What Will the “New” Workplace Look Like Post Covid-19?

There is an abundance of information and opinions on the current challenges we are experiencing in the face of this terrible pandemic, and I can not pretend to have anything profound to add to it all. While I have been spending much of my time helping business leaders navigate through the vast amount of evolving information to help make informed decisions, I’ve also tried to invest much of my thoughtful energy into what comes next. Great leaders are not only immersed in getting their teams through this difficult time, but they also should be considering how this crisis will alter the mindset of all of us and what will need to change going forward.

    • Workplace gatherings will look different. Town halls, team meetings, even retreats have now been proven to be effective virtually rather than only in person. I wouldn’t suggest we must adopt this all the time, however, where geography, cost or other barriers may exist, training, decision making and leadership can happen virtually. We have just proven that to ourselves. For years we’ve been discussing that the future of the workplace relies on technology and we need to start investing and evolving in that direction – but most employers either disagreed, ignored or couldn’t afford the investment. Well, workplaces have been pressure tested and have accelerated their investment in cost and in time to make it work. And what about those large conferences or business trips? With all organizations cancelling large gatherings during these times, many will take the view that such events are no longer worth the cost or the risk. Combine this with the apparent climate impact that reduced travel seems to be having on pollution, it may be very difficult to justify such large events or business travel in the future.  Finally, I’m sure CEO’s are considering the amount of real estate they pay for and whether going forward they need as large a physical footprint as before. These decisions, however, must be considered relative to the impact on culture and engagement to ensure both are optimized (see below).
    • Consumer behaviors have been significantly disrupted and our interaction with customers is bound to be affected going forward. Demands ranging from virtual customer meetings to online ordering have soared and the net result will no doubt be new platforms emerging to help businesses continue to operate with less (or no) physical space. This will cause leaders to reassess their organizational structure and where to best use the resources they have. 
    • Companies will be much more open to expanding the workplace and allow more work from home, remote working relationships, job sharing, part time, etc. We now know it works.  Trust and productivity were always presented as potential barriers, but this pandemic has helped many leaders overcome these concerns. This will open the door to a new candidate pool that may not have been considered previously and will certainly improve the diversity in the workplace. The demand for flexible work arrangements has been growing for decades and we’ve finally been able respond to that demand. I only see an increase in that demand going forward and workplaces will now be hard pressed not to respond accordingly.
    • Policies and programs will need to be changed. If you don’t have or didn’t create guidelines through this pandemic, you will want to ensure going forward you have solid policies in place to address IT operations (e.g. passwords, email, security, server access), work from home programs, use of company resources, etc. If your company didn’t already have one, you found out quickly how important a business continuity plan is. You will need to review what was put in place and/or formalize your plan in the event a crisis should happen again. 
    • Quality of managers and leaders will increase. Many people rose to the occasion during these times by exhibiting strength, compassion and empathy that you didn’t notice or see before.  Leaders were forced into more thoughtful decision making, looking at both the short- and longer-term vision. The same could likely be said for your IT teams given the immense strain and pressure put on them to keep the workplace operating virtually. Now, more than ever, the IT profession will be in high demand and the great ones should be embraced by their organizations. Great leaders were paying attention to the behaviors and actions of all their employees, seeing some unexpected leaders shine and some less engaged or less productive employees highlighted. Both will need attention when we resume our new normal.
    • Work relationships will improve. Having come through a crisis together, strong bonds are created that may not have existed before. Those that worked together as a team will come out the other side stronger. There will be a renewed energy to see colleagues and once the comfort of standing around the water cooler returns, that connection will be even more important. Leaders will need to balance the desire to optimize the virtual opportunities that have emerged with the need to help nurture those newly developed relationships. 
    • Strong focus on culture and engagement will be critically important. Now more than ever a deliberate intent to focus on culture will be required to either revitalize a great one your organization had prior to this, or a recognition that your culture must change. Business leaders and their HR partners will need a strategic culture and engagement plan to adapt to the new workplace. One of my earlier articles spoke about how communication is the primary driver of improved engagement in the workplace. Over the past few months, the best leaders have had to step up their communication regime and find ways to connect on a regular basis with their employees. This will need to remain a key focus for leaders regardless of what the workplace looks like in the future (onsite vs remote). Similar to how we have come to expect to hear from our Prime Minister speak every day at 11:15 am EST, employees have come to appreciate hearing from their leaders and won’t want this to stop. We only hope the content will soon change. 
    • More employee-focused workplaces will emerge. The virus has forced all employers to review and likely revamp their employee well-being infrastructure. The physical space, the health and wellness benefits offered, including emotional/mental support, how to connect with employees, have all been tested. Many companies have expanded mental health offerings, such as meditation, counseling, and virtual coffee breaks. The need to support mental health concerns including depression and anxiety were exacerbated while employees were isolated and working alone and companies have sought resources to support them. We may see benefit offerings change or expand, such as offering sick leave coverage. A renewed focus on employee well-being has emerged and will need to be sustained.

