03 May 2022

Workplace Stories Season 5, Adventures in Hybrid Work: Restoring work-life balance through Hybrid with Microsoft's Dawn Klinghoffer

Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is the second episode of our podcast: Adventures in Hybrid Work, Season 5 of Workplace Stories.
  • In this episode, Stacia Garr and Dani Johnson of RedThread Research discuss Hybrid Work with Dawn Klinghoffer, Vice President, HR Business Insights, at Microsoft.
  • Dawn talks about how Hybrid Work fits in with Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
  • “Hybrid has opened up Pandora’s Box … and now organizations are finding the way to put them all back in the right place. And I think what’s really interesting is that it’s very individualistic.”
  • An intro to what we think will be a theme through this season: Intention
  • Response, Recovery, Reimagine
  • Dawn’s frank discussion on the challenges and possibilities of Hybrid Work are sure to help you make Hybrid start working in your environment. Come listen!
  • 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!

Listen

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Guests

Dawn Klinghoffer, Vice President, HR Business Insights, Microsoft

DETAILS

Today, we hear from an HR leader at the absolute heart of the Hybrid evolution, Dawn Klinghoffer, Vice President of the HR Business Insights team at Microsoft. Dawn’s really helping set the agenda of what gets called in the ‘Pandora’s Box’ show of workplace change that the pandemic is sparking—but what she sees, not as a source of trouble and confusion as in the Greek myth, but as a way to get energy, is meaning and empowerment placed at the center of every employee’s experience. A bit like with Pandora, though, the changes Dawn wants to see spark fear and disruption in everyone’s practice, which she discusses frankly and openly, and which she so brilliantly encapsulated in a recent landmark HBR piece. Along the way, we also hear about her fresh thinking on people analytics, data, and the employee-manager relationship, as well as practical tips on making Hybrid start working in your environment. To us—and, we think, by the end of this 56-plus minutes—Dawn's work here is a great example of what HR is really for: to help us all be the best humans we can be. Worth your time.

Resources

  • We strongly recommend you read Dawn’s excellent Harvard Business Review article, ‘Hybrid Tanked Work-Life Balance. Here’s How Microsoft Is Trying to Fix It.’ before you get too far into the episode, as it’s both eminently worth reading but also sets up the conversation so well.
  • Dawn is on LinkedIn here, and check out her work at Microsoft here.
  • All four of our previous Workplace Stories Seasons, along with relevant Show Notes, transcripts, and links, are available here.

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.

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.

TRANSCRIPT

Five Key Quotes:

I've started reading a lot about Hybrid, and one of the things that I sort of glean from a lot of the things that we're reading is this sort of underlying fear in organizations. And the fears are many, but one of the big ones that we're hearing is this idea of connection: "We need them to connect with each other and with the organization." But in the things that you've described, there doesn't seem to be that fear.. you’re not saying, "Hey, everybody needs to be in the office three days a week,” you're not saying, "Your manager needs to approve." All of these things you're not saying, you know, like the way that you're sort of structuring this seems much more open and trusting and fearless.

Up until the pandemic, we heard lots of kvetching about managers: "Our managers don't value their people, blah blah blah blah blah." And then during the pandemic, everyone's like, "Oh my gosh, the managers are so important!" And so we're finally realizing that they need to be supported; we can't just give them responsibility without support.

We've also found that our employees react even more favorably to things that we publish externally than sometimes when we publish internally. And that's one of the reasons why it was so important to publish that work-life balance article. You know, if you look at the title of it, the title, it's like, Work-Life Balance Tanked at Microsoft. I mean, it was like front and center. I remember when they sent me the title to proof, I was like, "Yeah, I'm good with that;” let's just be honest with what's going on because the article has a lot of good insights as to what to do about it.

It's almost like a Hybrid has opened up Pandora's Box—the way that we thought about learning, the way that we thought about work, the way that we think about focus time. All of those things seem to be thrown up in the air, and now organizations are finding the way to put them all back in the right place. And I think what's really interesting is that it's very individualistic: it's not just company wide; it's individualistic—how do we do what's best for the individuals, that we can get the most so we can have the best relationship with that individual.

Start small. You don't have to do everything all at once, and I would say, look at the data that you have and what data you would like to have. Oftentimes, the data that you would like to have are qualitative or kind of survey-type questions, and that's a lot easier to get at than some of the other more challenging data attributes. Like even this attribute that we're collecting now in terms of the percentage of work time that you're going to have in the office versus remotely, that will take us a while to ensure that it's in a state where we feel really good about it—but a survey, starting small, making sure that your employees know what are you doing with the information you're collecting, following up with them afterwards to share what you're learning, will give them more incentive to want to share in the future.

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, 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.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Today we talk to Dawn Klinghoffer, who is Vice President, HR Business Insights, at Microsoft. Dawn has led the people analytics organization at Microsoft since its founding more than a decade ago and brought a background as an actuary and Finance leader to this work. A well-recognized, leading practitioner in this space, Dawn has been incredibly thoughtful about how Microsoft has understood employee’s experiences during the pandemic, publishing numerous articles on the topic—including one recently in Harvard Business Review tantalizingly titled, Hybrid Tanked Work-Life Balance. Here’s How Microsoft Is Trying to Fix It.

