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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

Engagement In A Hybrid World

Trying to engage your employees when the working world is in a constant state of flux, is a tough job. We are still adapting to the newer ways of working, like hybrid, and despite what many people will say, we've still got a lot of figuring out to do.

But don't lose heart. We are not alone. Many, many businesses are experiencing the same things, and like a lot of employee engagement and workplace culture work, there's no silver bullet, but there are some guiding principles, we can follow, adapt and use.

In episode 55 of the popular employee engagement podcast, Sticky From The Inside, your host, Andy Goram, talks to Brad Taylor, a close childhood friend and the former Director of People, Organisation Design and Workplace for the CIPD, who now helps organisations develop their workplace experiences and their approach to hybrid working as a Senior Associate for AWA (Advanced Workplace Associates) and as the founder of his own consultancy Strategically People.

In this episode, the pair talk through the challenges hybrid working brings to employee engagement and building strong, sustainable and enabling cultures, and what you can do to overcome those challenges. This is a full transcript of the conversation, but you can also listen to the episode here.

Tow men discussing employee engagement in a hybrid working world
Brad Taylor (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss the employee engagement challenges hybrid working brings

00:00:10 Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside. The Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn their lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them and create tons more success for everyone.

This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.

So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

00:01:10 Andy Goram

Continuing our focus on the impact that the changing world of work model is having on our workplace experience, I want to pull it back to look at specifically how this hybrid model is affecting employee engagement. So, in this episode, I want to take a deeper look at what's really going on and what challenges the hybrid model is bringing to leaders who are out there trying to build, maintain, or grow levels of genuine employee engagement and create sustainably enabling and productive cultures.

I also want to discuss how all this is also affecting performance and productivity, something in the UK we particularly struggle with when compared to many other developed countries, and what can we practically do to provide a working environment where people do have the opportunity to thrive personally whilst delivering sustainable, repeatable results for the business.

And if I'm honest, I'm also treating myself in this show, because I'm speaking to a very good mate today. A good mate from my childhood, who, if we're both honest, we lost track of each other, but we recently got reconnected again. And actually, I think we'll find out, we're pretty much stunned at how our different journeys have brought us back to a meeting of minds now in similar circumstances.

So look, I'm delighted today to be joined by Brad Taylor. Brad is the founder of Strategically People, which is an HR strategy consultancy and is also a senior associate with Advanced Workplace Associates where today he helps organisations develop their workplace experiences and their approach to hybrid working. But interestingly, he was previously the director of People, Organisation Design and Workplace for the CIPD professional body for HR professionals. So even though I'm talking to my mate Brad today, I'm not sure there are many more qualified people to talk on these topics today, so I'm really looking forward to hearing Brad’s view on the current world of hybrid and giving us a real heads up to the practical things and steps you can take to continue to engage your people and strengthen your workplace culture.

Brad, welcome to the show, mate!

00:03:21 Brad Taylor

Andy, thanks ever so much. It's really great to be here and who would have thought after all those years, here we'd be on a podcast together doing this?

00:03:27 Andy Goram

I know! Mate, if we’re honest podcasts didn't even exist when we were kids, like mucking around. And I reckon if we had projected forward as to a conversation, we might record it would be more akin to Smith or Jones, again, a reference showing our age, than sitting here talking about the world of work, and HR, and people, and leadership. Weird.

00:03:49 Brad Taylor

I know our dream was probably either to be on a stage, Rock-starring, and gigging in some form, or stand-up comedians? Then who would have thought here we are instead, talking about how we get the very best out of people and helping organisations to do that as well. It’s incredible.

00:04:11 Andy Goram

It's just madness, I mean, I look back at our childhood, two very good mates. Two guys who went in completely different directions, right? I went off into Hotel & Catering, and then ended up going into Marketing, right? And Leisure.

00:04:25 Brad Taylor


00:04:26 Andy Goram

And you went into Banking, right?

00:04:28 Brad Taylor

Yeah, I did, I know, and I remember being jealous of you because you were going off to the United States and getting this experience in the Hospitality industry. And there I am, in a bank.

00:04:37 Andy Goram

You were earning money, mate.

00:04:38 Brad Taylor

It was good though. I mean, it was incredible. You know I went to work for Barclays and quickly made a really great bunch of mates there as well. I mean, it was an incredible atmosphere. It was a time of growth as well, so you know lots of people going in, and I was fortunate enough as well to move around different branches and then into the regional office for a bit, and then later on, into head office. So, I got exposure to so many different elements of a big organisation and how a big organisation works.

