Future of work audio transcript

Featured speakers: 
Jean McClellan, National Consulting People and Organization Leader, PwC Canada
Robert Mah Ming, Director, Consulting and Deals, PwC Canada.

Sabrina Fitzgerald:
Welcome everyone. My name is Sabrina Fitzgerald, and I lead our PWC private practice. I'm also the managing partner of our Ottawa Office or region. 

Today we will cover how can become more resilient and successful. We're going to go through some traits of organizations that have performed better over the last year, year, and a half. And we will explore the results of our future of work and skills survey, as well as key themes, such as creating organizational agility, building talent, and so much more. Today I've got Jean McClellan and Robert Mah Ming that are here to help us explore the topic.

Jean McClellan:
Thank you very much, Sabrina. I'm Jean McClellan and I lead the People in Organization practice for Canada. So what is P and O? And I like to affectionately think of it as the human side of business. And over the past two decades, I've been working with clients to optimize their businesses by working on their people programs, process, and actually enabling them with technology as well. So I'm joined today by my colleague, Rob Mah Ming. Rob's a director in our practice and he specializes in productivity. And that's certainly a subject that we know is top of mind for CEOs as we enter in this world of work.

Sabrina Fitzgerald:
Okay, so my first question, and I hear this from my clients all the time is, "What do you think the future work actually looks like? What should leaders really be considering over the next say, 12, 18 months?

Jean McClellan:
As we look at to what employers need to think about in the immediate future, workplace, hybrid working are certainly the things that are top of mind for most employers. There's no doubt that we'll need to remain flexible around our world of work.

Now, the vast majority of workers would like to work in a hybrid environment. So, a little bit in the office, a little bit at home. What's interesting in the data is that there is a growing number of people who want to work fully remotely, and so, I think as people get more confident in their home situations, they get their lives set up so that they can do that, I think is a growing number of people that think that they can be productive in that realm. So something to keep in mind, as we see this kind of tug and pull between business and employees through this conversation.

Now, the caution with these trends is that the workforce isn't homogenous; we see a really wide variety of needs and views, and you've probably had lots of emotional conversations with people about it too, and their views. So, as we move into this age of personalization, it's important to keep in mind a couple of things. So one, is really lean into your employee listening. So if you're not doing employee surveys, do them, connect with your employees. You need to understand what they need. Two, as I mentioned before, programs can't be one size fits all anymore, so if you're talking about coaching or leadership support, those kinds of things are going to need to potentially change. And we need to lean in, because hybrid working models are actually really difficult to manage through. So, we've all been in those situations where we've been the one on the phone trying to keep up in a meeting, and while people are in the office. And so all of that change of power, all of the things that happen in nonverbal communication kind of come into a play. So a leader has to maybe have some norms around cameras on, or make sure that there's investment in technology so that the video conferencing is appropriate, has to probably do a little bit more checking and balancing in terms of who's talking or who's participating. So again, there's a lot of onus on leaders as we go through.

And then, probably the last point I might touch on is guarding against our own internal biases. And I like to say, "If you have a brain, you have a bias." And they help us in our lives all over the place, but there are two in particular, when we talk about hybrid working that might actually get in our way of creating a great employee experience, and achieving our retention and attraction goals and all of those things.

So, the first one is similarity bias, and that's when a person assumes that their own views are those of others. And so we know that senior leaders on par, actually have a tendency to prefer work in the office, and to want their teams to work in the office. But as we start looking at the employee populations, we see something different. So we know that hybrid and remote working is preferred by women. It's preferred by people, those in their mid-career, visible minorities, people with disabilities. So it's important to resist the urge that, if you're craving personal connection, and you're trying to drive people into the office, with good intent for that, that your preferences and needs might actually not be those of your colleagues and your teams. And so, the other one is proximity bias. And so this one is when we value things closer in space and time. So again, it creeps up in all sorts of different parts of our lives, but in this context, we have to be really clear that there's a bias, that if we're working in the office and there's people working in the office with us, that we actually might value their contributions at a higher level than those who are working remote, but they're actually working at the same level. And so, it's a natural bias that comes out, but it's something that we have to be really, really careful about as kind of a natural human behavior. So if we can get a handle on those biases, we actually can improve our retention, our employee experience, we can support our diversity and inclusion efforts. There's all sorts of great things that we have there. 

Sabrina Fitzgerald:
Great. Now I also know, you're seeing a lot at the Canadian level, our local sandbox. So, maybe you can shed some light on what you're hearing there? 