During this episode, Dawn shares some of the key insights from that article, which was an accumulation of a couple of years of work on employee listening. Even more relevant for our purposes, Dawn dives deeply into how Microsoft is approaching return to office; this includes setting guidelines around work site, work location, and work hours. She also talks about how Microsoft is focus on connection during Hybrid Work, and how they're working to reduce collaborative overload. Further, she shares the work they're doing to support and enable managers to provide the connective tissue that is so important to making Hybrid Work effective and she shares so much more. We're also lucky enough that Dawn shares some of her perspectives on how she, as a leader, can support Hybrid Work.

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

I will be deliberate on when I go in, I will be intentional, I will look at my schedule and I will say, Hey, does it make sense for me to go in for this meeting? Because I think that these other people will be; I don't wanna publish my schedule of when I'm going to be in the office because I don't want my team to feel obligated to be there when I'm there. So there's a lot of things that I am thinking through, and I'm sure it will be a learning and then a growth phase that I will also have to go through because nothing is ever smooth.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

This conversation provides us with a deep grounding in both the strategic and the practical aspects of intentionally designing for Hybrid Work from one of the world's leading companies. We hope you enjoy the conversation.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Dawn, welcome to Workplace Stories: thank you so much for your time and for joining us and sharing your insights. We have been so excited about talking to you about Hybrid Work in this new era, so thank you so much for joining us!

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Well, thank you for having me.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

We're going to begin with a rapid introduction to you, your role, and the organization you work at, and then we're going to dive in deeply into the work that you've been doing with Microsoft across the pandemic and then now today as we look at future adventures in Hybrid Work. So let's begin with, can you give us an overview of Microsoft's mission and purpose?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Because nobody knows who Microsoft is, so… (Laughter.)

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

I was going to say, I think we should ask our listeners. Maybe they know!

So I mean, I am going to say it, because I love sharing Microsoft's mission, but Microsoft's mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. I think that's a pretty incredible mission, and the reason why I've worked at Microsoft for almost 25 years, it will be, it was just 24 years last week for me.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Oh my goodness.

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

So yeah, so a long time. I've been doing this job in people analytics for almost 20 years, which is just also incredible for me to think about. And I lead the people analytics function at Microsoft, but it really-I had, I really didn't know anything about the work until I got into it 20 years ago, and I really found my purpose in this type of role. It combines the analytics, data, that I absolutely love and I studied when I was in college—even though we didn't call it analytics then; we called it Math—and then it combines, also, this kind of notion of leadership, management, people, you know, humans. And while I'm an introvert, I am fascinated with humans, okay, and how humans work, and so it kind of combines both of my passions.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I think you pointed out just now, that you began this work 20 years ago, when nobody knew what this work was; we didn't have the words for it, and so thank you for pioneering much of the work that we all are now getting to do. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you came to do this type of work—so how did it go from Math to analytics for you?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

So I studied Math in college, and back then you had two choices when you are a Math major: you could be a professor or you could be an Actuary—that was literally the two choices I was told by my professors. And the thought of being a professor was just not anything that I ever wanted to do, so I went to become an Actuary. And what's interesting is if I think about it now, the exams, the many exams, that I had to take and pass to become an Actuary, there was a lot of predictive modeling; there was a lot of studying humans. It was studying humans getting sick—okay, so health insurance—and dying, life insurance.

And while the exams for me were actually quite fascinating, the work was the most boring work that I'd ever done in my life, and I longed to work for a company like Microsoft. I was using Excel, and I was like, "God, I want to work for the company that creates this, not a life insurance product."

And lo and behold, I went to work at Microsoft. And how I got into Microsoft was I convinced them that as an Actuary, I could absolutely be an accountant because they only had to pass like one or two exams, I had to pass like 13. It's a true testament to Microsoft way back then that they hired me as a Senior Accountant—I posted all of the revenue for Microsoft, I'd never taken an accounting class, I didn't even know what a debit and credit were. But I did have an understanding of financial reporting.

And they said, "You know, we think you have the ability to do this well," and so I worked in Finance for about five years. I was tapped on the shoulder multiple times while I was in Finance for new roles, I never once had to raise my hand and say, "I'm bored. I'm ready for something else,” but people just kept asking me to do new things and that's how I got to HR. I got back from my maternity leave with my first daughter, realized that there was no way that I could work the number of hours that I had been working in Finance, and wanted to work part-time. And I also had figured out that I wasn't going to be able to take a full-time job and turn it into a part-time job—that I knew I was going to have to start from scratch with a part-time job. And so, fortunately, for me, I got a call from a former colleague of mine that was running compensation and benefits and he said, "You know, we need people that have an analytics capability. We have this data warehouse; we don't know what to do with the information. Will you come over to HR and be part of this team that I'm starting?" and I said, "Will you let me work part-time?"

And he said yes—so that was it. That was my beginning into people analytics, and I thought I would go over to HR (never in my career development plans whatsoever), I would stay there for a few years while they let me work part-time, and then I would go back to Finance and continue on with my career journey.

But I kind of fell in love with people analytics. I mean, it was like every question we answered, I came up with five other questions that we didn't answer: and many of those questions back then, we didn't have the data to answer those questions. So it was not just, "Let's do the analysis," it was, "Let's figure out how to capture the information, so we can do the analysis."

