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Ep 513: Building Connection In A Hybrid World

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One of the biggest challenges of remote and hybrid working is the lack of face-to-face connection that humans need to be fully engaged and productive. This is always one of the main arguments for employers attempting to return their workers to the office. However, the advantages of remote and hybrid working are considerable and forcing people to work five days a week back in an office isn’t necessarily the best way of dealing with the challenges.

So what can employers do to foster a sense of connection, belonging and engagement and provide the scaffolding for high-performing teams? My guest this week is Sophie Bailey, Co-Founder and CEO of Worktripp. Worktripp is an Airbnb for business offsites, and Sophie has some hugely valuable insights to share on supercharging connection, creativity and culture.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The importance of face-to-face connection

• The consequences and cost of disengagement

• Why returning to the office isn’t the answer

• Bringing people together in a memorable way

• Offsites to increase retention and drive creative ideation

• Which companies do this well, and how do they do it

• The importance of environment

• Designing an effective offsite and why you shouldn’t start with logistics

• Long term planning to develop connection

• What does the future of work look like?

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Transcript:

Paradox (0s):
Support for this podcast is provided by Paradox, the conversational AI company, helping global talent acquisition teams at Unilever, McDonald’s, and CVS Health get recruiting work done faster. Let’s face it, talent acquisition is full of boring administrative tasks that drag the hiring process down and create frustrating experiences for everyone. Paradox’s AI assistant, Olivia, is shaking up that paradigm, automating things like applicant screening, interview scheduling, and candidate Q&A, so recruiters can spend more time with people not software.

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 513 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. One of the biggest challenges of remote and hybrid working is the lack of face-to-face connection that humans need to be fully engaged and productive. This is always one of the main arguments for employers attempting to return their workers to the office. However, the advantages of remote and hybrid working are considerable and forcing people to work five days a week back in an office isn’t necessarily the best way of dealing with the challenges. What can employers do to foster a sense of connection, belonging, and engagement, and provide the scaffolding for high performing teams?

Matt Alder (1m 53s):
My guest this week is Sophie Bailey, co-founder and CEO of Worktripp. Worktripp is an Airbnb for business offsites, and Sophie has some hugely valuable insights to share on supercharging connection, creativity, and culture. Hi, Sophie, and welcome to the podcast.

Sophie Bailey (2m 14s):
Hi, Matt. It’s great to be here.

Matt Alder (2m 15s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Sophie Bailey (2m 21s):
Yeah, absolutely. My name is Sophie Bailey and I’m the co-founder of Worktripp. What I do? Worktripp is an Airbnb for team offsites to supercharge connection, creativity, and culture in our new world of work. What does that all mean? Well, our vision is to help all teams to get together, enjoy work, and be productive. Our mission is to write the balance from what we see as the pure hyper efficiency of this new world of work to providing the scaffolding and the conditions for high performing teams.

Sophie Bailey (2m 59s):
Many of those things that your listeners will have heard about, so psychological safety, trust, motivation and engagement. Yeah, that’s a little bit about me and absolutely brilliant to be here.

Matt Alder (3m 11s):
Well, fantastic. So many topics to explore there. Before we dive in, let’s get back to the basics of all of this. We’ve had three amazing unprecedented years where the way that lots of people work have changed. Lots of people working remotely, lots of people work in Hybrid. Why is person-to-person, face-to-face, human connection so important when it comes to work?

Sophie Bailey (3m 39s):
Yeah, I love that you talked about that mainstream shift now to Hybrid. We know from, whether it’s recruiting platforms or other data that we are really settling into that Hybrid mode. I definitely think we still haven’t got the panacea of how we’re going to work, but there is a definite appetite for this autonomy and connection that people want. That’s something that is fantastic in so many ways. I’ve benefited myself from working remotely for over seven years and it’s allowed me to live where I want and to do all these things that the richness of life is far greater as a result, but for companies and teams, when that experiment is rolled out at scale, there are some challenges.

