Why we need to stop sending mixed messages about flexible working

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

Thanks to Twitter, I came across this blog by Microsoft HR Director Theresa McHenry for HR Magazine. McHenry’s main thrust is to remind us of the big changes taking place in business, society and our day-to-day working lives. However, at the same time, her post highlights the confusing advice we all receive around flexibility in the workplace. She starts off telling the reader to: “encourage employees to work flexibly” and then, a few lines down, reminds them to “where possible, reintroduce boundaries… and encourage colleagues to switch off in the evenings and weekends.” So, which one is it? If we are to create truly flexible organisations whereby work is no longer a place we go, but a thing we do, perhaps we need to wave goodbye to the idea of a Monday-Friday working week.

Flexibility requires us to look beyond the false dichotomy of “work” and “life”. Rather than perpetuating the narrative of achieving “balance” between the two, we must be bolder and aspire to the harmonious integration of all parts of our lives. This aspiration will be particularly important for the future of work as people embrace portfolio careers, working for many organisations and individuals at the same time. Preserving the traditional work schedules in this context will be increasingly challenging and, likely, unappealing.

At the Future of Work Research Consortium, we collaborate with some of the world’s leading organisations to find new solutions to long-standing challenges, and gain surprising insights into issues such as flexible working by taking deeper look. To find out more about how your organsation can get involved, contact tina@hotspotsmovement.com.

Why Enterprise Social Networks Fail

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Companies have understood the benefits and pitfalls of using social media to engage customers for some years now, with Facebook and Twitter now commonly used as platforms for identifying new customers, fostering brand recognition, and building or harnessing engaged communities. However, few companies have successfully replicated the success of these social platforms internally.

Engaging employees and motivating them to embrace new ways of working often proves difficult, with companies often seeing low uptake rates of enterprise social networking platforms such as Microsoft’s Yammer and Salesforce’s Chatter.

Though enterprise social networks can take off, they tend to end up supporting a small group of core users, whose interest in the platform ebbs over time. We have spoken to a number of companies who have been frightened away from internal social media after they have failed to gain traction.

The problem with internal social networks is that they often lack purpose, they are rarely facilitated, and they tend to lack sponsorship from leaders. Providing a platform is a prerequisite for enabling new ways of working, but it is rarely sufficient. People need to have a reason for engaging.

The importance of purpose

One of the most successful enterprise social networks we’ve seen, Tata Consultancy Services’ Knome platform, creates engagement by encouraging people with common interests to share their experiences. Building on people’s preexisting passions is a quick way to create engagement with a platform, as it taps into a nascent desire to connect.

Uniting a large and more diverse audience often requires the identification of a broad challenge that everyone in the organisation has a vested interest in addressing. For our FoWlab Jams, we always identify a big strategic challenge, and try to tie the Jam itself to an existing organisation-wide change program. This frames the platform as a vehicle for change, and as a unique opportunity for employees to contribute to high-level strategy.

Facilitation

Personally, I don’t like networking events because I’m rubbish at striking up conversations with people I don’t know. I’m sure it’s a common trait, and one that I know translates to the online world. Though we’re often given a confidence boost by a cloak of anonymity on certain online platforms, most if not all enterprise social networks build on our existing work identities and reputations.

To avoid everyone lurking around the canapés or pretending to check their phones, you need someone facilitating interactions. Someone to introduce them to others and reveal common interests they can talk about. We’ve found that facilitators in online platforms are almost a prerequisite for engaging a diverse audience. They may not be expert in the area under discussion, but they are expert in creating exciting questions and connections between ideas and people.

Motivated sponsorship

Unlike customers, employees have a reason to be scared of sharing their opinions. They think they are being observed by people who want an excuse to fire them. This is the default assumption, and the mentality arises even in the absence of overt authority. It’s something that needs to be actively and continually refuted by leaders in order for their employees to feel they can be honest and open.

Transparent and authentic leaders, who value and act on the opinions of those working for them, are invaluable in getting employees to embrace enterprise social networks. Even for those lucky enough to work in ‘flat’ or ‘horizontal’ organisations, there needs to be a shared understanding that your opinions matter, and that you won’t be penalized for openly collaborating with others.

By providing enterprise social networks with purpose, facilitation, and sponsorship, the chances of people engaging with them will increase dramatically. In our FoWlab Jams, we tend to see 50% of our target audience engaging with the conversation – and that’s just over three days. Employees won’t naturally transition to these new ways of working, but if you give them a reason, guidance and leadership support, you’ll remove the main barriers in their way.

