The DNA of Work

What's hitting the headlines?

September 14, 2021 Season 1 Episode 9
The DNA of Work
What's hitting the headlines?
Show Notes Transcript

After a summer of uncertainty, what are the papers saying about the new world of work and the plans of organisations? 

My guests picked out four news articles (two from Forbes, one from Inc. and one from LinkedIn News) to illustrate a range of trending topics – looking at the pay of those that choose to work remotely; the difficulty of sustaining an organisational culture with a home-centric workforce; the opportunity for organisations to enable people to pursue ideas and activities outside of their core employment area; and the stress experienced by millennials for whom work has a different importance and meaning as compared to those of earlier generations.

We discuss the issues raised and share our views and experiences in this lively discussion. Links to the articles appear below for those that would like to read them in full.

AWA Host: Karen Plum

Featured guests: 

  • Andrew Mawson, Founder & Managing Director, AWA
  • Celeste Tell, Senior Associate, AWA

 AWA Guest details:  

Article links:

Inc, Why Google's Plan to Cut Remote Worker Pay Is a Bad Idea 

 Forbes, Redefining Company Culture With A Home-Centric Workforce 

Forbes, Are You Brave Enough To Allow For Flexibility? 

LinkedIn News, Millennials are Most Stressed About 


Valve’s cabal process approach:

Research paper: 



AWA contact: Andrew Mawson  

Advanced Workplace Associates:     


AWI contact: David Smalley 

Advanced Workplace Institute:  https://www.advanced-workpla

Want to know more about AWA?

Thanks for listening to the DNA of work podcast

00:00:08 Karen Plum

Hello. In this episode which we're recording in early September 2021, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the topics that are trending in the news as many organisations are grappling with the new world of work, whether that's a hybrid model, fully remote or everyone back to the office. So we've picked out four articles which we hope you'll enjoy hearing about. Here we go. 

INTRO: Welcome to the Changing the World of Work Podcast where we provide insightful, practical content to untangle and demystify workplace change. I'm Karen Plum, director at Advanced Workplace Associates, where we combine science with nearly 30 years’ experience, helping organizations change the way they work, for the better. 

00:01:00 Karen Plum

I'd like to welcome my two guests, Andrew Mawson, who's Founder and Managing Director of AWA. Hello, Andrew. 

00:01:07 Andrew Mawson

Hi Karen

00:01:08 Karen Plum

And Celeste Tell, our Senior Associate based in the Pacific Northwest. HI Celeste. 

00:01:14 Celeste Tell

Hi Karen. 

00:01:15 Karen Plum

Good to see you both. So my guests have chosen a couple of articles that highlight current issues and challenges that organisations are facing. I'm going to invite them to share the basics of each article and then we'll explore the issues that come up. 

Andrew, would you like to kick us off? I think we're going to talk about whether we can reduce the pay of people if they're working fully remote?

00:01:37 Andrew Mawson

Sure, this is an interesting article written by a lady called Minda Zetlin in Inc. and it's called “Google’s plan to cut remote worker pay is a bad idea” and basically she says although the hard-nosed approach to running a business would indicate that possibly you should reduce people's pay because they've now moved away from the areas that they were originally recruited in, of course, their pay was associated with the high cost of living in those areas, and they've now moved away. She's suggesting actually that cutting their pay might not be a very good idea for a number of reasons, and so she goes in to say that that what you will in fact do is force people back to a long commute again, which is no good for commuting, no good for the planet, no good for productivity, no good for wear and tear, and also no good for the gender pay gap. So it's an interesting article. 

00:02:34 Karen Plum

Do you think that the case for location driven pay is dead?

00:02:39 Andrew Mawson

Well, I think location driven pay is a relic of bygone era, to be honest. I think we will look back on it in 10 years’ time and say it was a bit of a turning point. Really, what we're paying for is the value that an individual brain brings to the table, and what's been demonstrated over the last 18 months is that that doesn't necessarily mean physical connection with colleagues and certainly not all the time. 

So I think that model is inevitably going to disappear and just taking sort of slightly tangential view, I mean what will happen here is either somebody will come back, start commuting again, or they'll say no, I'm insulted by this and I will start looking for another job. And before you know it they will have found another employer who would offer the flexibility and probably something similar to their salary or even they might even take a drop. 