And then, that's where the spark came for, actually, people and change and all those sort of things as well. But it was never... I mean, that's the thing, isn't it as you grow up?

There's no manual that says, “Here's all the jobs” you know, “Pick the one that you will be good at, or you think you'll have a natural spark for in life.” So, you find it as you go.

00:05:26 Andy Goram

Yeah, how many jobs that guys, younger guys do today even existed when we were back there? Like I look at my kids today and go, “What jobs are they going to do?” I don't even know what they are. Yeah, right now it's gonna be crazy.

00:05:39 Brad Taylor

It is and I have that with my 12-year-old son. Every week has a different job that he wants to do when he grows up. And I keep saying to him, “Just relax. Chill. Because they probably haven't invented the jobs yet that are going to exist when you enter the market eventually, and they'll be much more exciting, probably than they are today, and a lot of the ones you're talking about will probably be replaced by A.I.”

00:05:57 Andy Goram

Listen, I think he's in good company. I reckon there’s 30-odd-year-old people listening to this podcast who still don't know what they want to do, so I think let's give the 12-year-old a break.

00:06:05 Brad Taylor

Exactly, and it's never too late.

00:06:08 Andy Goram

It's never too late. But anyway, let's come back to today's topic. Before we get stuck into all of that mate, I mean, you've got an impressive background now, so just give us a little bit of flavour about the sort of things you're up to, where your focus is directed right now before we start digging into this topic.

00:06:26 Brad Taylor

OK, thanks Andy. Yeah, I've been fortunate really that my career has spanned both being on the sort of sharp end side, you know banking, working with clients and developing teams, and all those other things, and then also going into HR and helping organisations to think a bit more strategically about how they get success out of their people and how they correlate that with what they're trying to do and how they're trying to represent themselves against the outer world.

And then about 18 months ago, having taken all that knowledge, having been HR Director for a couple of organisations, particularly the not-for-profit sector, I was discovering fast that my passion was very much in culture, engagement and how you bring the synergies together between workplace, so the guys that are there helping out with facilities management, real estate and all the great people working in technology and IT to effectively create the enablers for how people collaborate; and then HR, OD, L&D and those things really need to come together and work cohesively to create a great experience for people to give their very best work, and to enjoy what they do. And to feel as enabled as possible. Which therefore led me to say, you know, to take the decision to go more into the consultancy world. And I had worked in the past with... I’d done some work as a client with AWA – Advanced Workplace Associates who specialise in this. They've been doing it for 30 years, in terms of helping organisations. And so I work with them now, as a Senior Associate, helping other organisations, going into organisations and helping them.

Pretty much these days it's all about hybrid working and how do we... organisations question is

How do we translate and transfer what we've been doing historically to a much more hybrid model in the future whilst being productive? Whilst having engaged people. Whilst looking after how they're doing and everything and growing and not losing people. And how do we interpret and predict what's going to be happening in the future, as well? So that we know, do we need offices anymore, and if so, how much space do we need and what should they look like? And what should we be doing in terms of helping people be as effective in their home working environments or remote working environment. as well?”

So that's what I do. I go into those organisations and work with a great team at AWA, and we help those organisations look at it from all those lenses to really then help be successful in the new world.

00:08:48 Andy Goram

And I think it really is about all those different expertise coming together, right? It's not the bastion of HR to think about everything and do everything. In the same way as, you know, my background as a marketer was,

What the heck are you doing talking about culture?”

Well, I used to sit in the middle of HR, Operations, Marketing, everything, trying to create one customer truth, you know, one brand truth and make sure it all kind of aligns.

To me it's a very, very similar sort of situation when it comes to culture and engagement. It's a coming together of a lot of things behind a single kind of truth and drive.

I think this world of hybrid is really interesting. It's been talked about a lot, right? Especially over the last two to three years, you know. Is it... I hate the phrase “the new normal” because I don't think we really understand what normal is, but you might have a different sort of view of that because you're exposed to a lot more of it, but what's going on in the market right now? Why is there such a focus on it? What's the data saying? What's coming out of it? And what the heck is going on at Twitter at the moment?

It’s like even this morning it popped up. Elon Musk has now locked people out of the building because they're complaining about this sort of hardcore rule of work and remote. You know this is a business that said, before Elon Musk came in,

Work from home forever. We don't care. Work how it’s best for you.” And he's kind of come in and gone, “Yeah. Nuts to that. You're going to be here at least 40 hours a week. In this office. Chained to your desk. I want to see hard work.”

