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Ep 444: Workplace Culture

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With so much unhelpful noise around the topic of the future of work, I’m taking a deep dive into the practicalities of what is actually going on over a series of three podcast episodes. In the previous episode, I spoke to author Julia Hobsbawm about some of the challenges of this emerging new phase of work, and I want to continue this theme in this episode.

My guest this week is the perfect person to help me do this, and it is great to have him back on the show. Bruce Daisley is a speaker, author and workplace culture enthusiast. Previously a VP at Twitter, Bruce now hosts one of the world’s most popular podcasts on making work better.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Critical issues in workplace culture

• Why flex is the new pay

• The danger of uncoordinated hybrid

• Productivity and worker satisfaction

• The intentional curation of culture

• Using the office as a tool

• How management infrastructure is changing

• The rise of the community manager

• Rethinking knowledge transfer

• Understanding the demands of top talent

• Challenges for talent acquisition

• Work from anywhere

• The danger of nostalgia

• What will work look like in five years?

Pre-order Bruce’s new book “Fortitude”

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript:

Paradox (0s):
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Paradox (40s):
Curious how Olivia can work for your team? Then visit paradox.ai to learn more.

Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 444 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. With so much unhelpful noise around the topic of the future of work, I’m taking a deep dive into the practicalities of what’s actually going on over a series of three podcast episodes. In the previous episode, I spoke to author Julia Hobsbawm about some of the challenges of this emerging new phase of work. I want to continue this theme in this episode. My guest this week is the perfect person to help me do this and it is great to have him back on the show. Bruce Daisley is a speaker, author, and workplace culture enthusiast, previously, a VP at Twitter.

Matt Alder (1m 49s):
Bruce now hosts one of the world’s most popular podcasts on making work better. Hi, Bruce, and welcome back to the podcast.

Bruce Daisley (1m 57s):
Thank you. Thank you for having me back.

Matt Alder (1m 59s):
It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show again. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do for the benefit of people who may not have heard the previous interview or come across your work before?

Bruce Daisley (2m 11s):
Yes, so I’m Bruce Daisley. I guess I’m a Workplace Culture obsessive. I spend my time thinking about workplace culture, writing about workplace culture, and podcasting on it. in a former life, I used to work at Twitter. I was the European vice-president for Twitter, and I’ve worked at other technology environments in the past, too.

Matt Alder (2m 34s):
Fantastic stuff. Now, it was quite some time ago since we last spoke. We were talking about Workplace Culture and the issues that surrounded it then, which was at least a year, if not two years, between bare before the pandemic. I’ve been following your podcasts. I followed podcasts with interest through the pandemic and afterwards. In terms of the work you’ve done to really analyze what’s going on in the workplace now and what kind of needs to happen moving forward, without, I suppose, going all the way back to the pandemic and through everything that happened because, obviously, everyone would be very familiar with how work changed over the last six months or so.

Matt Alder (3m 14s):
What are the key issues that you’re seeing in the workplace from the people that you’re talking to?

Bruce Daisley (3m 21s):
I guess, really interesting one, because what we’ve witnessed over the last couple of years is a couple of things. A lot of workers have been given an insight into different ways of working that they’ve found to be very agreeable. Simultaneously, a lot of organizations have gradually come to terms with the idea that the world has changed. Really interestingly. If we delve into some of the research, there’s a wonderful academic called Professor Nick Bloom at Stanford University. He’s been tracking what firms expect to offer to their workers in terms of flexibility. Now, at the start of the pandemic in a global survey, the average firm is expected to give their workers about one day a week at home.

Bruce Daisley (4m 5s):
Now, it’s up to about two and a half days a week at home as an average. It’s indication really that I think there’s been a realization that working in a different way has been successful and has been incredibly popular with workers. I think that’s where we are. We’re in a stage at the moment where I think there’s still a generation of leaders who were finding this uncomfortable and the cohort of people who are finding this far less easy to manage than maybe what they were used to in the past. We’re seeing amongst workers. This has proved to be so popular that if we’re thinking about the impact of this on the recruitment sector, this is going to be a defining quality.

Bruce Daisley (4m 50s):
To some extent, flex is the new pay and understanding how critical this is for candidates. I think is a really important realization right now.

