Returning to the Office: Balancing the Needs of the Business and Employees – Part 2
The second season of the Benefits and Wellness Superhero Podcast begins with a two-part panel.
Listen to part two of the two-part discussion led by Thorpe Benefits President, Roger Thorpe with panelists Mette Johansen Keating, Founder and Creative Director at mettespace, and Lisa Taylor, President at the Challenge Factory, Inc. focused on what’s needed for a successful return-to-office policy.
Read the edited transcript below, listen to part one and watch the full video panel.
Roger Thorpe (00:28):
Hey everybody. Welcome. it’s Roger Thorpe here from Thorpe benefits. I’m joined by my friends and colleagues, Lisa Taylor, and Mette Johansen Keating.
We’re here to have a really thoughtful, very insightful discussion about the transition of going back into a trusted, safe, and productive workspace. I’m really excited about the points of view that Lisa and Metta bring to this conversation because it’s also from Lisa’s point of view, a lot of research, a lot of discussions with companies about what they have done and how they feel about this and Metta looking at it truly from what it’s going to look like inside the workspace and how people interact in that environment.
We’ve had a previous conversation where we talked a lot about trust and that the trust needs to be there from the employee to the employer for them to follow along and embrace the changes and the new setup as employers are really trying to be that employer of choice, especially during a time where they’re still trying to recruit talent, what is it that employers can do to enhance that trust level across the board? Both of you might want to take a stab at this.
Mette Johansen Keating (01:45):
I think trust goes both ways. You need to trust each other. You need to trust that that if someone is working from home; it’s more about the delivery of what they are actually doing rather than how long did that take and just feeling that it’s not something you don’t need to sit at the office and actually have somebody going by and looking at you actually being productive. And there’s something else wrong if you don’t have that trust. There’s something else, like what Lisa was saying, there’s something else wrong in the relationship. Why do you have the job? It goes both ways and it has to do more than just trust, I guess, respect for each other.
Lisa Taylor (02:42):
You mentioned that, in general, Canadians have a pretty good level of trust with their employers. So each spring there’s a trust barometer report that’s done by Edelman by a third-party organization. And they ask Canadians, who do they trust? And they include politicians and media and their employer and their family and all different categories of people. And historically employers do really well when everything else seems to be difficult to understand what’s the truth and who can I trust? Typically, employers do pretty well in those scores. What’s interesting about that right at this moment in time is there’s all this discussion about the great resignation. And I know that you want to get to that in a couple of in a couple of minutes, but I just want to set up that conversation, anchoring it in this concept of trust.
Lisa Taylor (03:35):
So there’s a lot of discussion about who’s coming back to certain jobs and who is not returning to certain jobs and who’s quitting, right? Who’s saying “thanks but no thanks”. One of the early reports that has started to come out that says, and what makes the difference is that it’s actually not by sector or by job or by economic status or by profession. The thing that’s making a difference on whether people are returning or staying with their employer or not is how they were treated over the last 12 to 18 months. So it really isn’t a matter of this sector versus that sector. Although there certainly are dynamics and we can talk about industry dynamics and what’s happening with jobs if you’d like, but specifically to the question of who’s coming back and where is there more fleeting, freedom and flexibility to experiment a bit and to use some of the trust capital that you may have in this moment in time when things are uncertain, you can’t manufacture that right at this moment. You’ve got to look back on based on the last 12 to 18 months; have you fostered trust within your employee base? And if you haven’t, then what does your leadership team need to do to recognize where that’s been a failing and to make sure that they understand that that needs to be fixed going forward, or any plan that you put in place is doomed to see high turnover, doesn’t matter what decision you make.
Roger Thorpe (05:03):
So there’s still time to fix or patch some of those mistakes, perhaps in fact, maybe going forward with being proactive with signs or demonstrations that show that you trust that employee and you want to enhance the interaction and relationship. If you didn’t have that during the pandemic, now’s your chance, right? Maybe your last chance to, yeah.