Outsourcing gets complex

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KyleBy Kyle Packer, Head of Online Engagement, The Hot Spots Movement

An amusing story doing the rounds this week concerns the singer R Kelly who has found himself having to deny claims that he outsourced a personal appearance in Louisiana to an impersonator, leaving thousands of fans up in arms.

This might be an extreme anecdote, but it does highlight the still-relevant question of which tasks are appropriate to outsource. While most might agree that performances and personal appearances are probably best not outsourced, there are a whole range of other ‘personal’ tasks which fall into this area of debate. An acquaintance of mine regularly makes money by picking up the slack for tired, sick or – in one or two cases – nonexistent bloggers and yet another celebrity, actor Danny Dyer has recently complained about being vehemently criticised for misogynistic content in a column he claims he never wrote. These tasks tend to be grey areas – many people and organisations outsource them – but the flip side is that as soon as audiences discover what they see as a deception, they feel cheated.

In a more corporate context, we’ve been reading about an employee who outsourced his coding job in China, paying them 20% of his salary for work which exceeded his employer’s expectations. When discovered, however, he was dismissed for breach of contract. The likes of commentator Tim Ferris would describe this individual as pioneering a great new way of working, but ultimately his bosses felt duped. Again, it’s an interesting grey area and, alongside the issue of what to outsource, raises the question of who should do the outsourcing.

These questions are just another example of the complexity engendered by our increasingly connected world where technology and connectivity are rapidly outstripping our ability to change the way we think about ways of working. The good news is that where technology goes, attitudes are bound to follow. So who knows, by 2030, outsourced concerts might be all the rage.

Highlights from the Thinkers 50 Awards

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

The Hot Spots Team was at the Thinkers 50 Event earlier this week, where Professor Lynda Gratton was ranked #14 on the list of top management thinkers.

Lynda also participated in a panel debate at the event alongside Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, author Tammy Erickson and Stew Friedman from Wharton School of Business. During the debate, Lynda highlighted the fact that although longer life expectancy is one of the most important issues organisations will face in future, few are preparing for it:

“Longevity will be one of the most important issues we face. It will affect everyone and organisations are extremely ill-prepared.”

The event also included an awards ceremony where award-winner Clayton Christensen delivered a moving acceptance speech in which he reminded business professionals and academics alike of the value of time for balance and reflection in our working lives and the unrivalled importance of deep and meaningful relationships with family and friends to provide the support for creativity and success in our careers.

Comment on Collaboration

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

Our theme for October was Collaboration, so we asked our newsletter readers to share some of their thoughts and experiences around that topic. One of the responses we received was from Brian Snowdon, Learning and Development Manager at Insight Investment, who gave us a really fascinating perspective into how even the language used around collaboration can be challenged by diversity. He says:

“Even the title of the article itself threw up a pertinent example of cultural difference – working previously in a pan-European organisation, a corporate value title of “Collaboration” had very different connotations for people in France and Holland, notably in age groups that had a recollection of the 1940s. We chose to use “Working together” instead.”

Our theme for November is Meaningful Work – if you have any interesting examples or experiences on this topic, please contact sarahlouise@hotspotsmovement.com for a chance to appear on our blog or in our newsletter. We’d love to hear from you!

If you haven’t done so yet, sign up to our newsletter for the latest insights into collaboration, engagement, workplace diversity and the Future of Work.

Insights from the New Ways of Working Masterclass

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work

We started this week with a bang by hosting one of our Future of Work masterclasses on the subject of New Ways of Working. Here are some of the highlights.

The impact of social networks

It’s no surprise that social media was a major discussion point. As Lynda pointed out in her keynote, social media has already had a huge impact – but it isn’t quite as entrenched as other habits. While 70% of companies now use social structures and communities internally, with 90% reporting benefits, email remains dominant and many companies struggle to exploit social media’s collaborative potential. Most businesses are only just realising that online communities are becoming just as important as physical communities and many-to-many communication hold great value for the future. Increasingly, social media is becoming the only way to ensure disparate groups of employees make the connections that will help boost productivity and strengthen teams.

Guest speaker Darren Keegan of Tycoon Systems expanded on this theme by highlighting the value of virtual reality workspaces – and why they shouldn’t be ignored as a tool for enabling geographically diverse teams to collaborate effectively.