Matt Alder (4m 59s):
Absolutely. I think one of the things that strikes me is that it’s sometimes getting lost in the noise that’s around the debate. In the UK, you got various government figures coming out and demanding that people go back to work. There’s a constant stream of articles about articles with no facts or figures in them, opinion pieces going on about productivity dropping of. Then, I suppose, on the other side, I’ve spoken to people who advocate fully remote working, who are saying that hybrid doesn’t work so it’s quite difficult to get the signal through the noise at the moment, isn’t it?

Bruce Daisley (5m 41s):
Yes. I think you’re almost spot on. You’re precisely spot on with regards to how we’re thinking about this because yes, I think it’s fair to say that exactly right. The hybrid is, in many ways, worse than either of the other alternatives. The critical thing is that what’s worse is uncoordinated hybrid so the office had a network effect to it. The office had an effect where the glory of the office was bumping into someone and having one of those water cooler moments, those casual encounters, and two things are going wrong right now. Either there’s a lack of coordination, firms are saying to their workers, “Come in on whatever days you want or come in on three days that of your choice.”

Bruce Daisley (6m 25s):
As a consequence, the office is being stripped of that network effect. We’re just not bumping into people or, alternatively, we’re making a journey into the office. We’re finding ourselves on back-to-back video calls with people who are working from home. We’re thinking this is frustrating. This isn’t coming together the conversation that I was anticipating. I think it’s an illustration that we just need to be a bit more structured. We need to enter into this, even though maybe it feels a little bit counter-cultural to the freedom that a lot of people are celebrating. We need to start laying down some rules. My favorite example of the way that firms are experimenting with this is to one organization who said, “Look, our culture is Wednesday plus one,”

Bruce Daisley (7m 13s):
and I just loved the simplicity of it. I love the intuition of it. The idea of Wednesday plus one is that actually they’re going to go out of their way to cultivate this network effect on Wednesdays and they want plus one, because they want a degree of collegiality. They just want the office to have a bit of life the rest of the time. Then you might end up with the finance department are in on the Mondays and Wednesdays and you might end up with other teams who say, “Look, we’re not going to be in the same patterns.” They’re going to just use the office in a different way. Now, clearly, it begs the question, how big an office do we need going forward? I think it’s got the degree of coordination that has been absent from some of the experiments that have witnessed right now.

Matt Alder (7m 60s):
Yes. I think that makes a lot of sense there during the pandemic. There was this sense of just trying to replicate everything that worked in a face-to-face office in a face-to-face office on zoom. I watched people having to check in on zoom every morning to prove that they are at their desk and then having back-to-back video calls and things like that. Back to back video calls is still very much the reality for lots of people. Also, going into the office and having video calls with people who aren’t there, so as you say, we are going through this stage of experimentation at the moment to really work out what’s going on. One of the things that’s interesting to me is the increases that we may have seen in terms of productivity in any data or found anything interesting in terms of how productivity might have improved If we’ve moved to these new ways of working.

Bruce Daisley (8m 56s):
And latest, just mixed on that broadly. A panel of economists were asked by the London School of Economics to give their judgment of how they believed hybrid working, remote working was going to impact productivity. They broadly came down on the perspective of saying, “Look, we don’t believe there’s going to be a huge upside in productivity. Where there is a huge upside is on worker satisfaction. What we witnessed with worker satisfaction is that it’s through the roof. Workers are much happier about working from home largely because they’re saving on average about two hours a day. Actually, where may be a slight productivity gain is that most workers based on Microsoft data, if they’re saving about two and a quarter hours, they’re gifting back about 45 minutes of that to their firm.

Bruce Daisley (9m 43s):
So workers are, on average, working for 45 minutes longer more. They’re saving an hour and a half because of the overall savings so they still see it as a good trade off. We are seeing workers work more. There’s a slight caveat in the tents that we don’t necessarily call that productivity because productivity is output divided by time. Work more, it’s not necessarily making them more efficient or more productive, but it is moving us in the direction of we are getting more done. I think broadly what we’re witnessing is that hybrid working or remote working ease a worker satisfaction play, and that obviously has big implications for recruiters for employers.

Bruce Daisley (10m 26s):
If you now say, going forward, we’re going to take this away from people, you’re effectively saying I’m going to make your life, your work-life balance less satisfying. What we know from the evidence about that is that when we asked workers who used to walk to work, workers, for example, who could walk to work generally were willing to accept less pay. What we’re witnessing now is that workers who are being told that they need to go to the office every day are expecting more pay so it’s got a big swing. I think, in general, if we’re asking workers to work five days a week in the office, they’re expecting about 30% more pay now, no doubt.

