19 April 2022

Workplace Stories Season 5, Adventures in Hybrid Work: Opening Arguments

Heather Gilmartin Adams
Research Lead

TL;DR

  • This is the introductory episode of our podcast: Adventures in Hybrid Work, Season 5 of Workplace Stories.
  • In this episode, Stacia Garr and Dani Johnson of RedThread Research and Chris Pirie from The Learning Futures Group recap not just last season, but the last four seasons, and how it’s all culminating as part of Hybrid Work.
  • There’s a preview of future guests, great discussions, and economic impacts to come.
  • Stacia says, “Obviously everyone knows why Hybrid Work matters right now … But I think one of the things that has been most informative so far is how organizations are fundamentally rethinking the work itself and using this as an opportunity to do that.”
  • We’re out to answer these questions: why do people do Hybrid Work, what is it going to look like, and should your office get better printers to entice employees back to the office?
  • We’ve hopefully landed on a more stable shore after our Odyssey, but now it’s time to start our next Adventure: traipsing through the challenges of Hybrid Work. It’s dangerous to go alone, so join us!
  • If you like this episode, leave a rating and a review for our podcast.
  • A special thanks to our sponsors, Class and Perceptyx, for their support of this season!

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DETAILS

We’ve completed one sort of Odyssey (at least for now). Now, it’s time for an Adventure. That’s the message from our customary opening new Workplace Stories from RedThread Research Season scene-setter this week, where the guys reveal that our next set of engagements and learning from experts and practitioners in the world of HR and the future of work is the current supernova-hot topic of Hybrid Work. If you really are just out of your COVID bunker, we refer, of course, to the idea of how we might re-orient ourselves to a workplace where employee expectations about ‘presenteeism’ have changed, a lot… whether they have that much really for employers, well—let’s see. Also covered: how RedThread’s working with its team and clients to make our own changes to support Hybrid. To set us up, a review of how powerful employees are right now on their side of their see-saw (for how long), some Intriguing guest names get dropped, starting with this week’s co-dropping Episode 1, well-known HR Scholar and author John Boudreau, how this Season links surprisingly quickly with previous Workplace Stories surveys, and expected recurrent themes like the role both human diversity tech will play in all this as it unfolds. There’s even a gag or two (you’re going to love the one about printers), all putting us in the perfect mindset for the John episode deep Hybrid Work conceptual dive. Warning: the episode contains shock information about certification. Still not sure Chris has recovered.

Resources

  • All four previous seasons of Workplace Stories, along with relevant Show Notes, transcriptions, and links, are available here.
  • As you may have heard in this episode, we're keen to get to know you, our podcast listeners! Go to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps and fill out a short form to tell us about yourself. As our thank you, the first 30 listeners who tell us about themselves will get a code to sign up for a free 7-day trial of the RedThread membership so you can access our full research library and explore all the benefits of becoming a member. And if you miss that cutoff, you will still receive a complimentary copy of our research report, Skills and Competencies: What's the Deal? Head over to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps now!

Partner

Find out more about our Workplace Stories podcast helpmate and facilitator Chris Pirie and his work here.

Season Sponsors

If you have the time, please pay our sponsors the courtesy of checking out their websites. For ‘Adventures in Hybrid Work,’ we are delighted to announce these are Class and Perceptyx. Class is a live, virtual Learning platform that supports face-to-face Learning at scale, enabling employees to learn with and from each other in context-rich, active Learning experiences. With collaboration, engagement and reporting tools, Class reinvents virtual Learning to drive outcomes that are meaningful to employees and create business impact: learn more at class.com. Today, designing and delivering exceptional employee experience is a business imperative. Perceptyx can help you get a clear picture of your employee experience with a continuous listening and people analytics platform aligned to your specific business goals. Discover why more than 600 enterprise customers and 30% of the Fortune 100 trust Perceptyx to capture timely employee feedback supported by insights and prescriptive actions for every level of the organization; learn more at perceptyx.com/workplacestories.

Webinar

We will share details about the culminating webinar where we’ll debate what we’ve learned with high-level representatives from our two Season 5 valued partners nearer the time.

Finally, if you like what you hear, please follow Workplace Stories by RedThread Research on your podcast hub of choice—and it wouldn't hurt to give us a 5-star review and share a favorite episode with a friend to get more of the Workplace Stories we think matter put there.

One last reminder to take our survey—there’s good stuff for you if you do. Promise!

TRANSCRIPT

Five Key Quotes:

I'm looking at and Stacia, you're both the same size and the same box on my screen: What can we do with technology in a virtual space that we can't do in physical space, and how can that be better than the physical experience? I'm not sure we're totally there yet, but we're starting to talk to people that are thinking about it.