And you know, while we've largely caught up, we are still in that same situation today where we don't have all of the data that we need to answer all of the questions that we have.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Isn't that just the most fun part of what we do?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Yes!

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Listening to you, I literally get chills. This is why I love my work. We get to see this.

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Yes—we get to do things that no one's done before; there's no roadmap for what we're doing; we get to be the ones breaking the ground and forging the new roads, and that's what's truly exciting for me. And I think if it wasn't that, there's no way I'd be still doing this work. I'm not really interested in following someone else's roadmap.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yeah, fair enough. So then just real quickly, the flip side of that—that's the fun part, right? So what's the most challenging aspect of the work you're doing right now?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

So the most challenging aspect of this type of work is that you're dealing with humans, okay, and so it's not like being in Finance where you're doing analytics on financials or just numbers that don't have any tangible linkage to humans at times—I mean definitely Finance does, at times, but not all the time. Everything we do, it has a strong linkage to a human, and building enter-employee trust is so important in this type of work where you can do all sorts of interesting things that would alienate the employees in your organization, and would really do the opposite of what you're trying to do is help employees thrive, okay?

And so that's what I think is most challenging is really understanding what's creepy and what's not creepy, and what's going to, even if it sounds creepy, how do you turn it into something that's really going to help the employees and help your managers, as opposed to seeming like Big Brother.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Super-important; I'm sure we're going to pick up on that more.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

We most definitely are. As you know, Dawn, this season for us is about Hybrid Work: what is your experience with Hybrid Work?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

I hate to say this now, but I was one of those folks that went into the office every single day. What's interesting is now that I really start analyzing those years, when I was like, "I can't work the hours that I was working in Finance," it actually wasn't that so much as I couldn't commute five days a week. That was killing me, okay? I used to commute five days a week, but fortunately at Microsoft, they came up with these nice shuttles called Connectors where I could be productive; they have WiFi and so, for the last many years, probably 12 years, I had been taking a shuttle every single day, and never drove over to Redmond; I live in Seattle.

But once the pandemic hit, l will always remember that day in early March when I got the email and I had heard inklings this was going to happen, but I got the email saying that we needed to start working from home for at least the next two weeks. The panic attack that came over me, of like how am I going to do that, how am I going to work from home for two weeks?

I have to say, it took me probably about a few months before I realized, "Wow, this is actually saving me time. I'm actually more productive being at home because I replaced my commute time with walks.” And what did I do during my walks: I either connected with people or I listened to podcasts and I learned, so I added learning to my day every single day, okay?

And I am now a 100% believer on this whole notion of Hybrid—that, you know, hey, there are going to be times when I'm going to be in the officem and it will probably be two or three days a week, that I'll be in the office: some days, it might even be more than three days a week, and some days it might be less than three days a week, but I would say, on average, it will probably end up being three days a week, but I will be deliberate on when I go in, I will be intentional, I will look at my schedule, and I will say, "Hey, does it make sense for me to go in for this meeting because I think that these other people will be?"

I don't want to publish my schedule of when I'm going to be in the office, because I don't want my team to feel obligated to be there when I'm there. So there's a lot of things that I am kind of thinking through, and I'm sure it will be a learning and then a growth phase that I will also have to go through, because nothing is ever smooth. But yes, that's how I'm thinking about it right now.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

So this is great, because you're basically a convert to Hybrid Work, but I would love to understand what you think that fear was when they said, "Hey, you're going to have to stay home and work."

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

So I think it's the fear of many, many years of feeling like you needed to be in-person to show people that you were working—and that if I wasn't in front of people showing them that I was working, that I'd be forgotten. Because there was that notion when I worked part-time that on Mondays and Fridays—and I was staunch, there was no leniency, Mondays and Fridays, I was with my daughter, I did not have childcare, none of that—and there were those days where I was like, "Gosh, I'm missing a really important meeting, and I know this is going to impact my career but I can live with that right now, because my priority is my daughter." And then, when my second daughter came along, my priority is my two daughters, so I could live with that, but for the most part, it seemed to me that being in person just helped people to remember that you exist and remember that you're there.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So you're speaking to two mothers with young children. (Laughter) But I wonder, you know if at that time, if that was an accurate read of the situation, but if really, because of what we've been through, the situation has fundamentally shifted. Because we have this mindset that it's not just, you know, the working mom or who's going to not be here, but there are many other reasons—including somebody who is just straight up more productive on that day working from home than being in the office—more reasons to think about who's not here and who needs to actually be in the conversation?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Oh yeah, and don't get me wrong, I had many people that did not work in Puget Sound, and so I experienced this on a daily basis—where folks that were not coming into office were just as productive, and I was supportive of remote work; it just wasn't for me. And that was the difference, is that, you know, I was fine with other people saying that they were going to work from home, but I didn't feel like I was good at that, okay? And I became an expert at that, that's what I would say is that over the pandemic, I became an expert.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

You had this fear about working from home: do you think that was kind of standard across Microsoft?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

As I said, I don't think it was pervasive, because I had folks that worked for me that worked remotely, okay? I do think, though, that video really helped move that along: I remember, I had an employee that worked remotely, actually remotely in Seattle, so I mean not you know, it's not like they were in another State. We didn't use video, and this person worked from home for about a year and kind of came to me and said, "It's not working. I just, I don't think that I'm connecting with people the right way, so I'm going change my behaviors."

