There is a wealth of advice and guidance available to organisations looking to implement or refine their hybrid working approach. Helping organisations change the way they work has been AWA's bread and butter for the last 30 years, so we know a thing or two about this - albeit that the Covid pandemic accelerated the journey for us as well as our clients.
Hearing real life experiences from clients who have gone through a change journey is very powerful. In this episode we hear from the British Heart Foundation who have implemented a programme called "Flexibly Connected", and continue to refine it's operation through a test and learn approach.
Here's a quick overview of the discussion points in this episode:
AWA Host: Karen Plum
CONTACTS & WEBSITE details:
Music: Licensed by Soundstripe – Lone Canyon
Want to know more about AWA?
Thanks for listening to the DNA of work podcast
00:00:01 Karen Plum
Hello there. Have you noticed there's no shortage of advice available for organizations trying to sort out their hybrid working arrangements? Getting things right for your organization is obviously critical, there's really a lot at stake.
But if you're looking for some good solid advice based on real life experience, you need look no further. Let's get on with this episode.
00:00:27 INTRO: Welcome to AWA’s Podcast, which is all about the changing world of work and trying to figure out what's right for each organization, because we know that every one is unique.
We talk to people who have walked the walk, who've got the T-shirt, and who've learned lessons that they're happy to share with us. I'm your host, Karen Plum, and this is the DNA of work.
00:00:54 Karen Plum
If you're a regular listener to the podcast, you'll know that we talk a lot about approaches to hybrid working. This is what AWA’s business is all about - helping organizations figure out what's right for them and how to prepare for, implement and refine the approach over time. This is what we've been doing for the last 30 years.
But it's always great when a client is happy to share what they're doing, because critically, it's authentic and it helps other people learn from their experience.
In this episode, we're talking about the aspects that our client, the British Heart Foundation found important in their journey through the pandemic period and into the development and implementation of their Flexibly Connected program. And actually, on that note, an attractive and descriptive name for such a program really is important.
‘Flexibly Connected’ is great because it really describes the purpose of the approach - and does what it says on the tin, if you will.
Anyway, this episode features two guest speakers, firstly Sarah Cousins Head of Organizational Change at the British Heart Foundation or BHF, as they're often referred to. Sarah’s been leading the change effort all the way through and has a wealth of experience in delivering change. BHF is one of the UK's much loved and supported charities, and they're also a valued AWA client - we've been working with them for many years.
The second speaker is my colleague Philippa Hale. Philippa is a Senior Associate at AWA. She's a highly experienced workplace change leader and a key member of the team supporting BHF.
Sarah and Philippa spoke on a webinar in October 2022, run by the AWA Institute. The Institute is a private members community that shares insights and learnings on workplace strategy and leadership, for people who are working to deliver the workplace and workplace experiences for their organizations.
We know that Members really love to hear from other organizations about what they're doing and how it's working out, so these events are really important. More about the Institute later or if you're interested, just head to our website advanced-workplace.com for more details.
The webinar was an opportunity for our guests to share the learnings from BHF’s experience around hybrid working and I was lucky enough to listen in and capture the discussion to share on the podcast. I also spent some time after the event discussing the issues in more detail, so you get a bit more of a deep dive in this episode.
So let's get into the good stuff by going back in time a little to March 2021 when BHF’s current change journey began in earnest. Here's Sarah reflecting about the ingredients for success.
00:03:49 Sarah Cousins
Where we started in terms of ingredients for success was understanding what our people wanted - through treating them like grown-ups and asking their opinion. So we set up - way back in March 2021 - we set up a listening event, which at that point was called Workplaces Re-imagined, which involved a survey and focus groups and just asked people how they saw that post pandemic world of work operating and kind of what they'd learnt from their experiences and what they liked and maybe what they didn't like.
And so we heard from over 1,000 of our colleagues and found that 83% of them were interested in hybrid working. So that was kind of key, and all of the insights that we had from them were key in setting up what we called our Flexibly Connected ways of working.
Once we had all those insights, we then used those to help us kind of determine what would be our principles around Flexibly Connected and sort of what those ways of working would look like. We started with these kind of cornerstone ideas so these are the foundational ideas of what we wanted Flexibly Connected to do.
