology changes for their own teams, systems and processes and at the same time neglect their customers.  

I can give you hundreds of examples of this.  

Companies always need to remember that they exist to serve customers, making a difference to their lives in affordable ways.  

Take a bank for example – you can have brilliant new software platforms to handle payments and management of risk.  

But customers want other things like being able to open a new account rapidly, able to speak to someone on the phone when things go wrong, able to see all their banking information online at the same time, able to manage all their finances instantly on a smartphone.

We are becoming very impatient, and COVID made us even more so.

Most 40 year olds surfing the web already press the back button on any website that takes more than 5 seconds to load, and never return.

That means that they are effectively terminating the business relationship with organisations that make them wait more than five seconds.  And it happens even faster in younger age groups.

This will have huge impact on all businesses.  

It will affect not only how we serve our customers, but also how we support our teams internally.

What about the future of offices and working from home after COVID?

The truth is that working for home is a huge benefit to many people, saving travel time, making child-care easier, or care of older relatives, and giving much greater freedom about how we manage our time during the day.  

However, that does mean you need a suitable home to work in, and for many people that is a problem.  

Maybe there are very young children at home with a lot of noise, maybe there are issues of privacy, or space.

It has always been true that activities like writing reports can be much easier to do at home, without interruptions, rather than in the office.  

But small interruptions are often vital to innovation, problem solving, supporting staff, managing change and reducing risk.

So virtual working turns out to benefit workers much more than companies.  

When COVID hit us all, many companies began to think that virtual teams were making them more efficient.

They began to look forward to cutting costs by reducing office space, maybe getting rid of offices altogether in some cases.  

But cost-cutting is only a small part of business success. What about actually growing the business?

Apple is one of the most digital and innovative companies on the planet.  

But even Apple found a major problem with virtual working.  

They said last year that they were brilliant at virtual management during Lockdown, and made the transition to 100% virtual teams very fast.  

But they then found a huge problem with going virtual. They found that they were unable to think, unable to innovate and unable to change.  

That’s why they announced that all staff would need to be in the office three days a week, two of them overlapping with everyone else.  

At first there was a huge reaction from staff who had got used to working at home and did not see why they should go back into the office.

So Apple delayed the order by a few months. And the situation only got worse.  

During Lockdown, many thousands of people joined Apple, but had never met anyone else from the company face to face.  

So what happens about induction, learning corporate culture, building trust in teams?  

You can’t run a rapidly growing business like that for very long without huge challenges and risks.

The fact is that we need to meet in order to thrive, not just survive.  

And that applies not just to internal teams, but especially to winning new business.

Even more so if you are doing this in another nation.  

It is almost impossible to win a major new contract with a new client without actually meeting them face to face.  

And eating meals together can be a part of that.  All business is based on trust, and trust is much harder to achieve if all you have is video meetings.

The longer term trend will continue towards hybrid teams that meet in offices, but not as often as in the past, because they also meet virtually.  

So why are offices so effective?

In a single day at work, so long as everyone else is also in the office, you may be able to have fifty different brief conversations with other people, from a few seconds to a few minutes long.  

You might be sharing an idea, bringing someone up to date on progress, agreeing an action, providing advice.  

Sometimes the most important office meetings are completely random, unplanned.

For example, bumping into a colleague by the lifts who you have not seen for years, and who has an important insight into what you are doing.

Teams and Zoom have their place, but the problem with them is that it means setting up diary meetings, usually of a fixed length.  

Spontaneous conversations are much harder to have.  In the office you can see if someone is off the phone, or you can catch them walking down a corridor, but when they are at home, it can feel much more intrusive to interrupt them.

Many people have described ‘Quiet Quitting' as an important new trend.  What do you think about this?  

Quiet Quitting is when someone is still employed to do their job, but the passion and fire seems to have gone out of it.  So they no longer feel like working long hours to achieve an important result.  

There is nothing new about Quiet Quittting.  We used to call it disengagement.  

It’s a major disease of all teams where purpose and belonging have been lost.  And of course, in Lockdown we all became isolated from each other.  

As I say, virtual working is fine for day to day, repetitive tasks, simple management requiring no change, no great initiative.  

So how should we tackle Quiet Quitting?

Leadership is very different - and in strongly led teams, Quiet Quitting is less common.

Management is about following rules that someone else has set.  

Leadership is about breaking them and creating something new. Leadership is about a vision of a better future.  

So all leadership is about questioning what we are doing now, about finding a better way and inspiring people to follow.  

Leadership has been difficult in Lockdown, so we have a deficit of vision, a lack of engagement, a poor understanding of why things need to change, of why a task really matters.

So now surprise then, that we have large numbers of disengaged people, large numbers of Quiet Quitters.

Worse than that, surveys in many EU nations and in the US show that 40-60% of executives are seriously thinking about leaving their jobs altogether.  

They just don’t see the point of staying any longer.  COVID has shaken millions of people up, separated them from all normal routine, from colleagues.  

But if those same people were to start new companies of their own, you can be sure they will soon be working morning, afternoon, evening and night time as well as over weekends, fighting to grow, driving to succeed.  

So it’s all about passion, purpose, meaning, commitment.  

Focus on these and team productivity will soar and quiet quitting will disappear.

I often say this:  “Life is too short to spend on things you don’t believe in”.  

People in audiences clap, shout, wave their hands in the air in agreement – and all that was before COVID.  

Even more so today.  

It’s all about the deep human desire to feel we are making a positive difference.  

When employees return to the office after remote working, some perform more efficiently, while others are less motivated. How can the workforce be managed better at this point?

Bring your team together, spend time listening to each other, catch up with what has changed in their lives.  

Discuss what has worked well during Lockdown, and what we missed.  

And remember that Lockdown has impacted the mental wellbeing of your workforce, so teams need more support than usual.

Share your vision: make sure it’s clear, compelling and is about making a difference to clients or customers or wider communities or to the future of our planet.  

A vision simply to grow profits or market share is a really bad motivator.  

I don’t think I have ever met someone who gets out of bed in the morning and says:  “It’s so good to go to work today to make more shareholder value and excel spreadsheet numbers!”

Be flexible in allowing home working, but also be firm in calling everyone in on a regular basis, and explain to people why they make most difference in face to face meetings.

Will rising energy costs cause companies to reorganize office work environments or change working conditions? Will remote working be encouraged to reduce office energy costs, or will employees prefer the office to reduce the energy cost of their home? Or will there be a third way?

The truth is that working from home can waste a lot of energy.  

If a company is continuing to run an office for 100 people, heating in winter, air conditioning in summer, with IT systems and other equipment running, then there is no energy saving if only 50 people turn up each day.  

What is worse, the 50 people working from home are also heating or cooling their own homes.  

It is true that home working saves carbon emissions in travelling to and from the office but maybe less than you think.  

If people are using public transport, then the trains and buses still have to run, even if half the commuters are staying home each day.

From the energy point of view, the most efficient thing may be for everyone to work in the office, commuting using public transport where possible.  Or to get rid of offices, and work entirely virtually.

So in the current energy crisis, it may well be that some staff decide that they cannot afford to work at home.

But I don’t think many companies will shut their offices several days a week, just to save on energy bills.  Far easier is to adjust the temperature at work by a couple of degrees.

So then, to summarise your key messages to HR directors?

In summary:  if you want to run a successful business, focus on your vision, on real customer needs, and on meeting them as a trusted partner. Inspire your people with your mission, help them see how important they are, listen to them and treat them well.

These are timeless HR principles.


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