One of the vendors in the tech study also focused on badge data historically. And they had run different experiments where they showed how long different types of people would be close to each other because they had a proximity sensor in their badge. And I wonder if we're going to start to see more of that—where badges, for instance, will reveal physical locations, hopefully not for creepy Big Brother stuff—if we're going to start to see a different thinking pattern around collecting data, even when people are physically present, as opposed to just digital?

Not everybody gets to participate in the Zoom or Teams, or Google Meet facilitate work environment. There are lots of frontline workers who really had to still be on the front line. There's lots of people who have connectivity and spatial constraints in their living situation. So there is a macro inequity at work before we even get to what the experience is like online—we should bear that in mind.

I joined Bersin in 2010, we were a fully remote organization. And I remember when I first met one of the co-founders and he said, oh, we're going to get an office. And I remember thinking, oh my God, why do you want an office? Sounds terrible! But they did eventually get an office, and it was the exact experience that I think most folks are going to go through right now, and it created basically a two-class system where some people physically go into the office. And there was a big issue of how we make sure people who aren't here get connected, when do we actually go into the office, all that kind of stuff. Then we got acquired by a large consulting firm, which created even more issues because now I didn't have just the Oakland office to potentially go into, there was a San Jose office, there's a San Francisco office and there was pressure to go into the office. And I was like, I don't know any of these people in this office—why would I do this? And the answer was, I would go to an occasional social event, I would go in if there were clients who were coming in—and I'd go in if I had to print.

I think tech is a really important aspect we often overlook. We use it to replicate things that we're familiar with, instead of using it to do completely different things. And I think we're headed into a place where we're going to start thinking of doing completely different things: what can we do better with tech than we can do in person? If we are trying to be efficient, how do we replicate that thing that's efficient, but in general, how are we rethinking the work and rethinking how that tech supports the work so that we can do it better—not just replicate what we did in the past.

You are listening to Workplace Stories, a podcast by RedThread Research about the near future of work: this is Season Five, ‘Adventures in Hybrid Work.’

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I'm Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

And I'm Dani Johnson, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group

And I'm Chris Pirie, CEO of The Learning Futures Group.

We are very grateful to the teams at Class and Perceptyx for their sponsorship on this episode and Season of Workplace Stories. Class is a live, virtual Learning platform that supports face-to-face Learning at scale, enabling employees to learn with and from each other in context-rich, active Learning experiences. With collaboration, engagement and reporting tools, Class reinvents virtual Learning to drive outcomes that are meaningful to employees and create business impact: learn more at class.com.

Today, designing and delivering exceptional employee experience is a business imperative. Perceptyx can help you get a clear picture of your employee experience with a continuous listening and people analytics platform aligned to your specific business goals. Discover why more than 600 enterprise customers and 30% of the Fortune 100 trust Perceptyx to capture timely employee feedback supported by insights and prescriptive actions for every level of the organization. Learn more at perceptyx.com/workplacestories—that's P E R C E P T Y X.com/workplacestories.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Dani, Stacia, welcome to another Odyssey—although it's not an Odyssey this time, it's an Adventure. I'm excited about that!

This is our fifth podcast Season together; we’re getting really professional at this now. Dani, Stacia, what is the focus of our fifth podcast Season together, and why?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

We're going to talk about Hybrid Work this Season; we’re going to talk about why it's such a big deal right now. Full disclosure, we’ve recorded a couple of the sessions already, and we've heard some really interesting things about how organizations are handling this. It's not just a policy; it's actually a way of life, a mindset, if you will.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I think that the key is—obviously everyone knows why Hybrid Work matters right now—is we're embarking on return to office and hopefully by the time this recording drops, we’ll still be embarking on return to office. But I think one of the things that has been most informative so far is how organizations are fundamentally rethinking the work itself and using this as an opportunity to do that in a way that, honestly, we've been talking about for years as something that needed to happen, but there was no real impetus to force us to do so.

And now with return to office, and people having seen so many benefits of being able to work remotely, the question I think for many is—or at least the way they're coming at it—is how do we retain the benefits of remote working while returning to the office?

One of the things I'd like to pose, though, for our listeners is maybe think about the other way around, which is how do we retain all the new ways of working while still getting benefit from being together, which is a slightly different way to approach it. But I think that it can help us maybe anchor on not the old, but on the new.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I did a panel discussion last week at ASU GSV conference, and somebody said something that I thought was quite profound: they said that the return, like this move to the Hybrid state, is going to be potentially more disruptive and catastrophic than what happened two years ago.