I did some calculations in London about a week and a half ago, and actually if you look at the reduction in travel costs that people get from not commuting it results for some people, and there's almost like a 25% tax free pay rise, so this whole business about reducing people pay, I think could backfire really. 

00:03:53 Karen Plum

I think as she says in the article, any reduction in your pay feels like an insult and it feels like you're not performing as you should be doing. It's all about the value that you bring to the organization, and perhaps you feel that that you're worth less. But of course, if you decide to take a lower salary from a different organization that gives you more flexibility, then that's a different gig, right?

00:04:15 Andrew Mawson

Yeah indeed. I think Minda goes on talking about companies being emotionally insensitive, and I think you're absolutely right, it will feel like a kick in the teeth when people are told this and in the end is it good for the organization in the longer term? Seems to me if somebody decides to vote with their feet, particularly where there’s a  scarce skill, it's probably not a smart move. 

You know it's gonna take you quite a long time to get people back up to speed, connected back into the organization or the induction costs and all the rest of it, it seems like a retrograde step, really, but you can sort of see how it might look from a finance standpoint. 

00:04:53 Karen Plum

So Celeste, are you seeing any of this type of talk from other organisations that you're engaging with or from things that you're reading in the media? Is the Google position starting to gather some supporters or are people just generally thinking that it's a bad idea?

00:05:12 Celeste Tell

I've actually heard quite a bit of it, primarily from other large tech companies and I think it's a huge, huge shift because pre pandemic, salary and benefit information was closely guarded and closely held and was location based and so now there's location based and function based and so now how do they adapt to bringing that out. so that maybe it isn't location based.

My sense is they don't know how to do that yet. There are certain things that organizations are being able to shift, but that one is not something that's shifting yet and they have to really figure it out. And each company has to figure it out in a way that aligns with their own culture and I think some of them are going to make missteps and have to learn from that. 

00:06:05 Karen Plum

And maybe that's a nice segue into our next piece as I think you Celeste were interested in a piece in Forbes about company culture and how it's going to be sustained with a more home-centric workforce - which is something that we've talked on the podcast before. Can you tell us a bit about what's in this article?

00:06:23 Celeste Tell

Yeah, so this article is really about is shifting the culture from being place based to being organization based and you’re right Karen, we have talked about this many times about how do you create intentional culture so that it doesn't have to be grounded in physical space. 

I really loved this article because she talks about how leaders really have to start to listen to employees and really need to develop equity and equitable approaches to how they're developing culture. And it's really the listening, and she encourages leaders to listen to the employees that challenge the status quo. You know, in the corporate world that has not been a norm, right? If you challenge the status quo, you were sort of on the outside, but she's encouraging leaders to listen. And to listen to people who challenge and we are hearing a lot about that from clients and organizations about the intentionality of what we're doing. 

00:07:27 Karen Plum

Yeah, and the thing that struck me about the article was that almost the need to let go and to be more comfortable with uncertainty. To let things evolve and not try to control everything. Andrew, is that something that you're seeing with organisations you're engaging with - are people getting more comfortable with not controlling everything or having a plan for everything immediately?

00:07:51 Andrew Mawson

Think a lot of people have got used to being trusted and they've got used to the idea that they have some clarity of what they're doing, and they can get on and do stuff, and there’s nobody looking over them 'cause they've been working away at home. 

I think the challenge is coming with some with some leaders, frankly, whose mental model of the world and skill sets are all linked to a physical, presence-based control-based world and that for me that is a battle that's going on in a lot of organisations. You know the senior leadership community is wanting to return to a control-based, presence-based model, but the people have tasted freedom and I think there's a lot of interesting debates and discussions going on. We're hearing some very strange stories, organisations where there has been a request from business units to tell the center how they're going to operate in the future, and they've told them “hybrid”. And the center has told them “no hybrid, we are office centric - you will come back to work”. 

So this is all gonna kind of work its way out in the wash I think 'cause I think the people are going to vote with their feet in certain industries. 

00:09:08 Karen Plum

Another interesting thing that came out of the article Celeste, was this whole thing around the need to build and sustain trust, and perhaps it wasn't something that we felt we needed to actively build in the past, but when everybody went home to work remotely then we started to realize we needed to be more intentional about how we sustain it. 