Sophie Bailey (4m 32s):
I think there’s a really brilliant opportunity now to of think about how we reinvent how we work so that it allows for all of those benefits but also smooths off some of the rough edges of remote work as well. To go back to your question, why is it important face-to-face and to really nurture human connection, it really comes down to this problem of disengagement. Disengagement has always been a problem at work, but in this new world of work, this is really now quite an acute issue.

Sophie Bailey (5m 11s):
To put this into financial terms, this is hurting businesses and teams to the tune of nearly 8 trillion US dollars. This is through absenteeism, staff turnover, and poor innovation. For any of your listeners that have delved into the Gallup state of the global workplace report, the latest ones in 2022, it’s pretty damning reading. Disengaged employees have a 37% increased rate of absenteeism. Those who have this greater absenteeism have 15% lower profitability and the average cost per employee is around $2,200.

Sophie Bailey (5m 51s):
If you extrapolate that to a team of 250, disengaged employees are costing over $500,000. This basically doesn’t even account for the human cost of that stress, lack of belonging, could be depression, and definitely is loneliness. We know there’s a loneliness endemic at work. In the UK, we have the all parliamentary party group working on exactly that. All of this adds up to a not great situation for teams, for innovation, for our collective human endeavor, and for our businesses as well.

Matt Alder (6m 34s):
The issues you described have been described extensively in the media. They’re in a lot of the conversations that we’re having and they’re being used by some businesses and some managers as a reason why everyone just needs to get back to the office and pretend the last three years hasn’t happened and get work back to where it used to be. Obviously, if you do that then you are losing all of the benefits that we talked about right at the beginning. There has to be another way. There has to be another way of looking at this issue. How can we make that human, face-to face connection happen while so remaining Hybrid and remote, without having to get everyone back to the office, and rewind and pretend it’s still 2019?

Sophie Bailey (7m 24s):
Definitely. I think we get very excited about this third way and not falling into this dichotomy of office first or remote first, which whenever you simplify things to that level, there’s usually the alarm bell should go off. We think there is this mix, and also the reality is that the complexity of teams, the complexity of the people that make up those teams means that you’re never gonna settle into this one mode. It will always be a mix and a spectrum and finding that sweet spot as a result. My answer before was all the bad stuff.

Sophie Bailey (8m 5s):
I guess, if we go back to that human connection and what’s positive, we know human connection really matters, and we can do some of this stuff remotely and that’s fantastic and very productive, but where possible, face-to-face really dials up certain elements of our working lives. For us, this is providing both the physical space but also the space and the calendar for deep engagement. I talked about remote is amazing at cutting out all of the wasted time of meetings that you don’t need to be in of commuting, but it can be quite individualistic.

Sophie Bailey (8m 52s):
You’re working through your tasks and it’s harder to have that spontaneous group, very fast paced, back-to-back ideation stuff. For us, we want to try and help teams to create that scaffolding that provides space for the longer term thinking. It’s perhaps more based around nurturing team performance. We know this really matters, so there was a recent McKinsey report not for want of overusing McKinsey as a reference point, but it was really interesting because it was all around psychological safety.

Sophie Bailey (9m 35s):
Their point in this recent report was that teams generally don’t do enough work on psychological safety even though we know it’s precursor to team success. For them, there’s this really interesting quote where they say “Invest in leadership development experiences that are emotional sensory and create ‘aha’ moments,” and learning experiences that are immersive and engaging are remembered more clearly and for a longer time. There’s this element of when you can bring people together and you do it in a very memorable way, so not a boring hotel room down the road from the office, but in a really considered way and really thinking about the need specifically of your team that you can create the underpinnings of success in the longer term, and especially when everyone’s then distributed again.