Nobody said that lightly, that was a terrible time in human history—but from a work point of view, we went to a place where there was fairly (qualify this in a minute) but fairly uniform experience with remote work and now we're going to have this Hybrid model, and it's potentially much more chaotic. There was a lot of inequity in remote work prior, in the before times, and we have to be super careful that that inequity doesn't come back strong as some of us go back to work for some of the time.

[Stacia and Dani:]

Yeah.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Well, can I ask a little bit about how this topic relates to the topics that we've covered so far? So we've talked about Skills in a couple of Seasons, this idea that the new operating system for work might be a kind of a Skills-based model. We've talked about Purpose and the power of Purpose in the workplace and for organizations and the trend towards embracing Purpose-driven work, and then of course, we've talked about Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging in, I think in our second Season. Do these all come together in Hybrid Work? How do they relate?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Well, yes, they do, Chris!

[Laughter]

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Know how long I thought that question?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

That’s a leading question.

[Laughter]

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I really think that they do. So if you think about Hybrid Work, one of the big questions we're thinking about is, why would people do it? Why would people be wanting to return to the office? And we're hearing about a lot of organizations thinking about the incentive structures for bringing people back, and I think one of the incentives for people working for corporations is that element of Purpose, which was, as you mentioned, Season One—so clarity on what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, I understand what my organization's doing and I'm aligned to that, I believe in what my organization's doing.

You mentioned just a moment ago, Chris, the aspect of integration and so the DEIB components of this—making sure that we have a more equitable and inclusive environment when people are coming back, that we're not kind of stepping back to the old way. But the third one, Skills—which as was mentioned, we have recorded a few episodes—but I might have said, well, I guess Skills fit in, but I'm not quite sure. But in our lead-off episode, which is dropping with this episode, we talked to John Boudreau and he really, I think, clarified for us that Skills and Hybrid Work, particularly Hybrid Work as we think about re-thinking work, are just two sides of the same coin in that if you are using the way that he's approaching work, which is this ‘new operating system of work’ is what he calls it, you are, as he says, melting down jobs into the Skills and the tasks and reorganizing them in a way to think about who should do what, where.

And that also includes what should do what? So that means, should we be having employees? Should we be having contractors? And should we be having automation? And so all of that has the potential to come together within Hybrid Work. So I think this Season really is in many ways, the epitome of everything that we've done to date.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I love it. This really is an amazing, real-time experiment that's going on. The press is full of stories, even the popular press, is full of stories about the inequities and the challenges and which companies are offering ridiculous benefits and which companies are behaving well and behaving badly as they navigate this transition. Dani, what aspects of this experiment are you particularly interested in?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

It's kind of hard to narrow down. As we've started diving into Hybrid Work, I think we kind of approached it at kind of a shallow level when we decided to do this. And as we've talked to people, the challenges, but also the benefits associated with Hybrid Work, just blossomed. So the idea of connection and belonging is an area that I'm really, really interested in and how you do that.

We've had a couple of people mention, for example, they're not just thinking about what you should do, where and when, but why you should do it to do those things. So for example, you bring people together to connect and to brainstorm rather than to sit in an office next to each other and calling that ‘connection.’ And so we talked to Rob Cross last Season as well, I think last Season, we talked a lot about conscious collaboration, when do you collaborate and when is it just noise? And so as we’ve talked to these initial people, and as we continue to think about it and read about this idea of Hybrid Work, all of those things are going into the decisions about how organizations are handling it and/or what they've decided not to put a policy around to make sure that it works for their organizations and their people.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Just a couple of things in the top of mind for me because I like that. I think, Skills as the operating system of work, we've explored that in quite a lot of depth and there's a lot of promise and potential for how it might allow us to innovate and maybe automate some aspects of work.

But I'm really interested in the culture aspect, and I think on a personal level, I've tracked some stories of new hires, people coming out of college during the pandemic who went to work with really big-name companies and literally dropped out after six to eight months because they didn't really form a connection. And then I think about myself, I just joined a new company—we’ll talk about that in a minute, I guess—and the overhead of joining a new company and forging relationships is super-high in a kind of remote environment. On the other hand, it's very democratic; it’s like everybody's in the same boat, everybody shows up the same way on the screen. And so I think there's some equity and connective tissues that you can build through online connections that get a bit more complicated when people are in physically different places and moving at different times.

So I'm really interested in how the culture is going to evolve. I'm really interested in how equity and inclusion kind of worked before and after Hybrid.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

There's a little bit like, that fit part of me that thinks that it was terrible that I can only connect remotely, but it was fair.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:
That's a really interesting point of view, Chris. And it sparks two things—like I was talking to somebody yesterday, and he said something pretty profound; he said, we are just starting to realize the role of physical space, which I think is absolutely true. Like what is the role of physical space and how do we leverage that or disregard it in the things that we're doing.