Global talent pools and hyperspecialised work

Our speakers also focused on job design and the trend towards complex work. With many of the most talented workers choosing portfolio careers and virtual working becoming embedded in corporate culture, companies are waking up to the fact that they can acquire specialist skills virtually instead of hiring experts full-time. By allowing employers to share the most talented workers rather than competing for them this model offers huge benefits such as enabling businesses to carry out complex projects at a reasonable cost. However, it also poses some unique challenges, including the question of how best to assemble teams when some workers are remote, and how to ensure employees stay motivated. Guest speaker Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk – also a renowned expert on the future of work – provided practical insights into this new way of working by describing how oDesk’s business model helps workers build more meaningful, varied and lucrative careers while at the same time enabling businesses to streamline hiring processes and access high-quality work at the best price.

New ways of managing performance

As job design changes, performance management methods have to be updated accordingly. In a world where teams aren’t necessarily co-located, employees frequently work on many projects with different leaders and peers, performance management is following the same patterns as communication and evolving from a one-to-one model to a many-to-many model.

As with communication, social media would seem to be a great solution to this – platforms like Work.com are already offering such services. The real issue around performance management, however, is behaviour. There is no escaping the fact that remote workers receive lower performance appraisals than co-located team members and that people give feedback based on how well they like someone rather than their skill level. Once again, Gary Swart’s take on this provided a glimpse into the future: freelancers on oDesk are already assessed based on their skills rather than what a manager thinks of them.

Finally, we invited members to think outside the box by looking at ways in which human resources professionals can learn from marketing firms when it comes to observing and influencing behaviour. Jonathan Chippindale of Holition provided unique and fascinating insights into how concepts such as augmented reality and gamification are revolutionising consumer behaviours.

Three Tips for Today’s Leaders

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By Lynda Gratton

As a business professor, I’m often asked about the nature of leadership today. When I think about what it means to be a leader right now, the first thing that comes to mind is complexity: today, leadership means being prepared to deal with many stakeholders – from  NGOs that are becoming more voracious in their demands to followers who are increasingly emboldened.

This situation is not only complex, but also tough to navigate – particularly in a world that is increasingly transparent and connected. However, there are still things leaders can do to smooth the process – let me share three of them with you.

  • Keep your eyes wide open More than 15 years ago my colleague Sumantra Ghoshal and I wrote business cases on three companies that were at that time leaders in their field: BP, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nokia. In one way or another, and for rather different reasons, all of these companies have since struggled. So my first observation is that in an ever more complex world, a company and its leaders are subject to continuous de-stabilizing forces. Being vigilant and observant about the nature and velocity of these forces is crucial. In complex times leaders do not believe the hype that surrounds them – they keep their eyes wide open to the reality of their world.
  • Find the balance between being authentic and being a custodian The debate about leadership authenticity is an important counter balance to earlier notions of hierarchical and role based leaders. Rather than following a narrow description of what a leader is – individuals are asked to be themselves, to be authentic and by doing so to bring more of themselves to work. I believe this is an important antidote to old style leadership. However, in an organization that is becoming ever more complex, being faced with a group of leaders all of whom are idiosyncratic in their authenticity, could become confusing and distracting for those that follow. Over dinner we talked about Steve Jobs, who was indeed idiosyncratically authentic, but was also engaged in founding what would become one of the world’s great companies. For many leaders, their role is less as a founder and more as a custodian who is capable of growing and passing on to future generations of employees and shareholders the value that past generations has created. So yes, be authentic to oneself – but not so idiosyncratic that those that follow need a ‘rule book’ on how to engage with leaders. The world is complex enough without this further variable to be considered.
  • Remember: it’s all about teams Thinking back to the cases mentioned earlier, I believe that if there is one underlying factor that accounts for the problems encountered by BP, RBS and Nokia it is their failure to build diverse, highly collaborative leadership teams. At RBS, CEO Fred Goodwin isolated himself from his colleagues, failed to listen to others and behaved in an increasingly idiosyncratic manner. At Nokia, the senior leadership team was for a long time extraordinarily homogenous (mostly men, mostly from Finland, mostly software engineers, mostly educated in Helsinki) and so failed to spot the rapid consumer developments in the Asian markets, or indeed the accelerating technological and design developments in Silicon Valley. At BP, the difficulties the leadership team had to integrate the US assets and build close collaboration with those that ran the US acquisitions was one reason why safety standards never became globally embedded. Simply put, as the world becomes more complex, so it becomes ever more crucial to put together leadership teams who have sufficient diversity to see beyond the hubris and myopia, and sufficient collegiality to work collaboratively with each other even when under stress.

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