28 June 2022

Adventures in Hybrid Work: Forget Work-Life Balance and Think More Integrated Work-Life, w/Lydia Wu, Panasonic

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

TL;DR

  • This is the sixth 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 of The Learning Futures Group balance out the season with Lydia Wu, Head of People Analytics at Panasonic North America.
  • Lydia discusses how her experience as a remote worker before the pandemic helped shape the way Panasonic has adapted to Hybrid Work during the pandemic.
  • “Because we boiled it down to one simple critical point … don’t send everyone back into the office, or don’t mandate everyone to go back to the office—that made an impact for our employees.”
  • Is it Hybrid Work? Or is it just Work now?
  • Balance, Work Life, Flexibility, and One Size Does Not Fit All
  • Come and listen to Lydia’s experience so you can learn the importance of data and how to really listen to what your workforce actually wants.
  • 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

Listen to my podcast

Guests

Lydia Wu, Head of People Analytics, Panasonic North America

DETAILS

In this, our final episode for the Adventures in Hybrid Work Season, we end strong with a great sit-down with people analytics innovator and Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation at Panasonic North America, Lydia Wu. It’s the right last conversation on this important topic, we think, as Lydia gives us so much frontline reporting on the key issues we’ve identified in our conversations, including the importance of data and really listening to what your workforce actually wants in terms of return to office instead of what you think they want, which we’ve heard from others. She also touches on topics we didn’t get so much on, like the importance of the DEIB factor in Hybrid and what we should be doing for managers in all this, not just the main employee base. The fact that Panasonic—which really isn’t just ‘the microwave people’—has such a wide variety of job roles, both desked and deskless, is also really important to think about. It all matters—and as Dani says in the episode, maybe it’s time to stop saying ‘Hybrid Work,’ because now it’s all just what Work is.

Resources

  • Lydia is on LinkedIn here, and her company’s main website is here.
  • All four of our previous Workplace Stories Seasons, along with relevant Show Notes, transcriptions, and links, is 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

Great news: the Season’s culminating webinar has been scheduled—please go here to find out more and register. See you on June 29!

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. And if you haven’t, we’d so love you to take our survey—there’s good stuff for you if you do!

TRANSCRIPT

Five Key Quotes:

You know how HR, literally, has struggled, I want to say for the last decade, to be at the table and I'm putting this in quotation marks to be ‘part of that conversation,’ and not be an afterthought? Today, I had that very literal moment. Our finance organization realized that we had a lot more detailed data that they were looking for to help them better forecast, engage the cost of the workforce and performance of the workforce—to the point where one of our company's CFOs reached out to me to say, Hey, can you create this analysis for me, because I am looking to do this with my cost of workforce? And that was the moment where I just muted the mic, shut everything down, and started screaming into a pillow because I was that excited, you have a CFO coming in and asking for the data.

I love the phrase, ‘Trust, but verify.’ You are trusting them and they're verifying with the data system that you've set up to make sure that those decisions are correct. I want that.

Before the pandemic was, Hey, we're rolling this out, great. Let's email the managers, we're done, let’s move on with our lives; they’ll figure it out. I think during the pandemic, we figured out the criticality of our managers and the fact that it's not a one-size-fits-all management style. Now, it's becoming a lot more, okay, this is going out to our managers, but what do we mean when we say ‘managers’—are we talking about the directors who have more access to the information, are we talking about our frontline managers. So it's a lot more, I think employee-friendly way of doing things now, or manager-friendly way of doing things: not absolutely perfect, but definitely a lot better than here's an email, read it on your own time, good luck—have fun!

One thing I realized that impacted the most amount of decisions during this whole Hybrid Work conversation is personal biases. Once you understand how you feel about it and you can park that aside, the next step is to ask your workforce how they feel about it and run the ideas by them. Because one thing that I love doing is asking everyone, Hey, here are the options: what do you think, what do you want to do—we're doing this for you, so tell us what you want to do, because that's usually the quickest and easiest way to figure out what is the right solution of the organization.

I do the work that I do because I know, at the end of the day, the programs my team and I put together and roll out can have at a minimum impact the life of one person in the organization. And that's all that matters; if I have one single working mom who can spend a little more time with her kid because of a policy we were able to roll out, or a decision we were able to stop at the top level—that’s all that matters.

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 speak with Lydia Wu, Head of People Analytics at Panasonic North America. Lydia is on a mission to enable organizations to connect the dots between their human capital and operational outcomes through the use of analytics.

In today's conversation, we talk to Lydia about how Panasonic dealt with the pandemic from a work design perspective. In particular, we discussed how, as a company with factories, with lots of frontline workers, as well as a corporate workforce, Panasonic balanced the needs of different workers.

We also discuss the types of analyses Lydia and her team did to understand the impact of returning to the office on their workforce. In particular, Lydia shares how they found a significant percentage of their workforce would likely turn over if they forced a one-size-fits-all approach, and she then talks about what they did with that insight. Finally, we discussed how the role of managers has changed over the course of the last two years, and how Panasonic has enabled them to be more effective.

Today’s conversation is very practical and thoughtful. And, as you'll hear, it was also really fun.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Lydia, welcome to Workplace Stories: thanks so much for joining us today. We are so excited to have you!