And you mentioned that everybody is fair in this, I'm looking at and Stacia you're both the same size and the same box on my screen: What is the role of technology in that as well? Like what can we do with technology in a virtual space that we can't do in physical space and how can that be better than the physical experience? And I'm not sure we're totally there yet, but we're starting to talk to people that are thinking about it.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

And one thing that's interesting from an episode that we have coming up is the idea of what gets compounded in a digital environment versus what does not. So like in theory, Chris, I agree with you, we're all in same size boxes, but there are different power dynamics, there are different levels of introversion versus extroversion, and you can design for that—and I would actually argue, you could probably design for addressing those better in a remote environment than you can in an in person environment, by, for instance, putting in people can communicate via a chat in addition to speaking, making sure you always do an around room.

Actually, Dani, remember we learned that one in one of our very first remote roundtables about how important it was to think through the dynamics of interactions. So I think you can design for it, but I don't know that this approach of being remote is inherently always fairer. I think that issues can get compounded faster potentially—but it is more controlled. So as we try to go back to, or we go to this Hybrid world, what are the things that are going to compound more in the physical environment, particularly when there's a smaller amount of time being spent doing those things.

So I'll just give a couple of examples; I’m working on a report on performance management right now, and one of the things that we did was identify the historical, the biases, that we know so often happens with performance management, so like proximity bias, so when somebody's around, you're more likely to rate them more highly, that kind of stuff. And then what we did is we said, okay, what will this look like in a Hybrid world?

And one of the things that for me came out of that exercise was we're going to have fewer physical signals, fewer in-person signals than when we were together. So for instance, let's say I formed a somewhat negative, or let's take not positive impression of you, Chris, when you first joined your new organization if I was there; because we are remote or partially remote, you're going to have fewer opportunities to correct that perspective. And so what does that mean in this instance for performance management, but what does it also mean for succession, what’s it means for DEIB for people who don’t look like you? There are all these opportunities to compound in a different way than what we had before.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

The thing that I find interesting about that, Stacia, is that there's also a lot more data associated with those interactions. So whereas in the past, you're sitting in a room, and you shoot somebody a mean look or whatever that's gone, you never have to deal with that again; but online, like those things are captured, your presence is captured, all of those things can be captured.

And we're starting to, I was talking to Lauren and another person on our team this morning about the data associated with connection. And I think we're going to start to see some of that in the upcoming year, as we get used to, this is not just a stop gap, this is part of our lives move before we're going to start figuring out some of the data associated with that, which may be able to mitigate some of the things you were talking about.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yeah, we are seeing a fair amount of it with ONA data in terms of connection, and one of the things that I think is interesting, though, is one of the vendors and the people in the tech study also focus in addition to ONA also focused on badge data historically. And they had run different experiments where they showed how long, different types of people would be close to each other because they had a, basically a proximity sensor in their badge. And I wonder if we're going to start to, because of the experience we just had, I wonder if we're going to start to see more of that—where badges, for instance, will reveal physical locations, hopefully not for creepy Big Brother stuff—I mean, in this instance, this was done as a clear experiment and everybody knew they were participating in an experiment, et cetera. But I wonder if we're going to start to see a different thinking pattern around collecting data, even when people are physically present, as opposed to just digitally present?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Interesting.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Well, there is one other dimension of inequity here, and that is not everybody gets to participate in the Zoom or Teams, or Google Meet sort of facilitate work environment; there are lots of frontline workers who really had to still be on the frontline. There's lots of people who have connectivity and spatial constraints in their living situation. So there is a macro inequity at work before we even get to what the experience is like online—we should bear that in mind, too.

What are your personal experiences with remote and Hybrid Working? I mean, I definitely have been a guy in the office 12 hours a day for a sadly large portion of my career, and I had a massive Learning curve to move to this digitally-mediated kind of remote work—but I must say I've learned to love it. You guys had a virtual setup for your company before; talk about your experience—what informs, what personally informs your experience?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah, I mean, I personally have been remote for more than half of my career. So I've done stints in big organizations and tiny organizations, and I've done remote and in person for all of them.

Stacia and I, as you mentioned, Chris, we're completely remote; we have people all over spanning two countries and all four time zones within those two countries. And we plan on staying that way. I mean, my personal preference is to die here at my desk, in my basement.

