Our panel guests joining Joe and Jason this week’s episode are Marc Weedon, Steve Hunt, and Richard Phelps

Season 2: Episode 15 – The Future of Work and the Pandemic Part 2

Joe Ales: Welcome to the Underscore Transformation Podcast, my name’s Joe Ales.

 Jason West: And I’m Jason West.

 Joe Ales: And together, we’re the founders of Underscore. This episode is the second in our mini-series that focuses on the future of work and the impact the global pandemic has and the seismic changes in the workplace.

Last week we were joined by three special guests, Marc Weedon, International HR Director at Zuora, Steve Hunt, Head of Acquisition at Citi, and Richard Phelps, the management consultant and C-Founder of the Human Times news service. And they are back again for the second part of our conversation.

Last week, we discussed the rapid change brought about by the pandemic, and organisation’s response in the first few weeks of the crisis. So, Jason, what are we talking about today?

 Jason Wes: This week we’re talking about the medium to long-term changes to business brought about by COVID-19. It’s impact on mental health, the effects on society of rapid digital transformation, some really practical tips for managing video conferences, how businesses are starting to repurpose their real estate, and we’ll touch on how the skills HR professionals will need to best respond to this new world that’s emerging. And frankly, a whole lot more, it was a really interesting conversation.

 Joe Ales: It really was. We closed off, last week, with Richard talking about the impact of remote working, the increases in productivity that have been seen, and what it means for where people can live and work in the future. I was keen to understand, from Richard, what the impact will be on teams delivering products and services to customers remotely, and whether we’ll see the world reverting back to the way it was, once the crisis is over.

 Richard Phelps: My view on that generally is we won’t. Because I think competitively organisations have worked out that digital is… there are huge advantages to it. And if you can get the right people, you need to train people to become more digital, to take cost out, to become more effective. So, I personally think it’s here to stay. It’s almost like it’s one of the major challenges for HR and leadership is to question how digital are we? Do we need to become more digital? How do we do that? Who’s got the skills? Have we got everyone skilled up? Yeah, I think it’s also societal from a societal perspective, a broader issue now, because it’s clear that, you know, there’s 30, 40 million people unemployed now in the US, I’m not sure how many here [the UK]. For those who are not digitally trained, they won’t be able to get back into the workforce. So it’s clear enough for me and for my everything I’ve seen and read. I mean, that is, you know, we’ve moved now 10, 15 years into the future. And organisations have got to adapt to it. It’s going to be difficult because I think some you know, we all like what we did in the past. And if you look at the organisations on the Nasdaq and organisations that are performing better now, they’re all the ones that are actually more technology driven and adapted do more quickly.

Jason West: It’s an interesting one from a societal impact perspective, there’s going to be a lot of disenfranchised people potentially if we really, truly have seen a very permanent shift into the future by five, 10, 15 years. Just how countries, societies deal with that is going to be a pressing issue.

Richard Phelps: I think that’s right Jason, yeah.

Jason West: Is anybody thinking about this that you’ve kind of seen reported in the press or anything like that at this stage? Or is it still very much focused on dealing with the here and now?

Richard Phelps: Well, Jason, I think there is there’s a lot more pressure on…I think that there’s different markets here. A lot of people on this on this podcast, they’re from big corporates. So, the big corporates are in a good position to retrain people, also to mentally look after their staff as well. And I think there’s probably more pressure now on corporates to do the mental health stuff. There’s a lack of trust around governments more generally at the moment in the last few years there has been. But there’s no question that this is a big, big new area. There’s not so much new, but there’s huge amounts of suppliers coming into the market providing apps. Most organisations now have got a chief happiness officers or wellness officers. And they have clearly become much more important over the last two or three months. You know, organisations are now trying to work out how they measure the level of mental health issues they’ve got, you know, how they look at people individually as well as collectively. A lot of technologies emerging around this, particularly apps that people are using. You know, obviously, people are working a lot at home. There’s lots of stresses at working at home and organisations are having to deal with that. I mean, I’m sure we’re all aware that what I’ve seen from today, HR functions, is that quite a number of them have got a lot more during this pandemic, that there’s been a lot of focus on providing very practical terms, regular calls to individuals to find out how they’re coping, and call ins with, you know, with individuals who they see as high risk, etc. So, you know, it’s all steps up the mental health side of things. I think that was there was there was essentially an awful lot of discussion about it before. But now it’s almost certainly one of the biggest topics there is.