Sophie Bailey (10m 25s):
The second point is really around creative ideation. There was a Stanford experiment by a bunch of researchers and they found that in-person teams generated about 15% more ideas than virtual teams. For creative collaboration and ideation, being together is really important. The point is that offices are great, but for the most part, they’re not necessarily that space where we are really allowing for a different set of thinking. Too often, people go back to the office and it’s like plug in and crack on with some more zoom calls or teams calls.

Sophie Bailey (11m 8s):
Our whole thing is about encouraging people to a, think about why they’re getting together and then b, where they’re getting together and with which specialist support as well. Yeah, that’s a little bit about, potentially for us, it’s not one or the other. It’s working in the best of online, the best of remote, but also then, when you are getting together, make the most of your natural environment, make the most of the fact that you can think in a different mode than that reactive and very task driven way of doing things as well.

Matt Alder (11m 44s):
Which companies do this well and what is it that they do?

Sophie Bailey (11m 49s):
Well, unsurprisingly, there’s these suits like the big tech companies or scale-ups quite well. In terms of household names, one of our advisors, Q Hamarani, he is the person that basically came up with Airbnb’s work from anywhere policy. A crucial part of that policy was meeting quarterly. Have a very flexible way of working but come together quarterly to really nurture that in-person connection. That policy was hugely popular. I think 800,000 people looked at the recruitment page when it went up.

Sophie Bailey (12m 32s):
An alternative version of that was when Salesforce put a whole load of money into the Salesforce ranch, which was this beautiful campus to bring everyone together. Then again, like work flexibly. Dropbox, there’s a really interesting article about how they were using offsites to increase the retention of their top talent and that’s been very successful. Then another one that people probably have seen doing the rounds on LinkedIn is Shopify. They talked about canceling or meetings over a certain number of people being involved in them, really reducing the meetings, and then they use offsites again to drive the trust element that oils the wheels.

Sophie Bailey (13m 20s):
If you are working in a remote way, you then need to build that sense of different personalities and what motivates people and all those kind of things. Outside of those names, I think sector-wise, we are chatting to lots of companies in the FinTech sector because a lot of those companies are really high growth. They tend to work either in a Hybrid or fully remote way and they’re meeting quarterly to keep that company culture and engagement together as the company scales. Then just very quickly, NGOs, so philanthropic organizations, this has been part of the fabric of how they work for a long time.

Sophie Bailey (14m 4s):
They are very well versed in using offsites to convene their stakeholders. What we hope to do with that sector is just to help them continue to find really brilliant facilitators, coaches, and memorable venues, and keep that fresh and engaging as well.

Matt Alder (14m 22s):
That’s really, really interesting stuff and very interested to hear how the offsite meetings are evolving, because back when I had a proper job, which was quite some time ago, my experiences of offsite was very mixed. Either we went to a hotel, we were in a meeting room with no windows, and it just meant we could start earlier and stay later because we’re all staying in the same building, or if something was a bit more structured, doing crazy things like climbing up ropes, cliffs, and outdoor pursuits, which which never really connected to what we were thinking about.

Matt Alder (15m 6s):
I think that many, many companies have done these in the past and perhaps not got the full benefit out of them. What makes for a good offsite? What are the key elements and what would your advice be to companies to do this successfully?

Sophie Bailey (15m 22s):
Yeah, exactly. This is why I set up Worktripp to be honest. My background first 10 years of my career was in conceiving and delivering business to business technology events. Understanding the needs of those different sectors and then creating these experiences around the world. Through that, I saw what was brilliant about convening people usually when it was quite imaginatively done, and when it was exactly what you just described, which is this sad strata of business person traveling around the world. They could literally be anywhere because the conference hotels that generally are chosen are quite generic and, in this new world of work where employee engagement, branding, and positioning of companies is so crucial because it’s so easy to switch jobs, that doesn’t cut it anymore.