[Laughter]

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Please don't do that!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Just kidding. But I much prefer staying home, and I think that's been even more important to me since I had a kid. It gives all kinds of flexibility that I don't think I would've had otherwise that makes it a much more tenable position for us as a family.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I was thinking though, that you both worked in the consulting world, which is typically a kind of not a tethered workplace.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

It's not tethered, but we lived in a very small portion of that consulting firm, and we were researchers, and so we got by on a lot of things. Face time is fairly important in consulting in general, and we bypassed all of that by staying in our little habitat.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

By nature of the work that you do, yeah.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

When I joined Bersin in 2010, we were a fully remote organization. And I remember when I first met one of the co-founders—not Josh Bersin, there was another one—and he said, “Oh, we're going to get an office.” And I remember thinking, “Oh my God, why do you want an office? Sounds terrible!”

But they did eventually get an office, and it was the exact experience that I think most folks are going to go through right now, which was everyone before had been remote. It was quite honestly before video conferencing, so we were on phones all the time. I had a real old-fashioned landline, and I was on it all the time. But then what happened was there was an office and it created a, basically a two-class system where some people physically go into the office —and I was in that group, but it was an hour and a half away, so I had to really want to go in—or some people were physically unable; they lived in different States, et cetera. And there was a big issue of how do we make sure people who aren't here get connected, when do we actually go into the office, all that kind of stuff.

And then when we got acquired by a large consulting firm, it created even more issues because now I didn't have just the Oakland office to potentially go into, there was a San Jose office, there's a San Francisco office, and there was pressure to go into the office. And I was like, “I don't know any of these people in this office—why would I do this?” And the answer was, I would go to an occasional social event, I would go in if there were clients who were coming in, and I'd go in if I had to print. [Laughter] And so I think it's probably going to be pretty similar for a lot of people—particularly if they are in an environment where the people who are in the office are not necessarily on their team.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

That's a good shout out to companies who want to bring people back to the office—get great printers. [Laughter] There it is right there, there’s the answer!

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Well, I also have a pretty good office closets, because my husband, who goes into the office now, gets little treats for the kids either from the mini-fridge or mini-kitchen or from the office closet. [Laughter]

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Well, that's interesting. I wanted to talk about my experience, because obviously I've been in tech and I've been watching tech through these transitions pretty closely in the world of tech—and there, like I joined Google recently and as I'm going through and Learning about the pillars of Google's culture, which are super interesting and very much you can see writ large in the day-to-day operation of the company.

But one of the pillars is Place and they've obviously famously invested very, very heavily in these amazing playful campuses with all kinds of resources and great food and bicycles to take you around Silicon Valley and so on and so forth. And so this I think is really difficult for companies like that, that have built a culture around the physical sense of Place … which is lots of companies.

And now, I know, a famously vast year, there were a couple of tech companies that gave a clear date on when we're all going back to the office and the general consensus from the employee population was ‘eh, not so fast.’ So I think it's going to be interesting to see how that plays out, and I think the strategy might be a kind of softly-softly approach. But certainly, Facebook invested in a lot of real estate in downtown New York City during the pandemic; there is money invested in a physical workplace. So I think that's going to be interesting.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Kind of on that topic. We did a pre-call with RJ Milnor at Uber who will be talking to a little bit later this Season and he addressed that just a little bit and I hope he goes in a lot deeper, but he said that as they're thinking about back to office, they're also thinking about their physical space and so it's not as structured as maybe it was before and they're looking for ways to replicate or provide different places where people feel comfortable working depending on the tasks that they're doing.

And so it's really interesting that even in the physical space that he was talking about, he's going back to that, well, what are people doing and what kind of work is it? And breaking it down to the task level versus a policy or a job.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I was recently in the office with my new team, and we spent two and a half hours at the whiteboard—I think I cried at the end. It was so beautiful to be in that physical space. [Laughter]

I like this idea of deliberately thinking about the value of coming together and the kind of work that you can do and maybe the spaces all kind of evolve to address that.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

As I think about 2022, if I had to choose a word for 2022 it would be ‘intentionality’— intentional design of space, intentional design of work and intentional design of collaboration.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I love it. How is the world of work tech responding to Hybrid? Again, at my ASU GSV conference experience last week, first of all, there's still a flood of venture capital coming into the space. There are some companies who've done extraordinarily well through the pivot to digital, particularly in the Learning space. Dani, what do you think work tech companies are thinking about the Hybrid experience?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah well, I can talk to one of the companies that you're probably thinking about because I talked to them yesterday as well, and they're thinking about the other way. So they've been focusing so much on the tech that you need for remote, they’re now thinking about how that tech is adapted for in-person or how do you adapt it for a Hybrid Workplace?