Marc Weedon: Yeah, I agree with that Richard. I think one thing this crisis has done is put mental health very much on the agenda. And like you said, I think during this time, engagement is absolutely key. And at a time when you’re pushing everybody remotely, it’s all about how do you make sure people still feel connected despite being so dispersed. And some of the things, you know, at a practical level, which we’ve been doing as a business, for example, is the things that Steve mentioned earlier. We’ve had a weekly leadership call, both a global executive committee plus one level down. Plus regionally we have weekly leadership calls, just a business update and you know how things are going and just checking in. We’re a big user of Slack. So all sorts of Slack channels have popped up now for, you know, working remotely and sharing best practices around that, both for managers who manage remote teams. They’re also just a general slack channel on home working where people just say, “hey, this worked for me, it might work for you.” And then there’s a… particularly at the outset, I think you’re getting a bit tired of it now… that particularly at the outset where you’ve lost the social dimension to work, there was all sorts of virtual stuff happening where we are trying to replicate that social angle. So, you know, having virtual pubs, virtual quizzes, virtual coffee mornings, you know, virtual desert island discs, all that sort of stuff’s being done.

But I think it’s important that there needs to be an acknowledgement… and again, I think Richard alluded to this… That there is now more than ever before collision between work and home life. That is causing problems. So, how do you provide a support infrastructure to deal with this? And, you know, it’s always pretty fortunate in the sense that we already had a reasonable infrastructure in place. We’ve always had a employee assistance program, for example, through workplace options, and we’d be promoting that very heavily throughout this pandemic. We’re a long-time subscriber to LinkedIn Learning and they’ve got a number of courses around remote management. So, I know those courses have been downloaded even more times and we’ve just subscribed to mindfulness app, which has got sort of a thousand plus hours of content around how to maximize your work-life flexibility, in this particular environment. But then aside from that, it’s taking your cues from your leaders and what they’re doing. So, yeah, various leaders around our business, and these are being adopted across the board, are being conscious of things like when you’re scheduling a meeting a) do you need that meeting because, everyone’s getting very tired of Zoom and that’s impacting mental health. So be careful around what it is and who’s invited. And that when you are scheduling it, you should do it for 25 minutes or 55 minutes instead of half an hour or an hour. And that builds in mini breaks. Making sure you build in exercise. Making sure you have an hour off for lunch, setting a start and end to your day rather than letting it drift at the end of each day. We started doing Zoom free days now. So, we have this Wednesday, next Wednesday, Zoom free day, for example, in some some areas. As an organisation every month since the pandemic started, the executive committee said “right we’re having next Friday off”. There’s been a monthly Friday off just to enable people to recharge the batteries and the amount of positive feedback we get, people saying, “you know, Christ, I needed that day off! That three-day weekend.” You’ve got to manage the mental health as we come out of this as well. So what we’re doing is reassuring people that as we come out the other end, particularly with regard to any office reopening. We’re providing reassurance that any reopening we do is this is going to be very much considered. And by the way, you don’t have to come back to the office. So, if you own a work from home indefinitely, then that’s fine. We’ll go with that. And I think that’s provided a lot of reassurance that people can choose to flex how and when they work, basically.

Richard Phelps: Marc, what you’re saying makes absolute sense, right? I’m sure that this is going to become a critical area for organisations to get right. And HR functions should be right in the thick of it. To the extent that, as you say, you’ve got it is very nuanced there are different types of environments that are going to be held for different people in different circumstances, as Steve was saying. You’ve got young people in their 20s will need different support to older people and people with families, etc. But this is all going to be about how you really get the best performance out of people. Especially as in my view, there’s no question, this is not a temporary situation. We’re moving to a more remote world. I mean, my guess is that what I’ve seen is that, you know, we’re probably looking at maybe 30 percent of people going back to work; already many organisations are talking about not needing so much office space, and the office space that they have, talking about making it different, not having places for individuals to work, making it more for meetings with teams, etc., so this is going to be a this is a critical area for organisations to get right.

Jason West: And it does seem to be a lot more just mentally taxing, being on Zoom calls all day rather than being in back to back meetings for some reason. I don’t know why that is, but it’s there’s something about the kind of the continuous video conferencing that does seem to be a bit more mentally taxing.

