How companies are paying employees more flexibly in the cost-of-living crisis

With the cost-of-living crisis deepening, workers are counting the days until payday more than ever. But is now the perfect time for organizations to rethink rigid pay cycles to help out employees, or is there not enough long-term value?

Global payroll technology company Ceridian recently reported that 53% of U.K. employees had found managing their finances trickier over the last 12 months. Alarmingly, 61% of respondents aged between 18 and 34 years old said an unexpected expense of £500 ($606) would leave them unable to fulfill other financial obligations, including rent, mortgage payments, and insurance.

Thankfully, advances in digital technology are generating innovative ways to pay employees faster. One of the various options available to employers seeking to pay their staff quicker is advance payments. Apps such as Earnin or Dave can help with this. Meanwhile, other progressive organizations have established pay-on-demand systems, allowing workers to access their wages when required. 

David Brown, founder and CEO of Hi, a social enterprise that enables businesses to boost their liquidity through its payroll solution, said that “employees should be able to get paid either daily, monthly, weekly or monthly based on their needs.” He cited a 2019 Mastercard and Ipsos Mori survey that found 61% of workers would like instant access to their earned wages – and that was before the pandemic.

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in December 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

HR teams admit fault for why most new hires aren’t working out

Most human resource departments across the planet are feeling deep buyer’s remorse, according to new research.

Thomas International, a talent assessment platform provider, surveyed 900 HR professionals globally and found nearly two-thirds (60%) of new hires are not working out. And the majority of respondents blamed themselves for effectively taking shortcuts that turned out to be dead ends.

Nearly half (49%) of hiring managers said recruits were unsuccessful because of a “poor fit between the candidate and the role,” and 74% admitted to compromising candidate quality due to time pressures in response to the Great Resignation and a tight labor market.

It seems that this post-job-move remorse hasn’t just been a burden on HR teams, but the new hires themselves. “We see a higher level of regretted choices because things have not worked out the way the candidate had hoped,” said Piers Hudson, senior director of Gartner’s HR functional strategy and management research team, referencing trends his organization’s proprietary data has highlighted.

However, he added that overall, there has been an “elevation in expectations,” particularly among younger generations, that employers are finding it difficult to live up to.

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in November 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

The best business uses for automation

Every business leader knows that robotics and AI can reduce operating costs and free up employees for more enjoyable tasks. But how is automation fitting into common business functions?

Finance

Finance professionals spend a chunk of their time collecting, tracking and chasing receipts and invoices – up to 2.7 working days every month, according to research by spend management specialists Moss. Yet up to 16 working hours for every 100 transaction-related tasks could be saved by adopting an automated spend management platform. That’s according to Saray Hamarneh, strategy and business development manager at Moss.

Waste-management company Biffa has triumphed after binning its old cash-collection system. Emily Munnoch, the firm’s finance director for shared services, explains that an AI-powered order-to-cash platform has helped to secure and accelerate cash flow – by expediting invoice payments and managing disputes and credit risk. “Our dunning success rate has improved by 22.5%, which has reduced overdue debt and improved cash flow for the business,” she says.

And there are further benefits. “All of our credit controllers love using the platform, and it has enhanced customer communications because we can now communicate electronically with more than 99% of our customer base,” she adds.

Elsewhere, Ilija Ugrinic, commercial solutions director at Proactis, an international payments software business, offers two examples. His company saved Screwfix £100,000 year-on-year after introducing “one standardised, integrated automation solution that streamlined receipt, approval and exception handling”. Additionally, Wigan Council, which deals with around 90,000 invoices a year, improved invoice processing by 66% using Proactis’ solution and generated an annual saving of £120,000.

HR and recruitment

Shayne Simpson is managing director of TechNET IT Recruitment. He admits that he took a risk in choosing a solution that automates recruitment processes and communication with candidates using staffing software company Bullhorn’s cloud-based platform. But he insists that the gamble has paid off. 

“In the last six months we have saved 28,609 hours, sent 144,269 automatic emails with a 53% read rate, and sent 45,852 texts,” says Simpson. “All of this equates to the admin of 30 full-time consultants being completed by a robot every month.”

Jason Heilman is Bullhorn’s senior vice-president for automation, AI and talent experience. He points out that the average recruitment firm currently automates more than 20,000 emails, texts, updates, notes and tasks each year. “Cumulatively, this represented an estimated saving of 2.5 million employee hours in 2021 alone, equal to freeing up three hours every day per recruiter,” he says.

Chris Underwood, managing director for executive search consultancy Adastrum, though, is ambivalent. “It’s important to question the reliability of AI in implementing the diversity and inclusion agenda during recruitment,” he warns. “Take Amazon, for example, which no longer uses AI in HR as it discovered its AI-driven candidate screening discriminated against women.

“Removing the human element from HR will only frustrate and limit the candidate’s company experience if interviews are robotic.”

Legal and compliance

The legal sector has been slow to take up AI and robotics. “The scope for efficiencies in legal processes is staggering,” says Jonathan White, legal and compliance director at National Accident Helpline. “While law firms have been behind the curve, we’re beginning to see significant advantages, particularly in automating processes around creating documents with common features such as non-disclosure agreements.” JPMorgan’s contract analysis solution, Coin, can reportedly complete 36,000 hours’ worth of legal work in mere seconds, White explains.

Tom Dunlop, co-founder and CEO of legal tech developer and provider Summize, claims to have developed the world’s first integrated contract lifecycle management solution. “The average reported time to review one contract manually is approximately 92 minutes,” he says. “With large organisations managing an average of 350 contracts each week, speeding up this process makes a huge difference.” Summize’s product, which uses AI and natural language processing, means a contract can be created in under two minutes and then the first-pass review in under five minutes. “Clients report time savings of 85% or more compared to manual processes,” he adds.

With nearly a quarter of a million legal contracts stored within one central system, Elliott Young, chief technology officer at Dell Technologies UK, required such a solution. “The legal team was reading approximately 800 contracts per quarter, so processing the repository would have taken 212 quarters or 53 years,” he says. Instead, a proof-of-concept system that combined AI and humans achieved the same results in months.

Marketing

“Automation presents a huge opportunity to build on the foundations of our relationships with customers,” says Carlene Jackson, CEO of Brighton-based digital transformation consultancy Cloud9 Insight. “If a customer follows you on social media, that could trigger a private message which encourages them to download a guide from your website.” That message could then generate timely emails with useful content based on pageviews or links which they have accessed on subsequent visits. 

Natalie Cramp is CEO of data science consultancy Profusion and agrees. “Automating even basic processes like email builds and sends can save marketing teams a lot of time and money. It can also, crucially, increase marketing effectiveness while removing the potential for human error.”