I think we've talked a little bit about tech earlier in this conversation; I think tech is a really important aspect that we often overlook. We use it to replicate things that we're familiar with, instead of using it to do completely different things. And I think we're headed into a place where we're going to start thinking of doing completely different things: what can we do better with tech than we can do in person? If we are trying to be efficient, how do we replicate that thing that's efficient, but in general, how are we rethinking the work and rethinking how that tech supports the work so that we can do it better? Not just replicate what we're doing in the past.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I love it.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I think we're on the eve of a pretty significant tech revolution.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah, so do I.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Tell me more.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Well, because like, if you think back, for instance, to when Slack came out—like there wasn't anything like Slack, but there was this idea that we've got people in different locations, different threads of conversations, we need to bring it together: and now how many people can't live without Slack or Teams or, the equivalent in their organization?

But what drove that were some inherent trends around digitalization and more remote teams and all that stuff. But that trend was like one trend of whatever 10 that year… we have ONE trend this year, and it is ‘Return to Office,’ and it is just going to drive me insane thinking about how we can do this differently, like what Dani was just saying.

It's a focus, it's a level of focus, on one single thing and how we're going to work differently. And I think as a result of that, plus, as you said, Chris, venture capital money is just continuing to pour into our space in general, there aren't great places for that money to sit so we're going to probably only see that continue through the next couple of years, unless we go through a massive recession, which is also possible, I suppose, but let's assume that not going to happen. We're just going to, I think, see a real hunger from the buyer side and then a real enthusiasm from the vendor and VC side.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Along with that, Stacia, I think we're going to see massive simplification. So all of the tech that we've seen to this point have been making tiny bits of work replicate what we were doing in-person or tiny bits of work simpler and more efficient; I think we're going to see a massive simplification, we’re going to finally get rid of all the noise, and we're going to figure out what actually works for our organizations and focus on those things, rather than continuing to add tech upon tech, upon tech to solve problems.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yeah. I'm starting to see that within people analytics where the last couple years has been about, okay, we're going—I know you love this phrase, Dani, we're going to democratize data—to employees and we're going to share it more broadly, blah, blah, blah.

But think about what does that mean? That usually means that an employee gets a dashboard, right? And like how many dashboards do employees actually need, particularly as it relates to managing people? So what we are starting to see, and we're going to talk about in this year's people analytics tech study, is people seeing data more as a service. And so data then being integrated into other dashboards with the idea that there will be one dashboard that people go and look at. So I don't know if you're seeing that on the Learning side, but I'm seeing it a lot on the people analytics side.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah, we’re actually seeing data, not visible to people, but going into other systems to make other systems function. The end is not a dashboard anymore; the end is making the entire system run.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Generating insights.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yeah, and putting 'em in the right place at the right time for the folks.

I will say though, I'm not quite as optimistic as you, Dani, that we will finally fix this. I think we'll come up with plenty of new problems 🙂

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Oh no, no, no, no. It's all going to be sorted out. This is the difference between Stacia and I; I'm the optimist in the group.

[Laughter]

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I just have to be the Humanist in the group, and I think first of all zoom back 5 years ago and all the fear was automation and loss of jobs through the automation. Layer on top of that, the pandemic and the isolation and the cognitive overhead of working through a digital letter box. And now, more complexity in Hybrid Work; I think it's going to be tough for people as they navigate this. And it's going to be tough, I think for the most vulnerable communities. It’s going to be interesting to see how much of that comes up through the conversations.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I think so too, but I'm very optimistic as we just talked about and I think the reason that I am though is because I've seen in the last couple of years, personalization does some really great things for Learners, for employees that are Learning in organizations. And I'm seeing that trend across all of the technology and all of the way that people are thinking in a couple of the conversations that we've already had with people, as they talk about Hybrid Work, they're not doing a company-wide policy. They're saying, hey, get with your manager and figure it out. Or they're saying, get with your team and make sure that the norms for the team are going to work for whatever you're doing for Hybrid.

So I think I like the mindset about efficiency—I watched The Matrix this weekend. And so everything is like in Matrix terms—but I think of Neo standing in front of his boss in one of those first scenes apologizing for being late: that’s a world that we're not dealing with anymore. We are actually going down to the human level and having a need-to-need conversation with our managers about what works for us in our lives. And that's what makes me optimistic; we’re taking away all the fluff and, and just focusing on how do we get the work done and how do we make it work for me and my organization?

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Yes, and a record number of job openings—the shoe is definitely on the foot of the employee right now. It's hard to get people, especially in frontline jobs, but across the board, there’s record numbers of jobs out there. I don't know how that power dynamic will change over time; I can't see into the future, but right now I think it's shaping the flexibility and softly-softly return to work policies that I'm seeing.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah, I agree, but I also think it's affecting the way that we're doing work in organizations and so it's not just, we can't find people. Right now, we're in this stage where we can't find people for the jobs that we've defined, but organizations are rethinking all of that as well. And so maybe we don't need people for the jobs that we defined. We need more flexible configurations of people that can get work done, and we're stripping out the things that maybe aren't as important.