Jean McClellan:
Yeah. So at the Canadian level, it's interesting because employers are feeling like they're making the digital investments that they need and, so maybe a little bit of a word of caution here, because as I work with my Asian and European colleagues and I really do feel like Canadian business needs to remain vigilant in this area, when I see the level of innovation and the level of investment that's going on and some of those other territories around upskilling and the like, it's really astounding. And so, I think for us to remain competitive, we have to keep our eyes focused on that.

Now, the other thing that's interesting about Canada is that when you look across the territories and the globe, we've actually had lockdowns that are longer and more restrictive than many of the other territories, and so that's actually had a huge impact on our workforce. So, as we look at the polling for our workforce in Canada, we're seeing mental health as a top challenge that people are struggling against, women more than men, staying motivated is another one that our workforce is challenged with. So, men more than women. And we're seeing that at a level that's quite a bit more intense than, say, our colleagues to the south. So, leaders at all levels will need to really lean into some additional support around mental health challenges that they encounter. So, at PwC we've rolled out training sessions that help leaders through case study to address meaningful connections, and what to do if they encounter a team with mental health challenges. So, that's something that should be top of mind.

And now, as we look to employers, the top challenges that we're seeing are really about maintaining corporate culture and connection. And I think, what we want to guard against is some of that knee jerk reaction. Yes, in person connections are really important and should take their place, but they're not the only thing. And as we look out into the innovation community, we're seeing a lot of really cool things. So, many have recognized the challenge. And so, this one company that's developed an AI tool that kind of uses your email connections to see who you already have connections with, and actually matches you with people that you don't have connections, so to try and mimic some of the networking functions that maybe us as business leaders might go-to. And another platform gives you actually a virtual avatar that helps you move through your day. And so, instead of joining a video conference call, you go actually to a meeting room for that avatar. And what it does, is it mimics the collisions that you might have in a hallway at your workplace. So all really interesting things, I think it's all still evolving, but it's something that leaders can really keep their eye out for some of these new technologies and techniques that are coming to the forefront, as we're trying to innovate our way through a really challenging situation.

Sabrina Fitzgerald:
What's the biggest workplace challenge that leaders are facing today?

Jean McClellan:
Yeah, so we know flexible working is one thing, but there are definitely other things that are huge challenges for leaders. So, first it's around the risks around replacing human work with tech, right? We're seeing all sorts of stories around technology, and for the most part it's working really well, but sometimes there's errors and workflows that are creating issues. There's data breaches. We've seen bias built into AI technology. You've heard stories around recruiting bots that only hire men, because men built them, those types of things. There's a lack of governance around some of the technology, and that's more of a people issue than anything. Actually, one organization actually lost a bot that was collecting customer data. So there's all those sorts of things, and at the end of the day, it's not actually a technology issue, it's a people issue around that.

I would say, next is that identifying the skills that workers are going to need into the future. So, this is actually becoming incredibly complex, because everyone is actually starting at a different point, right? And maybe gravitating to a role that might be completely different than what you were doing, even just a couple years ago. So if you think about your own roles, say, what you were doing five years ago versus now I would say most of us can say that there are definitely some fundamental things that are the same, but a lot of it is changing, or at least how we're doing it's changing. And so sometimes, the need is technical, and we go to a more traditional course, but sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's softer skills like change resilience or advocacy, maybe some problem solving, it's those softer skills, which are a little bit harder to teach in a classroom and require more applied learning.

And then, finally, I think on that top line, I'd say, fear, right? So if workers don't see their role in the future, there's a tendency to resist the automation, and we’re seeing that in organizations. So they're doing a lot of R&D and innovation and it's in pockets, but the challenge now for organizations is to get those permeated in enterprise-wide. And they can't do that, unless employees see a role for themselves, right? So, you're trying to create a culture of experimentation and curiosity, where people know what their role is going to be in the future. So communications, and how you talk about this technology evolution is incredibly important.

Now, we're seeing organizations have severe cost pressures, so, do more with less is kind of the conversation of the day. We're seeing diminishing returns on the investment in technology and the investment in process re-engineering, around that efficiency and productivity. But the good news is that we haven't even scratched the surface on unlocking the value of human potential. And so, investments in the people space actually can really pay off in your organization around cost savings and doing more with less. And so, in this tight talent market, it's a great time to invest in that area.

Sabrina Fitzgerald:
What should organizations be doing now today to prepare for the future?