Of course, mistakes can still creep in. In January 2020, for instance, Aviva accidentally called all the customers in its email base “Michael”. Cramp continues: “If businesses can dedicate time to more complex automation, such as data management and algorithms, these can fuel highly personalised customer journeys and lead to a huge impact on customer experience with vastly increased sales.”

Nick Mason, co-founder and CEO of Turtl, a content automation platform, says that personalised content can generate up to 10 times more subscribers. “You can cut the time to produce sales proposals by 90% if you use pre-existing automation engines to create personalised digital documents,” he says.

Customer service

For Virgin Media O2, which has around 47 million customers in the UK, automating its contact centre was a strategic imperative – not least because uncoordinated messaging to the business’s 7,000 agents was leading to inconsistencies and knowledge gaps. 

Last October, it overhauled its processes using Intradiem’s intelligent automation solution. The platform was used to deliver training directly to agents’ desktops; to send notifications to help keep call-handling time within preset thresholds and to facilitate their ability to take breaks on time and to use the off-phone time to stay up to date on internal communications, explains Faye Herring, Virgin Media’s workforce planning manager.

“Within four months of launch, more than 3,500 hours of offline time were delivered to agents’ desktops via Intradiem to make productive use of what had previously been wasted available time,” she says. “And it reduced the average call-handling time by up to 60 seconds.”

Greg Adams, regional vice-president for the UK and Ireland at Dynatrace, offers an equally impressive example. His company’s work enabled UK health and life insurance company Vitality to adopt a proactive servicing model. “Its customer service teams are automatically notified when Vitality’s members encounter errors in their digital experience, so they can contact members and resolve the issue instead of waiting for them to get in touch to ask for help,” Adams says. 

He adds that the proactive customer support capability has helped Vitality to reduce policy lapse rates among members who come up against problems in their digital journey by 65%.

This article was first published by Raconteur in November 2022

Remote-working Gen Zers using would-be commutes to develop side hustles

For some remote workers, how they spend the time they would’ve been commuting has been critical. For Gen Z, specifically, it’s meant developing side hustles.

The most recent calculations show the average one-way trip to the office is 27 minutes and 36 seconds for U.S. workers. In the U.K., it’s almost the same: 28 minutes. Remote workers effectively then gain an hour daily. 

In the U.S. alone, workers now spend 60 million fewer hours traveling to work daily, compared to before the pandemic, according to the New York Federal Reserve’s Liberty Street Economics blog. Its findings show that, depending on age, people do different things with that time.

Older cohorts tend to devote more time to childcare, DIY, and cooking. But younger workers, while reallocating commuting time to social events, exercise, and eating out, are also making use of the extra minutes to develop side hustles and learn new skills.

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in November 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How to fix the NHS: a Canterbury tale

David Meates overhauled New Zealand’s Canterbury District Health Board so that it became a world-leading exemplar of integration. He believes that a similar approach could prove transformational for the embattled NHS

The maxim “prevention is better than cure” is widely attributed to the philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam, who died in 1536. Has this adage ever been more apposite for the NHS?

Analysis by the Health Foundation on 13 July found that up to 39,000 extra beds are likely to be required by 2030 in England alone if the service is to restore the level of care it was offering before the pandemic. Scaling up could cost the taxpayer as much as £29bn.

The day before, Public Health Scotland statistics revealed that only 65% of A&E patients had been seen in the week ending 3 July within the Scottish government’s four-hour target time, marking the worst performance since weekly records began in 2015. In the previous week, data from freedom-of-information requests to every NHS trust in England showed that almost 117,000 patients had died last year awaiting care – close to double the pre-pandemic figure. Meanwhile, a record 6.5 million people are awaiting non-emergency treatment.

So, when 42 integrated care boards (ICBs) were created across England on 1 July as part of an NHS shake-up, the fanfare was muted. New pathways, such as blood-pressure checks in betting shops, failed to quicken the pulse of some observers, while the drafting of children’s mental health specialists into GP surgeries underwhelmed others.

Yet these actions were designed to transform how healthcare is provided and prevent avoidable premature deaths in the coming years. But such seemingly mild doses of alternative approaches to medicine could, with injections of trust and collaboration, actually revive the fortunes of the NHS tomorrow. So says David Meates, a consultant on the ICB roll-out.

By developing these ICBs and empowering local teams, communities and people, the potential of “precision health” – an approach to care that’s integrated, efficient, highly personalised and designed to cut hospital stays and costs – can be realised, he argues. 

Meates is well placed to comment, having led the transformation of the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) in New Zealand. His organisation came to be seen as a world leading exemplar of integrated health pathways. (But even paragons aren’t immune from being restructured out of existence: at the end of June, the CDHB and 19 other district health boards were merged into a new body called Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand, which oversees the day-to-day running of the system for the whole country. ‘Te whatu ora’ translates loosely from Māori as ‘the weaving of wellness’.)

As CEO of the CDHB in 2009-20, Meates was responsible for the health of about 600,000 people. He inherited an organisation in desperate need of reform. Indeed, when he arrived, there was “internecine warfare” between various stakeholders – hospitals, GPs, care homes and pharmacies – according to Meates. The divisions generated by these self-interested factions had led to a “complete breakdown of trust and confidence of the community. Frankly, the very broken system couldn’t keep doing what it was doing,” he recalls, pointing out that the CDHB had been unable to hit its targets and was “perpetually in deficit”. Sound familiar? 

Seeing so many functions pulling in different directions, he understood that there was “nothing binding them together and no shared sense of purpose – a common ‘why?’” Meates set about reasserting the core aim of the CDHB: to improve the integration between community and hospital care by rebuilding trust.

He resolved to use relatable language and build a social movement that engaged various cultures and created a simple, user-centred vision for a better health service. His work aimed to make healthcare preventive rather than reactive, giving patients and communities the tools and knowledge to take better care of themselves. First, he invited the factions to an open forum to try to understand their frustrations and rebuild trust.

“We involved people from outside the system to stimulate those conversations, because stakeholders in this sector often look at problems through an internal lens,” Meates says. “Using other organisations as a part of the engagement also makes for a safer forum for conversations that otherwise wouldn’t be held.” Through these discussions with medical and community leaders, and also interactive workshops that hinted at what could be possible, a clear vision of what stakeholders wanted Canterbury’s health system to look like appeared: one that is connected, centred on people and aims not to waste their time. Meates’ objective was to empower people motivated by having “co-designed the vision” to take the actions required to realise that vision. 

