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Show 134 – 2021 Global Employee Survey

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In our second episode to be produced in partnership with Globalization Partners, we discussed the critical role of employee experience in the remote working world.

Russell Goldsmith was joined online by Caroline Göbel, from Göttingen in Germany, who has a co-leadership role as Head of Global People and Organizational Development at Ottobock; Katherine Allwood, Head of People at The Hut Group, and finally, from Boston in the US, Emily Boynton, Vice President, People Resources at Globalization Partners.

The episode was timed to coincide with the release of Globalization Partners’ 2021 Global Employee Survey, with responses from 1,250 employees in companies of 250+ people, from 15 countries. This was was the third time they’ve produced this report.

Emily began by explaining that fundamentally, Globalization Partners’ technology enables companies to easily overcome the barriers to building a global remote team internationally. They have an amazing platform that simplifies and automates the foundational HR employee experience across all foundational HR items.

In the report, they looked at employee sentiment regarding working in global remote teams, in light of Covid-19’s impact on the shift from in-person to remote work and analysed how these factors affect employees’ perception of their company, leadership, engagement levels, and overall job satisfaction. Emily said that essentially, successful companies should view creating a dynamic remote culture as a strategic business differentiator and it has a substantial impact on employees’ long term retention intent. She added that employee mobility and the globalization of remote teams will significantly impact not only workforce planning but talent management.

The Hut Group

Kat explained that THG are an international ecommerce and technology business that operates in round 169 countries using 47 languages. Their better-known brands are the likes of Look Fantastic and My Protein, but they also have THG Ingenuity which is their technology arm. Pre-pandemic as a business, Kat explained they were very much an office-based company but as soon as they realised what was going to happen in March, in each country they followed the guidelines. She said now they’ve implemented an agile working policy, which means that all staff in their head office can work from home two days a week.

Ottobock

Caroline explained that Ottobock are in the MedTech industry, they produce prosthetics, orthoses and wheelchairs, for example, as well as other services. They have around people all over the world in over 50 countries, their purpose is helping people to maintain or regain their freedom of movement and during the pandemic, they also experienced remote working. Caroline said they have patient care centres, production with on-site working and administration roles with people in offices.

Agile Working

Emily explained that the global pandemic has shown a spotlight on gaps in our societal systems, but it has also had an incredible impact and opened a window on an opportunity for a more connected global community. She explained that nearly two thirds of the respondents in the survey said their companies will make remote work a permanent fixture following the pandemic. She said one impact this is going to have, is employee mobility, about 22% of employees said they’ve already relocated and 17% percent of employees have said they plan to relocate internationally. Emily said in the age of agile working, international employee mobility is a crucial reality that employers should be prepared for.

Kat agreed and said agile, flexible working has got to be something that is going to stay, it’s part of the reason that they created a more agile working culture at THG, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to retain their best staff or attract the top talent either. Kat said they’re trying to adapt some of the things they’ve learned that have worked really well over the past 18 months, for example, onboarding of new starters being done remotely. Kat said in terms of working from home, in some areas where there are real skill shortages, they’re looking at offering slightly different working patterns for other people. Kat said agile working makes the world smaller in some ways and means that it is more collaborative on a worldwide scale. Caroline agreed with Emily and Kat and said she is convinced that remote work will stay because they have mastered so many challenges within the last 18 months.  She said they have a lot of different demands in their company, different people, areas, regions and requirements. Some people are in the office, in the patient care centres for example but they want to offer flexibility not just at home but different areas in the office such as  silent work areas, collaboration areas or diverse rooms for workshops, etc.

Challenges of Remote Working

Emily said the world is feeling smaller and more connected but time zones, at 26%, has been the biggest challenge people are facing as they grow this international workforce. The second biggest challenge was process speed at 23% and the third biggest challenge at 22% was finding effective communication methods. Emily explained that two years ago when they did the survey, 36% said process speed was the biggest challenge and this shows that humans are adaptive and have improved the situation by 14%. However it’s still a challenge that companies are increasingly having, so there’s still a way to go with effective communication. She said the other challenge that companies are having is as they’re becoming more international, employee mobility is becoming more complex. Emily explained that finding the right tools which are coming out in such a number are being adapted by companies and have improved communication methods, however, there’s a risk of over tooling, tool fatigue. She said selecting quality, agile tools is better in this regard.

Kat said that Zoom or Teams fatigue is something that everyone has to be mindful of in work life as much as personal life. She said at THG they only installed Teams in the months before March 2020 so it was relatively new to them as a business. She said all of their learning and development sessions that they run with their in-house team are now done complete remotely. Kat said it’s meant they’ve been able to include people on those calls in a different location or country and although there is sometimes difficulty around time zones, actually, by opening up those sessions to the whole of the team it’s a great way to bring people together and have that collaboration. Caroline said at Ottobock they were pushed into the new collaboration area because they didn’t have Teams or anything. She said people were overwhelmed by the full tool functionalities and how to deal with that and they supported their colleagues by giving them training on how to use them.