So we wanted it to reflect and stay true to the diversity and variety within BHF and help us achieve our ambitions. We wanted our people and our leaders to be empowered and feel ownership over their ways of working. We wanted to support the best connections and have the right spaces to do that in, and we wanted to give people the right technology and guidance and create an equitable experience.
We chose that word actually, because not everybody is the same, you know, that experience can't be the same, but it can be equitable, we can try and get that balanced sort of level playing field if you will.
00:05:42 Karen Plum
So some critical ingredients identified by Sarah. Empowerment and ownership, delivering the best connections and providing all the other elements like technology, spaces, policies to give people the right support and a framework for the future way of working.
The notion of having an equitable experience is something that organizations wrestle with. There's a keen sense we need to treat people fairly of course, but people are looking for different things, so getting the balance right isn't always easy, but it is important.
Having identified the key ingredients from the initial survey and the following discussions, Sarah explained that the organization then moved the majority of staff onto blended location contracts. If you'd like to hear a bit more about that, you can listen to our earlier podcast episode where she explains the approach - just look for the one called, ‘Where are you going? ', which aired in January 2022.
In addition to the contract change, there was a move to new smaller office space in the organization's existing building, which was key to helping them get the right spaces they wanted to support the flexibly connected program. But the aspect that's been really interesting is BHF’s adoption of a test and learn approach to the change. Here's Sarah explaining.
00:07:07 Sarah Cousins
The last thing I just want to call out in terms of success is experimenting as you go along. So we set up this program with the test and learn approach and it's been just absolutely vital, because I think that everything has just, as you're all aware, continued to change and you know as you go along you're dealing with train strikes and heat waves and all sorts of things.
As we've gone along, we've taken feedback on board, because we set it up with that open, honest, we don't have all the answers to this, we don't know all the answers 'cause we haven't gone through this before. It's meant that we've been able to experiment and iterate and kind of deal with challenges as we've gone along.
00:07:51 Karen Plum
We've talked about this approach on the podcast before. During the pandemic, lots of organizations had to become a lot more comfortable with ambiguity and a lack of certainty. Leaders had to get more comfortable accepting and expressing that they didn't have all the answers, that they didn't know how things were going to turn out.
But after a while, people need more certainty, certainly more than the we don't know approach. That said, for organizations used to being very firm with decision making and direction giving, to move to a more experimental approach, at least to do so very visibly, is quite challenging.
I wondered if BHF already had something of an experimental culture which made this easier for them.
00:08:38 Sarah Cousins
I think that we have something of an experimental culture, but it was something actually that we were working on when the pandemic hit - was having a bit more of a culture of innovation, so I don't think it was an alien idea, but I don't think it's something that's firmly embedded in our culture.
But it was definitely something that I can remember our Chief Executive actually saying it to me. So it was something that you know, she said - we've got to experiment with this. So whether there was something in the culture already, but it was definitely something that I think we've just emphasized all the way through. So it's in our commitments, it's in other parts of our framework, it's in our guidance, it was in our comms.
We threaded it through everything and not everyone has accepted it either. I think that's the thing. That's why I said about communicating it. So even though we've really communicated that very strongly, people didn't all accept it, and I think maybe that is a symptom of the fact that it's not deeply embedded in our culture. We’re not a culture where everybody accepts that we're going to be completely agile and experiment in everything we do.
We have areas of the business - our tech teams, for example, who do sprints and they have that kind of minimum viable product and all of those kind of you know, cyclical iteration and processes, but other parts that don't.
I wouldn't say it's been challenging, but I don't think it's been easy. It is sort of somewhere in the middle.
00:10:11 Karen Plum
That sounds entirely understandable, doesn't it? As with many aspects of the pandemic experience, it seems this has given BHF a helping hand in accelerating the move to a more flexible culture. We'll come on to some of the very practical things that BHF did to involve people in creating their new ways of working, but I did want to share with you the importance of leadership, involvement and commitment, which led to the success of the program.