Richard Phelps: Jason, I totally agree. It’s exhausting. But, you know, we’re only just getting into this and I guess but, you know, as Marc was talking about, that there will be best practices for this. How should people behave? How long should the meeting be? What should be the protocol? Except, as you can see, great things coming out of this. But at the moment everyone’s trying to work it out.

Jason West: Yes. And I really like your point, Marc, about the shorter meetings give people space. We’ve seen it in our training business in that we had to take a day, two day, three day long courses and then break them down into no more than hour webinar sessions, because people just cannot cope with any more than that. But the upside is that you can fit… Instead of having to send someone away for two days… They just fit an hour here and there around over a two-week period. And they get to digest the learning in between and then go and apply it in their day job. And actually, some of the learning outcomes have been much better than if you’d send somebody off for a two-day course.

Marc Weedon: Yeah, I agree. I think, yes, there’s almost an element of having to learn as you go along. So, yeah, we had a quarterly business review, which is normally a day off and a nice city somewhere, which kind of lost eight hours. And we said, oh, we’ll just do it over Zoom. So we had an eight hour Zoom call… And the learning was. We’re not doing that again! So our next QBR we’re actually breaking it up into hour long segments over a three week period. So there’s an element of if you try it and if it doesn’t work, you adjust it.

Jason West: Yeah. So, Steve, working for a multinational organisation. You must be the king of Zoom by now. How have you found it?

Steve Hunt: Well actually we didn’t have Zoom to start with. We have our own conferencing technology, which as we scaled up that infrastructure, we were doing a lot of phone calls to start with. Then it’s moved into Zoom. So that’s sort of changed over time as well. But actually, I was thinking about as everyone was talking was I think it was a very strategic HR challenge to what we’re facing, which is had already over issues for four hours, other’s capacity planning, resource planning in the business, but also thinking about that from the H.R. function in this situation. When we were discussing the various challenges at a personal level – what is productivity or have you score his productivity? I know from a G-8 perspective that, you know, it’s one of the easiest areas, of course, the capacity, because you can apply a lot of metrics to it. But had in size different availability of your employee base. Bearing in mind all the factors that we now have to think about. And so I think that plays into it, when you start thinking about how you work, how you communicate, how you make things effective. I think that’s going to be a major challenge. I think that talks to all the issues that are on the table here, when we think about things like location strategy or all of the type of skills that you need. So I think that’s something that needs to be front and centre as we start to probably change the design of certain parts of the world. And I guess what we know right now is that that needs development within.

Richard Phelps: Steve, I’m totally you with you on that. I mean, the whole workforce planning piece now moving forward is critical. Understand, you know, the simple stuff. But, you know, it looks as if we’re going to have a more difficult time economically. So what is this? What are the issues here around cost? Now, for example, I mean, with people there’s all sorts of questions that need to be answered. You know, what are the skills we need for the future? People’s roles, will they change? Do we need as many people? What about the digital as we bring the, you know, the remote working? Does that save us a lot of money? Do we need all those things? And that hasn’t really been talked through. And I think at the moment it’s kind of interesting because there has been a whole mantra about people before profits. And I’ve read quite a lot on this, is that there’s almost an embarrassment at the moment to make money. So is, you know, we’ve got to put our People first, etc., but I think that’s I think as we getting to this more difficult period now with furloughing and things, stops being in place, and it’s going to you know what will there’s going to be a lot of questions about organisation, some of the ethics around getting rid of people. And you know, what is the purpose of an organisation as well, which HR really need to be thinking about. Is it all about delivering shareholder value or is it is it more about you know, there’s a lot of talk about sustainability and more green culture, green environments, etc. giving stuff back to the community, which I organisations are thinking about a lot more now, as we come through, as we come through the, you know, the next into the next phase. Really?

Jason West: Yeah. When it comes to making those difficult decisions around size and shape of organisation, potential restructuring and all that side of things, to Steve’s point, your core unit, as you kind of do your normal resource planning is your FTE. But those FTEs used to be fairly consistent that they generally, you know, people working eight hours starting at 9:00, ending at 6:00 or whatever, now that kind of working day just doesn’t quite exist in the same way. And people might, you know, sort of work to a certain number of hours or potentially do we perhaps start moving more towards an output focused engagement with people? Is that a potential outcome of this, that we go back way into the past where people are paid for what they produce rather than for the time that they spend in the office?

