When faced with a new or challenging situation, it can be hard to know where to begin. Now, nearly two-years into the Covid-19 pandemic, business leaders who were forced to jump into the deep-end can see the fruits of their labour. They know what works, and what doesn’t work, but there is always room for improvements and new approaches.
For leaders, networking events and panel events offer a much-needed platform to share examples of best practice, discuss common experiences and develop fresh ideas. Sharing knowledge makes businesses stronger and can ultimately lead to better business outcomes, and Robert Half wants to facilitate those goals, whether by providing the best senior talent or helping senior leaders to connect and learn.
Charlie Grubb, Senior Managing Director at Robert Half Executive Search, recently hosted an interactive online event that opened discussions of leadership, organisational journeys and what businesses can expect in 2022. Grubb was joined by various senior leaders and CFOs from a range of industries, from technology and finance to universities, who talked about the journeys they (and their companies) have been on over the past two years, how they see their approach developing and new ideas that can be built into their ongoing strategies.
As each member of this event shared their unique and expert viewpoints, there were three main topics that were at the heart of the discussion:
Topic 1: Hybrid working
Until recently, the term ‘hybrid working’ was relatively unheard of but now it is part of our daily vernacular. Charlie wanted to understand how it has changed the ways different businesses operate, manage their people and how they expect this to evolve over the next 12 months and beyond.
The topic created quite a divide between the guests. Though there are undoubtedly positives and negatives that come with working from home, some liked the change more than others.
One participant in a senior finance position at a university explained that they had focused on their staff, trialling a maximum of one day on campus per week, unless they had to come in for important lectures. The university provided laptops and screens for everyone and took the stance that this new way of working was a journey and that keeping in touch with everyone involved was really important. According to a survey they carried out, everyone felt differently about the new working situation, and bringing together everyone’s views has been and will continue to be challenging.
For the tech firm, the transition from office to home working was relatively easy, whereas the transition from home working to hybrid working proved to be much harder. There was a mismatch in business and individual goals, and as people realised they could work at home with the same results, the motivation to go in to the office reduced. He also explained, however, that even though people may be able to work from home, the social and cultural aspect of being in the office was still vital for building links between employees.
Difficulties around leadership underpinned the concerns of some participants who were less keen on remote and hybrid working. Their position was that a leader’s role is to set the overall business vision, keeping team members motivated, and ensuring that they understand and embrace the company’s plans and goals. Working together like that requires team building, which can be hard to manage from home.
The topic of leadership also featured highly throughout the conversation – with several speakers agreeing that micromanaging has become a thing of the past, as leaders were forced to trust their employees more. Robert Half’s International Head of Talent, Victoria Sprott, added that Robert Half had found hybrid working very successful – but now there was a need to remove buzzwords. For example, there should be no such thing as ‘hybrid leadership’ because any good leader should be accessible from anywhere.
Topic 2: Community outlook for 2022
As the topic of hybrid working drew to a close, Charlie Grubb prompted the next big question – what will culture and community look like in 2022?
Victoria Sprott took the lead, discussing the need for more freedom and accessible communication when working at home, as Teams and email alone has not been enough. Robert Half has invested in a new platform called ‘Hinterview’, which will allow people to tune in to important content and information from home at a time that suits them. Victoria also raised the importance of mental health and demonstrating a commitment to support employees – whatever their experiences.
Others talked about staying in touch with employees. One participant talked about making an effort to host a half hour meeting with no agenda or goals in an effort to virtualise ‘chit-chat’ and create an open and informal space for everyone to talk. He also said that, as people have realised they can work well from home, it’s going to be really important to find good reasons and incentives for people to come into the office.
Opening a line of communication makes it easier to find out about employees’ expectations for the future and respond to them, according to one business leader. It means that people can voice their concerns and be heard, and from that point on it will be a process of replacing or improving things that people are unhappy with.
Taking that one step further, one participant is planning to differentiate between the various voices and groups within the organisation, based on seniority, tenure, and other experiences. His goal is to explore what different groups of employees might want from a ‘new’ workplace, and what the organisation might give in return if their needs and wishes are met.
Topic 3: Diversity and inclusion
Adapting communications needs and getting to grips with employee needs and expectations led quickly into a conversation about diversity and inclusion – an issue that affects every business, no matter the sector, and no matter how large or small.
The university leader noted that the issue is particularly significant in his sector, highlighting that, although the industry has come a long way, there was still much that could be improved upon, and it was still a case of listening and adapting as you learn more.
He explained that opening up new conversations is incredibly important. For example, he recently had a discussion with a Muslim staff member, which raised awareness of his need to pray five times a day and the obstacles that can come with that. This type of religious awareness is crucial in business, but without a reminder through open conversation, these needs may not have been recognised. “It’s about seeing what you can do for the individual while still meeting business needs”, he said.
Although this is an important and positive topic, one participant wanted to create awareness around the danger of creating a divide when the subject of diversity is raised. While some companies may find it easier than others to manage differences and tensions, Grubb ended the session by highlighting the new opportunities that can emerge as we learn to be more accommodating and inclusive.
There are plenty of ways to make a difference when it comes to differences, and the more we can recognise and embrace these, the easier it will be to create a workplace where everyone feels accepted, whether that is through working arrangements, provisions and support for mental health or through communication with teams.