Stacia, go ahead. I interrupted.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I was just going to say to confuse some things with some data is estimating that we will create in this country 12 million jobs across the next 10 years, but that the number of workers who are potentially even available to fill those jobs is closer to 8 million.

And that's actually probably not going to even be the number of workers who work at full employment. We are only at like 61% of people who are of age actually working, et cetera. So I did mention the potential of a massive recession and maybe we will, I just saw that inflation is once again up. And so we've got a lot of factors happening and no one actually has a crystal ball—but from just a sheer perspective of workers available and the existing immigration policies and the like in this country, I think at the moment, everything points to the balance remaining with employees for quite a long time.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Yeah, and a double-click on that, on the kind of Skills that we need: in my world now of creating digital Skills, there’s just an insatiable appetite for that.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yup.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Can we talk a little bit about, like, we're getting better at this podcasting thing? We’ve actually already recorded some episodes, not just the day before.

[Laughter]

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

What are you saying, Chris? 🙂

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Nothing, nothing, nothing. We've actually got smarter, and we lined up some really great people. Can you share a couple of names that we've got to look forward to? I think this episode will be released with John.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yes. So this will be released with John Boudreau, who is a Professor at USC, Marshall School of Business

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:
Go Trojans!

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

No comment from the other PAC 12 person: Go Bears 🙂

And he's published over 200 books and articles, and he's talking about his latest book, which just launched last month, called Work Without Jobs, and he talks about how that can translate into Hybrid and as I mentioned a little bit ago, I think it really sets a foundation for us on how to think about this.

So he's our lead-off: following him will be Dawn Klinghoffer, who is the leader of people analytics at Microsoft. And so she has been, and Microsoft have been, at the leading edge of talking about the impact of collaboration and work time on their employees’ wellness and employee engagement and the like, and so she's published quite a bit throughout the pandemic—she published in HBR last December. And she talks a bit about that and also just really where we're going now and she underscores, Chris, what some of these, that quote you mentioned at ASU GSV, where she said, we're in a new phase, this is a completely new experiment that we're going into and if you think otherwise, kind of think again.

And then another person is RJ Milnor at Uber, who Dani mentioned a little bit ago: we actually have not yet recorded that one, so it's a little harder to say exactly what he's going to say, but we know that he similarly has actually talked a lot about what he and his team have done throughout the pandemic and how they're thinking about that. And then I think we have a speaker from Google lined up.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Working on it, for sure.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Working on it. And then we've got a few other really great leads that are not yet committed enough to mention their names.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Good, so it's going to be an amazing Season. Are we going to do a webinar at the end of the Season as we've done before? And how does the webinar change the podcasting experience?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

We will be doing a webinar at the end of the Season, just like we have in the past. It is a chance for the three of us, plus two of our friends from the Season sponsors to get together and talk about what we learned during the Season. We have found in the past that a lot of people will join that webinar without actually ever having heard any of the podcasts, which is great. We welcome you.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

And if you are listening, you should definitely come to the webinar!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

You should definitely come to the podcast if you're listening, yeah, listen along. And if you miss anything, we will likely cover the highlights in that webinar.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

And I'd like to add that we've now done five of these, and if folks have any suggestions for us on how to make 'em more valuable, please feel free to reach out to us, [email protected] and let us know, because we are always trying to change things up, figure out how to make it more valuable, and we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Good time to do a check-in on the business: how’s the membership model evolving, and are you guys planning to be as insanely productive this year as you were last year?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

We're taking it easy this year. We’ve decided.

Just kidding!

We actually have a plan that we're starting to implement to change a couple of things around in our business model. One of those is an introductory membership, so for those that aren't quite ready to invest in a full-on membership, there's an introductory membership that will be available in the month or so that allows you to get access to some of the good insights and research, as well as stay in touch with us and participate in some of our roundtables and other events.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I wanted to ask if the business of research has changed because of this remote work and working through the pandemic. Has it changed your methods?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Interestingly it hasn’t, but part of the reason for that is that one of Dani and my primary reasons for launching RedThread was that we thought that we could do research in a different, faster, more part of the conversation type way. And so that meant that our timelines, for instance, when we were at Deloitte, were, I don't know, like a 12-month timeline on getting research out. Like if we run six months here, “We're like, oh my God, why is this thing not done yet?”