Anyone involved in change management knows that visible leadership endorsement and role modeling are vital in signaling commitment and support for the change. It's not always easy. Leaders have to get comfortable with the change in terms of how it's going to affect them.
In my experience, leaders often worry about losing control when changes are on the table. They leap to feeling that everything will be a free for all. They say things like won't the business suffer, how will we meet our objectives, and things like that.
Sarah explained that whatever they did, it was clear that it had to be right in terms of achieving the organization’s strategy and delivering their cause. As a charity, their core purpose is very clear. The website says their vision is “a world free from the fear of heart and circulatory diseases”. They raise money to research cures and treatments, to give people more time with the ones they love.
So whatever Flexibly Connected delivered to staff and teams, BHF’s primary purpose had to remain paramount, and with that in mind, you can then build some key commitments that provide the much needed guidelines within which managers and teams can work out what's right for them.
00:11:53 Sarah Cousins
Leaders have got to think about what's right for their organization, so that they can achieve their strategy. You know, I think that's got to be their guiding light. We had our cornerstones and then we agreed with our Executive Group some Flexibly Connected commitments so that was kind of what is Flexibly Connected about, and the first one for us was that it was about doing what's best for the BHF and for our cause.
The Charter is a sort of organizational level set of principles and then the team agreements are the ones where the individual line managers have those conversations with their teams and figure out how does this work for us as people and as a team, given what jobs we're here to do.
00:12:38 Karen Plum
Sarah stressed that of course the people are there to enable the organization to achieve its strategy, so a big part of the planning was around staff engagement. Thinking about how attractive the organization is as an employer and how to retain existing staff, all the while giving everyone the most support to do their best work.
It's a multifaceted situation with gosh, lots of moving parts. Sarah spoke about team agreements and these really are a cornerstone of the AWA approach to delivering successful hybrid working arrangements. Together with the involvement of change champions to work with their team to ensure participation, engagement and to provide a safe space for people to get involved.
As Philippa explains, the combination of some overarching principles endorsed by the leadership, together with the flexibility to craft your own team version of how you're going to work, really is that sweet spot.
00:13:37 Philippa Hale
I think you have to have honest conversations with the teams. A set of core principles I think agreed from the center are important, but one of the things that we do a lot with clients and I know Sarah and her team have been through this as well, in fact, did it brilliantly, was bringing in what we call the working together conversations, which leads to working together agreements.
So it's making the implicit explicit, and it's having conversations as a leader with your team members and making sure that everybody has an opportunity to have a voice, and making sure that everybody gets answers to their questions. It's that adult adult conversation that you have to have and also being much more clear than perhaps you were, we were in the past about what we're doing, what our priorities are.
So what we're actually working on for a start - so that everybody knows what we're doing - and then making the decisions as a team as to where would be the best place, where we will do our best work, and then the conversation about fairness just disappears because you're going down a different path.
You're talking about what makes the most sense, and you're also very open with each other about the constraints you have back home. For example, if you're the one who has to pick up children or care for elderly parents or so, and then if the team knows that (you don't need to show each other’s life story), but if you share enough about yourself you become whole human beings.
And I'm a huge believer in the fact that we're not just paid for that bit of us. We're paid as whole human beings to come into work, and it's that whole human being that makes connections and comes up with ideas and solves problems and makes decisions and gathers information.
As leaders we have to create situations where people can have those conversations about where is the best place to do the best work and who's got what constraints and how do we balance that?
00:15:38 Karen Plum
Philippa mentioned that BHF had done the working together agreement process brilliantly, and it's worth understanding that every team in the organization produced an agreement which really is an achievement. So I wondered how they managed to do that.
Sarah explained that the leaders set the example by creating their own agreement, and then they rolled out the process through nominated managers, who were responsible for ensuring that all the teams in their areas went through the process.
00:16:05 Sarah Cousins
So it started with the Executive Group, did their own working together agreement, so they'd actually done something similar around, kind of how often they wanted to meet and what they wanted those meetings to look like and they already had some basis of it, but they then had a further conversation about what more they might want to add into their team agreement.
