A litmus test
The CV-19 pandemic has been a litmus test of company culture. If you got your response right, you’ll most likely have found that it’s reaffirmed that your cultural foundation is good, and simultaneously given you opportunities to make useful changes and accelerate new ideas.
Our culture at Spotify is built on controlled chaos, operating with speed, testing without fear of failing and collaboration, so our cultural DNA helped tremendously with handling the crisis, and being able to evaluate the future with open minds.
As all eyes fall on HR and HR teams around the world draw on their learning agility to play the central role in this paradigm shift, organisations that can embrace this need for rapid change, and balance that with their people and culture knowledge, are the ones who will emerge the brightest.
There are several common denominators created from this situation – many of them related to the workforce and workplace. Taking the WFH situation as an example, it’s really obvious that the whole workforce, across the world, is experiencing similar things. Just look at the digital offerings now available, the new ways of communicating, planning and strategising, and the personal and business need for connection to the company culture. Also, the need to put even more effort into creating a sense of belonging and the importance of wellbeing, and not to mention a shared feeling of frustration. All of these experiences act as common denominators – the whole workforce can relate regardless of their location, or of their personal situation. Whilst they are things that are difficult to navigate, they open the door to HR to be exceptional business and people leaders.
Reimagining the future
It’s essential that we don’t mistake working from home during a pandemic as the new normal, and imagine that’s what work life will look like when we all have a choice again. Whether the new normal is going back to our office with all our colleagues, or a new type of a hybrid of maximum flexibility that talks equality to the individual, remit/mission, team/manager, or an approach that enables the 100% global digital nomad, it will certainly be different from working from home during a global pandemic.
At Spotify, we were able to carry out work from home surveys meaning that we could collect data from more than 5000 people on what it actually means to be forced to work from their homes, not be able to see and meet their colleagues face-to-face, eat lunch or be social with them. We used these surveys to explore what that means for Spotifiers and tried to seek answers to whether the feelings and experiences would be the same if they’d had the freedom of choice? Nothing indicated they would. Being deprived of the flexibility and the actuarial decision seems to change the whole experience in so many ways.
What if distributed work in the near future would be offered? Would less or more people sign up for it after this experience? We’ve gained some insights that have led us to prepare for three major clusters of band members (four if we also add the people who have not joined the band yet).
To find your best way of navigating this paradigm shift and making the most of the opportunity we suggest evaluating and ‘sorting’ the employees’ responses into cluster groups. We still don’t know exactly what our path will be, but it’s obvious that behaviour scientists around the world are the ones who should lead the way here.
If you‘re after some food for thought, think about this – legislations, insurances and unions were formed in a different reality. Current laws, taxes, insurances, working hours and vacation days (to name a few things) are made for a workforce that did not have the opportunity to choose where to live, where to work, how to work, how to get paid and when to rest, go on breaks and on vacation.
Ponder, and discuss with your HR-colleagues – what the possibilities are with each approach? And how does that affect what we today see as our HR processes, offerings and support?
That Human Touch
As you weigh up your options, it’s important to consider both business needs and people’s needs (your workforce), and how these two are integrated and can be aligned. You can’t ignore the human touch, after all this is the core of our profession as behavioural scientists.
From our experience, even if you have a lot of tech savvy young people working for you, they will still miss the human interaction. And even if there is no good study or industry accepted research yet, from the perspective of creative outpour of innovation, it’s gonna hurt. Yes, you can do structured sessions on zoom and facilitate where people brainstorm ideas, but it’s just not the same as the real thing. And the results will be different as well.
To account for this, offices need to change. This won’t be news to anyone, especially not the experts who work with this area all the time. They will have already been considering this fact, and we now have a lot of learnings to help with making some decisions. If you’re brave enough to think to the extreme, offices could be totally reimagined as a social place. Or in other terms, they will be the Real Madrid Club Blazer – a very exclusive membership. A type of membership where all members have a badge that allows them to go into a clubhouse where they can work, socialise and grow.
A lot of companies have already stated that they will continue to WFH even after the CV-19 pandemic. At first glance it’s a quick way to save lots of money and simultaneously look like you care about your people by giving them freedom. But to be honest, this is where you have to choose a path.
One path could be to stick to having high-spec, luxury workplaces in triple A locations for the majority of your workforce, where employees are expected to come to the office everyday. Alternatively, you can continue with the office space but just have it as an option for those people who don’t want to be alone in their single household, or those who decide they prefer shoulder-to-shoulder work with their colleagues after the honeymoon period of working from a cafe starts to fade. This might be one of the single most expensive employer branding tools ever. Another route is to explore a hybrid solution, where your employees have flexibility to choose when and how they use the office, but this comes with some restraints too (no fixed desk, certain amenities not as available), and will depend on you being bold enough to remind your employees of that. Finally, there is one more path – one that looks like it’s a people-first decision, but I question that logic. And here’s why; in this option, you give your employees the freedom of working from anywhere, all the time, putting aside the known human needs. Yes, there’s no denying that it will save you money in the short run. However, you’ll soon realise that if you still want to be a caring, relevant and (truly a) people-first company, you still have to pay for all the rewards, benefits and perks. For example, things like co-working memberships, around the world insurance, solving the problems when the employee forgets, or is even unaware that tax will change when they change countries (or even states within a country).
Although seemingly more expensive, having an office supports equity and belonging, mental health and wellbeing, energy, creativity, innovation, learning and productivity for all. To offer a relevant building even when most work can be done virtually or digitally, can be a true testament to your people that you listened to them, you hear and see them, all of them. And you give them authentic flexibility but with some pragmatic restraints. Not to control, but to collaborate, create and ideate. That’s what it means to be a people-first company.
Now we just need legislators, insurance companies and unions to understand that our laws, taxes, insurances, working hours and vacation days (to name a few things) are made for a workforce that did not have the freedom to choose where to live, where to work, how to work, how to get paid and when to rest, go on breaks and on vacation.
As technology erases borders, time zones are less of a limitation, and workdays and compensation can be more of a pick ‘n’ mix for employees, the policies, guidelines, laws and regulations are glaringly outdated. They were put into place as protection for the individuals but in this new paradigm shift they limit their way of working, developing and experience of work and life.