And that's for big, big studies, right? Like a big survey or multiple surveys and the like. But for doing other stuff, we do a lot quicker hits, like this is what we're seeing in the market, this is what we're hearing. And that I think has worked very well during the pandemic, because things have changed so fast, and you've just had to get information out faster. So I think we were extremely well positioned for that; we didn't necessarily know that when we launched the business in 2018, but we were really well positioned to do that work.

But some things did change; we had to do remote roundtables, which we now love, and we've changed some of the ways that we just approach information gathering. So those things have changed. But I think, fundamentally, the concept of why we launched RedThread—which was to get great high-quality insights out there faster; that has proven to be a wonderful model during the pandemic.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Well, congratulations on making it through the last two years, and it's great to see a women-run and started and owned business kind of thriving. Congratulations to you guys; it’s wonderful to see you succeeding. I love it.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Thank you. And we finally got our certification. Took us two years.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

You mean you weren't certified??

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

We weren't certified to be a woman-owned certified side organization; we are now.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Good. Well, I'm glad that I'm glad. I'm glad you finally got that affirmation—that’s got to feel a lot better!

[Laughter]

Let’s talk a little bit about two other aspects of the podcast, sponsors and listeners. We've got great sponsors lined up for the Season: can you just share with us who they are?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So we have Perceptyx as one of our sponsors; they are an employee listening platform, and the other one is Class, which is a technology that is built on the foundation of Zoom, but with a focus on really improving Learner experience.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

And a born-in-the-pandemic company, I think, as well: a new class of company, superb.

Well, thank you to our sponsors. Let's talk a little bit about the call to action here; how to be a better podcast listener. I'm going to say, as I always say at the end of every episode, thank you so much for listening to this episode of Workplace Stories; but since I have you here live and in real time, let me ask you, Dani and Stacia, how can listeners get more involved with the podcast and with your incredible research work?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

There are so many ways, Chris! The first thing they can do is they can follow Workplace Stories by RedThread Research on their podcast platform of choice, and then they can also go to rate this podcast.com/workplacestories to leave us a rating and a review.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Love it.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

And that's super-helpful, because that allows other folks to find us and have an understanding of what we're doing, so if you like what we're doing, please go ahead and rate us.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

I feel like an Uber driver. We want five stars. Give us five stars!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Please—or comments to help us make it better. That would be good too.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:
Exactly.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Well, maybe send those over email: [email protected]

You can also share this or your favorite episode with a colleague or a friend, which would be incredibly helpful. We are seeing so much growth from the sharing of the podcast, so thank you to everyone who has, and we'd encourage you to continue to do so.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

You can also check out our website at redthreadresearch.com to follow all of the latest trends in people, practices and sign up to participate in some of our research.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Or, Stacia, they could…?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Sign up for our weekly newsletter at redthreadresearch.com/newsletter and consider joining the RedThread community by joining our membership. And like Dani mentioned a moment ago, we've got that intro membership that will become available in the next month.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:
Be a Thread Head!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah. We're hoping that catches on, Chris.

Lastly, if you're on Twitter, you can follow us at @redthreadre, R E D T H R E A D R E or look up RedThread Research on LinkedIn and follow our work there or follow Stacia or I, and we'll point you to it.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

And listen a big thanks to our guests on all the podcast Seasons—I mean, we just get tremendous input from guests, they’re so honest and they're so willing to share their experiences and their insights, it’s really fantastic.

We should thank of course, our sponsors for all these episodes and making this possible. And of course, thanks to our beloved listeners—thanks so much for listening in.

[Dani & Stacia:]

Thank you.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I’d just like to add that we’d love to get to know you a bit better. To that end, we’d like to invite our listeners to head over to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps – don’t worry about all that detail, it’s in the Show Notes — and tell us a little about yourselves!

There’s a short form that you can fill out in about a minute. As a thank you, the first 30 people who tell us about themselves will get a 7-day trial for a RedThread membership, so you can have a peek under the curtain of what RedThread Research.

And if you miss that cut off, don’t worry—we'll still gift you a copy of our Skills vs. Competencies report! So, please, go to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps and tell us a bit about yourselves!

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

And thanks so much for listening.

We are very grateful to the teams at Class and Perceptyx for their sponsorship on this episode and Season of Workplace Stories.

Workplace Stories is a production of RedThread Research and The Learning Futures Group.

Thanks for listening.

Heather Gilmartin Adams

Heather is a senior consultant at RedThread Research. Trained in conflict resolution and organizational development, Heather has spent the past ten years in various capacities at organizational culture and mindset change consultancies as well as the U.S. Department of the Treasury. She holds a masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a bachelors degree in history from Princeton University. She has lived in Germany, China, Japan, and India and was, for one summer, a wrangler on a dude ranch in Colorado.

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