But again, this person worked directly for me; I was 1000% supportive of the person working from home, but they came to the realization that it wasn't working. And so I do think technology has really shifted us, and that you know, again–I will probably say this multiple times during our podcast today—a lot of what we talked about is very individual. And while we do lots of analysis to look at broad trends and try to understand to make large programmatic decisions, at the end of the day, it all comes down to individuals and individual preferences.

And that's why the manager so important, and being able to have those types of conversations with your manager and understand what your preferences are, or what your desires are and have someone help you get to that kind of future state that you want.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Let's talk about the phases that we've been through, because I think you have a really nice way of thinking about the last few years, and we've been through these many phases of work. How do you think about the phases that we've been through to date, and then where we are right now?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

So the first thing I would say is when we first went home to work, what worked remotely during the pandemic, we started thinking about three phases: the response phase, the recovery phase, and then the reimagine phase.

So we kind of bucketed everything that we're doing into these three phases, where the response was really right in the beginning, “What are we going to do to respond and help, make sure that the health, health and safety of our employees is the number one priority?” At the same time, the company was also thinking about the work in phases, meaning, it's a dial: phase one is like everyone is required to work from home; stage six is offices are open, and we call it Hybrid by Design.

And so if we talk about both of those two constructs, we are definitely in the reimagine phase of those three kind of initial phases of the response, recovery, reimagine. We were in the recovery phase for a very, very, very long time. And I'm happy to report that just last month, we've now moved into stage six in the Puget Sound area, so we are now in the stage where our offices are open, and people are intended to be working in the way that they want to work long-term.

What that means is that if you intend to go into the office three days a week, then people should be going into the office three days a week. I will tell your podcast listeners that last week, I was planning to go into the office for the first time; I had two days of important meetings that I wanted to be in person for… and I got COVID last week. So, I was not able to go into the office like I intended. Actually today, I have no restrictions on me—starting today, it's been 10 days since I tested positive—I don't know, there's guidance everywhere. So I decided I'm staying remote for the week, this week as well, just to be absolutely safe, and so next week will be my first foray back into the office.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I'm really interested in this idea of ‘intention,’ so if you intend to go to the office for three days, then you should go into the office for three days. How did you determine to set that intention and how is that intention is, sort of … I don't know, tracked? Accounted for?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Yeah, great question. So at Microsoft, our notion of Hybrid by Design has three different areas associated with it. One is the amount of time that you are in the office versus working remotely. The other is the location that you're working—have you decided to move to the East Coast to be closer to your family? And then the third is the number of hours you're working. So this notion of part-time versus full-time, okay?

It's those three categories. So, within those categories, there's various processes that we have for approval. So, for example, the amount of time that you work remotely versus in the office, you can work 50% or more in the office, which means less than 50% of the time at home or remotely without even asking for approval. No-one has to ask for approval if they want to work from home two days a week—that's just a blanket, "Yes, you can do that."

If you want to work remotely 50% or more, then you do have to ask for your manager's approval. If you want to work part-time, then that goes up to your Vice President, and if you want to work in a different location than where you were originally kind of agreed to work, where your offer was, then you also need your VP's approval. So there are processes for all three of those, and really what we're asking is for you to sit down with your manager and have that conversation. We've been asking—this is something that we started a few months ago, so long before we got to stage six—we asked employees to sit down with their managers, and talk about their preferences. And the good news is when we did analysis on this—because we wanted to understand how often is it that managers are not supportive of what the employees want—the good news is when employees and managers sat down and had these conversations, 97% of the time, the manager was supportive. And that's huge.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

That is huge.

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

So that is the incentive to sit down and have a conversation with your manager, because having a conversation is not just sending an email, "I intend to work from the office one day a week period." Having a conversation says, "Listen: I am super-productive during the hours of five o'clock in the morning and eight o'clock in the morning. At eight o'clock in the morning, I get my child up and I help them get ready for school, I take them to school, and I can't do that if I'm going to be in the office."

Okay, then I have to hire someone else; it's a distraction for me, all these different things—and so having that conversation, you start to really unpack why is it important for the employee to do this. And the manager starts to hopefully have more empathy and understanding for why this is important and is supportive, and that's what we saw through the data.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Let's go back to the data, because I want to talk about some of the work that you and your team have done across, certainly across the pandemic, but then also as you're looking for what you're planning to do in terms of understanding, How did people work from home? How did this all go? And then, what are the types of things you're going to be looking at, moving forward, from a data perspective to understand if the approach is working?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

The first thing is we use SuccessFactors for our headcount management system, and we actually introduced a field in SuccessFactors to help us track the percentage of time that you were going to be remote. Aside from, you know, obviously we already track where the person is located around the globe for pay and other benefit purposes and then also our systems track, you know, the number of hours, so if you work part-time. But we added this new field to understand what percentage of time you are going to be in the office versus remote, and that's going to help us tremendously understand whether or not this whole Hybrid by Design is working.

That's one aspect of it. Another aspect is employee listening: we haven't really spoken that much about employee listening, but that is really, really key to understanding, whether or not our employees are thriving, okay, and that is that this new notion that we are looking at in our census survey that we are doing twice a year now called ‘Employee Signals,’ and this notion of thriving, having empowerment to do your jobs, energy in the work that you do and meaning.