Bruce Daisley (11m 13s):
There are some employers who go, “Hang on a second. I used to get that for free. I used to have people in the office five days a week.” Sadly, I think that ship has sailed. There’s just been a change in the market. Now, you could well say that this might be changed by the fact that we’re about to go into something, give a recession or something, certainly a harder job market and potentially, we might see an adaptation on these, but right now, I think we’re in a zone where we are witnessing a fundamental change in the expectations of workers and it is having an impact on the recruitment market.

Matt Alder (11m 54s):
One of the big selling points for organizations when it comes to recruitment, talent acquisition is their culture. In the past, culture has always been such a big part of employer branding. It was something that you could literally see, feel, and hear as you walked into a building. How do you think hybrid working or remote working is making companies think about culture differently? How are they driving culture through that change? How can they use it as a selling point in recruitment?

Bruce Daisley (12m 27s):
Culture used to be one of the things that happened by accident. The parallel for me is the way you used to go out and use to socialize when you were 18 compared to the way you socialize when you’re a bit older. Certainly, with longstanding friends, the way you’d socialize when you’re 18 was that it was Tuesday night and you were going out, or it was Wednesday night and you were going out, or it was Thursday night, you were going out. It was very ad hoc. It was very improvised. It was very adapted to the moment. As a consequence, out of nowhere, one of the nights would be glorious and one of the nights would be quiet increasingly, as we get older, if we want to stay connected to our friendship group or to people who matter to us, we curate those moments of gathering.

Bruce Daisley (13m 14s):
We say, “Okay, we’ve got a lovely reunion. We’re all going away somewhere. We’ve booked somewhere. We’re doing something.” We know that if we’re going to service the relationships that are meaningful to us, then sending a text to friends that you haven’t seen for two years saying we’re meeting in Wetherspoons on a Tuesday at six o’clock isn’t going to cut it. We need to be a bit more intentional about relationships that we want to feel as significant. That’s the principle change that we’re going to witness. Now, organizations who are going to try and create culture are going to recognize that there’s no substitute for being face-to-face with each other. There’s no substitute for really heartfelt affiliation and connection, but you need to curate those things in a slightly more intentional way.

Bruce Daisley (13m 57s):
What I’ve witnessed with some organizations is they’ve hired the community managers, people who, internally, their job is to just almost create, prepare, invent, gathering some rituals that are going to forge this connection. Most definitely, there’s been a fundamental change in these things, but I think there’s no reason in what I’ve witnessed. There’s no reason why you can’t have strong cultures from people who don’t spend as much time with each other. The example I give you with that is friendship groups. As we may move apart from people, but we also witnessed really strong examples in online communities.

Bruce Daisley (14m 37s):
Generally, they’ve got a strong meetup culture to the best on online communities, but they can certainly feel a bond with each other that isn’t necessarily dependent on seeing each other every day.

Matt Alder (14m 50s):
I also think it really brings home the point that employers should really be innovating and experimenting and really looking at how they can, I suppose, embrace this new era of work. I think one of the things, unfortunately, at the moment, is, as I said, it, we’re tending to see all the negative headlines, the companies who want people to come back to the office nine to five, eight to eight, whatever it is, every day of the week. I think, there are some fantastic innovations or really interesting things going on as you mentioned there, what other innovations have you seen?

Matt Alder (15m 33s):
What other things are companies doing to really shape the way that they are going to work as organizations over the next few years?

Bruce Daisley (15m 44s):
Yes, I think probably they’re thinking far more about how the office is a tool rather than something that they mandate. What I’ve seen is some firms have said Dropbox in the US. I’m always cautious actually of saying that US firms or tech firms have got the answers because from firsthand experience, I know that very often isn’t the case, but what we are seeing is a bit more experimentation with some of the tech firms. Dropbox say that, increasingly, their office, they regard it as a studio. It’s a place you come for experiences. Salesforce said something similar. Salesforce have created a retreat. They see, to some extent, the office is the new offsite location in the old ways that you’d go site.

Bruce Daisley (16m 28s):
If you want to do some thinking, some connection, some collaboration, or some creativity, now you come to the office to do all of those things. There’s most definitely been an adaptation in the way we’re using the office. I think that’s critical thing. If your culture is saying, “People need to be in the office three days a week,” but it doesn’t say what days and it doesn’t say why, broadly, you fall foul of one of the challenges that we’re witnessing here, that people are going to make their way into the office. Increasingly, the more people are chapped to, I often say to people, “How much is your fare into London, your tube, your train fare into London, or your train fare into Manchester?