I mean that's completely polarised views. Is that representative of what's going on the market? What do you see?

00:10:26 Brad Taylor

I don't think it's representative of what's going on the market. I mean, I know that the view that... I think the e-mail was something along the lines of “Sign up for intensively long hours and hard work, or leave please”, and I think a lot of people are now leaving. “Well, OK, I'll take option B. Thank you.” Because there's plenty of other organisations out there that are offering them the type of work that suits “me”, and “I” think that will enable “me” to give my best to that organisation. So it's a very sad thing really, for those people that have probably had a lot of passion and engagement and commitment to the success of Twitter. It is clearly going to look like something different in the future, you know, and certainly we, you know, we want it to succeed. We want it to do well. So whatever that emerges, you know all the very best. But it's a shame that that sort of approach doesn't really help in terms of encouraging people to voluntarily say, “Yes. I'm signing up for that, please!” I think...

00:11:18 Andy Goram

What I would say on that, is it’s interesting, right? Because there's a little dark side of me, that actually appreciates perhaps some honesty in the values and culture that that business is going to align itself to. So when he is saying, “Sign up for hard work, long hours, yada, yada”, he’s not sugar-coating the potential to say, “Hey, we're all about work-life balance. Come in.” And you get shocked that is not what the reality of the culture is, and he's not going to attract people to work in that culture. Whereas he’s saying, “No, no, no, no. This is this is going to be long hours, hard work, blah blah”, which really might appeal to a section of people. In which case, he's going to hire people that are good fit for him. What do you think about that?

00:12:03 Brad Taylor

That's the thing I think, Andy. And it goes to your question at the start there. Because you're right. The phrase “new normal” has been used so many times, so every time something happens, this is the new normal. And likewise, you know when we used to talk about a “VUCA world”, you know, Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Well, it's that now. Even more so than it ever was prior to the Pandemic, when you look at everything that's going on in the world right now.

So, I think we're constantly in a state of reinventing ourselves as a civilization. And I never thought I'd see in my lifetime, a world where this type of opportunity to work from home, or remote places, and have more sort of self-control about when I go into an office or not, would ever exist? I thought that was going to be future generations of enlightenment. And then the Pandemic came along and it like hit a massive reset button, or reboot button, in civilization. And then suddenly, peoples’ eyes are opened. Both because I think, they realise actually there's a different way of doing this, and secondly because their priorities changed. They had to, you know? Family arrangements, or looking after loved ones, or travel and transport and cost and all those sort of things impacted people in a way that they said, “Actually, I've rebalanced everything now the way that we're doing things.” And the fear, I think then, that was bubbling away within people is, “Are employers suddenly going to snap back to getting us all back into an office, when a lot of my life has changed? And I'm going to struggle with that.”

So, there was almost a call, I think from the public at large, to say “Let's...” for those that can, there's a lot of jobs out there that couldn't have this option, but those that can, “let's look at this in a different way. I can be just as productive, if not sometimes more productive working from home. But I also understand that there are times when it would be great to go into an office.” There are things that will be really valuable, like social connection, you know, just checking in on people, making sure they are ok. Or access to technology or facilities that I just don't have at home. So, there's an opportunity there. But I think what we're seeing is still this deep-rooted nervousness that,

Oh. If I do venture in, are you going to suddenly close the doors and lock it, and then I’ve got to be in five days a week?”

So I think there's an openness and there's an understanding. And we're certainly seeing that. If we ask people, “Why would you go into an office?” All of those reasons come out, but it's not necessarily coming through to the level that perhaps employees thought they would be seeing. And that's causing a degree of nervousness. Because remember these organisations, these leaders are responsible for the success of these organisations. And they've got these massive offices, in some cases, sitting on their hands going, “Do we dispose of them? Do we keep them? Do we reconfigure them? Do we downsize? We want to grow our staff over the long term, what we do?” And we don't all know because this is the first Pandemic we’ve emerged from in the last 100 years or so. And so, it's being written still as we go. Both in terms of operationally, how do we need to do things? But also psychologically, behaviourally; how do we want to do things in the future?