00:09:31 Celeste Tell

The other thing that came out of this was the equity piece. You know the getting smarter about equity and whether it's gender based, and I think the Google article spoke about that too, whether it's gender based equity or just the equity of those who come into the office and those who don't come into the office. There's a different way of looking at this now, I think companies that are going to succeed in this new world are learning a lot, and I think that companies that may not succeed may not learn a lot. 

I mean, we know that the lifespan of Standard & Poor's 500 company has shrunk from 50 years to 12 years and is shrinking still and so really, the question is how are companies embracing this new world and who will be able to succeed by virtue of embracing this new world and doing it well?

00:10:24 Karen Plum

We speak about companies and of course companies are just groups of people and managers, particularly and the managers skill set. We know that so many managers are managers just by dint of having the title, they don't necessarily have the skills required to manage in person, let alone remotely. And so upskilling managers seems to me to be one of those areas that are going to increasingly be something that they're going to have to focus on. 

00:10:52 Celeste Tell

Well, yes and that brings it back to the intentionality piece, right? So in the past, in an office, “managing” was really “watching” - kind of like watching people work and you got to watch and see if they were doing what you thought they were doing. But once you moved into a hybrid mode or a virtual world, you have to be more intentional about results and outcomes and then how the work gets done and whether people feel are engaged and feel positive and all these other factors which as we know the six factors really contribute to how well those managers are actually managing, and that's a whole new skill set. 

00:11:34 Karen Plum

Right, so that's the first two articles covered. If you'd like to read them, there are links in our show notes. Now we'll take a quick break and we'll be back after this message. 

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00:12:41 Karen Plum

Welcome back. Let's move on to our next article. I think this is another piece from Forbes, Andrew, do you want to tell us about being brave enough to allow for flexibility?

00:12:52 Andrew Mawson

Yeah, well the article’s called, as you say “Are you brave enough to allow flexibility”. It's by a guy called Georg Thingbo. He goes on to basically say that in the new world, what he can see are people being more purpose led, in other words more output orientated and so organisations need to focus on outcomes and a lot of the organisations now giving people time to think and to come up with smart ideas. But some of those smart ideas are not necessarily in the core arena of the organisations for which they work. What he's saying is that you know is it OK for those individuals to pursue those ideas outside of their core business. And of course in some cases possibly even compete. And then he goes on to talk about the platforms and whether platforms like Teams will enable people to work for multiple organizations and is that OK?

It challenges the conventional view about what employment is and how employees operate and whether in fact the work they do is entirely owned by the organization that is at that moment in time, paying them a chunk of money to do it so I think it challenges a few like conventional ideas again, really. 

00:14:14 Karen Plum

Yes, absolutely. I was struck by the notion that creativity or the generation of ideas can come from anywhere, and if they're coming from a variety of different interactions that you have, maybe they're voluntary, maybe you have a second stream of income where you're working for a different organization that allows you to do other things - does it matter where the ideas come from or where they're generated? And I guess it means that we have to be much more outcomes focused rather than - I'm paying you to sit somewhere for X number of hours and do your job. 

00:14:54 Andrew Mawson

Yeah, and many organizations are gonna find that difficult to shift. We should have a little bit of sympathy with a lot of organisations that have been operating in these sorts of command control, presence based organizational models for a long time. So it's going to take the world a while to just learn and shift, I think - not easy when these things are ingrained in a big structure. 

00:15:19 Karen Plum

I guess it speaks a little bit to the notion of people going on secondments and for organizations to offer their staff the opportunity to go and volunteer in an organization for a period of months or to take a sabbatical and to do something else which might help their personal development. And maybe it's bringing that idea into the more day-to-day operational way in which we work. And maybe it might be a way to retain talent, particularly if somebody is feeling like they're doing the same old stuff, but they don't really want to leave the organization. Maybe this brings some freshness into their working life. 

00:15:59 Celeste Tell

The thing that struck me in this article was the notion of measuring your output of employees by the time they spend or by what they actually produce. And I think that's a big conversation about productivity versus performance that we often miss getting into. And we still fall back on the notion of productivity which is, in fact, an industrial age metric, while performance is really more of a knowledge age metric and so I think if we maybe can start talking to clients more about performance. 

