On March 17, 2021 Aura hosted the latest edition of our virtual speaker series, Tenant Talks™. In this conversation, we wanted to talk about the evolving organization and how people are evolving with it.
Panelists included representatives from Robert Half Canada, Clio, Telus, Morneau Shepell, and Trailblaze Partners. Rocky Ozaki, Founder & CEO of NoW of Work Inc., facilitated the discussion. Our host was Dan Boram with Aura.
We wanted to know: How have firms had to adapt in this environment? When do they plan on re-opening their office? And how has this all impacted the client experience?
Here’s what we learned:
(More of a watcher than a reader? Watch the video recording of the event here.)
Question #1 Can you share the current state of your workforce? Is the office open? If you are entirely remote, when do you foresee the office re-opening?
Kimberly Whyman, Workplace Experience Manager at Clio shared that she has been working remotely for about a year. Her firm already has a plan in place to stay closed until at least July of 2021. Her offices have had great success in working from home and they want to ensure a safe return to the office.
“It’s very conceivable to us that we’ll be staggering the re-opening of our individual offices depending on the COVID situation,” said Kimberly.
Kevin Liang, Director of People Analytics at Telus joined the discussion with similar sentiments. He said that before COVID hit, 70% of the workforce at his office worked remote at least part of the time. Because of this, they haven’t been in a huge rush to get back. They plan to evaluate in September.
The other 30% of staff, the customer-facing employees, have been working since the retail stores have opened back up. But Kevin said that even the retail side of his firm is looking to move towards remote services.
“We do video conferences where you bring your phone to your set up box and we diagnose the issue that way. This is something we’re going towards anyway, I think COVID has just accelerated it,” explained Kevin.
Mike Shekhtman, Regional Vice President of Western Canada and Manitoba at Robert Half Canada, said about 90% of his workforce is still working remotely. And at this time, his firm isn’t allowing any customers or clients to enter the premises either.
He hopes that with increased utilization of the vaccine, he and his staff will feel comfortable spending more time in the physical office. However, they’ll continue to provide a choice to their employees, allowing them to work where they feel most productive and comfortable.
“The future is about choice,” he said.
Jason Billard, Senior Vice President and West Region Leader at Morneau Shepell talked about his firm as well. About 98% of their staff has been remote since last March. He said July 1st is the tentative date to open his office back up.
Question #2 For those that have reopened or are in the process of re-opening your office, what are examples of approaches to bringing staff back into the office in different regions and locations that your organization operates in? Does your organization have any safety measures put in place for both physical and mental well-being for welcoming staff back to the office?
Jerry Gratton, Founder & Chief People Officer at Trailblaze Partners started the discussion, by explaining that he’s seen a spectrum of approaches. But one common factor that he’s seen is that most organizations want clarity. They want to be able to put a “stake in the ground” or have a general idea of when they should aim to re-open their offices.
“The most important thing is clarity of communication,” Jerry said.
Jason brought up the point of people being cautious about giving an exact timeline to go back to the office. Jerry agreed, saying that he understands the hesitancy about giving an exact return date. Ultimately, he said having a plan in place helps the process move forward.
Mike said that health and safety are his number one priority. Employees at Robert Half are utilizing a ServiceNow safety workplace tool that allows them to reserve a desk and fill out a daily health assessment before they enter the office.
Mike also brought up the important topic of support. He touched on the importance of supporting employees in regard to mental health, education, family well-being, and more.
Kimberly mentioned that Clio has also implemented a space management tool as well. Clio is looking to implement a space layout where clients or employees are able to select the type of workspace they want to use that day. Whether it be a conference room, a shared space or an individual office, they can choose once they arrive at the office.
Host Dan Boram, CEO of Aura, finished off the discussion by addressing the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all and personalization is the key to the future workplace.
Next, we asked our panelists and audience a poll question:
How many days a week do you want to work from home in the future?
Almost half of the respondents said 1-2 days per week from home
The majority of the remaining said 3-4 days per week from home
Question #3 Please share how the business model of your organization has changed/evolved over the last year.
Kevin said that in his experience, rather than changing or evolving, his business model has been accelerated because of the pandemic.
At Robert Half change has been constant for Mike and the rest of the staff. The fact that Robert Half had already begun implementing new technology and digitalization means that his firm was prepared for this evolution. Because of this, business continuity wasn’t affected for him.
The biggest challenge at Robert Half was making sure that the clients weren’t affected by the changes to the workplace.
“We had to work hard to make sure the client experience was at the level that we expected it to be,” he said.
At Clio – an “ultra-modern tech company” as Rocky put it – Kimberly said that the first thing they did was move to a “distributed staffing model”. This model allows employees to choose how they want to work – either remote, in-office or hybrid of the two. She said that this has allowed Clio employees to have the maximum flexibility that they need during this time.
She also said that internally, a lot of processes have been updated to reflect the new implementations.
Question #4 In terms of client experience and success, how has the client journey changed in your organization over the last year?
Rocky started off the question by bringing up “habit discontinuity”; when in a time of crisis you break old habits but start new ones. He related this to businesses and the client experience during the pandemic.
He said, “We have to rethink the customer experience and the customer journey. What problems are we really trying to solve for them?”
Kevin reiterated his company’s remote interactions with their clients and their ability to provide service digitally. Jerry noted that while people have been very flexible during the pandemic, there is a part of them that is ready to go back to face-to-face interactions.
Jason is seeing a bigger demand from clients now than they did before the pandemic.
Then we asked another poll question:
Given the length of lockdown and current updates, how do you expect this to impact your office footprint in the next 12-24 months?
30% said they expect no change
22% said change to co-working
40% said downsizing or relocating
Question #5 Can you share what technological tools and/or systems have been adopted to increase employee efficiency and/or satisfaction? (i.e. Slack for increased collaboration, desk booking systems, etc.)
Here is a list of tools that our panelists have found especially helpful during the pandemic.
Question #6 From the worldwide pandemic, economic crisis, massive changes in technological advancements and so forth, how has your organization dealt with the “fatigue” or burnout that many are experiencing? How are you re-energizing your organizational culture with seemingly no easy solution?
Jerry suggested company wide coffee breaks (which can be virtual, too!) and other forms of employee engagement. But his biggest point was that when employees ask for flex time, they get it with no questions asked.
“Flex time with less justification and reporting. That helps people go ‘I need some time’ and they can get away and turn the camera off,” he said.
Jason added the idea of virtual help such as online therapy sessions and group counseling. He also addressed that they try to not send or read emails on their offtime. He also mentioned that his company has mandated taking time off.
Mike rounded the discussion by reiterating the importance of flexibility in the current workplace and future workplace.
It was great to hear industry experts discuss the current workplace, where they see it going in the future, and how we have to adapt.
To listen to our panelists’ full discussion, hear their rapid fire question and answer, and find out what else our audience asked, watch the full TenantTalks™ video recording here.