To illustrate and so simplify the vision, the team drew a one-page diagram showing Agnes, a fictitious 85-year-old in the middle, and the relevant health services around her. Using a persona helped to change the attitudes of those within the healthcare system and, crucially, the wider community. “We had a large, ageing population, so this helped us understand what that typical person might look and feel like. This was different from the cold, hard way of thinking of things as outcomes or outputs,” Meates explains. Having the core focus of serving Agnes better made decision-making easier, drastically improving cost-efficiency.

Using the persona of Agnes to articulate the new vision led to other “game-changing” benefits, he adds. “Coming from a person-centred view of the world enabled us to engage with our indigenous populations in quite different ways.” Almost 10% of the population that was covered by the CDHB is of Māori ethnicity, while just under 3% is of Pacific origin. “We stopped talking about them as hard-to-reach communities and, after putting the lens back on to us, realised that we were a hard-toreach health system,” Meates says. “We flipped things around and made the community part of the solutions and ownership.”

There was more engagement with churches – which are central to the Pasifika community – and hairdressers, who were encouraged to refer older customers if they were having trouble getting out of their chairs. “We wanted to stop elderly people falling and ending up in a hospital, so we empowered people to refer anyone who seemed to be struggling to a strength-based programme. This resulted in a massive decrease in the number of falls,” Meates says. “We’ve saved thousands of people from dying that way.”

Meates stepped down as CEO of CDHB in late 2020 but was soon persuaded to travel halfway around the world to offer guidance on the ICB roll-out. From September 2021 to July 2022, via Lightfoot Solutions, he worked with various health systems in Wales and England. Having recently returned to his homeland to contest the mayoralty of Christchurch, Meates offers some reflections on his time in the UK. “It is said that ‘change happens at the speed of trust’, yet so much of our health and social care system is built on distrust,” he argues. “We continue to see the impacts of fragmented care based on the organisation’s needs instead of the person being at the centre of service design and delivery. Funding and contracts dominate the discussions and are often the key performance metrics, with limited visibility regarding patient outcomes.”

Meates believes that NHS leaders and strategic decision-makers in other sectors should be looking to the future rather than getting stuck in “crisis management” mode. The temptation is to revert to what the system has always done to deal with crises. This means that the necessary system changes will keep getting “put into the ‘too hard’ basket”.

Without the will to focus on the future, the health and social care system will continue to be “overloaded and under siege”. He continues: “It’s a fundamental shift of mindset. Most of what we use today is of limited value to tomorrow, yet we’re still trying to use everything from yesterday to solve tomorrow’s problems.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Healthcare report in July 2022

The appliance of prescience

Advances in artificial intelligence are giving organisations in both the public and private sectors increasingly powerful forecasting capabilities. How much further down this predictive path is it possible for them to go?

Minority Report, Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi thriller based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, explores the concept of extremely proactive policing. The film, starring Tom Cruise, is set in 2054 Washington DC. The city’s pre-crime department, using visions provided by three clairvoyants, can accurately forecast where a premeditated homicide is about to happen. The team is then able to dash to the scene and collar the would-be murderer just before they strike.

While police forces are never likely to have crack teams of incredibly useful psychics at their disposal, artificial intelligence has advanced to such an extent in recent years that its powerful algorithms can crunch huge volumes of data to make startlingly accurate forecasts.

Could a Minority Report style of super-predictive governance ever become feasible in the public sector – or, indeed, in business? If so, what would the ethical implications of adopting such an approach be?

There is a growing list of narrow-scope cases in which predictive analytics has been used to fight crime and save lives. In Durham, North Carolina, for instance, the police reported a 39% fall in the number of violent offences recorded between 2007 and 2014 after using AI-based systems over that period to observe trends in criminal activities and identify hotspots where they could make more timely interventions.

AI has also been used to tackle human trafficking in the US, where it has helped the authorities to locate and rescue thousands of victims. Knowing that about 75% of child trafficking cases involve grooming on the internet, the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency monitors suspicious online ads, detects coded messages and finds connections between these and criminal gangs.

In Indonesia, the government has partnered with Qlue, a specialist in smart city technology, to predict when and where natural disasters are most likely to strike. Its systems analyse flood data collected from sensors and information reported by citizens. This enables it to identify the localities most at risk, which informs disaster management planning and enables swifter, more targeted responses.

While all these cases are positive examples of the power of predictive AI, it would be nigh-on impossible to roll out a Minority Report style of governance on a larger scale. That’s the view of Dr Laura Gilbert, chief analyst and director of data science at the Cabinet Office. “To recreate a precognitive world, you would need an incredibly advanced, highly deterministic model of human behaviour – using an AI digital-twin model, perhaps – with low levels of uncertainty being tolerable,” she says. “It’s not certain that this is even possible.”

An abundance of information is required to understand a person’s likely behaviour, such as their genetic make-up, upbringing, current circumstances and more. Moreover, achieving errorless results would require everyone to be continuously scrutinised.

“Doing this on a grand scale – by closely monitoring every facet of every life; accurately analysing and storing (or judiciously discarding) all the data collected; and creating all the technology enhancements to enable such a programme – would be a huge investment and also cost us opportunities to develop other types of positive intervention,” Gilbert says. “This is unlikely to be even close to acceptable, socially or politically, in the foreseeable future.”

Tom Cheesewright, a futurist, author and consultant, agrees. He doubts that such an undertaking would ever be considered worthwhile, even in 2054. “The cost to the wider public in terms of the loss of privacy would be too great,” Cheesewright argues, adding that, in any case, “techniques for bypassing surveillance are widely understood”.

Nonetheless, Vishal Marria, founder and CEO of enterprise intelligence company Quantexa, notes that the private sector, particularly the financial services industry, is making great use of AI in nipping crimes such as money-laundering in the bud. “HSBC has pioneered a new approach to countering financial crime on a global scale across billions of records,” he says. “Only by implementing contextual analytics technology could it identify the risk more accurately, remove it and enable a future-proof mitigation strategy.”

Alex Case, senior director in EMEA for US software company Pegasystems, believes that governments and their agencies can take much from the private sector’s advances. Case, who worked as a deputy director in the civil service from 2018 to 2021, says: “The levels of service being routinely provided by the best parts of the private sector can be replicated in government. In contrast with the dystopian future depicted in Minority Report, the increasing use of AI by governments may lead to a golden age of citizen-centric public service.”

Which other operations or business functions have the most to gain from advances in predictive analytics? Cheeswright believes that “the upstream supply chain is an obvious one in the current climate. If you can foresee shortages owing to pandemics, wars, economic failures and natural disasters, you could gain an enormous competitive advantage.”