So all three of those, and how you work is a large part of thriving. So we'll be looking at many aspects of different questions that we've added in our employee listening system, not just in our census surveys, but in our daily Pulse surveys, about this aspect of Hybrid Work. We'll also be looking at our open REX and whether or not we'll be able to have a designation on whether or not the roles that we're hiring can be done remotely, and are we attracting a broader diverse set of talent because of this?

We'll be looking at our exit surveys to understand if people are leaving; are they leaving because they're not getting the flexibility that they need? So, just so many different aspects of the work that we will do to really track and measure whether or not we are successful in this space.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Can you say again what the three components… you said ‘energy,’ and what were the other two?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Energy, meaning, and empowerment.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Energy, meaning and empowerment. So that goes into thriving, but then there's the old-school Finance part of you that says, "All right, well, are we actually driving the productivity or the collaboration we talked about?" There's a difference between those two and how do we know about that.

So, can you maybe first start by saying, you know, how do you-all think about the distinction between productivity and collaboration? Because I know that was an important component in a lot of the work you've done? And as you think about measuring, moving forward, to what extent will those metrics be playing in?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Yes, so we can have an entire hour podcast on productivity and collaboration, and it's definitely two of my favorite topics to talk about, because I do think that people get confused between the two. I've heard kind of this notion that you have to be collaborating to be productive—that is definitely not the case. And when people talk about working, they mix that up sometimes with collaboration: working, I can be in my Excel spreadsheet working away and my Teams can say that I am away, and that doesn't mean that I'm not being productive. So productivity—there is no one way to measure productivity; productivity is different depending on the role that you have, depending on the outcome that you're trying to drive.

So productivity is a very nuanced measure that we have to look at many different aspects of. but collaboration is a little bit more straightforward: yes, you can be collaborating with individuals without actually communicating with them; that's, you know, this notion of shared documents—you're collaborating with people, but you don't have to be online at the same time as them, and so that's really the this notion of.. when we talk about collaboration overload though, collaboration overload is really the number of emails that you're sending, the number of meetings that you're sitting in, and this notion that you don't have time to focus—you don't have time to really deeply think about hard problems that you're trying to solve. Some people work better trying to solve those hard problems while they're talking to other humans. So again, it also goes back to individual preferences, and how individuals work best.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

And so when you think about that moving forward, because, like you said, you could have a team, where, whatever some portion of it is like, "I really just do better thinking about this problem at home, where I've got quiet and I don't have to have all you people interrupting me." Not that any of my own biases are coming through there! (Laughter)

But then other people love to talk it out. So as you're thinking again about, you know, making sure that this is working from a work perspective: is there a way that people will be checking in on like, "Yes, I'm in the environments that enable my, you know, maximum"—whether it's productivity or collaboration or effectiveness, whatever language is appropriate? Is there a way that you're thinking about measuring that to understand effectiveness overall?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Well, that really goes into some of the questions that we're asking in our employee listening system. Because these questions are really around, "Are you getting the flexibility that you need to be able to do your best work?"

There's questions around that type of topic, and it's all about how you work best—this notion of thriving, you working best. And you bring up a really awesome point that we talk about a lot is that what works best for one person may be the opposite of the other person, and that's why we also talk about team agreements and sitting down with your team and understanding, "Okay let's talk about what we're going to do as a team."

We did that with my team; we said, "Hey do we want to have a one day a week where we say this is the day that everyone that lives in the area?"—because now, I mean particularly because of the last two years, we have more and more people that are not located in the Puget Sound area on the team—–but we said, "For the folks in the Puget Sound area, do we want to choose a day?" And what did we say: "No." We say no. We, on my team, we said no. Other teams, though, I'm learning are doing that.

And so again, it all depends on the dynamics of your team, the type of work that you do, how everyone works best. And that's another reason why I'm not going to be publishing the days that I'm in the office—if someone asks me, I will tell them but I don't want to publish, to put any type of pressure on people, because we determined, in this conversation, that we didn't want to have particular days where people are going to feel left out if they're not there.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

You published an HBR article that talked about some of the learnings that you had across the pandemic—I don't want to move so far that we forget to talk a little bit about that article. So can you tell us just an overview of what you talked about in the work that you did, and some of the more interesting findings?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Yeah, so this article was was basically an accumulation of almost a couple of years worth of work that we did. And where it all started was in the response phase, so as soon as we went to work remotely, we added in four key questions into our daily pulse survey. The first one was around your perception of productivity; we asked about your perception of work-life balance; we asked whether or not you were getting the support you needed from your manager on prioritization; and then we were also asking about whether you were able to stay connected to your team during this time.

And while all four questions gave us a wealth of information during the pandemic, the one that we were most concerned about was the work-life balance, because we saw a huge dip in work-life balance. This is a question that we've been asking in our annual engagement survey for many, many, many years, so we had a baseline prior to the pandemic, and we could see that drop.

So we started to do work to unpack what was going on: we wanted to understand exactly what was going on, so that we could provide managers and employees guidance to help them through this. And so, just to summarize the five kind of key points that we talked about in this article and the work that we had done, number one: protecting focus time and encouraging blocking focus time on your calendar. And what's nice about that is that we work at Microsoft, and we have a product called Viva, and within Viva we have this notion of focus time and blocking it. So it was very validating that this really was a strong correlation to employees perception of work-life balance—that those employees that had focus time block they had a more positive perception of their work-life balance.