Lisa Taylor (05:29):
Yeah. I mean, it takes trust and courage from the leadership team if it’s not performing, right. It’s not something that you throw up on the website or a title, employer of choice that you use. Your employees know your culture is one of our vice presidents says it this way all the time. Your culture is how people describe what it’s like to work for your company. When they’re at the dining room table with their friends and family, that’s your culture. And if that’s not a conversation that is the way that your executive team would hope that your employees are talking about it. That’s a culture issue. That’s not a real estate issue and that’s not a crisis emergency issue. That’s a deeper issue that you need the leadership team to have the skills, the capability, and the courage to be able to look directly at and do something about.
Roger Thorpe (06:15):
Mette Johansen Keating (06:16):
Okay. What I’ve actually sort of realized is we’ve talked HR. I think that’s been a lot of focus for decades on the R the resource and less on the H for the human. And I think this has shown us that we need to see who are the people we trust when they say it, they have fear, there’s fear in it. And if they say it’s not working for them at home, or if they’re sitting in their bed, or did you show up that you help them in this process while they were working at home?
Roger Thorpe (07:05):
Yeah. I’m excited when you talk about that, about when people physically are in the office, you can speak to them in a safe office environment where people are seeing the body language, not just the eyeballs, and start to have some of those difficult conversations. And we know that organizations are all talking about diversity and inclusion and that those conversations are not always easy to have and they’re putting themselves out there and they want to have these conversations regularly. So hopefully having people around a safe space is going to allow people to continue to build on that human factor. Right. I know from the mental health standpoint, we’ve been noticing that companies that talk openly and honestly about the nature of mental health, mental health illness, they’re the ones who create a safer environment for people that can thrive in a workplace, even if they are managing a mental illness along the way. So that’s going to be important
Lisa Taylor (08:07):
At the same time, the blend of in-person and technology has given an amazing glimpse into new and better inclusive practices. So, the ability for workers and professionals and individuals who have a disability to be able to engage using different technologies in real-time, that might not be the best for them sitting in a busy or crowded conference room where everybody needs to speak up for their moment to be able to interject into the conversation or for newcomers or employees where english may not be the very first language or the level of education. We have seen that there is a role for us to be better about how we blend in-person and communications technology. But again, that comes down to what’s the work and who are the people and how do we bring out the best work with the people that we have, and that we want to be attracting and using our real estate spaces and our technology as tools to do that. They’re not the headline. The headline is the people and the work that needs to be done for the company to be successful.
Roger Thorpe (09:13):
Right. And you’re sort of jumping on a question I wanted to ask; how is that interactive relationship changing? I hope we’ve learned things like you said, from a virtual environment that we can maybe take into the live environment. Mette, do you have anything more from the physical space side of things that would encourage that different type of interaction?
Mette Johansen Keating (09:39):
Yeah. I mean, so not that I used to talk about my book, but I called this at we have a book coming, but I call it sonography and it’s creating a platform like a stage where people want to be able to perform. And that is like at home or it’s at work, or it’s like a hub, wherever people are going to be performing. So you need to decide, what do we want that to be like, what do we want them to be able to perform on that stage, on that platform and take it seriously? So, when they’re in doing that work on that platform, does it work like needed? And that also goes for at home, if you’re going to be working at home, an employer needs to create that platform for employee to be able to perform at home. And that means setting up a healthy work environment, like a height adjustable desk or proper chair, and the IT infrastructure, what this means for this person, that they can actually do the work that is needed for them at home, or go to work. So you need to just take it seriously, the platform that you have, that you can make that better. So people can perform the best that they can.
Roger Thorpe (11:05):
There’s so many meanings to that word. I hear you say that its performance for my own ability to be able to show everyone my strengths, demonstrate those strengths have an opportunity to be in the spotlight once in awhile. And how do we give people that but the word performance sometimes gets blended in with productivity, doesn’t it? You know, so maybe that’s a good place to end on is that we’ve been debating a bit. Are we more productive at home versus the office? How would you guys respond to that debate or that question? And don’t have to take one side, you can speak to either side. Mette, why don’t you start with that? And we’ll finish up with Lisa.