So I think we added things around well-being and diversity and role modeling, so they did have some basis for it, the Exec Group, where they had some sort of working together agreement, but we revisited it and then talked to the organization about it so they were role modeling it right from the top.
00:16:47 Karen Plum
With the backing and support of senior leadership, it wasn't like a three line whip approach, but it did signal very clearly that having an agreement was an expectation. Managers were also given training to enable them to become more comfortable with the skills and approaches of successful hybrid working and leading a hybrid team. More of that a bit later.
Earlier in this episode I mentioned the AWA Institute and I thought you might like to hear a bit more about the benefits of becoming a member. So here's the Institute’s Partha Sarma with a quick summary.
00:17:23 MESSAGE Hi there! Are you someone who is trying to make the world of work easier? Are you a leader in Facilities, Real Estate, HR, IT or Operations? Becoming a member of the AWA Institute means that you'll be in good company. You will get to interact with other leaders, you will get access to insights and research on workplace experiences.
We also support you and your colleagues in your personal and professional development. If you'd like to find out more, do get in touch with us through our website advanced-workplace. com.
00:17:56 Karen Plum
Welcome back. Before the break we were talking about the importance of leadership and the role of managers in the transition to hybrid working.
A core part of AWA’s approach in this area is to heighten the awareness of leaders and teams around the aspects of successful team working - what we call the Six Factors which have been shown from research to lead to effective team working.
Philippa outlines them and you'll see they aren't rocket science, but they are even more important when people aren't in the same physical space. She starts with trust.
00:18:31 Philippa Hale
Trust - that feeling of psychological safety, the test and learn culture that Sarah was talking about is a good example of that. Is it safe to make a mistake? In many organizations, it's not.
So how do you as a leader make sure that your team feel comfortable having a go at something? Because that way leads to creativity and innovation and it also leads to closer connection. So we trust that people have got our backs. We trust that they're going to deliver when they say they are, and we trust they're going to do a good job. And is that a conversation that you can have with your, team, with your manager.
Social cohesion. Have I got buddies at work? Do I feel closely connected to people? Do they know a little bit about me? Enough for us to feel connected as humans, not just as colleagues?
Perceived supervisory support - do I feel that my manager is giving me those guardrails, that structure? Do they understand me? Am I allowed to get on with things and am I given credit and appreciation for what I do?
Information sharing is the practical side of the work, you know, how well are we communicating what we're doing to each other? How much do we know about each other's workloads? How much training and development have we been given?
Are we clear on our goals? Do we have conversations regularly about all the different pieces of work that we've got on and how they connect to the guiding principles or the vision that we have.
And then finally, are we in a bubble listening to our own messages and our own voices, or are we connected to the outside world? Are we able to critique what we're doing in relation to other good practices that we can bring in from outside. And that can be within functions within the organization, who can become really quite tribal and insular. And it can also be organizations within an industry. So are you looking outward as well as inward?
And I think those have always been high performing enablers, but I think when we're working remotely, it's making the implicit explicit more often. Having those, I think they’re often referred to as courageous conversations when things aren't working or feeling free to speak up about whatever, about anything, that needs to be aired.
00:20:55 Karen Plum
Which brings us neatly to the idea of the evolution of the new ways of working. Working together agreements are created at a moment in time, but if they're going to be useful, they can't be gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. They need to be living, breathing guidelines which help existing and new team members to understand what's been agreed, guiding everyone and reminding them what they were trying to achieve.
And you know if something isn't working then we need to be able to address it and make changes. Test and learn. Change and tweak. So that it always serves our current situation. That doesn't mean you change it every five minutes, but nor is it set in stone. You come back to it when it feels right to do so and see what needs to change, or what simply needs a quick reminder.
During the webinar, Philippa also shared AWA’s Seven Step approach, which I wanted to share, as it neatly summarizes the steps we use with clients. Again, not rocket science, but we've found them to be very effective.
00:21:58 Philippa Hale
There have to be a set of work and place principles that are essentially agreed. We're not asking people to come up with a way of working with no guiderails or nothing that brings us together as an organization, and those principles need to reflect whatever culture you have and wish to sustain.