The biggest barriers to wielding such forecasting power are a lack of high-quality data and a shortage of experts who can analyse the material and draw actionable insights from it. “Bad data can turn even a smooth deployment on the technology side into a disaster for a business,” notes Danny Sandwell, data strategist at Quest Software. “Data governance – underpinned by visibility into, and insights about, your data landscape – is the best way to ensure that you’re using the right material to inform your decisions. Effective governance helps organisations to understand what data they have, its fitness for use and how it should be applied.”

Sandwell adds that a well-managed data governance programme will create a “single version of the truth”, eliminating duplicate data and the confusion it can cause. Moreover, the most advanced organisations can build self-service platforms by establishing standards and investing in data literacy. “Data governance enables a system of best practice, expertise and collaboration – the hallmarks of an analytics-driven business,” he says.

Gilbert offers business leaders one final piece of advice in this area: recruit carefully. She argues that “a great data analyst is worth, at a conservative estimate, 20 average ones. They can often do things that any number of average analysts working together still can’t achieve. What’s more, a bad analyst will cost you both money and time.”

And, as Minority Report’s would-be criminals in discover to their cost, time is the one resource that’s impossible to claw back.

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Future of Data report in October 2022

House swap: Would you switch homes with a colleague to work in another country?

Would you open your doors to colleagues from other countries and swap homes with them for a few weeks or even months? To keep pace with working trends, some organizations are turning to Airbnb-style initiatives.

One such organization is London-headquartered financial technology company Wise — formerly TransferWise — which has 17 offices around the globe including in New York and Tokyo. In early 2021, spurred by the pandemic, Wise established a “work-from-anywhere” perkwhich allows employees to perform their jobs from anywhere in the world for up to 90 days a year.

So far more than 25% of the company’s 4,000 employees have used the perk and worked from places including Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Costa Rica. 

And, quite incredibly, the perk has taken on a life of its own thanks to the quick thinking of Wise employee Kadri-Ann Freiberg. The margin assurance specialist, based in Estonia’s capital Tallinn, sought to take advantage of the work-from-anywhere policy — but she didn’t want to pay rent on an additional property. So she took to the company’s Budapest Slack channel to ask if anyone else at Wise would be interested in swapping homes for a month, especially in Budapest, where she longed to visit. Freiberg’s post altered how her colleagues thought about the possibilities. 

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in November 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Strike out: Industrial action could accelerate the shift to automated jobs

Set against the backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis, the so-called “summer of discontent” in the U.K. — which has seen strikes from railway workers, criminal barristers, Post Office employees, teachers, airport staff, healthcare staff, and others—looks likely to extend through the winter. And the feeling of dissatisfaction is not limited to the U.K., with workers downing tools across the globe.

Although the U.K. lawyers finally stepped away from the picket line in early October, accepting the government’s 15% pay raise, Royal Mail staff and railway workers are currently participating in long-running industrial action to resolve disputes about salary and working conditions. 

Ironically, the crux of the matter is job security, yet the prolonged absence from work only strengthens the argument for investing in automation that will, ultimately, reduce headcount.

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in October 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Are metaverse meetings the answer to engaging hybrid workers?

Meetings culture for hybrid workers is broken, according to recent reports and analyses. Some 43% of 31,000 workers polled from across 31 countries by Microsoft earlier this year said they don’t feel included in meetings. Some organizations are turning to the metaverse to make meetings more engaging. But can that really be the answer long term?

Despite its current low level of capability, numerous organizations have embraced the metaverse for meetings and not just for novelty value. One such business is Battenhall, which has created working spaces for employees in Meta’s Horizon Workrooms — a virtual reality meeting space it has developed — and an online game platform Roblox. “Meetings are one of the things that [the metaverse] is particularly useful for right now,” said London-based founder and CEO Drew Benvie.

For the last ten months, Benvie has used weekly team meetings in the metaverse. “Staff members reported that it increases feelings of togetherness for those working from home over traditional phone calls or video meetings,” he said. “While the metaverse is generally considered to be in its infancy … it makes Zoom calls feel prehistoric.”

Moreover, it’s what many workers want, especially younger cohorts. So finds Owl Labs’ new State of Hybrid Work report, which polled over 2,000 full-time U.K. employees. Indeed, 42% of 18- to 24-year-olds said they want an office metaverse, and a further 23% would be keen to work in VR. 

However, plenty of skeptics lurk. “I don’t think the metaverse will solve any of the issues [around engaging remote workers],” said Ariel Camus, founder and CEO of Microverse, a school that trains software engineers. “In fact, I think it will create new problems because there are new technological barriers for people to join and participate as equals in meetings.”

The full version of this article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in October 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Neutral ground: Why offsite meetings will be the norm for hybrid workforces

Forget in-office or virtual meetings: The majority of collaborative-working tasks will take place at off-site venues in future.

That’s because offsites offer something offices don’t — neutral ground for employees who don’t want to work continuously from an office, but also don’t want to be entirely remote, according to Alexia Cambon, a director in management consultancy Gartner’s HR practice.

The feeling of being monitored in an office by technology or a manager creates tension and means the employee does not feel comfortable. Indeed, only 14% of 2,336 hybrid and remote employees surveyed in Gartner’s Culture in a Hybrid World report, published in May, said that they can be themselves the most when working alone, but in an office. Meanwhile, 52% preferred working solo, asynchronously, and away from colleagues.

Hence, offsite meet-ups are a good middle ground. “When you remove employees from the employer-controlled environment and put them in a third space, this neutral space, a lot of interesting things can start to happen,” said Cambon.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in October 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How technology can help millions of seasonal affective disorder sufferers this winter

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affected 10 million people in the U.S. alone in 2019. And the knock-on effect on a person’s mental health and by extension – their job and productivity – can be substantial. But are organizations sensitive enough to their needs? And how can technology help?

Yvonne Eskenzi, the owner of London-based cybersecurity agency Eskenzi PR, has suffered from SAD since childhood and said the onset of SAD is unmistakable. “You can smell the air change and temperature,” she said. “Then you notice the days becoming shorter and darker at night, which triggers a deep sense of foreboding, sadness and anxiety.” 

Eskenzi added that she feels less creative, foggy-headed, and nowhere near as sociable as usual in a work setting. HR departments must be proactive about treating SAD in colder, darker regions. But is enough being done?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in October 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

How employee monitoring has shifted from creepy to empowering HR teams

A friend giddily informed me a few days ago that she had “found the perfect eraser.” Perplexed as to why something that rubs out pencil marks would evoke such glee, I asked for more details. “This eraser is the ideal weight; I can rest it on the space bar, so the screen stays awake if I leave the desk,” she said. “That way, my manager thinks I’m still being active at my computer.”

Employees who feel they are being observed for no good reason tend to find a way to game the system, argued Brian Kropp, group vp and chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice. “If your employer is trying to screw you by creepily monitoring you, there are various things you can do to screw them over,” he said.