I used to joke because in the role that I was in I had to put together a lot of PowerPoint presentations and I used to joke - how do you measure my productivity? Is it by number of PowerPoint pages that I produce when in fact to communicate well you really want to produce less, not more! I do think that we're beginning to see organizations ask the question about this. I don't know that we're seeing organizations, to Andrew's point, this is a big leap and I think we're going to get there. I haven't seen any organizations that are quite there yet, actually. 

Change that! With one exception. I do know of one organization that pre-pandemic was absolutely here, I think I can say. It's an organization called Valve. They're one of the most valuable gaming properties in the world, and what Valve did was so interesting. Valve’s interviewing and onboarding process was extremely intensive because once you were hired and once you were onboarded, you were given a mobile desk, a mobile chair and a laptop and they had rooms called cabals and you could go join a project because it was interesting to you and you wanted to contribute. 

You could go into an empty room and start a project and see if people would join you and everything was based on whether what you were working on could gain traction from your peers internally in that organization - which is really a different way of looking at things and they're incredibly successful. And I don't know, I haven't been in touch with them during the pandemic, but I do think that they pioneered a very different way of looking at work and performance and productivity that I haven't seen anyone else really. 

00:18:25 Karen Plum

I guess it's those small steps towards that different future, and maybe because the pandemic has shaken up so much over the last 18 months, maybe some of this again, may be demand led by the people within their organisations. 

So let's come to our final article, which I think was in LinkedIn News. Celeste, do you want to tell us a bit about that?

00:18:50 Celeste Tell

Yes, so this was really interesting because the title was really “How stressed are US workers?” and that it differs by age group, according to LinkedIn’s survey. And what was really interesting is that it seems like people are, across the board, slightly less stressed - in August of 2021 - than they were in November of 2020. That's kind of a good sign. Not a lot, but slightly and the deltas are all about the same. 

But the interesting question is - whether or not millennials are more stressed than others, and the LinkedIn article makes the case that millennials are the most stressed among employed workers and that the three things causing the most stress are not enough time in the day to get everything done; balancing work and family responsibilities; and not making enough money. Which is, I think, a very millennial thing, but it was interesting to me because I thought well, hmmm. 

So I went and talked to a young millennial that I know - been in and out of the corporate world and the service industry world and the creative - kind of what we were just talking about in the last article. Like he keeps all parts of his brain going at all times and you know what he said is that the biggest issue for millennials is, wherever they are, “am I working for a company whose values are alignment with my own, and if not, what are the tradeoffs I'm being asked to make and can I make them?”. And this came up over and over and over again in the conversation. 

I think it's a freedom that this generation has that certainly my generation didn't have, you know you went into the workplace and it was like take it or leave it - this is how it is. If you don't like it, there's ten other people in line that would like your job, and I think there's both a freedom and an agency about this generation. To be able to say, I'm going to pursue my life goals - my life goals in fact may not be how I earn a living. I might earn a living one way and be pursuing my passion, whether it's art or music or whatever in another way, and I can make a choice. Work in this particular job right now, or I can make a choice to leave. The other thing that he said is there just isn't that loyalty that previous generations have had to a specific job. 

On the other hand, all of these things are creating stress, and so either its survival level stress - I've opted out of the corporate world and therefore I'm not being paid enough, I'm not making enough or I'm in the corporate world, I have my basic needs taken care of, but I'm not an alignment or an agreement with where the company is going and that's bothering me. That's an issue for me, that's - I don't know if I can live with that or not, and so it was very interesting because I think sometimes with clients we don't really hear, we don't get that level of insight from some of the millennials because they aren't in leadership positions, and I think it would be good for us to spend some more time thinking about this new generation at work. 

00:22:20 Karen Plum

Absolutely, Andrew, what are your thoughts about the millennial generation and how much we're hearing from them?

00:22:26 Andrew Mawson

Well, I mean, I think the millennial generation are obviously all the things that Celeste was saying so some privileges that some of the rest of us never had. I mean, yeah, I question to a degree the level of loyalty that people did have to companies way back - their loyalty was out of necessity, in many respects, and that was a financial necessity.