And then sustaining culture is often a conversation in itself when people are spending less time together. Those principles are backed up by the physical spaces that you're providing for people - they need to marry up - and from those principles you then talk about the core working together agreement. So attached to that are things like contracts and policies. So there's quite a lot of work for people in the HR community to do.
There's also a lot of work on learning and development. There's also a lot of work on technology because whatever types of space we choose to use, these working together agreements have to be underpinned by the physical space, the technology and the people policies and also as we said, training and upskilling managers, which is the next step.
What we have seen with clients is the onboarding champions is the thing that's fluctuated. Some organizations had champions helping them to work to devise the core working together agreement for example and publicizing through the organization communications and through the champions themselves, the fact that the champions were consulted very early on behalf of the communities who had selected them, asked them to be their champion.
Actually, that's quite an important point. The most successful champions who are brought on board for organization change are selected and elected by the community they representing, rather than picked by senior leaders. It's quite useful to have a few people who are known to be a bit vocal, and it's surprising who does have influence. It's not always the people who you think - doesn't always come with rank.
So developing individual team working together agreements - I mean the British Heart Foundation did an amazing job and actually got every single team to do one. That's quite unusual.
So managers training and upskilling and ongoing coaching of the management community. Knowledge and tips sharing between managers including across functions and trying to break down some of the silos that haven't gone away. And Sarah mentioned the test and learn and that goes perfectly with the monitor and evolve as a great example of that. You know - plan, do, review.
00:24:50 Karen Plum
To round off this exploration, I wanted to share our speakers top tips for anyone trying to get a hybrid working change program off the ground.
00:25:00 Sarah Cousins
I definitely would say listen to and involve your people. They're just fundamental to shaping the approach that you might want and kind of helping you to co-create, 'cause actually doing it in isolation you're just not going to get as good a result so definitely and that kind of champion approach I would recommend.
And then, I think, harnessing managers and leaders because they are absolutely fundamental. They are the people that are sort of doing this on a day-to-day basis and trying to get their teams to deliver. So I think they need to be harnessed, is probably the best word. And then I would just go back to the test and learn approach 'cause again, you're not gonna get this right on day one, and there needs to be a sort of framework setup in which it's clear and explicit that you're experimenting and I think just one thing to say about that - also communicating to people that you are taking that approach, because I think people want certainty.
So we came across this a lot that people wanted certainty, even you know, back in the middle of the pandemic, and I think that's just a human reaction and need, and they're sort of crying out for certainty and you're thinking - I can't give you certainty 'cause we're living in this sort of ambiguous world, so communicating that experimental approach as an approach and as - we will all do this together and you can help us. It was one of our commitments that we will all experiment together and find the right way of working and to do the best work for our cause.
00:26:32 Philippa Hale
Listen, listen, listen. And really listen. I would also say - make sure that the workspace that you're providing is aligned to the culture that you're trying to create. There's no point in having workspaces that don't encourage you to do the things that are being talked about. The collaboration space has to be there so a few more desks are being moved out.
Adult adult. I think as leaders and managers we do forget that. We tend to either end up as a bit paternalistic or a bit controlling, but across a hierarchical structure and within it, how can we encourage people to step up and take a bit of ownership of what's going on? Have we got to a point where we're having to pussyfoot around and not get people to think things through.
00:27:20 Karen Plum
These things, like listening and involving people, sound simple, deceptively simple in fact, but doing this well takes time, it takes energy, and it takes commitment and a lot of patience. It's really easy for the sake of time to miss these things out, but really you do so at your peril. The way you lead people through change says so much about who you are as an organization, what you value and it demonstrates your culture in action.
And that brings us to the end of the episode. I'd like to thank Sarah and Philippa for providing such rich and deep experience to the webinar and the podcast.
If you'd like to know more about AWA’s Institute, where you can hear more inspiring stories like Sarah's, just head to our website, advanced-workplace. com.
00:28:12 CLOSE: If you'd like to hear future episodes of the DNA of work, just follow or like the show. You can contact us on our website, advanced-workplace. com. Thank you so much for listening. See you next time. Goodbye.