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Thanks for having me super excited to be here.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So we're going to kick off with a quick introduction to you, your role, and how you relate to the Season's topic of Hybrid Work. And then we're going to dive in really deep—because I have tons of questions because you and I have talked about this topic off and on over the last year or so. So we're going to have so much fun.

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Awesome. Looking forward to it.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So let's begin, if you can give us a quick overview of Panasonic's mission and purpose?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Yes. So according to my mother, we're still the microwave people.

However, according to our corporate branding team, our goal is really to serve a better life and a better world. And I think there's no better way of tying all of that back into HR—where, at the end of the day, it's about mass impact on a workforce, but it's also about just changing one life at a time in terms of our workforce and our employees, and making sure that everything we do is for the betterment of that workforce.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

That sounds way better than ‘the microwave people.

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

She’s convinced we're still the microwave people. So here we are.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Well, the corporate branding team still has some work ahead of them. So can you tell us a bit about yourself, aside from your mother thinking you work for microwave people? 

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Yes. So I landed into HR by accident, and most definitely landed at Panasonic by happy accident. So Panasonic is my first role in industry, and I've been a career consultant before that; the best way I would describe the work that my team and I do is on a glamorous, shiny day, we are like the Swiss Army Knife. Because it's all the cool projects, it’s the fun projects—it’s the high visibility projects, the ones that don't have a happy home in any other HR function or organization that we get to incubate, we get the solution for and we get to deploy.

On a not so glamorous day, we're like the kitchen junk drawer: you need a knife, we got it, you need flashlights, we got it—you need a set of mattress candles, we got you. We got your back. If you can't find it anywhere else in HR, this is the team that you come to.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I love that. Well, you know, there's a time and a place for both things; sometimes you want glamor, and sometimes you just want utility.

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:
Exactly

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

That's awesome. So you mentioned you were a consultant before moving into industry, so can you tell us about how you came to do this type of work?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

So this was about five years ago and how I even came across a notion of data science and analytics goes all the way back to about eight years ago, when I was on secondment setting up a data science office with Cisco.

And that was the time that I started thinking what happens if you can do all of these cool things that you're doing with products and consumers, but with the people in your organization. Fast forward to when I was with Deloitte, it became very evident that with all the cloud implementations that were happening, with all of the datas that were being hosted, eventually somebody had to do something with all the data, and that's when the whole notion of analytics came up. And at that point in time, how the consulting industry typically works is you can only sell to work if your customers are asking for it. And if you think back to about five 60 years ago, ‘HR analytics’ was a very nebulous concept where people were talking about it, but nobody really knew what it was. And by happy accident, Panasonic reached out to say, Hey, we really want to try to do this thing; we don't quite know what it is, but we know we want to do it, so can you come in and help us figure it out?

So fast forward, four years of figuring it out here we are—with pandemic in between.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned four to six years ago, folks didn't necessarily know what this space was about and now we're, we're here after everything that's happened. What have you found to be the most challenging during that time across both that transition, but also a global pandemic?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

How not to be a science experiment? And let me elaborate on that a little bit further.

So, I think the interest in HR analytics very much similar to the interest in AI ONA, those type of topics today; it’s interesting, it’s cool because we're all very intellectually curious, but when you need to stack up investment dollars and funding to that level, intellectual curiosity, that's when really rubber hits a role when it comes to analytics. And I think that's where a lot of the organizations I’ve come across face challenges, because there's no way for us to articulate a business case, or articulate the ROI, around analytics.

And for me personally, and the journey of Panasonic specifically, it's also in being able to articulate that business case and helping them understand how a certain investment dollar in analytics can really yield further outcomes into business: by understanding your employees, you’re understanding your productivity, creating a more a better forecast on your financials in terms of understanding your costs and your ebbs and flows in the workforce.

So in that sense, I think one of the biggest underlying factors, and I even see in organizations today is, How do you create an analytics function? How do you satiate all of the intellectual curious bits, but also serve the business leaders in what they're looking for and the ROIs and returns that they're looking for?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Very cool. Yeah, definitely a challenge. So we're going to talk about that in the context of Hybrid: even better, Dani!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah

So Lydia, you know, that the season is on Hybrid Work. When we started this Season, it was called ‘Hybrid Work;’ we think it's moving now just toward ‘Work,’ because we've seen, because organizations are now back to the office and we're trying some of these things that we've been hypothesizing on for a couple of years. So we like to start by asking everybody, What’s your personal experience with Hybrid Work?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

So I am what I call the Guinea Pig Story of Hybrid Work in certain cases. So when I was first hired, I was hired as a Remote worker. And if you think back to four years ago, it's very rare for an HR organization, any company, to hire a Remote worker, least not for a critical role like HR analytics. So that was my round one of experimentation: just as about a year into my role as I was about ready to move back into the office, move closer to the office, become officially part of the office workforce, hello, global pandemic!

So literally boxes were half packed when we said, Actually guys, we're shutting down the office—hang out until further notice. So for two years it's been Remote work, it’s been hanging out in my sweatpants which is fabulous by the way.