For instance, he revealed that if computer mouse activity is being tracked, then an analog watch can help. If you position the mouse on the watch, then the second hand creates just enough motion to make it still active.

Monitoring is on the rise, though. According to Gartner’s research, around 30% of the medium and large corporate organizations it assesses had tracking systems in place before the pandemic. “Now the percentage is more than 60%,” said Brian Kropp, group vp and chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in September 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Cool ideas: How technological innovations can reduce urban temperatures

Removing reflective surfaces, increasing natural shade and harnessing the power of sewage are all options to limit the heat island effect – but progress will stall without collaboration and political boldness

Below a cloudless, blueberry-blue sky, where the sun blazes fiercely and gleams from London landmarks, a multi-person mass of liquifying limbs smoulders. The caption for Zoom Rockman’s Private Eye cartoon reads: “I love London; it’s such a melting pot.”

But few people were laughing when, on 19 July, the UK temperature exceeded 40C for the first time, according to the Met Office, and the city’s infrastructure melted – literally. Half of the six areas to surpass that level were in and around the capital: St James’s Park, Kew Gardens and Northolt. 

With global warming an increasingly hot topic and residents figuratively melting, the heat is being turned up on politicians, planners and other key stakeholders to keep cities cool.

The way our cities have been designed is no longer appropriate for modern times

Just days after the record high temperature, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, loosened purse strings. He awarded £2.85m from the Green and Healthy Streets fund to 19 projects, including rain gardens, tree pits and sustainable drainage areas. Further, a £1m grant will support “innovative and exemplary projects” on the Transport for London Road Network, and £150,000 was released to improve walking routes connecting green spaces.

“We cannot shy away from it: the climate crisis is on our doorstep,” wrote Khan on LinkedIn in early August, announcing the funding decisions. “We’re taking action before time runs out and investing £4m … to make London more resilient to heatwaves.” 

He added: “Working with London boroughs and TfL, these projects will make London more resilient against extreme weather, plus make our streets more green and pleasant for Londoners. It’s a win-win.”

Collaboration and long-term planning are paramount to reducing the impact of extreme heat in cities. And investing in innovative technology solutions can accelerate the virtuous circle to which Khan alluded.

Beware the heat island effect

Indeed, embracing an approach to building that keeps nature in mind, rather than seeking to dominate it, will lead to better urban spaces for both people and the planet. So says Chris Bennett, co-founder and managing director of sustainability services at Evora Global, a London-headquartered real asset consultancy. 

“Our urban environments are dominated by densely grouped buildings made of reflective materials creating a ‘heat island effect’,” he explains. “This is why it’s often hotter in cities than rural areas.”

Bennett believes simple tech and nature-based solutions will make a big difference. “Reducing hard reflective surfaces such as road pavements would help to lower temperatures,” he says. “Re-engineering pavements to be permeable blocks, instead of concrete or Tarmac, would allow water to flow through the pavers in wet conditions and evaporate when the heat rises, creating a cooling effect.

“Also, incorporating trees and plants reduces the reflective nature of the streetscape, provides habitats for wildlife and offers shelter from harsh ultraviolet radiation and solar heat during summer.” 

Ironically, it is partly due to technology that we find ourselves in this sticky situation. Since the 1960s, planes, trains and automobiles have heavily contributed to global warming, and cities have evolved to accommodate gas-guzzling vehicles. So it’s time for a swift U-turn, says Bennett.

“In London, we are blessed with many urban parks and squares created by the Georgians and Victorians. But many of the city’s trees have been lost to provide car parking spaces,” he says. “Planting street trees will increase protection from the climate by reducing heat stress and limiting the degradation of the urban construction materials, making buildings last longer.”

Appropriate early-stage design 

Another expert urging cross-industry action is Håvard Haukeland, co-founder of Spacemaker AI. His company provides early-stage analysis for architects and urban planners and enables buildings to be designed with the local microclimate in mind to minimise urban heat islands. 

“The way our cities have been designed is no longer appropriate for modern times,” he says. “As temperatures rise due to climate change, the design choices previously made either due to tradition or practical considerations around energy efficiency are making our cities even hotter.”

Haukeland contends that architects and urban planners need to step up. “While solutions such as additional greenery or reflective roofs can help keep things a little cooler, the reality is the most impactful solutions are done at the early stage when new developments are being built,” he continues. 

Design adaptations – including rotating structures to “open up” for wind or even altering the shape of a building – can make “the biggest difference to microclimates”, Haukeland says. Although these solutions are “much harder to implement”, he asserts that designers “must consider microclimates at the outset”.

That may be so, but how should cities upgrade older infrastructure to make it better able to withstand extreme heat? “This is the critical question when you think about the number of heritage and older buildings we have in the UK,” says Ian Ellis, smart buildings expert at Siemens Smart Infrastructure. Sensors that capture data and allow deep analysis of how people use buildings – especially as hybrid-working strategies are firmed up – could be the answer.

“This technology is already being used in buildings across the UK, where it can provide usage data on the flow of people through a building, where they congregate and how they use it,” says Ellis. “Data like this provides invaluable insights in optimising other technologies like heating and ventilation systems.”

Sensors, shade and sewage

Sebastian Peck, a partner at Kompas – an early-stage venture capital firm focused on transforming the built environment – lists some pioneering solutions to cool cities. “Vertical Field is installing sensor-controlled smart planters to purify the air from carbon dioxide and, when mounted to buildings, they help insulate them from the sun,” he says. 

Meanwhile, Lumiweave has developed an innovative fabric that provides shade during the day and harvests the sun’s energy to illuminate itself and its surroundings at night. “And,” Peck continues, “TreeTube has a patented modular system of tubes that lets tree roots grow safely in a tunnel without disrupting their surroundings.”

Peter Hogg, UK cities director at global design, engineering and management consulting company Arcadis, offers a more practical but pongy example. “We are looking at using effluent as a heat exchanger that allows you to extract energy used for cooling with minimal carbon impact. Imagine the potential in a city the size of London, which houses 8.5 million people.”

At this stage, no idea should be flushed away. And while there is much work to do, the willingness to force change – and think up unusual solutions – is finally evident, suggests Hogg. “The pandemic was a watershed,” he says. “There is a collective understanding that this situation must be addressed. Today, building plans that fail to consider the climate challenge won’t attract investors. 

“Before the coronavirus crisis, you would have to go to the Netherlands or the Nordics to find people taking this seriously. We now acknowledge that significant behavioural and structural changes are required, and quickly.”

Peck concludes that enough technologies are available to cool cities but to harness their power, leaders must be bold. 