These changes will be an evolution (vs the current revolution) as we continue to face physical restrictions, and fear will likely force us to take small steps to recover. How people look at using public transportation or going to public places is now different. How organizations source suppliers, customers and even candidates will change to source more local relationships. Cash flow will be reduced and as a result organization will be slower or more fearful to take risks and will take time to gain confidence. Confidence in travel will be affected by fear as well as cost, as we can expect the cost of travel to increase due to the impact this has had on the that industry. Many factors will affect how we move into the new normal but rest assured we are moving there and we need to be prepared.

The most successful organizations in the past had strong cultures, were agile and innovative.  They have all been greatly tested these past few months. The best of these organizations now must gain the courage to break some glass to shift from their old paradigms to a new beginning.  As Winston Churchill once said “never let a good crisis go to waste”.   The great leaders are thinking about that right now, not waiting for the pandemic to ease.

We’re all in this together. Please stay safe and healthy.

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Creating Fun in the Workplace

While the workplace is aptly named based on what is expected while we are there – to work – it’s also critical that we encourage having some fun while at work.  Fun can come in many forms and can be  subtle gestures or grand occasions.  Whatever method you support , without having some fun in the workplace you are destined to have high turnover and/or less engaged employees.  Over the years I have seen and participated in so many ways to bring some laughter/happiness to the work day  so I thought I’d share some of them.  Some may be applicable in your workplace, or they may inspire ideas that could work for you.

    • Celebrate Halloween with costume contests and have the executive team be the judges (they must participate as well)
    • Have candies/chocolates on your desk and have an open house to invite employees to your office – sometimes employees need an invite to come or they stay far away!
    • Decorate office space for birthdays
    • Wear fun socks or shoes to provoke dialogue
    • Bring home made cookies/cupcakes (preferably that you made yourself) and pass them out
    • Have a putting green set up in the office and charge $1/3 balls with money going to charity
    • Take employees away for a fun day – indoor volleyball, baseball game, etc..
    • Give back to the community by having teams participate together
    • Ensure at town halls, or other opportunities in front of the organization, the leadership team show the camaraderie they have with the rest of the organization – have some laughs during the presentation
    • Create a video to tell all employees they are getting new office chairs where the President is the star of the video demonstrating the features of the chair (seriously, we did do this)
    • Provide ice cream to employees working in hot conditions during the summer – for a “wow” factor, drive in an ice cream truck and serve the ice cream yourself (that’s me in the photo above!)
    • Televise big sporting events or news features on TV’s – if no TV’s, bring some in
    • Have theme days – launch of a movie, sport jersey days, Hawaiian dress, etc.
    • When launching a new program, do it with a splash – have cake, music, entertainment…
    • Talk about your pets, children, travel – show the team you are human too!

As leaders, we set the tone by our own behavior.  If we aren’t caught laughing and having fun at work, your teams will assume it’s not OK.  If necessary, schedule time in your calendar every day to walk around and find ways to make someone laugh or smile.  It doesn’t take much time but will be remembered for many years.