And all of a sudden, if we recall about a year ago, it's like, Okay, well, we're thinking about going back to the office, we're thinking about doing this, and that was when I had a lot of personal experiences with my team. Because during the pandemic, my team, and I got a lot closer and you get better into the ‘life’ part of the work life balance, especially when you are connecting from your living room, from your bedroom, wherever it is that they were working from.

That was when I started thinking about the different dynamics, the different needs, of the workforce at different stages in life, because my team is fairly diverse from a generational aspect, from a background/demographics aspect, and just from the lifestyle aspect as well. And in thinking through that, that was when I started pushing for a conversation at Panasonic to really start thinking about, Does it really make sense to have everybody back in the office? Are we really thinking about our working moms, are we really thinking about our caregivers, are we really thinking about all the demographics of our workforce? And when we say bring your whole selves to work—are we really serious about that?

So, fast forward through the next year; I basically use myself as bit of a experiment when it comes to Remote work. So full background: today’s actually the first day in the last two/three weeks I've been working out of my home office, because over the course of the last week I was at a conference in Vegas, so working on the road, then I was moving from East Coast into Nevada. So of course, I had to move on the road and work on my cell phone as well. And then from there, it's being able to integrate a quick little break through Yellowstone in between.

So when I tell my team to ‘do as I say, and as I do’ when it comes to concept of Remote work, it's really that I think in, in this day and age work life balance is a near impossibility, because there's no way due to connectivity that all of us can just stop at five o'clock. So it's more so about how do you better integrate it—how do you take a meeting, drop that meeting, go for a hike, come back to the next thing. Because at the end of the day, really what you have to focus on, fortunately as an office worker, is to get everything done and not necessarily do it within a certain time restriction or a time frame, based on whatever the clock dictates.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Let's talk, then, a little bit about how Panasonic handled the pandemic from a work design perspective. And one of the things that I'm most interested in highlighting is how you all balanced the need of, you mentioned I'm an office worker, because at Panasonic, there are a lot of frontline workers. And so I'd like to talk a bit about what that looked like, but maybe at the beginning and then how it transitioned over time, but particularly for those two different populations?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

For sure. So absolute chaos is what it looked like at beginning; I think it looks like absolute chaos for everyone else 🙂

So starting with our office workers, if you think about it up until the pandemic hit, we were having conversations about like, Oh, in the next five to 10 years, we might transition to Remote work, we might start transitioning more people to Remote work; you can work one day a week Remote from the office and boom, snap of a finger right away—everybody was offline! Everybody had to work in their pyjamas or their sweatshirt, so to speak. So for us on the office worker front, it was initial concern around collaboration: if we don't see each other, can we still get the work done? If managers don't see their team, can they still deliver, will the team just sit on the couch and watch Netflix all day?

Nobody said this officially, but I'm sure somebody in the company wondered at some point in time, and I'm sure a lot of other managers have as well. So for us, it was overcoming that initial collaboration hurdle, and it was really about building the team, setting the expectations, making sure that we have all of the different technology pieces deployed and ready to go.

And over the course, I would say, of about four to six months since we shut the office down, the collaboration piece got resolved. People got comfortable, we all understood that we were still productive, even if we weren't necessarily seeing each other face-to-face. The painful bits of what we would typically do as what I call the office ‘walk by,’ where you walk by somebody's desk and ask them a really quick question—those don't happen anymore, but instead they're replaced by text messages and Teams channel chats. So it's not a terrible experience, it’s just an alternative experience on the collaboration front, and I think our workforce got used to fairly quickly.

The other bit though, after six months, time was a more challenging bit. Because that's when we started realizing that we are on the verge of a burnout. If you think through to about late fall, early winter of 2020, that was when most organizations are started to question—Panasonic included—is our worker doing too much and are we asking to be them to be connected and online way too often?

So we did a quick study with a pilot population in our organization and understanding their email traffic patterns, their meeting patterns, so on and so forth. What we've started to notice was the fact that meeting times have almost doubled pre- and post-pandemic, so pre- and post- Remote work. And then on top of that, because of these excessive amounts of collaboration that what's happening, email volumes and after hour email responses have also doubled in volume.

So in that sense, what we then start looking to is, not so much the ‘can we get the work done,’ but ‘how do we keep our workforce safe and healthy and well, while we get the work done?’ So after that, when that piece of the conversation came into play, it was really a chance for us to look at all the different segments of the workforce, understanding that not everyone works the same hours every day, understanding that different folks in the population need different support systems—so being able to put in place some of those support systems and get everything through the approval channels was super helpful for our workers. So now, it's the norm in some of our email signatures to basically officially state that my workday isn't yours. So when you get this outside of your working hours, please don't feel obliged to respond to it. And it's also norm for us to now put our office hours on our email signatures as well, just because we work to a East Coast/West Coast time zone, making sure that everyone is aligned and all the expectations are met in terms of when is somebody online, when your email's going to get responded to, and so on and so forth.

So that's the office population, which I think is difficult, but still a little easier to solve for now, going back to the manufacturing population where you have a 24-hour production, two shifts, 12 hours across the day—that was definitely the more challenging bit. And for us, what that looked like managing through it is, of course, at the initial bit, there was a lot of chaos, but it's about making sure that there is distance, it’s about putting the right protective measures into play.