Bruce Daisley (17m 8s):
How long is your drive into the city center of York,” or wherever they’re commuting situation is. You often are reminded with what a presence this has in people’s financial life. One guy last week told me that he’s train fare from Bedford everyday is 25 pounds. It’s like, “Okay, that’s a big investment actually.” Who do research on these things? Is that work very willing to do it if you can explain to them the workplace? Why? If you can explain to them why they are spending 25 pounds and the benefit they’re getting from it, they’ll do it, but if you’re asking people to spend 25 pounds, so maybe, if they’re going in three times a week, they’re spending 75 pounds.

Bruce Daisley (17m 49s):
They can’t get a rail card for it because unfortunately, it’s journeys after three times a week. That wildcards makes sense. It’s not making sense for that. They’re spending 75 pounds getting in. If they’re then spending all day on video calls, they’ll very quickly start thinking this system doesn’t make sense. This system isn’t built for purpose. That’s when you’re going to start getting a degree of subversion, a degree of rebellion. Just thinking about what are our objective of the office? What are we trying to accomplish with the office? I think that’s a really important consideration for us right now.

Matt Alder (18m 25s):
You mentioned earlier companies giving someone a role to create these purposeful gatherings, networking opportunities, socialization, and all that sort of stuff. How else do you think, I suppose, the management infrastructure of companies is likely to change? What effect will this have on things? Traditional functions like HR, for example, what other new functions could we expect to see?

Bruce Daisley (18m 52s):
I think the ones that I’ve witnessed is the community manager. I think firms are thinking about how work might look different. One of the things that increasingly is going to be relevant is maybe having something of a studio space or somewhere where the boss can record a video for everyone, or maybe members of the team might need to create more video content. Having somewhere that’s suited to that at home. So these things are a critical consideration, slightly re-engineering how we’re going to use the office is a critical consideration. I think anyone who’s thinking about how work is adapting probably needs to think about what roles are going to be important, what aspects of the job are going to be important.

Bruce Daisley (19m 38s):
One of the things that I’ve witnessed is, increasingly, we’re going to need to maybe get more things down on to commit knowledge to whether it’s video or electronic communication. For example, if these are best way to do something in your system, then there’s a best way to best procedure getting someone to video. How they do that is actually quite helpful tool. I met someone recently and she said, “We’ve been going through all of the people who joined our organization in the last two years. What we’ve witnessed is the ones who joined and were learning at home have learnt very different ways to do our core tasks and the people who work here.

Bruce Daisley (20m 19s):
That’s a really important detail, and maybe, creating these little navigated set up sessions where someone’s just videoing their screen and talking how they do something is an important consideration. It’s not something that we’ve got in the system right now. It’s not something that we’re used to, it’s not in our muscle memory so just thinking about what the jobs that we need to do that maybe have not been important before is a really critical aspect of this adaptation we’re going through.

Matt Alder (20m 48s):
I think that’s really interesting. I’m thinking of a example of a friend of mine. He changed jobs in the pandemic. Very experienced, talented person, but just changing organizations with different processes, slightly different software, different procedures was a nightmare because he knew how to do his role, but just not having that opportunity to watch over someone’s shoulder or ask a quick question, having to book an entire zoom call to ask how to log into something. It’s really interesting that you highlight that. I suppose it’s all those things that we never used to think about that we have to now really pay attention to in a different environment that are going to be the key to success here.

Bruce Daisley (21m 33s):
I think that’s the critical thing. The thing that I’ve witnessed is that the organizations who are trying to just proceed and do things that have been normal before are the ones who aren’t necessarily capturing the benefit at the moment. The amount of organizations I’ve met, I was with another organization last week. They’re like, “Yes, we’re thinking because things aren’t going well, there is a sense that maybe we will start trying to get people back to the office more.” I think, to a large extent, that’s missing the moment, but in addition, the challenge of that is that it’s going to make it more difficult to recruit. One of the critical parts of this is that it’s been incredibly popular with the vast majority of workers.

Bruce Daisley (22m 13s):
What we’re witnessing is that when people are quitting, their job flexibility is one of the critical components. Now, I chatted to one professor from Harvard business school, and he goes further than that. He says that his perspective is that, in the future, we need to understand the demands of top talent because they define the way that the market evolves. What he says is that anytime we’ve seen an evolution in the norms of a work environment. The example he gives is that when we saw that people were demanding email on their phones, it was top talent demanding email on their phones.