If you want some help generating ideas on how to create fun at work,

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The Three Most Important Words a Leader Can Say

To follow up on my previous article about the importance of communication, and for those of you that have worked with me in the past, you know how passionate I am around these three very powerful words:


What do those words say to someone?  That you listened, that you cared, and that you did something about what they said.  If you want to improve engagement and communication in your organization, seek ways to genuinely use these words.  Genuine being critical – as powerful as these three words are, they can be equally destructive if you say them but have no evidence that you actually heard them.

Let’s use employee engagement surveys as an example.  I am a huge proponent of reliable, valid and relevant engagement surveys as they provide a means of encouraging feedback, gathering insight, and if executed well, affecting change in the organization.  When I hear either HR practitioners or business leaders speaking negatively towards these surveys, its invariably because they didn’t execute them properly in the past and ended up with the destructive result I refer to above.  Multiple times, in multiple businesses, I used the same process for engagement surveys.  The survey tool used is not as relevant as is ensuring you use an external vendor to gather the information.  Trust and confidentiality are critical in getting relevant feedback and employees don’t view internally managed surveys such as Survey Monkey as confidential (even though they very well may be).

If you follow this process with engagement surveys, I am confident you will see great return on your investment:

    1. Choose a trusted partner/vendor to execute the survey.
    2. Ensure questions are relevant and tailored to your business.
    3. Communicate the heck out of the launch of the survey.
    4. Ensure your HR team is fully knowledgeable on the process and tools.
    5. Send teaser notices to employees that the survey is coming.
    6. Try to brand the survey. For example, at Workopolis, we called it “Workopinion”.  At Dell, we called it Tell Dell.  At Cardinal Health we called it VOE (Voice of the Employee).  At a plastics manufacturing business we called it MyVoice.  I’ve sometimes created contests with employees in helping name the survey which helps drive awareness of and engagement in the process.
    7. Send an invite communication from the CEO, stating his/her support for the survey and encouraging participation.
    8. Throughout the participation period (usually two weeks) send reminders encouraging employees that their voice matters and you want to hear from them. I’ve created intentional competition between different departments or business units by updating the leaders where they stand on participation so they can drive participation in their businesses.  The higher the participation, the more relevant and diverse the feedback will be.
    9. Send another CEO communication at the close of the survey, thanking everyone for their participation, announcing the participation rate, and advising of what they can expect next. Remind employees their voice matters.
    10. Upon receipt of feedback, plan for and conduct mandatory feedback sessions where all employees (max 20 at a session) attend a session. The local manager and HR practitioner will share the feedback specific to that group (surveys will allow you to drill down to feedback usually when you have at least five participants from one group complete it – less than five would roll up to the next level manager for confidentiality purposes).  It is imperative at these sessions that you seek insight into what the results are – ask probing questions so that you understand why a score is particularly high or low.  This is where the most insight comes from and allows for more relevant action planning going forward.
    11. One of the most critical steps but the least used, is creating action plans. Go to the lowest possible level in organization that the survey will allow, and have plans for each department or division.  This needs to be created and owned by the individual departments and their leaders and not at the senior level.  Hold them accountable for creating meaningful action plans based on their feedback/results and execute against those throughout the coming year.  Actions taken coming directly from the feedback equates to We Heard You.
    12. Communicate to the entire organization progress against these action plans and presumably positive outcomes. Again, saying We Heard You throughout these steps reminds employees that their voice mattered and any change is as a result of their feedback, and not random or irrelevant change.
    13. Do it all over again a year later.

If you follow these steps, the net result should be a positive change in scores as employees will now believe their voice matters and “We Heard You” was genuine.  Being able to attach these three words to any changes made in an organization facilitates the change management process, gains buy-in to the change, and holds employees accountable for the feedback they provided.

For help in how to genuinely say “We Heard You” in your organization,

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If there was one simple answer to how to improve your culture, what would it be?


I could end the article now as I’m guessing you know what I mean, but I’m told one-word articles don’t have enough impact!