So another was taking—this is not rocket science—but taking vacation time, and making sure that managers were leading by example. Again, very early in the pandemic, we saw employees report almost no vacation time. And that's because we couldn't travel anywhere, we couldn't go visit family and friends, because we're all trying to quarantine in our homes and so people wanted to save that for when things would open up. And back then, remember, we didn't know how long that would take.

But the other thing is there were some employees that were reporting vacation time, and there was a strong correlation between employees reporting vacation time and their perception of work-life balance. And what we realized was, "Wow, people need a break”—they need a break, even if they're not flying somewhere to an exotic vacation or visiting their family or friends, that people need to break, and that's why we instituted five well-being days after learning about that because we didn't want people to feel like, "Oh my God, I don't want to use my vacation time for this.”

And that really helped. But we also need managers to lead by example. Managers, you need to also take your vacation time and when you take your vacation time, make sure that you are clear with what your intentions are during this vacation time: "I'm on vacation, I'm not going to answer any of your emails while I'm on vacation." Or, "I'm going to be on vacation, but I'll be online during these hours if you need to get ahold of me." Something like that, just model by behavior that there is this delineation between work time and taking a break.

Prioritization. So I talked to you about the fact that we asked employees on whether or not their managers were helping them prioritize. Turns out, that was a huge driver of perception of work-life balance was this notion of prioritization. Again not surprising: if you have a supportive manager that's willing to have that conversation with you, even if they didn't necessarily help you prioritize, you're at least feeling like you can have the conversation with your manager and let them know, "I'm overwhelmed. I can't do all of this."

Reevaluating meetings: do you need to be in all the meetings that you are being asked to be in every day? We had done this analysis long before COVID that showed that there was also this kind of empowerment situation going on—that when you were in meetings with multiple layers of management, it actually did not sit well with employees, okay? And then it showed us in their engagement measures and so that's something else that we want people to really be asking themselves is, "Do I need to be in this meeting, because my manager is going to be there and my direct report is going to be there: what differentiation am I going to provide that they can't get from the others?"

And then, lastly, we talked about this already, but intentional conversations, having intentional conversations with employees and managers. And with that, we've been studying employee voice for years, it is a big aspect of our inclusion work, and making sure that your employees feel safe to speak up, that's part of these intentional conversations, okay—part of the conversations of sitting down with your manager, and being open and honest about what you're feeling. When employees don't feel safe to speak up, they're not necessarily sharing the viewpoints that they really need to get across.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Want to thank you for sharing that and actually, after reading your article, it sparked some ideas for Dani and me and running our own company, and we've actually made some changes based off of your suggestions.

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Yay! That's awesome!

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So I'm sure it will help folks listening. But part of the reason I asked the question was, yes, one, highlight the great work that you've already done, but also then to ask to what extent do you see that foundation of what you did during the pandemic then carrying over, moving forward?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

All of those aspects we see continuing to carry forward—definitely this notion of focus time, the intentional conversations. We've always been trying to get our managers to model the behaviors that we want: our three manager expectations are model, coach, and care. But the first one is model, so you know that really shines through there.

And it helps that we were able to do this work and then work with our colleagues over in our Talent Management and learning and development teams, where they could create content to help managers, not only through the pandemic but as we go into this Hybrid by Design and really provide them the resources that they need. We were also asking questions to our manager population: Are you getting the resources that you need to help during this time? So that also helped to understand where we could dial up additional resources that would really help. And I didn't even talk about the thousands and thousands and thousands of open-ended comments that we were able to mine over the last couple of years that we continue to mine.

Before the pandemic, we used to rotate open-ended questions pretty regularly, but during the pandemic and, if you remember during the pandemic, we're also dealing with a lot of racial injustice, so we had a question that really allowed employees—we still have this question—it allows employees to just share what's on their mind. That's what we asked them: Share what's on your mind. And so we get all sorts of information that has to do with Hybrid Work, has to do with anything that's going on externally. Think about what we've just been watching with, you know, Russia and Ukraine—we get a wealth of information from that prompt dealing with that as well.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Talk a little bit about that translation? So obviously you lead people analytics, and one of the things we hear is, one of the big things people analytics folks need to avoid is kind of the shucking the data over to HR and being like, "All right, sweet—we're done." And I know that there was a manager excellence team that was involved, I think, in translating some of the insights into things that managers can actually do. So can you talk a little bit about how you're connecting that, those data insights, to things managers actually get their hands on?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Yeah, I mean, again fortunately, I am resourced in such a way that I have a team of folks that are aligned to our Talent Management/Learning Development folks and so that team works directly with them. They don't sit in a vacuum and create these insights; they work with them on what are the hypotheses that we have, what are testable predictions—let's go and figure out what the data is saying, and then let's work with you on the actions that we can take.

And oftentimes, when we really get down to the hypotheses and the testable predictions, we are focused on actionability on that. We want to set ourselves up from the beginning in terms of the insights that we're getting to make sure that they have actionability. So that is a very strong partnership with our program teams.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I think that's an important point for folks on both sides to hear, right? The people analytics leaders, make sure that you're partnering with the relevant COE to make sure the questions are actionable and something came out of it, but also, for the COE leaders to know that you need to be part of that process from the beginning. Because a lot of times people are on programs and they're like, "Okay now we're going to assess them." It's like, "That's a little too late."