And in the relationship that many of us had with the organizations that we work with, the company had the whip hand and we believed that to be true and only those people who were in real demand and would put themselves around with headhunters and stuff, would find that they could probably earn more money in other places. 

We kind of just got on with it and our loyalty was in many respects betrayed, to be honest. I mean, you know when people started to sort of see redundancies coming in the 1980s and 90s in organizations like IBM, where redundancies had never actually been a thing, suddenly everybody’s dreams were shattered. 

The notion that there was a job for life and all those sorts of things went right out the window. And this generation don't have that perspective at all. To your point, I think they're more thoughtful, they’re more purposeful. Some of them have a much lower desire for material things and haven't got themselves on that mortgage train yet - they're a little bit removed from some of these things, but a lot of the young people coming through value some other things, I think, at certain times of their lives, in a way that we maybe didn’t. 

00:24:13 Karen Plum

Yes, and there's not the expectation that there's the job for life, is there? People don't want the job for life, they want to move around and do different things, and work isn't everything for them. 

00:24:24 Andrew Mawson

Yeah, and it presents organizations with a bit of a challenge, doesn’t it, because you put your time and energy into the training and development of an individual, only to find that the individual decides to move on somewhere else and take that knowledge and trade it for something that potentially is more appropriate economically in a lifestyle way. So you know, it's an interesting challenge for organisations to think about how they manage sentiment and loyalty in this world. 

00:24:56 Celeste Tell

Well, that has huge implications for induction and onboarding, right? How much do you invest, at what point, if you don't know if an employee is going to stay or not? But what this young man, the other thing he said, which was really interesting, is that some of his peers are looking for work that fulfills them and  others are looking for a workplace that fulfills them. And I think that has interesting implications for us and for our clients. 

00:25:29 Karen Plum

Yep, absolutely. And just before we finish, I think there was another point in that article that I was struck by and that was that the return to office plans (or lack thereof) were causing a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty and distress to the workforces. And I think for a lot of them there have been announcements over the whole 18 months, you know - you don't need to come back into the office until this date and then and it's that date. And then maybe you're in two days a week, three, and so people are constantly being bombarded with plans that aren't set yet and trying to figure out how they're going to manage their own needs going forward once those decisions are made - perhaps decisions that they feel they're not having as much input into.

Andrew, what are your thoughts?

00:26:22 Andrew Mawson

Well, I mean, it's been a difficult time for everybody, right? And it's been almost impossible for governments and organisations to make promises they could keep. Things have changed so quickly, but in a sense you can argue that is the world that I think we're heading towards. And it links back to the point we make about jobs for life. 

The world is, the sea is choppy. There are myriad of things out there that can cause organisations grief from things which are to do with climate, to certainty around the employee supply, economic markets, I mean, everything seems to be becoming more turbulent, and even if it isn't, it feels like it is, so individuals and citizens and organizations are going to have to get used to the idea of the world being a different place and we're going to have to learn to be more resilient I think. 

00:27:20 Karen Plum

Yes. Any final thoughts from you Celeste before we finish?

00:27:23 Celeste Tell

I think this to wrap it up, I think this kind of circles it up with something we were talking about earlier, which is trust. And so this whole notion of not feeling confident, being told, we're coming back to the office, we're not coming back to the office. There's a sense in the younger generation that they don't know if they can trust leadership or not, so there may be on the cusp of can I trust you / can I not trust you - and then something like this shows up and it sort of throws to the side of oh, maybe I can't trust you. If I can't trust you about this because it's going back and forth, can I trust you about other things? And I think that's something that leadership really needs to deal with and needs to consider in terms of how they’re communicating, just about this return to office thing?

00:28:13 Karen Plum

Because it's very telling and it links into our conversation about organizational culture as well, because it tells people a lot about what's important. So I think that's a good place for us to wrap up. 

Thank you very much to Andrew and Celeste for some great discussion about these topics. As I mentioned earlier, there are links to the articles in our show notes together with some details about Valve, the organization that Celeste mentioned. That's it for this episode. See you next time. 

CLOSE: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Changing the World of Work Podcast. Please follow or like the show so you don't miss any of our content. You can find more information on this episode in our show notes, including a link to the AWA website, if you'd like to know more about us. Hope to see you next time. Goodbye.