As I reflect on my last 27 years as an HR Business Partner, I can put all of the feedback, suggestions and ideas I have used in every business and industry I’ve worked into a funnel, and out from the end of that funnel comes one word – communication.  Think about it.  As an HRBP or CEO, you have likely met multiple times and spoke about the importance of some or all of the following:

    • Performance feedback/reviews
    • Engagement surveys
    • Round tables
    • Town halls
    • Recognition programs
    • Conducting 1×1’s
    • Timely team meetings (be it daily huddles, weekly meeting, monthly reviews, etc..)
    • Update emails to the organization perhaps at year end or in challenging times
    • Progressive discipline
    • Training and development
    • Lunch & learns
    • Etc…

All of these have one common denominator – communication.   If I was given a magic wand to solve any organization’s people challenges but was told I only had one strategy to use, without a doubt I’d focus on improving communication.  I’ve never met an organization that communicates too much or too often.  I don’t believe there is such a thing as too much communication.

The most impactful areas to focus on in an effort to improve communication are:

    • 1×1’s – ensure every manager (right up to the CEO) conducts, at minimum, bi-weekly 1×1’s with each of their direct reports. I always tell my employees that this time slot (usually one hour) is their undivided time with me so they set the agenda.  I prefer it not be a debrief of what they are working on but rather a coaching/mentoring opportunity for them to bring challenges or concerns and we talk through ways to manage them.
    • Town Halls – I like to see a quarterly cadence wherein the leaders of the organization stand up in front of all employees and provide updates on the overall business and the key priorities for that quarter. Notice I said leaders and not leader?  The CEO definitely should be the featured act, however, giving exposure to the other members of the leadership team and even beyond that, to employees that have lead a key project, or are looking for some public speaking experience, or you are grooming to be a leader, are great to profile during these town halls.  For businesses that can’t gather all employees live at the same time, then simply record each town hall and distribute to employees or remote locations to make available for viewing.
    • As I’ve learned through Lean Six Sigma or Continuous Improvement practices, brief huddles (15-30 minutes) daily with employees from every function is a great way to have everyone marching to the same beat and focused on the most relevant imminent tasks. This keeps everyone informed, brings them together on a regular basis, and often builds better camaraderie and communication between departments.
    • Announcing new hires – I’m a huge fan of announcing all new hires, regardless of department, title, etc. I ask for a photo in advance of them starting (obtain permission to distribute of course) as well as a few sentences that describes the new hire personally (e.g. family, interests, hobbies, etc.) that they would be comfortable sharing.  We’ll take care of the relevant work experience portion of the announcement.  The new employee feels very welcomed and special, and existing employees know who to have a look out for on their first day.
    • Announcing terminations – contentious I know! In every organization there is great debate around this one.  Since transparency is so important to me and is a foundation of trust, I am a firm believer that organizations should announce when someone has left, regardless of the reason.  You don’t have to announce the reason if it’s not appropriate, but too often we become victim of the rumor mill or even worse creating productivity issues when someone leaves the organization and we failed to communicate it.  I believe you can never go wrong with transparency but you can if you hide or avoid sharing relevant information, such as departures.
    • Be present – instead of sending a text or an email, consider picking up the phone, or even better, walk over to the person you want to talk to. Too often we are caught behind our phones and computers and the face to face communication has become much less prevalent.  Find time every day to walk the office, facility, store or wherever the bulk of your employees are and say hello.  Too often employees keeping the company running every day don’t even know who the senior leaders are much less ever talk to them.  This may require some effort to schedule time in your calendar if it’s not natural for you to do, but trust me, 30 minutes of this a day will significantly improve communication flow as well as what employees communicate about you.

Communication – critical for engagement, easy to do, transparency is critical, often is not often enough, and to quote George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

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A New Year – time for reflection, gratitude and optimism

As we begin this new year, new decade, tradition has instilled upon us the need to reflect on our past, think about what lies ahead and what we may choose to do differently as a result. If I may, I am going to make this slightly more personal than previous and future articles, mostly because I can (😊), but I promise to relate it back to the work environment along the way!

This week I will host an annual family brunch that we do every year. This tradition started many years ago by one of my cousins who sadly passed away far too early at the age of 49. At times we’ve had up to 65 family members attend (my father was one of nine children and I am the youngest of their 22 offspring) and it is filled with stories, traditions, laughter, memories, pictures, piano and singing. It is a great reminder to me and my now 20-year-old daughter of the importance of making time for family and reflecting on memories and building new ones.