“The difficulty is that urban planners need to rethink our cities, make them greener and ensure water is put to good use,” he says. “But changing and building back existing urban infrastructure is expensive. Cities are under pressure to demonstrate to the public that their scarce resources are well invested.

“In other words, cooling our cities is not a technological challenge, but a political one.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Smart Cities report in August 2022

Lessons from Spotify’s work-from-anywhere rollout

Spotify launched a new work model called “work from anywhere” (WFA) in February 2021 – and it was music to the ears of its 8,600 employees, according to data published in early August.  

The policy enabled staff to decide when they worked in a company office or wherever else on the planet, as long as the Swedish-headquartered company had a hub in that country.

The music-streaming company also tweaked its salary bands, recalibrating them by nation rather than city or region. That seemed to be a popular move: 6% of its 11,453 employees moved countries after this policy was introduced, and a large chunk of whom moved within the U.S.

The headline news, though, is that despite the great resignation trend, Spotify claimed staff churn has reduced compared to pre-pandemic levels and that it has also boosted the diversity of its workforce – as a direct result of the policy. 

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in August 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Five ways financial services operators can build trust in the digital age

With cybercrime on the rise, customers expecting a better online banking experience, and more players in the market, organisations should push for positive reviews, cut back on nuisance communication, and be transparent

American business magnate Warren Buffett’s warning that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” is a precious lesson worth heeding by financial services operators seeking to generate trust in the digital age. 

After working hard to claw back favour following the global economic crash in 2008, the industry generally impressed during the pandemic. But with cybercrime on the rise, customers expecting a better online banking experience, and more players in the market, building trust is increasingly challenging. 

A report published in April by global cybersecurity company Imperva, based on responses from almost 7,000 consumers across Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States, found that 63% of people don’t trust financial services organisations to keep their data safe. Clearly, there is much work to do.

Here are five ways financial services operators can build trust in the digital age.

1. Actively push for positive reviews

When was the last time you didn’t buy something because a bad review put you off? It’s the same for financial services operators. Hence why those in the sector must do more than monitor online reviews, suggests Jeremy Helm, a financial analyst at Modern World Business Solutions. “You need to be actively pushing to gain positive reviews,” he says. “You can set up an automated email via Trustpilot that goes out a week after a purchase is complete.”

And if the reviews are not favourable, learn from them. “Don’t ignore them,” continues Helm. “Others will be reading the negative reviews before making a purchase, so make sure to answer the complaint promptly and politely. But also, if you’re not to blame, there is nothing wrong with highlighting where the issue lay respectfully and factually.”

2. Cut back on nuisance communication

A recent freedom of information request, made by customer communication firm Quadient, showed an increase in spam communications from financial services operators over the past year, which is eroding consumer trust, according to the company’s principal of banking and financial services, Andrew Stevens.

“Operators urgently need to cut back on nuisance communication – irrelevant or non-useful contact, which only damages trust and drives customers away,” he says. The FOI request showed 8,796 banking-related spam calls and texts were reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2021 – 38% higher than the 2020 figure. Additionally, insurance-related nuisance calls and texts rose by 40%, with 3,989 complaints.

“Our research shows 43% of consumers are willing to blacklist businesses for sending spam,” continues Stevens. “Instead of bombarding customers with irrelevant offers and deals, they should remember that every piece of communication is an opportunity to win customers’ trust. For instance, by providing useful information to help them save money amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.”

3. Learn from tech titans and be clear about values

“Interestingly, the five most trusted brands across any industry globally are all large-scale tech firms,” says Nick Chadbourne, CEO of LMS, which supplies conveyancing services. “They provide a seamless cross-platform experience that is personalised to individual users. Google is probably the best example.” 

He spots a paradox, though. “These companies are probably utilising our data for commercial gain more than any other business. Yet, there is a perceived trust from consumers. This is partly because of how these businesses fit with their values. But also because they deliver great customer experience and hyper-personalisation. Financial services firms could benefit and build trust by taking a similar approach.”

Sébastien Marotte, president of EMEA at content management company Box, agrees. However, he calls for greater clarity about data use. “The best way for financial service organisations to build and maintain trust is through open and transparent compliance reporting.”

4. Don’t forget the importance of human touch

Financial services organisations collect more information on their customers than any other industry, according to Adam Mayer, a director at data and analytics firm, Qlik. “Trust is imperative to this industry – and needs to be built from the ground up,” he says. “Don’t forget the importance of a human touch when building trust in digital technologies.” 

While AI and predictive analytics can generate powerful recommendations, employees will provide oversight into actual decision-making, Mayer adds. “And, more importantly, they will explain those decisions to the customer. Blending human and machine insights improves the accountability actions being made, which helps smoothen some of the hurdles around trust and regulation.”

Additionally, ensuring employees have the requisite data literacy to understand, question and apply the predictive forecasts to their decision-making process is critical.

5. Show your AI workings

As more financial services are investing in AI solutions, it’s vital to show how decisions have been made. “Explainable AI addresses one of the key issues for banks using AI applications, as they typically operate as ‘black boxes’ offering little if any discernible insight into how they reach their decisions across lending and fraud detection and to improve customer service,” says Hani Hagras, chief science officer at banking software company Temenos.

He provides an example. “With buy now pay later (BNPL), Temenos Explainable AI provides additional transparency, enabling the customer to understand why a particular flavour of BNPL was recommended to them and make an informed choice. This increases trust in the BNPL service and puts the customer in control.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s The new financial services client experience insights report, sponsored by Seismic, in August 2022

Improving digital customer experience during the cost-of-living crisis

Ecommerce businesses should double down on smart automation solutions to better support consumers, win trust and generate sales

With prices in the UK currently rocketing at their fastest rate for more than 40 years, the cost-of-living crisis will also have an impact on ecommerce. During this uncertain period, companies should focus on their brand, the technology they have integrated into their online journeys and getting the customer experience right.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, the trade body considered the voice of online retail in the UK, is in no doubt about the state of the market. “Lots of retailers provide us with their sales figures so we can benchmark performance, and right now, it’s in sharp decline,” he says. “It’s been extremely turbulent recently, but the difference in impact between the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis is stark.”

The coronavirus crisis was, he says, “the most disruptive thing anyone has ever seen.” But from an online retail perspective, it was a huge accelerator. Lockdowns forced many businesses to enter the world of ecommerce for the first time. Those brave enough to embrace it reaped bountiful rewards. Now, however, with all the low-hanging fruit gobbled and consumers’ purse strings pulled tautly, it’s a different story.