Marc Weedon: I think in the first instance, you just need to gauge employee sentiment around that. And, you know, we  ran a couple of surveys. So one is part of our normal quarterly pulse where we asked people around how they felt that we’re dealing with the crisis, for example. And as we’re starting to reopen offices, we’re also surveying people’s opinions around how much productivity has been impacted by homeworking, what their appetite to returning to the office is, what they want to be doing going forward, etc. And what we’re finding is that a) a significant majority of the respondents are saying that home working is not impacting my productivity. So that’s kind of 80 percent plus actually, in most cases. And, you know, the return to office surveys, which we’ve done so far, and this excludes the US, which is our home territories, well, where our HQ is based and where most of our employees are based and we’re not starting to open offices there at the moment. But across EMEA and Asia Pacific, where we started to do this, 70 percent plus of employees want to retain flexibility. So, what they’re saying is “Yeah, by all means re-open the office, but I want to still be able to choose how I work. And the office will be a drop-in centre for me, rather than a permanent location.”

Richard Phelps: I think that’s fascinating that, you know, that you’re getting that feedback because that’s very different to what the view of people working remotely was before in many organisations. It was viewed as you need to be in the office a few days a week, working from home, you know, if you really need to fine, but that’s totally changed. It will now, I think, totally change. I mean, to the extent that most people want to work from home or it’s not so much wanting to work from home, it’s having the right to work from home and also having the right to go into the office. So, it’s kind of their choice.

[Intermission: You’re listening to the Underscore Transformation Podcast. If you’d like a few more tools in your crisis management kitbag, why not visit underscore-group.com/cmrtoolkit to hone your crisis management skills and lead your organisation through recovery.]

Marc Weedon: I think what the crisis has shown is, is very rapidly you can change an organisation and it doesn’t fall apart. And there was some suspicion about remote working in the past. You know leaders… there’s some leaders who are thinking you’ve got to be seen to be trusted or I don’t know if you’re doing a good job unless I can see what you’re doing sort of scenario. But the last few months, what we’ve been able to demonstrate is you can work from home. You don’t have to be visible, but you’re still being productive. And so, I think that that particular genie is out of the bottle now. And I don’t think it’s ever going to be put back in.

Jason West: What’s the impact going to be on… The one I worry about is innovation. You know, you’ve alluded to it, Marc, that you’re contemplating or you’ve actually offered extended or permanent working from home for people that want it. And some organisations are already kind of in that space, as you’ve mentioned earlier, how do they deal with those kind of watercooler conversations and when you can’t physically get people together? How do you kind of drive that innovation within a business?

Marc Weedon: I think the innovation has started already. So I think the moment we shut the office down or offices down, that’s where the innovation started. It started with a lockdown, basically because he had to really pivot the way you’re, thinking you had to rethink about how you engage with people. You had to redesign how you’re hiring people, onboarding people, learning and developing people, managing people remotely and so forth. For me, the innovation has already started and what a crisis has done is kind of accelerated stuff which has been blabbed about for a long time in the HR press. And we’ve seen more progress in the last three months in some of these things than we have in three decades, frankly. So, you know, from that perspective, you know, it’s not a case now of let’s think about this innovation it’s kind of out there already. It’s starting already.

Richard Phelps: I agree that, Mark, you know, this has proven that a lot of the older thinking, as you know, things like being in the office, you need to be seen, need to kind of appear at these various functions is not really necessary for productivity. But in terms of innovation, I think it is an interesting one. All of the academic research would say that… Well this is the old academic research, of course… But I would say that in order to get innovation, you need to get people, people need to meet physically, you know, and and talk about things. You have to have working groups, etc.. That’s changed. It may be that that was never true. But I suspect I mean, what I’ve seen organisations are now starting to, as I said earlier on, restructure their workplace to have more areas for people working together as teams. There are a number of them, the banks talked about it recently in the press, and it may well be that you’ve got to have a mixture of people, you know, on these kind of innovation or work teams working physically and, you know, face to face and also remotely. And I guess it may actually help organisations to get more people involved in innovation than them before.

Jason West: Never waste a good crisis.