It's about making sure that there are enough wellbeing mechanisms for those employees. So we have the EAP sessions that they can reach out to support on; we have also a variety of other channel benefits that they can tap into to make sure that they're looked after and they're well. And it's also about opening a communication channel to those employees as well. So for the duration of the first two years of the pandemic, we actually did a lot of listening activities with them, making sure that their concerns were understood, making sure that their perspective on things like vaccine mandate—which is one of the most controversial things that we've seen in a workplace in a while—was taken to consideration as we crafted our policies and procedures. And as we crafted our communications.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

You mentioned the listening approach. Can you talk a little bit more about what that looked like, and particularly how did you respond? Because it's one thing to listen, but the responsiveness and folks feeling like they're heard and something's happening is a key part of that approach.

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Absolutely. So I think one of the things that we learned the hard way and iteratively through time is to not boil the ocean in response. I think one of the more critical failure points that organizations go through is that they get the feedback and they want to act on all feedback.

The reality is resources, timing, everything else is constrained—especially funding—when it comes to the investments that we're able to make towards certain employee efforts. So what we started doing is when we share out the survey results to our senior executives, to our business partners, we share everything. However, we also boil everything down to three critical takeaways, meaning, if you can only do three things today and only in the order of priority, here are the three things that we're learning from our surveys that you really have to focus on. So we took that approach with all the research that we've been doing throughout the Hybrid Work environment and during the Remote Work environment, as well to a point where we were able to connect a lot of our research together to understand the true impact of Remote work and Return To Office policies.

So for example, in one of the studies that we did, we looked into the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion part of the organization—understanding how marginalized versus non-marginalized employees feel about certain situations at work, how they perceived DEI at work. And it was very eye-opening for us to see the results of that survey, but what we were able to do then was to combine that with the wellbeing analysis that we did as well, and putting the two and two together was incredibly insightful, especially when it came to the intersectionality conversation, because one of the things that we realized is Remote work and Return To Office doesn't impact everyone the same way. And one of the more significant populations in our workforce that were being impacted that we wouldn't have seen otherwise was really the working others—especially those who are also acting role as caregivers to their children throughout the entire time period of 2020 to about 2022 or earlier parts of 2022.

And what we realized is that in us, if had we gone out and reinstated a Return To Office policy when most organizations went out and did that in the middle of 2021, we could have lost up to about one third of our working moms in the organization. For the simplicity that there just was not enough support in their system, in their personal support system, for them to manage being physically in the office and being able to take care of their families at the same time.

If you think about it, that's a pretty significant portion of a workforce, even though it's like a very specific demographic one. And it's sending a message to the rest of our employees who may have kids who may not be working moms, but they could be working dads with newborns, and that sends a loud and clear cultural message to them. Once we realized that that was the factor that we're looking at, it became something that we definitely weren't willing to do.

So we basically went back to the drawing board, and came with a slightly different approach to how we're tackling the whole Return To Office productivity, part of the conversation. So that whole working moment, I would say was about tens of thousands of lines of data across two surveys across multiple organizations. So how we gone out and boiled the ocean on that, I think we would still be in the action planning phase of that entire survey series today. I kid your not!

But because we boiled it down to one simple critical point, which is for the sake of the working moms, don't send everyone back into the office, or don't mandate everyone to go back to the office—that made an impact for our employees. And another couple things that we were able to do when we started combining the insights of our research along those lines was, also again on the DEI front, the notion of holidays.

So if you think about the statutory holidays in the US especially, a lot of them are Judeo-Christian faith-based. And not everyone who works for Panasonic necessarily prescribes to those faith, so there have been times where we get feedback from our employees saying, Hey, I had to take a vacation day for this. I had to take a vacation day just so I can celebrate Diwali with my family. I had to take a vacation day just so I can celebrate Eid with my family, Hanukkah with my family, so on and so forth and so forth.

So when we realized that that was a really low hanging fruit, because adding a holiday on our calendars is one, not a huge investment on our front, but two, it seemed to be able to generate a really big yield on the employee engagement front. What we did was that we put together a high level business case, ran it through approval chain, so on and so forth; fast-forward a couple months later, starting January of this year, we actually implemented a floating holiday. So essentially, if you want to celebrate National Donut Day, National Cat Day, Dog Day, your birthday—pick your holiday, we don't care!It’s your day, do what you will with it.

And I think that level of flexibility really went above and beyond to show our workforce that we really cared about them. We wanted to give them the flexibility within the structure that we're operating at, and we're willing to take their feedback into consideration. So, as those types of things happen and as we snowballed the feedback and specific response that ties to the feedback, we're also noticing that our workforce is becoming more and more willing to share information with us, to share insights with us. So typically, when we host focus groups on certain topics, not a lot of people show up, but now we're seeing more and more folks attending those focus groups, more willing to share that information and having that level of trust with the team to provide the information and give the insights.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I'm going to ask a question that might not be a fair question, but I'm going to ask it anyway

I’m super-interested in how you all balance policy against flexibility. So we've heard you talk a lot about flexibility, and we've heard a lot of the other people that we've talked to also talk about flexibility… but at some point you need some policies. So how are you balancing that?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

A lot of sweat and tears. Thankfully, that's not my job! So the beauty of my job is that I can dream and I can let the legal team tell me no. So that floating holiday started out with three floating holidays, and then as we were going back with legal and finance, so on and so forth, we landed with just one.

