Archive for March, 2021

Can we re-imagine the workplace to make it smaller ?

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

It’s a small world after all.

2020 (amongst many other things) was also the year when the world shrank.  We could and did collaborate with colleagues from China, New York, Canada and Columbia at no cost of time, travel or to the air pollution of the planet.

In 2021, as business begins to return to normal, will the world get bigger again?  Will a meeting with the global CMO of a client based in Chicago require a long haul flight?

Business travel is of course one of the oldest professions.  The three wise men were probably carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh on the back of their premium economy camel.   The very first chain of branded hospitality was created over 1000 years ago by the Cistercian monasteries to offer traders and merchants safe haven.

This changed in 2020.  And whilst the latent and pent up desire to travel on holiday is clear amongst the public in 2021, the views of experts about the return to business travel are more mixed.

The Economist points out Bill Gates thinks that “over 50% of business travel will go away”.  Credit Suisse are banking on only a downturn of 10 to 20%.  In truth it may take only one customer or client to make the point that the competition is pressing the flesh for business people to be jumping back on planes.

Is this how we want to re-imagine the workplace?  Apart from the impact on carbon emissions and on the bottom line of businesses (especially in some sectors where travel means business class and a very good hotel) there are two other factors to consider.

The first factor is gender bias.  Our research, for both The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business and for Belonging, the key to transforming and maintaining diversity, inclusion and equality at work, indicates that there may be a significant gender bias in business travel, especially for mums.  More fathers seem prepared to leave their family for longish periods than mothers, especially when kids are young.  More top men execs have full time partners who do not have work outside the home than top women execs which can make childcare easier.  There are plenty of exceptions to this, but lots of evidence that men predominate in globe trotting business roles.  Would this still be the case if travel remained an exception rather than the rule in these roles?  What difference would this make to the proportion of women at the top of top global businesses?

The second factor is that talent is not bounded by geography.  What if you could move your top talent anywhere in the world so that the best people worked together on the kind of projects that they excelled at and in teams that brought out the absolute best in each other?  During 2020 this was easy.  You could do a meeting in Shanghai followed by New York and Tel-Aviv.  When working in a teams with people outside your current country of residence means that families have to relocate, when one person gets a great job and their partner is compelled to follow them, when kids lose their school friends this has a cost beyond the financial implications and carbon emissions.

In February Spotify announced that their employees could choose how they want to work: in an office, remotely or at a co-working space that the business will pay a subscription for.  Employees must commit for a year at a time and get their managers approval.  Their head of diversity, inclusion and belonging, Travis Robinson, has said “the move will promote work-life balance, employee happiness and inclusion… it’s going to help the company attract talent regardless of location”.

Imagine if the pool of talent for your next major hire wasn’t just the people who live in your town but talent from anywhere in the world.

There’s a new world of work to reimagine. How big or small the world becomes is to be decided.  We should balance a return to norms with the possibilities of change.




What does leadership mean to you?

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

As we enter week whatever it is of lockdown, even with a roadmap in sight and yet with the winter wind still chilling us to the bone and the sunny spells alternating with rain drizzling outside our windows, it is more crucial than ever to look after each other.  We are personally being tested in all kinds of ways emotionally and mentally.  Relationships are under strain because we have never spent 24 hours a day with each other for such a prolonged period before.  People living on their own, who might normally prefer this, are vulnerable now that they are on their own all day and all of the night.  Checking in on mental welfare and ensuring that we really talk about our feelings and our vulnerabilities is crucial.

Of course this doesn’t just mean asking your team how they are.  Although this is more needed now than ever.  You need to actively manage their workload too.  It means for instance never setting a deadline without ensuring that the person it is set for has the time, within their working day, and given their other commitments, to deliver the task and to deliver it well.

In adland there is too much emphasis on managing upwards and in normal times that might be ok.  At the moment it definitely is not enough.

A good enough leader today needs to go further.  In fact, it might be possible to help your team cope with the stress of modern life by giving them reassurance about work.  Bayer general manager Oya Canbas has said: “I don’t want anyone to be anxious at work.  Can work create a sense of satisfaction that even helps people to deal with such difficult times?”

This type of management might well not come instinctively and may not be your own experience.  There is, however, a type of working practice where this is embedded.

This is working in an Agile way.

There are several ways in which Agile transforms work.  With references to scrums, sprints and burndown the language of Agile and its ceremonies can seem very foreign.  The entire rhythm of the week’s meetings is different, meetings have different names and purposes.  Progress is continuous and done well Agile cannot fail to improve effectiveness, efficiency and positivity.

Agile also changes the very idea of a leader.  An Agile leader is a servant leader.

What does this mean?  It means that as the boss, you do not act like the boss.  You are there to serve the team who work for you, not the other way round.

Servant leadership is the practice of leading through service to the team – so in other words you’re the leader, you’re the boss, but your immediate customers are actually your team members.  As a servant leader you’re there to serve them as well as you can and help them get what they need so that they can do the best job that they possibly can.

Agile leadership means not just reassuring your team emotionally, it means actively ensuring that their working day is no longer or more stressful than it should be.

In these difficult times to lead is to serve.