Marc Weedon: Yes, exactly. And remember, the lack of an office doesn’t mean you can’t meet.

Jason West: Yes, yeah.

Marc Weedon: We’ve got people in countries where we don’t have offices. But if they want to meet-up we just say “book out a meeting or somewhere in a hotel or whatever” you can still do that on an ad-hoc basis. So, the ability to collaborate because there’s always to be a human need for face to face stuff going on, that’s not going to be removed. I think what this crisis is accelerating and Zuora is not alone in this, this comes out through my HR network too because we a call about this last week, what it is doing is just causing people, causing organisations to think about their real estate footprint. What is the role of an office? So instead of being a place where you are more or less there permanently, that you’ve got your allocated desk. It’s more of a drop-in centre. It’s a collaboration hub as opposed to anything else.

Jason West: And Steve, from your perspective. Have you started shifting focus on to how you use your kind of footprint across EMEA?

Steve Hunt: I think everyone is thinking about that. But I think we’ve been very clear that we are an office-based company that has some flexibility. And I think I think the size of organisation that Citi is so many different levels, so many different types of jobs. And, as I said, we built up that credit by working together and collaborating together over a period of time. I think we know we will remain an office-based company, but we’re we’ll look at what it means from every lens, really. I think we already had flexibility, we clearly have the ability to work successfully across borders. There’s already a remote nature to that. We’ve proved over the last few months that we can successfully several cards and keep our employees productive and happy, through a very difficult period, but I think it’s one of the things we’re talking about. I think are becoming very real, because many, many employees will feel “Well, I’ve been a very successful working from home” Right. I think you can’t forget the very personal nature of these things. If you think about someone who’s commuting into London and is no longer paying £5000 for a season ticket and getting three hours or four hours back a day, you know, you can’t underestimate what that means to someone personally. And it’s particularly important at different levels. I think that there is going to be, generally in the market when I think about hiring, is these things are going to become much more important to candidates and in terms of their decision making. I think companies are going to have to respond to that. So, we’re thinking about what these years causation, as I’m sure, o many are, I think is going to change over time.

Richard Phelps: Steve, just on that, I think customers are going to expect things very differently, which is going to also impact on the way people are managed. I was reading, and have been reading a lot recently, about the financial services industry and the use of robots. You know, customers being much more comfortable to use Bots when calling asking questions. So, I think customers are getting more and more used to getting serviced through technology than ever before. And they are being forced, to a large extent, everyone working from home in this pandemic to use remote services. So that is going to undoubtedly question organisation structure because customers will be less used to… but will be more accepting of not doing what they have in the past to receive products and services. And also, they’re probably going to want, this is more of a personal thing, but they’re going to want higher quality service. And I’m sure that everyone on this call, on this podcast today, is doing a lot more cooking. I personally, have been doing an awful lot of cooking in the last three months, I’ve realized how, you know, how much how much it costs to create something which is actually quite good quality. And I feel quite sorry for the retail business and the restaurant business, because you think you then start to realize, you know, when you’re going to go back to the restaurants that you are expecting the quality levels to be much higher than you’d been producing yourself. So, yeah, I think there’s going to be all sorts of interesting, interesting impacts, not just from the work. But customers are going to be demanding different things now. There’s been that that change in the last three months, not just for customers of the HR function, but customers of the whole of actually organisations like financial services, customers, etc.

Jason West: Yeah. And as we’re moving out this kind of survival phase into more recovery and rebuilding, what are the kind of main priorities that you see that organisations need to have around their people? There was a recent Gartner report that said 64 percent of HR leaders are prioritizing employee experience as they think about the return to work. But what other demands are there and is it right to put employee experience right at the top?