So, do I get a hundred percent of what I've looked for all the time? Absolutely not. But I believe in baby steps, because baby step number one of one loading holiday has been taken, every one’s seen the success of it. So now it's about how we get to that baby step number two. So I think the perspective on the team is that policy exists for a reason is to protect a company and it's the environment of which we have to operate under, but that doesn't mean that we can't do anything about it and we can't play within the sandbox while still advancing the workforce's interest at the same time.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Good answer.

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Thank you

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So speaking of fair, I actually want to ask you a question about fairness. You mentioned the two different approaches for office workers versus those who are in the factory: how did you all manage the communication of the different expectations, and really make or adjust so that it did seem fair to those different populations?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

A lot of trial and error is the short answer on how we figured it out. But at the end of the day, I think it's about communicating camaraderie, communicating the fact that we're all in this together and we're working for everything as one.

So in that sense, the communication bit was definitely through a lot of trial and error to figure out what was the right level communication, what was the right level of details. And something that we firmly believe in is honesty is the best policy, because when you're transparent, when you're genuine, even if in certain cases we don't have the right answer, we don't have the answer that everyone's looking for, we’re still building that culture of openness and transparency, and we're still building that culture of one team tackling one problem.

So in that sense then that's how really what we, how we approached that. Was it perfect? Absolutely not, by no stretch of the imagination. I'd be so curious to know if anyone in the industry nailed that one on the dot, but I think for us it worked—because our workforce stuck around, they were with us, they believed in the mission of the company.

And what we also tried to do on the office worker side as well is have rotations, right? Be one with your team, show up for your team, even if it means that you don't have to be in the office at all times, still occasionally showing up once in a way to support and rally your coworkers who have to be there.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Before we turn fully over to Hybrid Work, want to ask you as you reflect back on, you know, what was fully pandemic-time, if you will—

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

You mean THE BLUR?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

The blur, THE BLUR

And honestly, I don't know where we're even this point. But what were some of the biggest learnings that you took from that experience that you all are now bringing forward into this Return To Office—as Dani said, you know, ‘just work’ phase?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

So I think for me, it's really two things. One, people have good intentions, and this really speaks volume to the trust in the organization, as well as the communication we have with our workforce and our employees, because when we assume good intention, the way we communicate, the way we set policies, the way we step framework becomes a much more humanized way of doing it rather than saying you have to do X, you have to do Y so on and so forth, and implementing a rule-based organization, if you will.

So that's part one. I think the other part related to that is everyone is a person. Everyone is a son, daughter, mom, dad, sister, brother, so on and so forth—so even though, from an analytics perspective, they may just be an employee ID, they may just be a single line of data input, their input still matters because their input is their story. And when you start looking at it from that perspective, I think that's really what impacted my team quite a bit is, you start solutioning in a much more humanized way and understanding the stories and then adjusting to the stories, rather than just feeling like you're looking at data and you're reacting to data.

The difference is very nuanced and it's a little bit difficult to articulate, but I think in the solutions that it carries out, you see it in the implementation of programs such as a mentorship program, because we understand that not everyone approaches informal feedback the same way; when you're an introvert versus an extrovert, it makes a difference in how you handle feedback—but, we also know that feedback is important to everyone.

So looking at it from a more humanized approach of like data and things along those lines, we're able to roll out those programs. Does it resolve a hundred percent of the problems in the organization? Absolutely not—but does it at least make one person's life marginally better? Absolutely. And at the end of the day, what I share with my team is the work you do, as long as it even makes a difference in one person's life, you've done a good job! You can go home happy at the end of the day because that's all we can do. We've done our best, and one person is all that matters.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

One more question before we get to Hybrid Work, and it's a little bit about communication. You're changing lives on the actions you take on the results from the data that you're crunching, basically: how is that being communicated?

The reason that I'm curious about this is because companies every year send out engagement surveys and they collect all kinds of data and then nobody reacts to it and then people feel disenfranchised. And so I'm curious, why is that different in Panasonic? How are you messaging, Hey, we're collecting this data and we're going to help you, and how do you tie this solution back to the data collection so people continue to give it to you?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

I hate annual surveys. I'm going to make this as a public statement all out. I hate annual surveys and every time.

So, Panasonic has these annual surveys that our parent company, Panasonic corporation and Japan rolls out across the globe. Understandable that this is their only way of collecting information around the globe that we do it, but it's a bit of a check the box exercise in my mind—but every chance I get, I pull all my little pedestal. I hop on it and I tell them, Hey, annual service because they don't work.

So how we do it for North America specifically is a very targeted approach. First of all, we very rarely do blanket surveys, because a question that's relevant to organization A on the East Coast is not going to be relevant to organization. Be on the West Coast; a question that's relevant to manufacturing is not going to be relevant to a small R&D organization sitting out in Mountain View. So in that sense, the targeted audience plays a lot into it.