00:14:59 Andy Goram

Yeah, there's a massive commercial and human balance piece that's going on in here. And underlying all of that is a big trust foundation. There's a piece around the leadership, I guess, having to understand their people far more deeply than they have, perhaps in the past, when they're seeing them, right, in front of their faces and the trust thing of actually doing your work. I mean, goodness me. When all this started, I mean, I remember hearing people talk about spyware being put onto people laptops to sort of track what they were physically doing every day, whilst they were working from home. Because you know, Alan Sugar would just suppose everybody is just slacking off, having cups of tea and biscuits and you know work’s gone to pot. You know, we don't hear so much of that anymore, but there is still this relationship of do we trust people to do the work we need them to do when they're not right with us? And at the same time, you’ve also got all these themes about,

Well, you're going to come in to work on a Monday, because we're going to collaborate on a Monday. And then you can go home on Tuesday and you can do Teams calls on a Tuesday. And then Wednesday...”

you know? And we thought we'd bring some sort of order to this chaos of hybrid, but that's not working. That's not true. That's not really working today. It doesn't look like that. What is going on? How are how are the sort of extremes coming through? Who's making decent moves in this? And what are the employees saying? What are new candidates looking for in this whole kind of new, emerging space?

00:16:31 Brad Taylor

Yeah, I mean to some extent, we need to be mindful of the illusion of control, don't we? In all of these things. Because if anything, the Pandemic showed us that we're not always in complete control of what's going on in this planet, I think. Also, if we cast our mind back to when the Pandemic started, and you know we had to go into lockdown, there were organisations that came from a care-centric, employee-centric perspective, and there were those that actually were more about survival, you know? “We don't care about the people. We just need to lay people off”, you know. It was pretty harsh, for a lot of people. And straight away, people were then realising that “Oh, actually that's interesting. I didn't expect to be treated like that and how's that making me think about the organisation?”

And so, there was that, first of all. And then as it's progressed, I think that's kind of like a theme that's going through as well. That there are those organisations where they had perhaps the enlightened leadership which is people actually in that situation did the right thing. You know they worked with us as we organised ourselves, and quickly tried to roll out technology, in laptops and chairs and whatever we might need to do to get people to work effectively. And actually, they rose to the challenge. So, let's continue that theme, that sense of empowerment and exploring together, about how we make this successful. And that proves, I think, very positive to in terms of where those organisations want to be in the future.

And then there is the command and control mentality. You know, this need from certain leaders is “I've got to control it. I've got to know what's going on.” Perhaps I've got a board that is drilling me and asking me hundreds of questions. I need all the answers, so therefore let's roll out the spyware. Let's get them back in three days a week, so I can see them. And when I walk around, I can sense that buzz of energy and people are working, busy slaving away, you know. Because when you're working from home, you can't sense it. You're just staring at your own screen, and when things are going wrong, it's harder, particularly for those people, to just breathe a bit and work through the natural, normal channels just to make sure things are happening. You know the panic rises and then it's, “Right! HR Director, get everyone back in the office now. And let's, let's mandate it now.” To your point, earlier on, I think you're right. Actually, I think, you know, ultimately decisions need to... sorry organisations need to be a bit decisive about where do we stand on this, because we do need to give people clarity.

Whether that's “OK, we're going to adopt this approach. We want you in two days a week. Do it, or else.” Or actually, you know, “Our approach will be much more fluid and organic over the next 18 months or so. We're then going to take a view as to what we're seeing, emerge and what's being successful and what's not. And then we're going to put some harder principles in place around how we do things.” It's more about the certainty. And that's what we discovered when we talked to business leaders is, you know,

What are you doing now, given how uncertain it is, and we don't know how the future will emerge?

A lot of them are saying that it's just better to be decisive. It’s better to be doing something. Whether we downsize, keep things as they are, whatever, rather than just leave people in a state of perplexity and uncertainty.

00:19:50 Andy Goram

Yeah, as humans, we don't react well to uncertainty. We've covered that as a topic on this podcast before. And I think this is definitely where we're seeing people fall into different categories, right? Those who are really thinking and involving the whole workforce to try and understand how do we best work together? Let's put some rules in place and we'll have a look and see how it goes. Then we'll change together to try and bring some certainty that way. Versus the real, Draconian, “Nope. Right, this is what we're doing. We're going to put the lines in the sand to try and give some certainty.” And then there's a sort of wobble in the middle that is "Hey, we'll just come into the commune and everything will be fine.” But I don't know what you see. Certainly, when I work with clients, who have quite a large degree of hybrid going on, it's often really hard to coordinate people. Really quite hard to coordinate people. And you see a lot of fractures in teams. Inside teams. Even departmental teams. Traditionally you would think would know each other really, really well, have got good working relationships, understand each other. You know I personally am seeing more of that fragmentation within departmental teams that I'm not... I wouldn't have been familiar with before.