Bruce Daisley (22m 54s):
They were saying, “I’ve witnessed the other people in the organization have got a Blackberry. I want email on my phone.” A few years ago, top talent started demanding laptop rather than desktops or top talent started demanding the flexibility that they could access their emails from remote computers. Professor Raj Choudhry says that top talent is demanding that they can work from anywhere, not in the office two days a week, not in the office three days a week. Top talent is demanding that they can work from anywhere. Whether that is going to be end up position or not, it gives you a real big wake up call, because if your discussion is, “Can we get people back to the office for four days a week,”

Bruce Daisley (23m 42s):
or, “Can we change the way we do this,” you need to be aware that that is going to make you more difficult to hire top talent, not less difficult. The two things I always ask people to think about, I ask people to think about the network effect when it comes to trying to build their new culture, trying to get the critical mass of people in the office at any point. The market effect that, at any point, if we’re thinking about adaptations, we need to think about how is this going to make us look in the jobs market. I think that’s those two things are important thought processes in important models of thinking as we go forward.

Matt Alder (24m 20s):
Again, it’s really interesting because as things do get trickier, as we go through the year, there are severe economic problems going on all around the world, which don’t look like they’re going to get better anytime soon, then that does put pressure on some organizations. I can see that many would have this reflex reaction that we need to get everyone back in the office, because that will somehow make a difference. It will somehow take us back to where we were before, but as you point out there, they could end up in much more trouble if that was the approach they took.

Bruce Daisley (24m 59s):
Yes. Overall, the learning of the last two years is that organizations can’t act autonomously here. You can’t necessarily say, “Well, this is our policy and that’s what we’re doing.” Organizations who’ve tried to act with any degree of autonomy and not thinking they’re part of a market have pretty quickly realized that it’s having an impact on quick quit rates. Look, you might think you’ve got the freedom and the flexibility to change these things. Almost certainly, you’re going to witness yourself in a situation where there’s going to be an embarrassing backtrack. If you imagine that this way, organizations who give their workers more autonomy, who give their workers more flexibility, conceivably might be able to down scale their office space, conceivably won’t have to pay the 30% premium to have workers in the office all the time.

Bruce Daisley (25m 45s):
They’re showing greater agility to think about how work is going to look in 10 years, rather than try to create a version of work was in the workforce for them when they joined the workforce in the 1990s. I think, it’s a critical moment. One of the things that we’ve always said to employees, team members, colleagues, is that we need to embrace constant change. The modern world of work has constant change and right now, I think this is a really important test for all of us because constant change has come for us. Now, we need to demonstrate that we’re up to the challenge of meeting up to this constant change ourselves.

Matt Alder (26m 28s):
As a final question to you, you mentioned recruiting and top talent and the things that organizations need to do to be competitive in the talent market and making sure they’re getting the best chance of getting the talent. They need to summarize that. What would your advice be to the talent acquisition professionals who are listening in terms of how they might approach their strategy towards attracting talent over the next couple of years?

Bruce Daisley (26m 52s):
I think flex is going to be a really important component. If the organization you’re in is not offering flex or you’re not going to be able to offer flex to candidates, then almost certainly, you need to go back to the organization and say, “Fine, I can proceed with that, but I should give you the indication that we think we’re going to have to pay more in the absence of flex. Flex is a new pay and so that’s an important consideration. I think increasingly it’s a good idea for any of us to look at that moment we’re in and to say, “Okay, where do we think the world of work is going to be in five and 10 years rather than where was it and what could we do?

Bruce Daisley (27m 43s):
Because if we want to be forward facing, and be thinking about the way that the world of work is going to evolve, almost certainly, having a nostalgic perspective of what used to be like is going to be a limiting factor. Actually, it’s going to limit our ability to see clearly how we can adapt. I think, big challenges for all of us are conceivably something we can rephase brief frame as a big opportunities, but the critical thing right now is that the evidence is the work from home while it might not necessarily be a productivity play is a hugely popular work benefit.

Bruce Daisley (28m 24s):
As a consequence of that, we can’t really ignore it.

Matt Alder (28m 29s):
Bruce, thank you very much for talking to me.

Bruce Daisley (28m 30s):
Thank you.

Matt Alder (28m 30s):
My thanks to Bruce. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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