The other part of it is because when you have a targeted audience, you also have a lot more leadership buy in because they know it's their people. It's no longer I can hide under the blanket of everyone's doing this. It's my people, it's my specific feedback, so they're a lot more likely to react to the action plans and the outcomes of the feedback. And then after that, it's really just practice—it’s helping them understand that it's not hard to do. What I share with my team is, no matter how long the survey we do, the readouts can only be five pages or no longer; above and beyond that you lose a leader.

And while I can afford not sharing all of the information, to the extent I would love to share the match, I cannot afford losing that leader because we're drowning them in information, because essentially the aftermath of that is a lot more significant in terms of actioning on the data. So that's basically how we do it: a targeted approach, very specific action items and putting people in a spotlight that they're a little bit uncomfortable with, but they'll take action on, essentially.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Well, let's talk about, like, some of the changes that you sparked with respect to Hybrid Work during the pandemic, and how that is rolling through to whatever it's going to be moving forward, Hybrid or just plain work or whatever it is.

How have you been involved in deciding what stays and what goes as far as those policies or procedures or practices go?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

The good news is, I get to figure out what goes in and what stays; I don't have to make a hard decision of what goes, thankfully—that’s the talent and business partner organization.

But in terms of influencing and things along those lines, the pandemic has fortunately taught Panasonic a lot more about the value of employee opinions. So comparison it's, I'm going to use like a two-year runway frame, beginning of pandemic everyone was like, why do I need your team? We have annual surveys, I don't need you, you're good, annual survey's fine. Fast forward two years. My research team is so inundated with requests right now that we have about a two/three month backlog because every leader is coming in and saying, Hey, I need you to ask this, I need you to ask this question. We need to like drill a little bit deeper, because I'm curious on what they think, that type of thing.

So I think one, we have now finally instilled the habit of continuous listening in the organization. While not a pandemic-related policy, I think it's a good hygiene practice for any organization to have with their employees in their workforce. The second thing that came out of it is, because of all of the research that we've published and that we've done internal to the organization throughout the pandemic, even just as an informational basis, those research bids still serve as the foundation of a lot of the conversations that are happening today.

For example, the DEI research piece that we did, even it influenced our DEI strategy—but even today, when we start talking about certain policies in the workplace, our HR business partners still cite that piece of study to say, This is why Mr. or Mrs. President, you should do this, and not that, or this is why we should implement in this policy and not that. So I think the leftover of that piece of research definitely carries forward as well.

And the third thing I think from, again, a hygiene perspective, that has a long lasting impact for us is people are finally looking at the numbers. This is literally the most exciting thing I can ever say, because pre-pandemic, it was all anecdotes, it's Oh, employee X told me this, we have to do that now because I have anecdotal evidence… but now it's, Okay, we have anecdotes, does our number prove that great? Our number proves that we have a line of diminishing returns. What, at that point, let's figure out how we staff our resources according to that point, so it's a much more evidence-based approach.

Do we have it perfect? Absolutely not—we’re still a work in progress. But I think those three things are really what carried out for me as we transition from the pre-pandemic to the post-pandemic… are we post-pandemic yet? Whatever situation we're in right now, depending on who you ask

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Well, I think we're post-pandemic pre-endemic: is that where we are?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

I've genuinely lost track

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

So talk to us a little bit about how that data is helping the organization continue to make decisions. So you talked about how they have faith in it and they're using it now?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

You know how HR, literally, has struggled, I want to say for the last decade, to be at the table and I'm putting this in quotation marks to be ‘part of that conversation,’ and not be an afterthought? Today, I had that very literal moment.

So as people were using the data, and as HR data was getting exposed, what our finance organization realized was also that we had a lot more detailed data that they were looking for to help them better forecast, engage the cost of the workforce and performance of the workforce—to the point where we actually had a finance organization reach out to us and one of our company's CFOs to say, Hey, can you create this analysis for me, because I am looking to do this with my cost of workforce?

And that was the moment where I just muted the mic, shut everything down, started screaming into a pillow because I was that excited. It was literally a career milestone when you have a CFO coming in and asking for the data!

To what I understood of your question earlier, it's for us, that continuation of it is really in the seeking of the data because we're no longer in an environment where we have to push things out and educate and let everyone know what it is: we’re in that whole environment, because we have the information, we have the richness of the information, we have the longitudinal aspects of the information where they can now come and say, Hey, I want to know what this was five years ago versus today. And we can pull that together in five minutes—which is a lot further above and beyond what we were able to do two years ago.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I love this, because when we think about Hybrid Work, when a lot of people think about Hybrid Work, they think about a point in time—we need to make some policies, we need to make some decisions about who's going to work where and what our workforce looks like.

But you've put into place, no, no things are very fluid, and they're going to continue to be fluid. And so what we need to do, actually, is measure as we go, make sure that we're paying attention to the data, and that we can continue to adapt as we go along.

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Yeah. I mean, the way I look at it is HR is mushy, pandemic is mushy, data is mushy, especially turning data into ROI is super-mushy because 10 people you ask, you get 10 different answers on how to do that.