What sort of challenges are you seeing at the forefront of all the work you do with AWA and what have you that people are having to deal with today, that hybrid has either bought about or is challenging? Or maybe you're seeing things that actually where hybrid is really having a beneficial effect?

00:21:26 Brad Taylor

Yeah, yeah, I think that first of all it's like rebuilding an organisation whilst the whole thing is still moving. And I think a lot of organisations forget or fail to see just how carefully that needs to be done. And therefore, there's a lot of false starts that go on. Because at the end of the day, we're talking about people and people behaviour. And we need to understand that in order to be able to put the right things in motion that will enable the organisation to be reconfigured as successfully, as effectively and efficiently as possible. And that tendency just to throw out, “Well, we'll just do three days a week”, for example, without thinking about how that's going to land for people who've got all those factors going on in their minds, that we were just talking about earlier on. It's a bit naive to be frank. And then they are surprised that it doesn't work. And then you know, engagement starts dropping because people don't feel part of it anymore. And then they end up having to do some sort of rebrand and say,

Right we need to start the whole thing again, because this now has a bad name and we've got to regroup, and we've got to think a bit more carefully about how we're going to do it.”

I think also in a hybrid working world where we haven't got immediate access to people visually all day long, it's natural that as humans we fill in the blanks. So, the gaps of silence, or what we think is going on, a thought pops in our head that says, “Oh! This is what's happening here.” We subscribe to that thought as if it's a reality, and then we start behaving in a certain way. So the demands that are being placed on leadership, and in particular line managers, has increased significantly. Because they need to be so much more tuned now to every individual in their team, whether they're in the office or whether they're working from home. You know that means a bit more FaceTime with them, checking that they're OK, checking on their well-being and what's going on in their world. Checking that they're clear on what needs to... you know, what are the objectives and the outcomes that need to be delivered, and has that person got the clear runway as it is to press ahead and deliver those things? And if not, what needs to be unblocked?

And these are huge demands on people that, perhaps traditionally, have got to where they are because they're good at what they do. They didn't enter the workplace thinking I want to be a people leader. So, I think the challenge with helping organisations move to hybrid is, first of all, get them to have a really serious thing about, OK, strategically, what must this organisation be doing and achieving in order to be sustainably successful? Secondly, what sort of culture is going to drive that? You know, what worked in the past? Was it great or did it suck? And if it sucked, how do you want it to be? If it's great, OK, let's think about what made it great. And now, how do we effectively digitise that and make it seem the same in a more hybrid working world, so that people stay attuned to it, feel passionate about it and want it all to succeed just as much as possible. And that these line managers can deliver on that commitment. And that probably means organisations have to rethink about ratios of line managers, what we're asking line managers to do, and how do we equip them to do that as well. Because it really does call for some intense people skills now. You know, are you willing to have an uncomfortable conversation in a skilful way with someone? And how do you do it?

00:24:51 Andy Goram

I think that's a really good point. Because I think... I have a hope and a belief that off the back of all of the last 2-3 years the growth, or as I used to call it the bow wave of humanity that came back into sort of business on the back of that stuff, it was quite overwhelming at the start. You know, everybody was looking out for each other. Everyone was like taking a bit more of a personal interest in each other. There was a real kind of human spirit that came out. And then it started to sort of wain a wee bit, and now we're in this kind of like finding our way. I think what it's really doing and for really good businesses I think, what it's doing is making them re-evaluate, like you say. What culture does this business need to succeed? And actually, what the heck does that really look like? And how intentional are we going to be in putting things in place, in recognising certain behaviours, certain attitudes that will then deliver that?

So, you know, whether it is thinking or rethinking about the values, the core values of this business, what are they? How are they going to enable and deliver the outcomes and objectives we've got for this business and really add value to everybody in the day? And is that wholly different from what we had before? I think there has to be a more active approach to thinking and managing and planning these things, whereas before, perhaps they just landed in our lap. They were a bit more organic, and they just sort of happened. And we were lucky. People were there and we could pick stuff up in the moment and deal with stuff. It's not that case anymore. I think it has to be far, far more intentional. I don't know what you think about that.

00:26:31 Brad Taylor

I think you're right, Andy. I think, you know, I think of culture being about how do I need to behave in order to thrive and survive around here. And a lot of that is always driven by the leader's behaviour. You think of Country governments, Prime Ministers, Presidents, whatever, Dictators, whoever is in power.

00:26:52 Andy Goram

I've worked for a few.