Company Culture

Caroline said culture is communication and how we interact with each other and during that remote time, this was lost and they suffered, so they tried to establish some ideas and inspirations for their teams and leaders, how to come together as an informal team and to get together in a personal way. She said in terms of new employees coming to the company, it’s important to bring them into the team, into the culture and this is quite a challenge for leaders but she said they did it well last year.

Kat said for new starters, those opportunities to make connections with different people and to get to know their colleagues, not on a work level are really important. She said at THG, most of their new starters, up until the most recent weeks, had never been to a THG office and culturally they’ve probably felt very distant. She said there’s only so much that having meetings online can bring, and they certainly can’t replicate for every single face to face meeting, there’s got to be a combination of them both.

Emily said the work that Kat, Caroline and others have done in each of their own companies has really worked because 48% of employees feel happier about work since moving to a remote work environment. She said one of the things that their survey and own experience as a company has shown is that intentional culture development and creating that contact and that connectivity is critical to creating a business differentiator when it comes to your employee engagement.

Leadership in remote working

Caroline said their leaders did a good job, at the beginning they had to deal with a lot of challenges and different areas, it’s more than just having technical workplaces prepared. She said what we’ve seen out of the pandemic is how important a human centred leadership is because those leaders who come together with their team in an online meeting, organise informal meetings and have their ear on their people, are successful. Caroline said they had to learn a lot, get familiar with those tools and learn how to lead remotely.

Emily explained that leaders have had a ginormous challenge placed in front of them and employee perception of leadership was really spotlighted as a critical factor in terms of employee experience and engagement. She said one of the things she thinks about is the three leadership T’s – trust, transparency, and teamwork and there are numerous ways that leaders can achieve these three T’s or this human centric leadership approach.

Caroline agreed and said transparency was definitely one success factor in their company, they were really transparent from the beginning, which is important.

Emily said 47% of respondents reported their perception of their company leaders either stayed the same or worsened since the outset of the pandemic. She said the way the leadership managed the crisis, directly correlates with employee loyalty and with their ongoing retention. 43% of employees that reported an improved perception of the company leaders said they would likely stay with the company for at least three more years. The better leaders did, the longer people will likely intend to stay with an organisation.

Emily said the truth is, half the respondents said a good balanced work life balance, was the top factor that contributed to a positive employee experience. With remote work, the work zone and personal zone have merged and arguably it is now part of our responsibility as a company to really help employees set their own boundaries and determine what is right for them so that they can be their best, most successful selves.

Kat said they carried out a well-being project at the end of last year where they reached out to all staff who were working from home, the majority of people’s feedback was that they were struggling to switch off. Kat said it has it’s advantages of course, you can put a load of washing on whilst you’re making a cup of tea, but there’s the flipside where equally that switch off time is harder to achieve. She said their Health and Safety Manager gives a piece of advice to try and get that balance, she advocates people to physically leave the house and go for a walk before work, so that when you come back, you are at work and get that differentiation. Kat says different things work for different people but it’s about ensuring that we equip staff to optimize every part of their life, work as well as home, and get that balance.

Caroline agreed that people work more than less in remote times but what they’ve done at Ottobock, together with their executive board they’ve developed an initiative around deep work. She said deep work is a concept developed by Cal Newport, he offers thoughts and models to rethink people’s structure of the day, to get more focus time, being healthy, being engaged, being motivated.

What do companies need to be looking to do in terms of their working environment moving forward?

Caroline said flexible time, work and workplaces will stay and upskilling people in order to find good ways to work remotely, to work asynchronous, is a big task for all companies.

Kat said everyone needs to find the balance, as much as new staff need to be around colleagues and feel part of the business, there are benefits to remote working as well that everyone can benefit from, by having more contact with more people on a worldwide basis across any business. She said each company needs to find that balance that works for them and to make it part of their culture, because it is something that’s going to be here to stay and something that we all need to adapt to.

Emily said employees are more likely to stay at a company where remote work is supported and intentionally creating a dynamic remote culture will be a strategic differentiator for companies. She said it will make a difference in terms of engagement, productivity, retention, attraction of talent. Emily said one of the key attributes of a remote working culture is team diversity, 50% of their survey respondents saw team diversity as an actual benefit of working at a company. Globalization Partners’ CEO, Nicole Sahin said, “Global teams will continue to grow in diversity as remote working culture embeds itself in the majority of businesses long term. To succeed in a jobs environment without frontiers and where skilled employees will have greater choice than ever, employers will need to build their global reach, processes, and capabilities. It is vital to identify the best talent wherever it can be found. And those companies who can build successful international teams will be ideally placed to succeed in the post pandemic economy”.

The full report of the 2021 Global Employee Survey can be downloaded at: www.globalization-partners.com/blog