We attended the Workhuman Live conference from May 16-19 which took place in Atlanta, Georgia. With about 1,800 people in attendance, it was the biggest in-person event we have attended so far this year. Besides the joy of meeting old friends and making new ones, the conference filled us with a sense of optimism and positivity around the future of work. Overall, the event was all about bringing “humanity” back into work.
Connections are more important than ever
In keeping with its tradition of making the conference relevant and real, Workhuman made sure that this year one of the key messages was around something we all missed during the pandemic¾deep human connections. We heard a lot about the importance of building and managing connections. For example, Dan Heath spoke about the importance of connections during his keynote as he emphasized the role they play in creating moments that matter and in elevating experience. The conference itself was designed to facilitate conversations among attendees by helping them connect, share ideas, and spark conversations through “braindates” that could be set up via the app.
This was also emphasized by Workhuman through their own existing product, the Conversations tool, which is part of their Workhuman Cloud suite (Figure 1). The tool is designed to encourage conversations and check-ins between employees, managers, peers, and coaches to facilitate performance development. The check-ins can be prompted by anyone and are supported by feedback that can be requested by employees anytime. With the company increasingly leaning into the performance management space, it was great to see it emphasize the positive impact such tools can have as shared by one of their customers ¾IBM. Since launching Workhuman, leaders at IBM have watched feedback requests and responses increase 5x what they were before. We expect to see Workhuman do more work on this front in the future.
Care is integral to performance
Keeping in line with the overall theme of humanity, self-care, and being considerate of others’ needs was a topic that came up often during the different sessions. Whether it was the honest conversation and stories shared by Simone Biles or Malcolm Gladwell’s keynote, we were pleased to see emphasis laid on breaking down old practices and behaviors if they no longer served the purpose for which they were designed.
Talking about her journey and her appearance at the 2021 Olympics Simone Biles, in conversation with Workhuman CHRO, Steve Pemberton, emphasized the importance of well-being, mental health, and performing for yourself. The message was extremely relevant at a time when a large portion of the workforce has found themselves struggling with mental health related challenges in the workplace.
Care is also about being considerate of other peoples’ differences and putting in place systems that account for those differences rather than discriminate based on them. Malcolm Gladwell spoke about the need to do away with systems and policies that are there just because “this is how we have always done them.” Instead, he emphasized the need to consider the different abilities and skills that people can bring to the table and harnessing them in ways that benefit everyone.
DEIB is essential for hybrid work
With a lot of talk about hybrid work came a lot of discussion about the need for organizations to be inclusive and fair. One of the sessions was led by McKinsey and discussed the dangers of forcing employees to return to offices as the majority of employees prefer some form of hybrid work according to their latest research. The speakers talked about the need to be inclusive when it comes to designing return to office policies by providing work-life support, showing respect and concern for well-being, and fostering collaboration among team members.
Particularly interesting was the session by Josh Levs, where he spoke about how the workplace and society fail men when it comes to practices around paternal leave and caregiving. In an extremely moving talk, Levs spoke about his own personal struggle of becoming a new father and working in a place that did not afford him, as a man, any time off to care for his newborn. The session highlighted the need for a shift in thinking around the notion of society expecting women to be the primary caregiver because of the adverse impact it has on their role in the workplace and ultimately slows business growth. This was especially relevant for a few reasons. Many working mothers found their caregiving responsibilities increase severalfold during the pandemic, leading them to quit the workforce. Additionally, the current national baby formula crisis is putting extra strain on the physical and mental health of already overburdened working mothers who are often expected to be the primary and (in many cases) sole provider of childcare.
What we liked most
The educational nature of the content. There was a very good mix of analysts, customers, non-customers, and vendor partners in attendance, and there was something for everyone. Workhuman Live has a history of bringing together thoughtful leaders and this year was no exception. There was a lot to learn about not just creating better workplaces but also about how to be better towards each other as humans and most importantly, towards ourselves.
The vibe. As we said earlier this was a conference that celebrated humanity. While Workhuman demos and solution briefings were provided along with some customer success stories, the conference was less about selling and talking about the success of the solution and more about creating better experiences for everyone. Each day began with a mindfulness and meditation session to improve awareness and connection. The conference area was peppered with stations such as Gratitude bar, Book café, photo stations and much more.
Seeing old friends. This one is a bit personal, but wow, was it great to see a lot of folks we’ve missed for the last 2+ years. Getting to connect like this really reminded us how wonderful our HR community is and how lucky we are to do the work we do.
Overall, this was a fantastic event. We look forward to the next Workhuman Live.
Priyanka Mehrotra is a Research Lead at RedThread Research. Before joining the company in 2018, she was part of the research team at Bersin by Deloitte where she worked on talent management, D&I, and people analytics as well as conducted research and contributed content for Bersin’s Mid-market study. Prior to Bersin by Deloitte, Priyanka worked at several non-profits, think-tanks, and international organizations where she published and co-authored several articles.