So the job of myself and my team is really to put a box around the mushy and at least get it into container of forms so that we make sense of it in that contained form. And we can continue to mold and work with it.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I love that. So this is the other thing as we go back to office, you've got geographic diversity, as well as all of the other diversities that most organizations deal with. You mentioned earlier that that these leaders were coming to you and saying, Hey, I need to solve this problem, give us some data for this. How are you looking at this more holistically as we go back to the office, and how flexible is Panasonic in maybe keeping some of those. I don't want to call 'em policies cause I don't think they are, but practices, some of those practices, a little bit more fluid?

So you mentioned, for instance, don't make all the women come back to work right now, a third we're going to lose a third of them. Is it time to bring them back in? Is it time to bring them back in certain places? Or how much of that flexibility do you think is going to stay in your organization?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

I think a lot of it is, and here's the reason why. We tried our best to steer away from policies. It's a word that signs, it sends a shiver down my spine to be fully honest because there's so much behind it. We try to stay away from the policies. But the practice that we do is we share market research, we share what other organizations are doing, we share what our research tells us works, and we share what has worked in the market.

At that point, we trust our leaders because, again, going back to the humanized point and communication transparency, you have to trust your leaders to be able to make the right decision for their businesses, especially when you're as big as Panasonic with all the different lines of businesses that we have. So in that sense, some of our leaders could feel that's the right time for them to call back their workforce.

Others might not, but we trust them to make that decision, and where we come in is that we also educate them to say, Hey, if you take decision path A here's what could happen from your turnover perspective, from your cultural perspective, so on and so forth: decision B here is the pros and cons, decision C here are the other pros and cons. What I don't think we've ever presented them with a perfect decision, full transparency everything has had its pros and cons attached to it, because we don't live in a perfect world, but what is very much appreciated is that level of transparency, the fact that we laid it all out for them so that they know the risks that they're taking for their particular organization, and they can now communicate and connect with their teams more authentically, based on their rationale as to why that decision was taken, and then from there have their teams disseminate that information.

So that level of authenticity is now ingrained in the culture and in the communications that we're doing.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I love the phrase—and I'm using going to use it wrong, but the Reagan phrase, ‘Trust, but verify:’ you are trusting them and they're verifying with the data system that you've set up to make sure that those decisions are correct. I want that.

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Yeah, absolutely, because one thing I've learned very early on with my journey at Panasonic, I think almost two, three months in, was the fact that as an analytics person sitting in head office, quote unquote, as we call it, I am never going to get it right; I am never going to know what that field engineer in the Zurich airport is feeling, I’m never going to know what that frontline worker out in our Gigafactory is feeling, and I'm not, I'm never going to know what our refrigeration technician is feeling as he's driving out on a rural road, going to his next set of repair jobs.

But those are the people that we work with and those are the people that we work to impact. So in that sense, at some point I have to say like, this is where I need to pass off my baton to the next layer in the ecosystem so that they can influence their ecosystem accordingly.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So I wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about managers, and specifically as you've been thinking about this transition to distributed work, how have you been preparing managers to support their employees with this?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Not perfectly for transparency. I think it's still very much a work in progress for us, because managers comes in so many different flavor and forms, if you will. There are those who are prepared to manage people, who understand the authenticity and connections and there are those who are just, who are very, very great at what they do, but from a people management view we may have a lot of our areas and opportunities for improvement.
So for us, we try not to take the one-size-fits-all model, meaning that, Hey managers, this is a script, read it out to your employees, this your communicator, because some of them can do it very well and others are going to sound incredibly robotic and we're going to lose a whole team as a result of it.

So what we try to do is again, customize and cater, so depending on the business lines that we're looking at, depending on the initiatives that we are rolling out, we typically have a stakeholder matrix going at all times for our projects to say this business, this line of manager, here are their concerns. Let's figure out what we have to communicate to so on and so forth, part one.

And then part two of that is also having that open loop feedback because I think a lot of times we overestimate our managers in the sense of how much they're able to carry on their shoulders. At the end of the day, they're part of the workforce; at the end of the day, they also have expectations falling on their shoulders, and they have their own lives and everything else to manage—they’re not really superhumans by any stretch of the imagination.

So being able to push a program out to them, but also giving them the feedback loop, giving them a channel to reach back out to for more support, additional materials that we found has been really, really critical for the success of a lot of programs that we're rolling out and a lot of the communications that we're rolling out. Because some of them may just need a sounding board and they might not get that for whatever reason in their current ecosystem, so offering that sounding board more generically across the board through our services and our business partner organizations is incredibly important.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

And how you all have thought about supporting managers—has that changed since, you know, either during the pandemic or even before the pandemic?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Oh, absolutely. Before the pandemic was, Hey, we're rolling this out, great. Let's email the managers, we're done, let’s move on with our lives; they’ll figure it out 

I think during the pandemic, we figured out the criticality of our managers and the fact that it's not a one size fit all management style. So now, it's becoming a lot more, okay, this is going out to our managers, but what do we mean when we say ‘managers’—are we talking about the directors who have more access to the information? Are we talking about our frontline managers, how do we distinguish them and how are we communicating to them above and beyond just an email and how are we feeding the information in pieces that make sense so we're now dropping an essay of an email that we know they'll never read, but we're going to go back and cite and say, see, we told you to begin with.