Sophie Bailey (16m 18s):
That’s the first thing is just that experience just isn’t good enough. The next seven years of my career I dedicated to educational technology and understanding the innovation that’s happening in education, how we learn, and that’s gone from pure optimization through technology. Learning more and more and more content. How do we do that to a greater sophisticated understanding of us as humans and our intrinsic motivations, how we learn, and what our limiting factors are and things like that. I think those two things combined was the driver behind Worktripp.

Sophie Bailey (17m 1s):
For me, I’m passionate that offsites aren’t just about booking a box and filling it with people. It’s not just about a line in the budget and a logistics problem. It should absolutely be about nurturing in a very mindful way the talent in our organizations and providing them the environment that they can connect with one another, that they can learn, that they have this proximity to leadership. This is now the business critical thing. When I looked at the market and the experience, it was exactly what you described, like very woefully underserved.

Sophie Bailey (17m 42s):
The worst excesses of that being hen and stoo websites with a little corporate tag. Because of the critical nature of us connecting as teams now and we know that our problems that we’re trying to solve are very interconnected, so developing the different disciplines of teams is super important ever more so. That’s the driver behind it. What makes for a good offsite? Well, one is as you would’ve heard people talking about why you’re going back into the office, really start with the intention. What is the purpose of bringing everyone together? Is it just about connection or is it about creative ideation?

Sophie Bailey (18m 26s):
Is it about getting marketing and the product team to work better together? Really think about what is the purpose. That leads me into too often, we know we need to do these things, but again we’re like, “Oh, it’s in a month, right? We better do something.” Thinking longer term and thinking about it as a flow of work in and out of this in-person mode and then back at your desk and how do those two things work together? Quarterly, if you were to craft what those touchpoints were over the year, what does that look like? As a result, which external expertise, be that an executive coach, a facilitator, workshop, or a speaker do you want to bring in to really develop those connections between and across your teams?

Sophie Bailey (19m 15s):
Thinking about it more than a one-off event as into a scheme of work over the whole year. I’ve talked about not starting with logistics because that’s the temptation is like, “We’ve got a logistical problem, let’s book a venue.” Then we are very passionate about environment. We have this campaign against boring venues and we are very passionate about the environment that teams choose and, in our platform, all of the venues that we put forward are pretty much in a natural environment. That doesn’t mean they’re not convenient. They’re quite often close to a city hub, but actually, you remove the temptation to think about going back home, going to the office, and actually it’s about like really being there, and underpinning that connection time as well.

Sophie Bailey (20m 9s):
Then just very quickly, and I think most of your listeners will know this, do not over pack the program. Going back to your point of either it being so scripted that you do not want your employees to feel held captive. It’s about having options and it’s about recognizing the different adventurousness on your team and perhaps having some options which are about self-development or some options which are having being able to connect with your team, doing different experiences, but not mandating all the time, and allowing some just free time for people to really pick that up.

Sophie Bailey (20m 52s):
One thing that came up in our research last year was that the typical mode would be a COO droning on to everyone and doing lots of workshops, and then basically, everyone getting drunk. One of the trends that we know about is that our younger people in the workforce, they really are hungry for self-development. They perhaps went to university work doing a lot of that learning online and then went straight into the workplace in a remote mode. They don’t have necessarily all those social proximity to leadership moments that we had.

Sophie Bailey (21m 31s):
Creating and thinking about healthy food, options for self-development, and a changing appetite for what’s included in offsites is quite important as well.

Matt Alder (21m 43s):
So much of that resonates. I think the thing that’s particularly interesting for me is the relation to for humans to their environment and how that shapes and drives behavior, because I’m guessing, if people are in a faceless, windowless conference room that looks a bit like an office, they’re gonna be answering their phone and behaving pretty much like they would in an office or doing their work, but actually a different environment creates that different behavior and unlocks different types of thinking, I suppose.