00:26:54 Brad Taylor

Yeah! Haven't we all, mate? So, their behaviour and their values as such, their personal values influence the behaviour of pretty much everyone else within that organisation, particularly at the senior level. And then it ripples down through the organisation. And we can probably all think of examples where people who we thought were previously very responsible, good people, behaved very differently under the influence of a different type of leader in a country, and that's no different in organisations as well. And historically, that influence about what matters around here, what am I going to do that actually is going to be recognised and rewarded, and what things would I do that actually means I probably won't be around for very much longer if I continue to behave in that way. You could pick it up from just the presence of the leader walking around the organisation. The leader could sense it as they're walking around as well. But it's different in a hybrid world because that visibility isn't there.

So, if organisations say,

Well, how will we sustain our culture in a hybrid world?” Well, my answer will always be, “Well who is being most visible at the moment?”

Because if it's not you as a leader, someone, somewhere probably is. Someone must be filling that space, because nature hates a vacuum, and that person is likely now starting to influence because that's what people... you know, that's being transmitted, and that's what they're picking up from what they see. So, I think leaders just need to really do think about actually how am I conveying this in terms of the values of the organisation, what it stands for for our customers, and how we're internalising that. And then, how we're broadcasting that and creating dialogue so that people tune into

This is what matters around here. This is the nature and flow of the organisation.

00:28:28 Andy Goram

And I think that's entirely true. But it's going to take more determined effort than perhaps it needed to previously. I think this stuff's always been important, right? I think people have always compared what other businesses are doing, or what it's like over the fence. You know all these things sort of existed, but I just think it's more heightened. And I think Hybrid makes it slightly harder, or you've got to use different tactics or strategies to make this happen, right?

So, if we go back to my favourite model ever, and people who listen to the podcast are bored of me referencing Lencioni’s triangle, but you know, when you're face to face with people working in an office every day, trying to build trust by understanding people, getting to know them as individuals, you know, speaking to them on a needs-based basis, like what do they really need from me? How do I speak to them to elicit the great stuff, you know? Really, really understanding and building strong foundations of trust is the platform for any high-performing team. Now, doing that in a more remote, hybrid world, where you have less contact face to face with someone perhaps than previous, I don't know... you might have more now with video technology. That's a weird thing to think about. But how do you intentionally start building trust? How do you, you've mentioned it before, how do you have those difficult conversations on the basis of having trust, that means you really work stuff through and involve everybody, collaborate and then commit to taking actions going forward. The way we do that has been challenged with this new working model.

Are you seeing anything specific happening in that area? What is that trust-building challenge looking like for leaders? And what are you seeing really good people do?

00:30:19 Brad Taylor

Yes, I think in the early stages of lockdown and say a year in a lot of organisations were reporting that engagement had gone up, in there, and that was probably because actually, this sense of everyone being an equal box on the screen on the video call. And it didn't matter where you were in the world as well. So, for a lot of organisations who may have felt like they were the second-rate citizens because they were in another country, and to whichever was the host country for the organisation, suddenly said “Actually, it feels a lot better. We feel much more equal now, and we're having equal airtime.”

But that quickly then became eroded because fatigue sets in. And that's because a bit like when we first learning to drive a car, because we’re having to think consciously about everything we're doing. Things that were just autopilot in the past, of how we ran our day, suddenly weren't anymore. If I, you know, I need to speak with Andy about, you know, has he sent that e-mail to Joanna? Well, I can't just pop over to you anymore. So, do I just dial you up in Teams or Zoom, or do I make an appointment to speak with you about this? How does it work? So, there's this mental drain. This cognitive drain on people as they're now trying to battle through this. And then what we start to see on calls is people start turning their cameras off, because we're not used to looking at ourselves on a screen all day long, let alone other people on a screen, and interacting in that sort of way. And that drains people as well. And that then makes it more difficult for line managers. Because now, as a line manager, I can't see you anymore. Are you OK? Are you there? Are you weeping? And I have no way of knowing that, you know, you're breaking down in the meeting. You know, is what I'm saying of interest to you?

So this is harder. So it does... it calls for so much more intentionality from a leader and a manager about how do I check in with you. And how do we establish some protocols for working, that mean that we can all do our jobs effectively and be a great, happy team and that I can do my job as a line manager as effectively for you as well. And that's the challenge. Is helping organisations to see that, and to sometimes say,

Look. You need to slow down to go faster in the long run, because you need to rework the wiring of this, and do some development work and help.”