So it's a lot more, I think employee-friendly way of doing things now, or manager-friendly way of doing things again: not absolutely perfect, but definitely a lot better than here's an email. Read it on your own time, good luck—have fun!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Is it fair to say that you've upped your communication to actual support? Like you're supporting them more than you were before?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

We've left our communications to support, and I think we started understanding that they're not superhumans; they are part of the workforce, and they go through everything just as their teams do, and sometimes they're even much more in between a rock and a hard place than their teams because they have the upward pressure and the downward pressure that they have to manage at the same time.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I think it's really interesting that you mentioned that you realize the criticality of your managers, because we've heard that a lot: like before the pandemic, I got a lot of, I’m the learning and skills person but can you help me make my managers not suck anymore? And then as soon as the pandemic happened, everyone's like, wait, whoa—they suck because we're not supporting them… This is our fault, our fault!

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

The question is how do I make my approach to my managers expect a little less? Exactly.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Exactly, yeah

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

We actually had that flip of a switch during the pandemic as well.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

It only took us how long…?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Exactly right. Same thing with Remote work; It's like, yeah, in the next decade we might all be able to work Remote.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

One thing I realized I didn't ask you before, and since you are the analytics person I want to ask, as you think about Remote or distributed work moving forward, and even the behaviors or the work of managers, how are you all going to measure the effectiveness? Like if, when you look,18 months from now and you're like that worked or that didn't, what are you going to be looking at?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

So I think it depends on the organization. In certain organizations, there are things like service level agreements, the measurable stuff that we can look at. But the way I tend to look at it, which may or may not be the right way but how I think about it, is the level of satisfaction, the level of employee engagement, the degree of the Net Promoter Score of the employees measured against the outputs in the back end—so for example, the emails, the collaboration, the networks that they're building.

Taking all of that into consideration, especially when you think about an office worker where productivity becomes a little bit nebulous of an environment, I think how we can ultimately make the cost of whether that worked or not is, one, do we have similar or better collaboration and networks built in the organization—do we have more super connectors in the organization now than we've had before? And two, from a satisfaction engagement perspective of those super connectors, do we have a better chance of retention than we've had before?

Because the way I see the world, and maybe I’m a little bit altruistic, is regardless of the job, regardless of what they're being asked to do, a happy worker is a productive worker. Because nobody is engaged in an environment where there are certain aspects that they feel discontent with. And when you are discontent in an environment, regardless of whether you love the job to begin with, regardless whether it's your life passion, there are always going to be things that will prevent you from doing your absolute best in the role.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Just to follow on, do you think that senior leaders in the organization are bought into that metric, will they buy that story? That because these things are high, we think that Remote work or distributed work has worked.

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Yeah, absolutely. So Net Promoter Score is actually now a key goal objective in our CHR organization and our CEO organization; in certain bits of the company, the Net Promoter Score of how share services performed, the Net Promoter Score of how employees respond to us, is pretty much permeated throughout the organization at this point as a KPI to measure our year's performance against.

So I think we're doing relatively well in getting some of those measures standardized and getting leadership bought in. Of course, that does not preclude me from standing on my pedestal and shouting at the top of my lungs every chance I get

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yeah, definitely. Cool. Well, this has been a wonderful conversation, and I know we have so many other questions we could gone through, but in the interest of time want to ask you: If you were at a conference, you mentioned you were at one recently in, in Vegas and, and someone said, Hey, you know, we're just really trying to figure out this distributed work situation. How would you advise them to get started?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Figure out how they feel about it. Because one thing I realized that impacted the most amount of decisions during this whole Hybrid Work conversation is personal biases. Once you understand how you feel about it and you can park that aside, the next step is to ask your workforce how they feel about it and run the ideas by them.

Because one thing that I love doing is basically is asking everyone and the peanut gallery to say, Hey, here are the options. What do you think, what do you want to do? We're doing this for you, so tell us what you want to do because that's usually the quickest and easiest way to figure out what is the right solution of the organization.

Part three is where you find your best friend in Legal. You find your best friend in Finance and possibly the Compliance team and your organization and you buy them a pizza, and you try it out to say, this is what I think is the right solution, this is what the workforce is telling me is the right solution. Now draw me my sandbox so I can play in that sandbox and make sure that we are compliant and we reduce the risks for the organization.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Wonderful. Thank you. The final question we have is the one that we ask everybody on the podcast and it's called the Purpose question, and it is why do you personally do the work that you do?

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Ooh, that's a tough one. I do the work that I do because I know at the end of the day the programs that my team and I put together and roll out can have at a minimum impact the life of one person in the organization. And that's all that matters. If I have one single working mom who can spend a little more time with her kid because of a policy we were able to roll out or a decision we were able to stop at the top level—that’s all that matters.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Lydia, thank you so much for the time today. It has been our pleasure to have you, and thank you; this was such a wonderful conversation.

Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation:

Thank you for having me.

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 great 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 that end, we’d like to invite our listeners to head over to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps and tell us a bit about yourselves. There’s a short form that you can fill out in about a minute.

As a thank you for taking that time, 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’s all about. 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:

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.

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
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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