Jason Atkinson reports on our event: Finding effective solutions to get people back to work

HR Directors and other intelligent leaders joined Russam in our Zoom Room on Thursday 17th September 2020. The event was chaired by Cathy Kay – for more information contact [email protected].

Russam pulled together the broadest possible cross section of the UK’s top HR leaders – from gaming and hospitality to financial services and the public sector.  With HR teams being at the heart of the Covid-19 crisis it is vital to take all the support you can, share ideas and the challenges you are striving to overcome.

The Zoom was intriguing. All of our participants had so much to offer with what seemed like years of experience on the subject being gained over the last 7 months! The forum was open and respectful with the conversation evolving around the following themes and ideas:

1. Stay open for business 

Although the majority of our colleagues and leaders will be working remotely it is important to be visible as people need to know that you are still physically there. Leaders must be present – they must be seen in the offices and on the Zoom calls. Visibility is key and the senior teams must lead by example. It is also vital to be patient with the transition to new ways of working (this was mostly discussed in relation to returning to the office) as everyone will adapt in their own time; a phased opening is a good approach. We might even have another national lockdown.

2. Purpose  

A key word in our discussions.  You can’t just tell your people that they must come back as “this is the way it was”. There was huge consensus that spending some time on “purpose” is essential for getting people back into the offices. It must be authentic, most likely around how face to face time can create new ideas and mentoring and development time for more junior executives coming up through the organisation is important. We must remember that the most important question on a staff/Gallup style poll is “do you have a good friend at work”. It was acknowledged that meaning in work is harder to find in some roles and the people doing those roles must not be overlooked.

3. Creativity 

Companies are recognising the value of creative thinking and we agreed that creative juices and innovation were negatively impacted from being at home and this would only continue as we get towards a year of working from home. How do you replicate the “water cooler” moments on days spent working from home?

 4. 5-day week in the office 

Is dead and out of the window. High profile leaders such as Reed Hastings (Netflix) and Elon Musk (Tesla) want to go back to where we were pre-pandemic, but the consensus on our Zoom was that this would never happen. The right balance must be found for this future “blended” model. For example, if you hired someone 9 months ago pre-pandemic and they were happy to commute 2 hours to the office it can’t now be that new hires going forward dictate terms of 5 days per week working from home. The organisation needs to be fair but firm.

5. Role of HR 

Must become polarised in terms of being both hugely transformational and doing the gritty, detailed and tactical work in supporting people. HR must be BOLD. Also ensure that the whole organisation is considered equally.

6. Segmentation

Every organisation is unique (even within the same sector), with different cultures and heritage. It is important to understand the different segments in your organisation; for example, front line staff in a hotel chain can’t work from home as easily as those in the business support areas and head office. Your solution will be bespoke; it is key to design a work model that is loyal to pre-pandemic times but more purpose oriented (see above), showing the benefits of working from the office on certain days.

7. Information and education

Consistent messaging regarding health and wellbeing is essential and should be reviewed regularly to dispel rumours and give clear messages such as ‘you don’t auto catch Covid-19 at work’. Clear information which is factual, reasonable and realistic is essential and this must come from the top.

8. Pace

How do you ensure that you don’t lose that dynamism with WFH/Zooms? Everyone agreed that creating casual hang outs which foster personal connections and making the effort to keep all the lines of communication open is key to this and supports employees to feel heard and valued.

9. Technology 

We all agreed that this was working well, especially the use of G Suite (agreed best for collaboration). The use of tech (that obviously existed pre-pandemic) was now a hygiene factor. Internal social networks were often bringing people closer together with more sharing across all levels – chat and meet. These tools and apps are developing fast and offer us insight to the future of work.

10. What will it take to survive and thrive? 

Trust, collaboration, teamwork, innovation and agility. Not fear.

11. Communication 

It was generally thought that internal communication has hugely improved through the course of the pandemic. When fatigue sets in it is important to get creative – mix in more social events. A suggested example for sales teams that win a big contract was to “ring the bell” on a Zoom with the rest of the organisation present. One of the participants on the call had set up an innovative “stay well” Hub.

12. Respect 

Management/leaders must be flexible, understanding and change with the business. The obstacles appeared to be in the middle management level with some agreeing that at this level there is some resistance to change.

13. Cyber Security

We agreed that threats would be similar with or without Covid-19. Our participants were very confident with the systems and protection in place and this was not an obvious cause for concern.

14. Rewards 

It was generally agreed that, frankly, having a job is the best it can be for most people right now. However, some areas are thriving and there will be exceptions.  One of our participants provide software to the NHS, which is good, but with less people attending clinics other areas of their business have temporarily fallen. Perhaps it is all too unpredictable to make promises?

15. Revisit your culture statement 

Not a popular theme with our participants – all in agreement that it was way too soon to know what the culture was becoming.

16. Epiphany moment

The pressure will fuel great ideas, and this is the time to debate and make changes.

    In summary each participant shared their thoughts during the session and Cathy thanked everyone for their honesty.

    Finding the right balance between highly motivated and realistic target setting and behaviours is key. Cathy shared that when she is on route to the physical office there is a switch in brain activity, and it sparks fresh ideas.  She also shared her concerns that younger people are losing out on learning by osmosis – being around experience and hearing and seeing how the job is done.

    There was a recommendation from the group that using Agile, Sprint and Scrum methodologies are perfect for these times; focusing on specific projects, figuring out solutions together, whiteboard, video and discuss. The same participant commented on the wonderful role of HR and their role in transformation.

    Our HR Directors agreed that the session was supportive and that it is a nice reminder that you are not alone. It was also a reminder of the thinking required to find beneficial and genuine reasons for people to come into the office and, once found, define and drive them. We will see new, mixed and blended ways of working in the future.

    Key for everyone was that inclusive environments are created, ensuring people are not left behind, particularly if their job does not involve interface with a device making it much harder to involve them in social media chatter.

    There is frustration around individuals dictating how they will work and the differences in opinion of what is reasonable and safe. Some of our participants felt that people have been given too much choice. 

    We all agreed that trust is critical – it’s how you work, not where you work and there will be new ways of measuring productivity, personal targets and success.

    The last words – ‘focus on the purpose’.

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