Some leaders will do it naturally well, and there's some great people. They tend to be the leaders that never needed an appraisal process in the past because they just do it all anyway, right? So, for the rest of us, you know, we need some processes, and we need some help and some exposure to these challenging types of situations, to equip us and make us a little bit more comfortable when we need to do that in future. So, I can then get my team together as a leader and say, right, we're going to think about how we work now effectively as a team, given who we are. But in doing that, all of your individual circumstances matter and we need to take that into account. The team matters. We want the team to be successful and likewise organisation matters. And we want the organisation to be successful. So that means we may come up with some things that we later have to adapt because it doesn't gel effectively with other parts of the business that we need to be gelling with. And they will be having the same conversations as well.

So, we want people to be open minded to constant change. And that again fatigues people because you know, change can be threatening and there's a natural tendency once we've gone through the pain of change to say, “Right, that's it, lock.” and “I'm sorry other team, but that's not how we do things around here in our team.” Well, we don't need that. We need them to be constantly in a state of openness and adapting and adjusting as we create this new normal as we refer to it. And that takes skill on the part again of a manager to both sustain that attitude themselves, and that's easy to say, but difficult to do when you're having a really bad day. But also, to encourage your people to have that same mentality as well and exhibit and demonstrate those behaviours and encourage them to do that.

00:34:13 Andy Goram

Yeah, I would totally agree with that. I think the interesting thing that sort of for me wraps around that and I'm interested to sort of maybe hear if you see businesses finding solutions to these things, but I think part of the challenge of hybrid is missing those casual, spontaneous collisions that happen.

When everybody was together, you know those spontaneous bits of of learning, or hearing something said by somebody that triggers something else. And we've lost, or it feels to me at least we've had that taken away from us a wee bit with this model. And yet often those were the rich, unexpected, gold nuggets within businesses. You know the casual conversation by the coffee machine that spawned a new idea. Earwigging to someone over the fence about what they're doing, or how well I did that last week, and here's how I solved all those sorts of things. You know, are we are we able to process that spontaneity, those relationship collisions as I would call them, or I don't know, what are we doing? Am I wrong? Are we not losing these? We're finding other ways to do it, or what?

00:35:32 Brad Taylor

I think this is the challenge. I mean, you know, I can remember in my previous role, you know, as HR Director, I used to enjoy the chats in the lift, you know, or in the coffee queue. There's certain people that you would just meet, you wouldn't come into contact with in the normal run of your business; of the work that you were doing. And it was just special to be able to have a conversation. And it would probably revolve around their family, or how things are going, or, you know, just generally how they are. And that's how you learn what else is going on, isn't it as well? You know some of the dynamics that might be going on that you're unaware of. Because it just never reaches you in any other way. And I think that is difficult to recreate in a remote working environment. I think people have tried it with, you know, let's all get on a Zoom call on Friday afternoon with a drink, or whatever, and you have lots of people just look at each other thinking,

Is it my time to speak, or not?”

00:36:28 Andy Goram

You can’t force that stuff, can you?

00:36:30 Brad Taylor

Yeah it really, it's difficult. And then people have been on video calls all day as well. I don't think you can force it, and that's why I think, you know, this is where offices do have a role to play, and where people have a responsibility also to think, you know, if I'm part of this organisation then I need to be a part of it. And that means times when I go in and, you know, I'm going to bump into people and have those types of conversations. I'm going to play my part in it because that's important. I don't think it's right just to think, well, leadership need to sort these things out. I'm sorry, that's just not how the world works, you know. Whether you're actively doing something or not, you are playing a part in the overall system and the outcomes of that system. So I think that's what we need.

I think people intuitively get it, but somehow, it's still not happening in the translation, in terms of attendance. It's still no matter what people say they want to do, it's coming in at slightly less, the data shows. You know, we did a hybrid working index with, you know, a whole range of organisations. What did we do? We did about 40... 28 organisations representing nearly 80,000 people around the world. And it's all saying the same thing. That actually, if you try and dictate, or people say the number of days they want to come in, they're coming in slightly less. Interestingly, if you leave it to people themselves, they tend to come in more than if it's dictated to them. But everyone does have a role to play in making that happen and making those spontaneous connections happen.

And it's important. You know, another example, would be people just joining the organisation for the first time. How do they get a sense of the culture of the organisation, and the mission, and also learn their roles, if there's not people that they can start, you know, talking with and watching, observing and asking questions as well. Yeah, that's a responsibility we all have.