Marc Weedon: I think I mentioned this earlier, but I think engagement is absolutely key with businesses coming out of this. And the first question which should be asked whenever we’re looking at redesigning any process or introducing a new initiative or whatever it is, is exactly, exactly that. “What does the employee experience going to be?” The role of HR in all of this is going to be critical, so as you said, we’re coming out from this particular crisis and now it’s all about trying to rebuild the business. You know that the spotlight that’s putting on the HR function to make sure that the employees are engaged and have it be a good experience through this is absolutely key. So, from an HR point of view, being able to understand the language of the business is, you know, mapping our strategy to the plans and priorities of the business as it emerges from this. Being an ally and support to our leaders. So having an appropriate balance of supporting and guiding our leaders, but also challenging them and to holding them to account for the changes which need to be made. That’s an important balance to maintain. We’ve talked about culture already a number of times. So our role in being kind of the culture custodian for want of a better term and being very mindful of the fact that it’s taken years and years and years for it to be where it is today. And given COVID’s been such an accelerator, just making sure it’s not denuded or destroyed in super quick time by an inappropriate misstep, for example, with this is going to be key. That means as an HR person or an HR organisation, we need to be appropriately opinionated, so particularly when it comes to matters on our turf. So if there’s engagement issues, communication issues, motivation issues and so forth, all the stuff around employee experience, we should be making sure that we are having our voice heard. Part of that is not just put people at the centre of everything, but also keeping things simple. I think that that the danger coming out of this is that might be a tendency maybe to over complicate things. And I think at this point in time, people want to keep things simple.

I mentioned earlier that, you know, one thing COVID has done is it makes you concentrate on what is absolutely core to the business, particularly when it comes to learning and development content and things such as that. It cuts away the fluff. And so we need to use this as an opportunity to do that. And then ultimately, the credibility of HR always lies in its ability to deliver. So just making sure we maintain that strong orientation to getting stuff done as we help our businesses come out of COVID is absolutely key. And part of that when you get down into your capabilities around planning, prioritization, project management, influencing, all that sort of thing.

Jason West: So we’re likely to see then an increased demand for things like user experience design, a broader solution design, change and project management within the HR function, as a result of what’s happened. But it’s always been a bit of a challenge, is finding HR professionals with those kind of skills. Do you see that as being an increasing problem as we move into this recovery phase?

Jason West: I think it will be Jason, but HR has to be right in the thick of things, has to be really, you know, in the expression “in the room where it happens” from the Hamilton musical and it’s got to be there right in the thick of things now. Because all of these issues are people related issues. Now, we know from all the surveys we’ve done as HR professionals, that HR is pretty lousy at project management, for example. So I think that will be, you know, there is a shortage of HR people who are, who can deliver this type of performance.

Steve Hunt: I think it accelerates what is a very well understood trend.

Richard Phelps: Yes, exactly.

Steve Hunt: Increasingly HR need marketing skills across different areas, project management, business analysis, all of those things talk to operational excellence, data driven decision making. That’s obviously a shift that HR’s been going through for a period of time. I think the interesting trend, and I’m seeing this a lot in my organisation is increasingly we’re bringing people from different parts of the business into HR to address those challenges. So, you know, you get a lot of skills in areas like business offices, for example, which will have a focus on areas like resource planning within a business. A lot of those types of individuals have a lot of transferable skills that I think could benefit HR. So actually my EMEA Head of HR is actually an ex-communications profession. So that is a really good example of it. But I think that’s something HR needs to do a lot more, is hire people from different parts of organisations to have a more diverse skillset.

Jason West: With the… Kind of to Marc’s earlier point… with the amount of innovation that businesses have had to drive, that’s resulted in wholesale changes to business strategy, overnight in a lot of places. So there’s been this really big demand on the whole organisation, but particularly on HR because at lot of this has changed regarding people. The backdrop to that, though, is we’re all severely constrained from a budget and cash flow, particularly, perspective. Even in industries where revenues have broadly held up. So, we’ve seen a lot of capital projects being paused or cancelled and lots of business transformation programs kind of mothballed for a period of time. As we get to something that looks a bit more stable, how soon do you think organisations will start thinking more about well what’s our long term reconfiguration? How do we how do we best move to whatever this new normal is? Basically, when does the focus shift do you think more from the zero to three-month planning horizon to further out?

Marc Weedon: Yeah, so from Zuora’s perspective there’s always been a long term plan to increase our annual recurring revenue from $200 million dollars to a billion. And we haven’t lost sight of that. I think what the crisis did was made the shorter-term planning horizon, which we have just that little bit more shorter term. But the usual quarterly cadence we have around our sales cycle, that’s very much firmly back in place. But we had to make adjustments along the way because, you know, obviously COVID has had an impact on the wider market. So the pipeline, for example, isn’t what it was a month ago, or two months ago, because other customers or potential customers are just putting off their purchasing decisions until they’ve got a bit more certainty around what they are doing.