A few days after that I’m flying to England to take my daughter for her semester abroad exchange program at Oxford University. Watching her build her path to success and excellence over the years fills me with pride and warmth. She has shared with me how I and her father have acted as significant role models for her in achieving success, setting and going after her goals, treating others with respect and kindness, and enjoying the fruits of her labour.   This often causes me to look back over the years and wonder how did we do this? Here’s my attempt at an answer for that.

The field of HR found me when I began my MBA back in the early 90’s. Upon graduating with an HR concentration, it was clear to me then that HR was what I wanted to do. After my first few HR jobs, I was determined to someday be the head of HR for a large Canadian business, and I set the course to get there. Throughout the years I had to make some tough choices, as while my career was extremely important to me, so was being a present and supportive mother to my daughter. Often times those desires clash and if I had a dollar for every time I coached both leaders and employees on the importance of work life balance I’d have retired and moved to Hawaii years ago.

For most of my daughter’s life I was a single mom. Work life balance was quite a challenge for me, especially in some of the organizations I worked – fast paced, demanding, strong work ethic, etc… Add to that my work ethic – hands on, in the field, accessible to business partners and my team, etc… I was determined to do the best job I could at both – my career and being a mother. So, here’s what I have learned and shared as perspective over the years on work life balance:

    • First and foremost, work life balance is what you make it. Most companies will take whatever you will give. I’ve rarely had a manager say “No, don’t be silly, I don’t need you to put in that extra effort right now when things are so crazy around here”.   It was up to me to determine how much I give to my work, when to say “sure” and when to say “no”. Don’t leave it up to your organization to define that for you. You own your work life balance.
    • Find ways to incorporate the two (work and family). I had the great fortune of hosting our key talent from Workopolis at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver as winners of our top recognition award that year.  Seven employees, along with a guest, spent 3 days attending Olympic events. Everyone brought their significant other. I brought my 10-year-old daughter.
    • In every role, every business, my colleagues all knew not to schedule meetings with me after 5:00pm if they needed me physically present. I made a deliberate attempt to be home for dinner every night, especially since I often travelled for work. When I was in my home town, dinnertime was very sacred to me. That didn’t mean I had the luxury of only working 8-5, it simply meant I packed up every day in time to be home for dinner, and after my daughter went to sleep, I’d often open up my laptop.
    • As I evolved in my career, I learned to be very deliberate in the organizations I joined to ensure the values were akin to mine. As I took on more senior roles, where I was responsible for molding the clay of the culture of the organization, naturally the values were aligned. As employees saw me balancing demands for myself, and supporting their demands wherever possible, the culture evolved to one of trust and respect. If work life balance (beyond stating it in a job posting) wasn’t a “thing” in a company, then I wasn’t willing to join. Simple as that.
    • Finally, finding a manager or business leader to act as your mentor, friend, and sometimes moral compass that you can count on to support you in your endeavor for balance is key to success. This is a two-way street though – you have to build the trust and prove you can be counted on to get the job done and meet/exceed your goals and expectations in order for your manager to support you. I have been SO fortunate in my career to have had worked for great leaders. At times of personal need, whether it be a sick parent, a child who sprained her ankle at a volleyball game mid afternoon, a school assembly when your child is being recognized for outstanding student of the year, or a dog’s surgery, when I’m needed as a mom, without fail, I will be present. But I never let my organization or my boss down – I always found ways to be there for both.

As we ring in a new year, a new decade, and we think about things we want to do differently, I encourage my HR colleagues to think about how to achieve balance both personally and in your organization, and also business leaders to consider the tone you set for your organization so your teams know while jobs can be replaced, family cannot. Creating a culture of trust, respect and accountability equates with a culture that supports career and personal life.

I’d like to wish all of my colleagues, clients, friends and family a very happy and healthy new year. I hope this new decade brings you success, laughter, gratitude and optimism. A special wish to my remarkable daughter as she embarks on another one of her many experiences of a lifetime. I am so proud of you and can’t wait to see what lies ahead for you!

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