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Yes.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So I think, hopefully, that's maybe a call to action as people are thinking about Hybrid in particular: how are you going to measure the success of this, how are you going to make sure that you're getting the feedback you need to adjust processes and practices, etc,, and partner with your people analytics leaders from the beginning, like now or yesterday to make sure you know what you're doing.

I just want to ask one one additional question on that point, and then I'm going to let Dani jump in here, which is I know we've talked about some general thing, but specific examples of changes to Talent Management practices, so you know learning or performance management, that was a direct outcome of some of these insights—just because I want people to have a very clear couple of examples?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

We are constantly influencing Talent Management practices, because of the nature of how data-driven Microsoft is and so, you know I'm thinking about just the notion of managers and leaning in in the model, coach, and care with Hybrid.

Those were direct actions of what we came up with, the notion that, "Hey, when employees sit down with managers and talk about their preferences, that 97% of the time they are supportive." What do you think the action was that came out of that? "Okay, we need to push more managers to really make sure that they're sitting down with their teams, and pushing employees as well to sit down with their managers to have these types of conversations. And by the way, here's how you can have these conversations, here's some resources that will help you even broach the conversation."

So yeah, pretty much everything that I talked to you about went into some type of Talent Management practice— down to the fact that we talked about this toggle on our open positions, on whether or not the position will be open to being remote or not. Our future workforce, we're going to attract more diverse talents—this is my hypothesis, that we will attract a more diverse group of individuals when we have that type of toggle on the job description.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I want to change just a little bit the direction of this conversation just a little bit, because I've started reading a lot about Hybrid, and one of the things that I sort of glean from a lot of the things that we're reading is this sort of underlying fear in organizations.

And the fears are many, but one of the big ones that we're hearing is this idea of connection: "We need them to connect with each other and with the organization." But in the things that you've described, there doesn't seem to be that fear. You're not saying, "Hey, everybody needs to be in the office three days a week,” you're not saying, "Your manager needs to approve." All of these things you're not saying, you know, like the way that you're sort of structuring this seems much more open and trusting and fearless than a lot of these things that we're reading. So talk to me a little bit about that—how can you be so fearless?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

I wouldn't say that everyone in the company is completely fearless when it comes to that.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

(Laughter). Sure.

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

—but what I would say is that we are a global company that has been a global company for many years. So if you look at this notion that, even before the pandemic, many managers did not have an intact team all located in the same area of the world, okay? So this isn't brand new to us; it's not brand new that, like, "Three days a week, everyone has to be in the office." Some people will be like, "Well, what office because we're located in all these different time zones?"

So that gives us a little bit of a headstart where my understanding, because I've been doing a lot of reading as well, that some of the industries that have more fear in this largely were located in one key location: that's just not the state that we were in before the pandemic, and even more so now that we're in the pandemic. Do we still want to make sure—I mean, hey, we put that question a daily Pulse to make sure that people are staying connected to their teams, so obviously it's still on our minds; we want to ensure that people are staying connected, but there's other ways to do that than just being face to face with the individuals.

And I think that also during the pandemic there was this idea that we had to facilitate so many more connection points like the virtual Happy Hours, and I think that got old for a lot of people; people were like, "Enough with that. I'm not interested anymore." So again, it was a great experimentation, and I think for some groups, it really helped; for other groups, it maybe didn't.

And so again, it's going to be up to the managers to really figure out what is it that their team needs to stay connected. And if you do happen to be one of those teams where everyone is co-located in the same place, you're going to have a different starting point than some of these folks that have never all been co-located in the same place.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah, I mean and you've mentioned managers a couple of times, that the job of the managers, is incredibly important. Let's go there for just a minute, Dawn, because, you know, up until the pandemic, we heard lots of kvetching about managers: "Our managers don't value their people, blah blah blah blah blah." And then during the pandemic, everyone's like, "Oh my gosh, the managers are so important!" And so we're finally realizing that they need to be supported; we can't just give them responsibility without support.

I'd love to understand, kind of following up on Stacia's question, about how you're using the data to determine what they need. What are you doing to support your managers to make sure that this connection happens, and that Hybrid is successful?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

We had started doing work on our managers long before the pandemic, but during the pandemic, it was so validating to understand how absolutely critical they are. And so, aside from the long list of required trainings that we have for our managers, we also have a, I would say, a well-oiled machine when it comes to communicating with our managers, and that's something that our program team owns—it's these ‘Manager Mails’ that come out on a fairly regular basis to communicate with managers and give them tips and tricks and resources to help them.

That was a regular instance before the pandemic; we did it even more during the pandemic; and we're continuing. I mean, we just got one, I think, last week that was another,you know, installment of this, these Manager Mails, and these Manager Mails are packed with insights that my team creates, and then the actions that we're taking because of these insights, which is really nice.

Aside from that, though, that's one of the reasons why we publish. We've also found that our employees react even more favorably to things that we publish externally than sometimes when we publish internally. So I’d started this quite a few years ago, maybe five or six years ago. And that's one of the reasons why it was so important to publish that work-life balance article. You know, if you look at the title of it, the title, it's like, Work-Life Balance Tanked at Microsoft. I mean, it was like front and center.