Mette Johansen Keating (11:49):
I think productivity is such a funny thing because it’s like, some people can do the work in two hours, another person needs six hours so you can’t really say, okay, I was at the office for eight hours and, and then I put in my time. I guess it’s more about what you do with the time that you have. And I think for people who have been working from home felt like they needed to be on all the time, which is totally impossible because the sort of little breaks that you would have done a day at the office, you don’t have necessarily at home. So, I think people have been working way too much and what we’re hearing is about burn out and they don’t have that change of scenery like they would normally have in a day. And that’s unhealthy for all of us to do that so much.
Mette Johansen Keating (12:43):
But I believe that we can get way more done in a shorter time if we actually sort of have more quality versus quantity of time. And it’s been shown, I know people in Europe, they actually have way more vacation and they take their vacation where here people have like two or three or four weeks maybe. And a lot of them are actually working that time. I’m like, so I think if we just do more quality versus quantity, we can actually get as much done, but we need to be able to respect our time, respect our employers time and employee’s time.
Lisa Taylor (13:26):
I really liked that answer. And I don’t think I’ll add anything to that. I think maybe what I’ll do is just take it into a slightly different direction. And, and that is to remind everybody that we are emerging from a crisis and crises have their own rhythm and the way that you manage them, the way that you make decisions, including its resolution. So, we are not finished with the crisis yet. And even before we were in the crisis, we were already seeing radical shifts in how work was being done and in the dynamics of the workforce. So, the way that the Challenge Factory likes to think about that and talk about it is that we were already in a talent revolution and then we added a crisis on top of it. But as we resolve the crisis and look to hopefully the resolution phase and coming out of it, it’s really important to recognize that we’re exiting a crisis into the middle of a revolution that has continued while we haven’t been paying attention.
Lisa Taylor (14:27):
All of the dynamics around demographic shifts around career ownership and the relationship between employers and employees around the role of the freelance or gig economy and the dynamics of precarious workaround platforms that transform how work gets done and around AI and technology, all of those things have continued on while we’ve been distracted and strictly focused on COVID issues of social justice that have emerged. There’s been a number of really big crises that have impacted us. And I think what needs to happen given that we are exiting a crisis into a revolution is that we give ourselves a bit of a break and we stop with the declarative statements that the decision we make today is the decision that we’re going to carry forward with forever. I think employees and employers want confidence that they understand what the other one is thinking for now and with some level of stability going forward, but we don’t need to have the answer forever right at this moment.
Lisa Taylor (15:28):
And we can build on what Mette was just sharing: to be able to experiment a little bit together, to think through what some of these things mean for each department or division or manage your team or manager or employee, and to craft what would meet the needs of the organization at large, right at this moment in time. And when’s the next time we’re going to review this to see if it’s still working. If we take a experimental approach instead of a policy approach, we’ll end up with fostering better trust and making better decisions. And so that’s what I would encourage.
Roger Thorpe (16:09):
Nice. That’s great. That was a perfect sum-up to the whole situation that we’ve been dealing with and acts as a good reminder of what we are still in as well.
So, well, I think this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for your time and your experience and insights on this. I think our audience will really appreciate what they’re hearing today. So both of you might want to just take a second to re-state what your business is all about and also how people might be able to reach out to you for more information Metta, would you like to start?
Mette Johansen Keating (16:43):
Yeah, so my company is called mettespace create spaces, and I’m now calling it sonography for working life because I think it’s about creating that stage. You can reach out to us at mettespace.com.
I’m happy to have a conversation with your organization to see how we can create the space for your staff at home and at work. And yeah, and I have my upcoming book, Take Your Space. So I hope that’s out in the fall. I’ve had time to do that. So silver lining to a pandemic!
Roger Thorpe (17:19):
We’ll look forward to seeing that.
Lisa Taylor (17:21):
Great. I’m Lisa Taylor and the company is called Challenge Factory. The website’s challengefactory.ca, where research and insights consulting firm that’s focused on the future of work. And our specific expertise is helping organizations shape the future of work that they want instead of preparing for a future of work that someone else has defined. And on the website challengefactory.ca, you’ll find all kinds of free resources, publications, books, videos, and resources.
Roger Thorpe (18:07):
Great, well then awesome. To finish it off to say that people have even more which they can access is wonderful. So I know my client community, my the rest of my network will really appreciate learning more about you, what you guys have to offer. So, thank you again for your time and effort. Really appreciate it.
All right. Be well, everybody!