Robert Mah Ming:
Yeah, so what we've done is we've identified six key things that we think, and we're working with our clients on right now. And the first one, when we're thinking about sort of anticipating and planning for the future, in order for us to do that, we actually need data to be able to do that. And we need data to plan, and we want the planning to be deliberate. What we've seen in a lot of cases is that there's a lot of data and information that resides in organizations, but there probably isn't one source of truth. And so, when we are looking at sort of how do you get to a place where you're able to do predictive analytics, and start to predict what's going to happen, you need to have solid, reliable, clean data. That doesn't sound like maybe the sexiest solution, but in a lot of cases that, that's where we have to start. And so, in order for us to plan effectively, we need that solid source of truth.

The second thing that I want to highlight around building trust in your organization, is making sure that, as things are evolving, the leaders in your organization are walking the talk, and that they are consistent with the strategy and that people aren't working out of fear. I know Jean has alluded to this notion of digitization, and automation, and how people are scared for their jobs. I think in order to build trust, that you as executives need to be open and transparent about the desire to automate non-value added or transactional activity where it exists throughout your organization, whether that's accounts payable, or just wherever there's repeatable process. That's going to be something that you should be open and honest about, but there needs to be people involved in that process, and there's different skills that are involved.

So, when you look at sort of the third one on here about optimizing your workforce, and productivity, and performance, there are capabilities that you're going to need within your organization in order to do that effectively. Some of them will be different based on this hybrid work scenario, and some of them will be ones that maybe you haven't even thought about yet today. But having that clear sort of path around what are the capabilities as managers and leaders that you want within your organization, is going to be key. And I know from a performance and productivity management perspective, where we see the biggest weaknesses within organization is typically at the middle manager level, because what's happened is, people have been promoted into that area without necessarily having the skills to manage people effectively, and have clear sort of delineation between what it is that you're measuring as an organization, and what people on the front line should be doing and measuring as part of their day-to-day jobs. So, that middle part is certainly key in terms of capability, and aligning to a strategy, and understanding where you fit within that whole spectrum.

When we're talking about the skills of the future, there is a significant investment that's happened. We've actually seen quite an uptake over the last two years in looking at things like new ERPs. Obviously in and of itself, that is not a solution in to a problem, but how do you design the right business process? How do you do the change management as it relates to changing the systems, and investing in the systems? And knowing how to enable and automate the right parts of the process? We, as an organization have been investing internally in our resources by providing what we call our Digital Accelerator Program. So, people are going through internal training to have the latest and greatest sort of skills around things like Tableau and Alteryx and be able to do predictive analytics, and data visualization, understanding sort of what those key things are around data, and how would we want to use it?

The last two things looking at actually using technology with people in mind, there's always going to be a role to play for people. And I think that that's sort of the elephant in the room as it relates to technology and automation. I think we want to get away from this notion that's of a sort of skynet, and how the computers are going to rule us, and tell us what to do, but hopefully we won get to that point. I think we want to be deliberate about how we use technology, and how we're co-creating sort of solutions with people in mind.

And the people are sort of the key thing to this, and that's the thing I almost want to end on, is being very deliberate about the benefits of diversity in your workforce. And the value of that is really in that we want to make sure we're getting a diverse set of perspectives and backgrounds so that we are really considering things from all angles. And I think for you, as leaders, and owners of your organizations, that's going to be something that will be really key, is highlighting what those benefits are of having a truly diverse workforce.

Sabrina Fitzgerald:
Many organizations are working on their ESG plans and goals. What are you seeing organizations do to use remote working to boost their ESG goals?

Jean McClellan:
It's a really good question, because a lot of times, I think the employers aren't really connecting the two programs, but when you think about it, there's actually a really great opportunity to connect them both, and measure them in tandem. So for example, if you're offering flexible work or remote work, it is a really useful tool to hit your, if you have net zero goals for your organization or the like, you got to think about it every time you ask someone to move, to come into the office, and get in a car, or go on the train, or a bus, or even potentially get on a plane, you are creating a carbon footprint. And so, this is something where you can really think about it in a more holistic way, and start to really make change in the environment. And certainly, as we're seeing people go from more of that compliance mindset to something that is really strategic, and purpose driven, we're seeing that conversation happen more and more.

I think the other one is on the “S” part of ESG, right? And so, you heard kind of earlier in the program, we talked about that remote working is a preference for visible minorities, and women, and people with disabilities. So there's this huge opportunity that if you can get this right, that you might be able to attract talent that you maybe have been struggling with, from a diversity lens. Right? And so, there's a huge opportunity to develop programs and connect the two, so that you can also achieve your social goals as well. 

Sabrina Fitzgerald:
Thanks again, Jean and Rob for such a great presentation. So thanks everyone, have a great day.

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