00:38:19 Andy Goram

Yeah, I mean arguably that stuff is always important, right? But perhaps it's even more heightened, you know. I'm long since an advocate of onboarding programmes being less about, here's your laptop, your keys and your security codes, and more like, OK, this is where we're going. This is what this organisation stands for, who we stand with, and this is the amazing role we'd like you to play in that. And by the way, thanks for coming to this organisation. Please talk to me, the CEO in the 1st 90 days openly about anything you see where the promise does not match up to the reality, you know. To me, that's the focus of an onboarding programme today. Not a, you know,

"Here's your keys and please be out the building by 5:30."

Yeah, I think...this is something, mate. This just feels very, very strange, us having a very grown-up conversation on that stuff, based on all the rubbish that we used to get up to.

00:39:03 Brad Taylor

Yeah, I know. When do you do a song? When do we start singing?

00:39:07 Andy Goram

I was going to say, when do the impressions kick in?

00:39:09 Brad Taylor

Do some of our numbers.

00:39:12 Andy Goram

I'm sure we could sing some Aztec Camera songs, no problem at all there.

00:39:17 Brad Taylor

Oh! Wow!

00:39:18 Andy Goram

I know. We've ridiculously come to a bit of the show, Brad, that I call sticky notes, right. Which is after all the things we’ve kind of talked about... and we could talk for a lot longer, I'm looking for you to kind of try and summarise what we can actually, practically do. What 3 bits of advice could you fit on 3 little sticky notes, that people could take away, thinking about how can we build more engagement in a hybrid working environment?

00:39:40 Brad Taylor

Yeah, I think that's great. And I've really enjoyed this conversation, as well. It's been great.

But I think, you know, if engagement again... engagement to me is about a shared commitment to the sustained success of the organisation. Everyone has it when they first join. No-one really enjoys an organisation disengaged, do they? So, it's things that happen along the way that perhaps cause disengagement. We want people who engage and see their role in it.

So first of all, I'd say, foster a culture of trust and responsibility. So, avoid the monitoring and the things that's going to be quite oppressive, but instead help people to think about the three dimensions of myself as an individual, my team and the organisation. And have conversations in that regard, encouraging them to talk about it in that regard, because the solutions will start to come through as people take responsibility for looking through those 3 lenses.

Secondly, help teams. Encourage them to build effective working together agreements, so that they come together and talk collectively and have the difficult conversations about what's working and what's not working, what are the opportunities and what are the challenges? And therefore, how are we going to work effectively as a team. What are the norms? How will we collaborate on documents? If we need to have a one-to-one conversation, or if we need to have some feedback, is that going to be virtually, or it can be face to face? Or by text, what’s going to be the norms for doing that? Let’s go through the process of doing that. So build effective working together agreements.

And thirdly, if you're a leader, be visible. You are the spark and the fuel of the passion and the fire of the organisation, in terms of engagement. So you've got a big role to play in terms of sustaining that. And just think about, you know, how are you achieving that? It could be weekly blogs; it could be the weekly video that goes out to people. It could be the Town halls. Something where you're pulling together what the organisation stands for in terms of its brand values and its customers, and how that's being internalised and portrayed with its people, and the sense of success and pains that's going on the organisation. So, you're constantly tuning people into it. Be visible.

00:41:49 Andy Goram

I love that. Three pretty foundational and very powerful sticky notes there, mate, to sum up all this stuff about what we can do to build engagement in an increasingly complex, hybrid world.

I'm going to say thank you for today, but not like a final, “Thanks. Nice to nice to have had a chat with you. Let's keep in touch.” Because we will keep in touch.

00:42:09 Brad Taylor

See you in 20 years!

00:42:11 Andy Goram

It's been great to get reconnected. I'm really excited to sort of see where we end up talking and working together in the future.

I really appreciate you coming on today, Brad, and sharing what you're seeing and what we can do about it. It's been great, mate. Really enjoyed it.

00:42:26 Brad Taylor

Ah! Me too, mate I've absolutely loved it. And it's a great podcast as well. I've been listening to it and enjoying this. I think you're what you're doing is the right thing for the world and the organisations. So yeah, I'd love to be back and you know, continuing the relationship.

00:42:43 Andy Goram

Absolutely, and we'll chuck in a few more impressions next time. Well, look you, you take care, mate and I'll see you soon.

00:42:47 Brad Taylor

You too, thanks.

00:42:49 Andy Goram

Cheers, Brad.

OK that was Brad Taylor and if you'd like to find out a bit more about him or any of the things that we've talked about on today's show, please check out the show notes.

So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something, maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.

If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the Sticky From The Inside podcast. until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.

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