Sophie Bailey (22m 13s):
A hundred percent. There’s so much research about, for example, our ability to come up with creative solutions after walking is hugely improved and it won’t be a surprise to anyone listening to this about the effect of natural light on productivity, on wellbeing, or interrelations with other people. Those are things that we take really seriously when we’re thinking about what kind of environments that we would offer up in Worktripp. It is exactly that. We have this unique opportunity to reinvent that, so let’s absolutely do that.

Sophie Bailey (22m 56s):
Actually, the research is there to show that there are huge benefits. Gary Pratt is one of our listings and he talks about being out and in nature and walking is a very cost effective way of coming up with lots of great new ideas. It doesn’t always have to be super expensive as well as the other thing.

Matt Alder (23m 20s):
Final question, what do you think the future of work now looks like? How are Hybrid, remote, and all the things we do gonna evolve?

Sophie Bailey (23m 30s):
This is a really interesting question and it obviously something that we think about a lot. I really like, and I don’t know if you’ve seen, but IDCs view on the future of work. There’s lots of things flying around out there, but they talk about the future of work as fostering human machine collaboration, so enabling new skills and worker experiences, and supporting a reimagined physical workplace and borderless digital workspace. They talk about these three pillars being augmentation, culture, and space. Interestingly, space accounts for 60% as they see it of all future of work spending.

Sophie Bailey (24m 13s):
My view on this, having listened to over 250 and recorded and edited 250 episodes of the EdTech podcast and listen to people in this space, it is very much that automation is here. It’s coming and it will influence our working lives ever more. My view is that the most influential and high growth companies will channel that automation, especially for very repetitive task driven activities, but as a result, they’ll hugely invest and recognize the increasing value of human creativity, collaboration, and social capital.

Sophie Bailey (25m 1s):
There’s no point, in my view, us trying to replicate and keep up with computing power. Let’s just park that one because it’s just we are never gonna compete in that level, but what we can do is use that to save us time and actually use that time to really hone our true human creativity. The other thing that I think we’ll see is a continued unbundling of the traditional workplace. I think there will be a continued weakening of the tie between employer and employee.

Sophie Bailey (25m 41s):
We know we’re gonna live older. We are probably gonna have a greater element of this portfolio career and I think freelancers are one of the fastest growing employee base in Europe. I think that’s super interesting, and again, hopefully allows us to tap into the things that we really want to achieve in life rather than feeling that we have to be tied to one employer. Just finally, you asked about the future of work, so we talk about the future of teams at Worktripp. Again, the idea here is that the world is facing these so-called wicked problems and they’re very interconnected.

Sophie Bailey (26m 26s):
Whether that’s the environment or, again, automation, all these different things, they’re very interconnected and complex, and as a result, we need to be mindful that when we’re developing and our workplace cultures, that they aren’t just channeling this task driven individualistic approach, that they’re also nurturing our ability as teams and our ability to bring different problem solvers together. That’s, again, why we’re really passionate about trying to create a scaffolding for that to work well, which isn’t a hundred percent office, isn’t a hundred percent purely remote, but brings those two elements together in a new form.

Sophie Bailey (27m 15s):
Yeah, it’s an exciting space and I’m excited. I’ve got an eight-year-old and a two-year-old and I think actually, what a great opportunity, hopefully, they’re gonna have to work in a different way and to make the most of their time, so feeling optimistic about it all.

Matt Alder (27m 32s):
Sophie, thank you very much for talking to me.

Sophie Bailey (27m 35s):
Thank you so much. Thanks, Matt.

Matt Alder (27m 37s):
My thanks to Sophie. I’m very excited about attending Unleash at Caesars Forum in Vegas on the 25th through to the 27th of April. Please come and say hello if you’re there and I’m gonna be doing some podcasting from the expo floor. If you haven’t yet got your ticket, if you go to unleash.ai/unleashAmerica, you can use the discount code RecruitingFuture20ATT-SH to get a 20% discount. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice.

Matt Alder (28m 47s):
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, Recruiting Future Feast, and 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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