“Today, the growth is low,” says Mulcahy. “It’s negative, year-on-year, and the market is shrinking.” Other metrics analysed by IMRG provoke alarm. “People are spending longer making purchasing decisions online, and looking at Q1 2022 – which is February, March and April, so includes the early fallout from the Ukraine invasion – compared to Q1 last year, the checkout completion has dropped by 22%,” he adds.

Paul Hornby, digital customer experience director at the Very Group, remains bullish about his employer and the industry’s longer-term prospects. “Yes, retail has clearly been impacted,” he says. “But we are confident about the outlook for online retail in the UK.”

Supporting customers in straitened times

As a digital retailer with over 2,000 brands that boasts almost five million active customers and a financial services provider offering its unique version of buy now, pay later (BNPL), the Very Group is well positioned to thrive in the ecommerce space. “As a multi-category retailer, our model is naturally resilient,” says Hornby. “Online is the place to be, and our flexible payment options are really popular with our customers.”

Very Pay, which most customers use, according to Hornby, allows buyers to pay for goods in three interest-free instalments over three months. There is also a BNPL option, enabling consumers to spread the cost over a year. In the current climate, the Very Group is adding value by providing visitors to the company website tips and tricks to better cope with the cost-of-living crisis.

“We’re helping customers by introducing content about money management,” Hornby says. “We aim to be customer champions and natural problem solvers, and so we will always think about different ways throughout the journey that we can help our customers.”

Matthew Parker, country manager of the UK and Ireland at Vonage, a company that builds omnichannel conversations and transforms customer experiences, stresses the urgency for ecommerce organisations to invest in technology solutions; and even more so in these straitened times, to stand out in an increasingly packed market. 

“I’m seeing post-pandemic cost-saving initiatives, but in some areas, companies are doubling down,” he says. “For example, there has been an increase in technology around artificial intelligence and other tools that can bring a level of smart automation to the buyer experience, without losing the human involvement.”

Doubling down on smart automation

Hornby reveals that the Very Group was an early adopter of conversational AI. The organisation initially invested in a chatbot in 2016 to ease the workload on employees answering simple queries. “We very quickly partnered with IBM Watson to utilise its AI to help us understand customer sentiment, but also to generate the right answers,” he says.

The chatbot facility proved invaluable for the Very Group’s customers and its contact centre staff last Christmas as it was used almost 140,000 times, reducing telephone calls by 17% compared to the previous peak. Hornby states the maturity of smart automation makes it a compelling business case for those looking to boost digital customer experience.

The market’s only going to become more competitive, so speed to market is critical. That speed comes partly from the process and partly from technology. But, most critically, everything you do must truly serve your customers’ needs

“If a customer comes to the website or our smartphone app and asks a question that is more complex than the chatbot can handle, it will elegantly hand that over to one of our customer care colleagues so there is the appropriate level of human intervention,” he says. “We will definitely continue to invest in this technology.”

Mulcahy argues that ecommerce businesses don’t have to spend big on improving digital customer experience; sometimes, a little goes a long way. “If you took two websites and they both have exactly the same products at the same prices, one can generate more sales just by optimising certain bits,” he says. “You might offer free delivery, for instance, or it’s easier to navigate. There are many things you could do, and now with traffic expensive to pay for and conversion rates down, this stuff is essential to get right.”

Hornby agrees: “Having friction throughout the user journey is a surefire way to send the customer into the arms of a competitor, so we have to obsess about the problems on our site and solve them.”

Top tips to improve digital customer experience

Parker from Vonage believes the way to improve digital customer experience is by ultimately being a trusted retailer. “Trust boils down to four things: integrity, intent, capabilities and track record,” he says. “Brands that best demonstrate those four things, focus on customer needs, and don’t bombard people, will do the best.”

And for ecommerce players unsure about their future, or where to invest, Mulcahy offers soothing words. “Don’t panic. It is a very different time, but it’s rough for most businesses. Those who focus on building their brand and make the online journey simple will do well.”

Hornby stresses the importance of keeping the customer at the heart of any digital design. Forget futuristic and hyped concepts, such as shopping in the metaverse or non-fungible tokens; what consumers want today, especially during this cost-of-living crisis, is a retailer they can rely upon that serves them well.

“You have to embed the customer in all of your thinking, which is easy to say but difficult to do,” he says. “The market’s only going to become more competitive, so speed to market is critical. That speed comes partly from the process and partly from technology. But, most critically, everything you do must truly serve your customers’ needs.”

Retailers have had to face years of disruptive events. But, armed with the technology and the online know-how, they can now ensure they get the digital customer experience right for all their audiences.

This article was first published on Raconteur.net in August 2022 – it’s a write-up of a virtual roundtable that I moderated, sponsored by Vonage

Tech troubles, urgency bias, bad communication: Hybrid working’s biggest hurdles

New data confirms what most already suspected: hybrid working is not working for a large majority of companies. 

The XpertHR research, gathered from 292 U.K. organizations with a combined workforce of over 350,000 employees, revealed that 95% of companies have struggled to implement a hybrid-working strategy. Reluctant returners – staff who don’t want to head back to the office – are the primary reason for failure. However, there are plenty of other causes besides.

The data indicated that 59% of organizations’ staff spend two or three days in the office, but 37% of employers are unhappy and would rather spend less time there. This finding echoed results from Slack’s Q2 global Future Forum study, which questioned 10,000 knowledge workers in the U.S., U.K., Australia, France, Germany and Japan on how they feel about their work environments and employers.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in July 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Managers are not being trained to run hybrid teams – and it’s a big problem

Hands up, who really wants to be a manager today, in an uncertain and fast-paced, post-pandemic world, where organizations worldwide are shifting to hybrid working and struggling to attract and retain talent, plus employees are demanding more attention than ever? 

At the heart of operations, trusted to pull the strings, are managers, many of whom are promoted to their positions after excelling in non-management roles. “Managers often have the most accountability to the largest proportion of the workforce,” said Emma Price, head of customer success at management process automation company ActiveOps. “They are responsible for delivering against cost, quality, and service and managing customer outcomes.”

However, many would-be puppet masters are now tied up in additional, complex tasks that weren’t part of their already stacked workload in early 2020. They are crying out to be untangled by their bosses, yet evidence suggests the critical training and tools they require are not being made available. This lack of support is baffling when one considers the cost of the great resignation alongside the truism that “people leave managers, not companies.”

Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, published in March, concluded that “managers feel wedged between leadership and employee expectations.” The survey, featuring responses from over 30,000 workers across 31 markets, revealed that 54% of managers say company leadership is out of touch with employees, and almost three-quarters (74%) lament not having the influence or resources to implement the necessary changes for their teams.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in July 2022 – to read the complete piece, please click HERE.