But, yeah, that the long term piece is always that. I think the main thing from a professional point of view is for us to understand what we can do as HR leaders to help our leaders get back onto the front foot. It’s a great opportunity at the moment to… there’s always chat about HR never be at the top table etc. Yeah, this is a unique opportunity to get there. And it’s true what Richard was saying. So it’s getting to understand, you know, what the business is about, what the priorities of the business are. From a practical point of view, that means us as HR people facilitating those conversations. What are the mid-term, longer term plans? Yeah, in our business, we launched objectives and key results back in September. So all of the HR business partners are trained OKR coaches, so being able to go into the business and facilitate objective key results sessions. Facilitate business planning processes, all that sort of thing. Again, it’s a great opportunity we should take advantage of.

Equally, we should also be mindful around challenging the business as it comes out of this around culture, org design, cost base, real estate, all the other bits we’ve talked of and then understand how that impacts HR and just making sure that all areas of HR from the moment you bring somebody into when they choose to leave, that, you know, we’ve done a complete overhaul of all of the HR processes, ways of working to make sure that this kind of fit for the new world.

Richard Phelps: Just building on what Marc says, I totally agree that it’s an absolutely critical and golden opportunity now for HR professionals to get right into the thick of the planning process for the future, and to ensure that the people elements are all very well covered. There are huge implications for the organisation on the people side. You know one we haven’t talked about is training, you know, we are in a very different world now. Customers will want to interface with us in digital training. I mean, it’s a huge area, behaviours. So, you know, it’s this is a huge opportunity. But, my view is that, you know, every HR function will have to be right in the thick of it. If they’re not, then then it’s going to be very poor result for the organisation because they won’t get the best result.

Jason West: And what was a fantastic opportunity, becomes a threat to the HR function in that organisation. And Steve, from your perspective, has there been any change in kind of that long-term strategic projects or is it just the here and now that’s changed?

Steve Hunt: Yeah, I see the type of organisation that we are, our focus on clients is absolute and that hasn’t changed. Obviously, this is a health crisis and we’ve been through major crisis crisis’s financial markets before of course. But financial services is a critical industry in terms seeing us through this crisis. So, of course, our client’s needs have changed dramatically in some cases and our priority has been responding to that.

Jason West: Now, this is a podcast focused on business transformation and very much practical advice for people that are bringing about change in their organisations. So what would be the one thing our listeners should really focus on from a people perspective as we adjust to this new normal? If I go to you, Marc, first, what’s your view?

Marc Weedon: It’s putting employees at the center of everything, which you do. So as we seek to reopen offices, it’s engaging with the people to understand their sentiment around how they felt about remote working and what their views are around where and how they choose to work from going forward.

Jason West: Fantastic. Thank you. And Steve.

Steve Hunt: Yeah, very similar. I mean, we have we have this sort of mantra, which is “it’s not the date, it’s the data.” And clearly, as the situation develops, that’s going to guide the decisions we make in opening offices and the amount of people that can come back to those offices but very much making a personal choice for the employees. And the situation will evolve. So, I think how we respond to that will be very much putting our employees front and centre in the decisions that we make, based on the data.

Jason West: Fantastic, thank you. And Richard to you.

Richard Phelps: Similar really HR has got to be right, right in the middle of making sure the employee experience is fit for purpose.

Jason West: So, I think that kind of focus on employee experience and putting employees front and centre is a great place to bring the discussion to a close. It’s been fascinating and I’d like to thank you all for your insights and contributions.

Marc Weedon: Thanks, it’s been good.

Richard Phelps: Thanks, Jason.

Steve Hunt: Thank you.

Jason West: OK, fantastic.

So, these past couple of episodes, we’ve been focusing on HR’s response to the pandemic, the stresses and strains it’s placed on the HR function and the opportunity it’s presented for HR to really take on that leadership role.

Now, we’ve got a couple of weeks’ break coming up then we’ll be back in early August with another expert panel to consider what the new demands being placed on HR function mean for the HR profession, and the skills and capabilities they will need to develop to best respond as we move into a period of recovery and rebuilding. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss out on the upcoming episodes. As ever, if you found this episode useful, please share with your colleagues and why not leave a review – your feedback is always welcome.

Joe Ales: Thank you for listening and stay safe everybody!