I remember when they sent me the title to proof, I was like, "Yeah, I'm good with that;” let's just be honest with what's going on because the article has a lot of good insights as to what to do about it.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I love that idea. I know we are getting to the place where we probably need to wrap up, but I want to make one more sort of observation/ask a question: early on, you mentioned that when you quit commuting, you found more space to learn. Which I think is fascinating, because one of the biggest complaints we hear from organizations is "Well, our people just don't have time to learn," and so the fact that you've sort of replaced a commute with opportunities to learn and grow and develop and sort of sync yourself with yourself, I think, is a fantastic observation.

Have you seen—this is sort of a leading question, but I'm going to ask it anyway— have you seen that sort of on a broader basis within Microsoft as well?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

So, it's a funny question. I did start talking about the fact that I replaced my commute with walking, and that while I walk, I listen to podcasts—I mean, sometimes I'm in meetings but I tried to time my walks so that they're really, really early in the morning and so I'm not in a meeting, or I walk at night, I mean, I now use lights and other safety things, so that I can do that.

And so I started talking to folks about the podcasts that I was listening to. And I listen to a broad range of podcasts. So some of the podcasts I listen to are much more news-type podcasts—you know I'm happy to share what I listen to—and then some of them are very much work-related podcasts, like one of my favorite podcasts to listen to is David Green's HR Digital Leaders podcast. I remember early in the pandemic, I caught up on every single episode; I listened to every single one! I mean, it had been months since I was keeping up, and I listened to all of them. I remember one Saturday I was like, "I'm going to go on a two-hour walk and I'm just going to listen to this the entire time."

Then I bring my learning sometimes back to my team—I'll bring it to my manager, I'll bring it to my colleagues. And now it's funny that one of the podcasts that I listened to, my manager and another one of her direct reports, one of my peers, we are obsessed with this podcast, and we ping each other when there was something really, really important that you have to listen to.

And I love that, right? This notion of learning, and then coming back with your learnings and communicating with people. I try to really not send too often things for them to listen to, but every once in a while, I'll listen to something, and I'm like, "They have to listen to this," and so I'll send it to my team.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I think that's amazing: it's almost like a Hybrid has opened up Pandora's Box in a way: the way that we thought about learning, the way that we thought about work, the way that we think about focus time. All of those things seem to be thrown up in the air, and now organizations are finding the way to put them all back in the right place. And I think what's really interesting is, and especially the way that you've talked about today, is that it's very individualistic: it's not just company wide; it's individualistic, how do we do what's best for the individuals, that we can get the most you know, so we can have the best relationship with that individual.

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Yeah, and they can be the best person that they can be, the best human that they can be—bring their best to work every single day.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

One question just as you are thinking about others who may not be quite as far along the Hybrid journey as you all are: What advice would you have for them, maybe, you know, two or three things that you would suggest people think about first?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Start small. You don't have to do everything all at once, and I would say, look at the data that you have and what data you would like to have. Oftentimes, the data that you would like to have are qualitative or kind of survey-type questions, and that's a lot easier to get at than some of the other more challenging data attributes. Like even this attribute that we're collecting now in terms of the percentage of work time that you're going to have in the office versus remotely, that will take us a while to ensure that it's in a state where we feel really good about it—but a survey, starting small, making sure that your employees know what are you doing with the information you're collecting, following up with them afterwards to share what you're learning, will give them more incentive to want to share in the future.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Great. And then the final question is a question we ask everybody who comes on our podcast, which is the Purpose question: and that is why do you personally do the work that you do?

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

I kind of talked a little bit about this in the beginning, but I definitely feel that this is a huge passion of mine to combine data with organizational effectiveness or human effectiveness, if I would. And I think of my daughters; I want them to thrive, I want them to be the best humans that they can be—that's what I want for everyone, and so that's why I continue to do this work every single day.

And never again in a million years did I think that I'd be an HR; now I've been in HR for almost 20 years. And this is the work that I want to continue doing right now. So for me, the purpose is to really help individuals to be their best.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Thank you. Well, Dawn. Thank you so much for everything you've shared with us today. I know our listeners will get a lot from it, and Dani and I have as well, so thank you.

Dawn Klinghoffer, Microsoft:

Thanks for having me on the show today.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Thanks everybody for listening to this episode of Workplace Stories. Dani and Stacia, how can listeners get more involved in the podcast and of course with your incredible research work?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Well, they can follow Workplace Stories by RedThread Research on the podcast platform of your choice. And you can go and rate this at podcast.com/workplacestories and leave us ratings and reviews.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

You can also share this, or your favorite episode, with a colleague or a friend.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

You can check out our website at redthreadresearch.com to follow all of our 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 maybe…?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Sign up for our weekly newsletter at redthreadresearch.com/newsletter, and consider joining the RedThread community by joining our membership.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

And lastly, we're on Twitter at redthreadre—that’s R E D T H R E A D R E, or look up RedThread Research on LinkedIn and follow our work.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I’d just like to add that we’d love to get to know you a bit better, so to that end, we’d like to invite our listeners to head over to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps, 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 worrywe'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.

About the author

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

Stacia Garr Redthread Research
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

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