Former Twitter VP on why we need an ‘in-the-office’ status

The bestselling author and former Twitter VP, Bruce Daisley, feels that many firms may be allowing hybrid workers to waste their precious time at HQ. He’s not alone 

On 1 April, Bruce Daisley, author of The Joy of Work, posted a whimsical observation on LinkedIn that would ignite a serious debate about the modern workplace. He questioned whether an ‘in the office’ (ITO) message should supersede the traditional ‘out of office’ auto-reply (OOO). Given the timing of his post, the biggest fools are employers failing to adapt, because the old normal is no longer fit for purpose.

“Heard a brilliant thing today,” he wrote. “One firm says they don’t want workers in the office spending all day on email. The suggestion is that everyone should put their ‘in the office’ message on and deal with email from home.” 

Daisley explains that he made the comment after he’d got wind of complaints from several employers that their hybrid workers were spending too much of their time in the office catching up on their emails, participating in video calls and completing other tasks that they could perform just as well remotely. 

“We’ve spent two years reflecting on the best way to get our work done and then we’ve sleepwalked into a horrible solution,” says Daisley, who argues that the onus is on employers to determine which activities are most suitable in each workplace. 

Noting that people often confuse being busy with being productive, he adds: “Hybrid working isn’t the best of both worlds; it’s the worst. We need to redefine our cultures. The more intentional we get about what we’re using the office for, the better. The office is a brilliant resource, but we don’t need to use it for everything.”

The argument is that the Covid crisis has generally tilted the balance of power at work towards employees, so the evolution of the office must keep pace with their changing preferences. Moreover, offices should be markedly different from remote working environments. Although much time, money and effort are required to make a success of hybrid working, culture should be the true key to progress. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results of a survey published by digital IT consultancy Ricoh Europe in March suggest that underinvestment and poor planning have reduced the effectiveness of firms’ return-to-office policies. 

The indications are that employers throughout Europe have been struggling to adapt. Of the 3,000 workers polled on Ricoh’s behalf in the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy the Netherlands and Spain, 36% said they had felt pressured to return to the office, while 44% agreed that their company’s culture had suffered during the Covid lockdowns. Pertinent to the debate about office-based work, 48% considered themselves “more productive when working remotely”. 

Molly Johnson-Jones, co-founder and CEO of Flexa Careers, says she has been heartened to see that some organisations have understood recent changes in how employees view working in the office. But she argues that most of them need to do much more in this respect to attract and retain talent. 

“The fact that we need to indicate when we are ‘in the office’ signals how people have come expect to work remotely for some, if not most, of their time,” she says. “For many companies we work with, office work is now reserved purely for the tasks and conversations that face-to-face meetings make easier. Having ‘ITO’ days for this kind of work can help to keep teams connected, maintain a sense of structure and boost staff wellbeing.”

The office is a brilliant resource, but we don’t need to use it for everything

Johnson-Jones cites research published in April by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development indicating that remote work is far more likely to boost an employee’s productivity than reduce it. 

Flexibility is vital, which means that dictating when staff have ITO days can prove detrimental, she stresses. 

“On days when coming into the office isn’t going to provide workers with any of the benefits mentioned – perhaps when they want to focus on deep work – they must not feel bound to do so,” says Johnson-Jones. “This is when companies risk tipping into creating a culture of presenteeism.” 

She continues: “ITO days are helpful only if we keep them flexible. Employers must recognise that remote and office-based work are complementary and also that it’s no bad thing if one occurs more often than the other.”

Just over three-quarters (77%) of organisations are planning to redesign their offices to include more open-plan areas and collaboration spaces, according to new research from Poly, a US provider of telecoms tech. 

This finding tallies with Tim Oldman’s belief that the “hotelification” of the workplace is a growing trend. He is the founder and CEO of Leesman, a firm that helps firms to assess the employee experience provided by their workplaces.

“Employees will treat offices differently because they are using them nomadically, booking in for a conscious stay,” Oldman notes. “They need to be beacons of warmth and hospitality to motivate them to come.”

He makes an important point about the feeling of sanctuary that returning to the office can offer to people whose remote workplaces are far from ideal. 

“In a typical knowledge business, up to a third of employees do not have a separate space at home that they can designate for work,” he explains. “These people risk being a forgotten minority, whose needs are overlooked by those further progressed in their careers who are privileged enough to have a private room to spare.”

Of the idea that ITO is becoming the new OOO, Oldman says: “It’s happening already, although on a small scale. We aren’t yet at the point of this becoming a trend, but we are experimenting with post-pandemic practices.”

Stuart Templeton, head of Slack Technologies in the UK, offers a different take. He believes that “all businesses should be introducing and prioritising a digital headquarters: a place that serves as the main hub for collaboration, communication and connection between teams, wherever they are. The digital HQ doesn’t mean the office will disappear; it will be used for social, collaborative and dynamic activities.” 

A digital HQ might be too futuristic for some people. But what’s evident is that where and when work takes place should be hugely different from the norm before the pandemic struck. A recent survey of 10,000 knowledge workers by Future Forum, a research consortium supported by Slack, has found that schedule flexibility is more important to them than location flexibility.

“Whatever work is done in the physical office, employees need to have a say in when they’re there,” Templeton argues. “Employers that don’t act accordingly will pay the price. Workers who are unsatisfied with their level of flexibility – in both where and when they work – are three times likelier than those who are satisfied to say they will ‘definitely’ seek a new employer in the coming year.”

He adds: “If you’re coming into an office daily just to stare at a screen, something’s gone wrong.”

This article was first published in Raconteur’s Hybrid Working report in May 2022

‘I was thrown off a project because I misheard’: Deaf inclusivity in the workplace still an issue

The LinkedIn profile image of culture and behavioral change consultant Simon Houghton, shows him wearing a black mask with white writing that reads: “I’m deaf. I can’t read your lips with your mask on.”

Houghton, based in Reading in the U.K., has significant hearing loss so relies heavily on lipreading when communicating – a skill which became even harder to use during the pandemic when everyone wore masks. And while the rise of virtual meetings has helped to some extent (people still turn their cameras off blocking lipreading), workplaces still don’t cater well enough to people with hidden conditions like deafness or severe hearing loss.

To boost awareness Houghton launched social enterprise WeSupportDeafAwareness during the pandemic. His message is clear: not enough is being done to support deaf workers, who make up a large chunk of the population. Consider that 1.5 billion people – almost 20% of the global population – live with a degree of hearing loss, according to the latest World Health Organization calculations

Houghton has had to pay a heavy price for this lack of inclusivity at work. One of his worst memories he still recalls. “I was working for a big-four management consultancy firm and was thrown off a project because I misheard an action during a client meeting,” he said. 

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in July 2022 – to read the complete piece please click HERE.