May 27th, 2021
EPISODE 1: Welcome Back: How the World Should Return to the Office
After more than a year of uncertainty, a large portion of the U.S. is poised to return to the office in the coming months. As employees return, organizations and employees are renegotiating how, when, and where they’ll work. This migration is a once-in-a-century opportunity to build a better normal, but it won’t come without its challenges. To help leaders capitalize on this opportunity, and avoid the pitfalls, we kick off Season 5 of Your Brain at Work with a look at hybrid work. Dr. David Rock, NLI’s CEO and Co-Founder, is joined by Liane Hornsey, Executive Vice President & Chief People Officer at Palo Alto Networks, to share insights that will help leaders make the most of their people’s time and talent. Together, they explore what it means to “solve for autonomy, and manage for fairness;” the big concerns organizations have about hybrid work (and why they may be overhyped); and the skills managers will need to lead and succeed in a hybrid world.
[00:00:04] Cliff David: Welcome back to Your Brain at Work and for many of you, to the office. Maybe you’re listening to this on your commute to work, that activity that was once mundane and meditative, but is now novel. For many, a bit anxiety-inducing. That’s not surprising. Survey show that employees are feeling acute as they return to the dusty desks, and deserted cubicles that they vacated over a year ago. They may also be feeling a sense of loss, despite drastic changes at work. Many studies show that a majority of both employers and employees reported positive effects from a year from working from home.
As we look towards reopening, leaders are wondering. What should the workplace look like? Everyone in the office, everyone at one or some combination of both? Increasingly, organizations are finding themselves somewhere in the middle. In other words, a hybrid workplace. Finding the optimal arrangement will vary from company to company, from job to job and from person to person. But there’s research that can guide your strategy and help you make the right decisions. Decisions that make the most of your people’s time and talent. Our research suggests that there are more than a few unexpected upsides of hybrid work to build on. Things like more diverse hiring, more inclusive practices, greater innovation and increased employee wellbeing.
Our panel covers these topics and more in this episode. Welcome to Season 5 and to the hybrid workplace. I’m Cliff David and you’re listening to Your Brain at Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday. This week, our panel consists of NLI’s CEO and co-founder, Dr. David Rock and executive vice president and chief people office at Palo Alto Networks,
Liane Hornsey. Enjoy!
[00:02:10] DR: I’m really excited for this session. There is a lot to talk about, so I’m going to dig in. I’m going to share with you all quite a bit of research, but also have a conversation with Liane. Because Liane at Palo Alto Networks has really been one of the most passionate advocates for doing hybrid just right. She’ll tell you a bit more about a consortium she’s helped put together at many different firms, who really want to use this time to build a better normal, not just go back to how things are. Liane and I connected through various ways, and had similar thinking and she really graciously agreed to help share what Palo Alto Networks is doing, but also the broader market and kind of how the world is seeing it. She’s very connected in there.
For those of you new to NLI, we’re a research-driven leadership institute. We’re actually 23 years old this year. Published over peer-reviewed academic research papers on the biological foundations of leadership challenges. Advised over 50 of the Fortune 100 and we’re based on the ground in more than 24 countries. We’ve looked and recently impacted over 13 million managers directly in the last couple of years, so it’s been an exciting, exciting journey.
We’ve been very passionate about this hybrid situation that’s happening, because of number of reasons. Firstly, we went hybrid by choice at NLI about five years ago. Gave everyone a laptop, made everything completely virtual and still kept offices. We have a headquarters in New York, we have couple of offices around North America. We have one in London, one in Sydney and bunch in other places. But gave people complete freedom to work where they wanted, when they wanted, work fully in the office, work fully at home, work out whatever mix they wanted.
What we found at NLI, it’s actually tremendously helpful for finding the absolute best talent. Not the absolute best talent who lived within an hour of the office, but to really find the absolute best talent. It increased diversity, it increased actually inclusion and a whole bunch of things. We would never go back. We did it by choice and spent some time working at it how to make it work. But we also know so much of the science is really supporting a lot more flexibility. We’re very passionate about this topic.
We’ve been researching things around this topic for quite some time. We’ve published nine fairly significant pieces of research around this issue, either industry research reports or deepen your science reports, that directly support doing things differently at the moment. We also, if you’ve been following us, we’ve done a lot of publishing this year in Forbes and Fast Company, our own blog at many places. I think starting with Build a Better Normal last year, which became a bit of a mantra. Then in the last few months, really digging into some of the bigger questions, and studying them and then publishing them.
It’s been big few months for us thinking about how should companies do this properly. At NLI, the mantra is pretty simple. Follow the science, experiment and follow the data. What I want to do today is tell you what we are seeing in the science. I’m not going to cover everything obviously. But what we think is most important coming out of the science. That’s the journey. I want to talk about autonomy. I think solving for autonomy is really critical. Solve for autonomy, manage for fairness is kind of the big first chapter. Then we’ll finish with our current hypothesis on the really critical skills managers need and we’ve got some theories on the most fast and effective way to do that as well. That’s the plan.
Let’s start off with a little reminiscing. It’s been quite a year. March last year, we all had a bit of a shock. I think you remember. Most people globally actually have suffered some level of acute distress disorder, known as psychological trauma. Most people had such an overwhelming psychological experience that it literally created a shock experience, very similar to like falling down the stairs and breaking a leg, or a car accident, or something really, really difficult physically. That shock felt like it would last for months. Remember it kind of — the adrenaline was months of just going on adrenaline.
Then suddenly, the adrenaline kind of kicked down and we went through this long period of pain. We also thought that would last forever. It actually lasted long time, really like May to kind of May really. We’re just starting to come out of this, I think. It’s been about a year of just uncertainty, real painful and then finally, we’re moving into this rehabilitation stage, not so much like drug rehab, and more like going for physical therapy. Where you got to re-find the use of a limb. In this case, literally re-find your ability to have social skills for some people. Like literally be comfortable just being around other humans for some. Never mind all these other things.
It’s a really difficult time for a lot of people. A lot of people still experiencing actual trauma. Some people very excited for sure, some people happy, had the best year ever. But a lot of people struggling, a lot of managers really struggling just trying to work out how to help kind of do something here. The backdrop to this is, the vast majority of people want hybrid. The vast majority of people, about three quarters from all these different studies don’t want to be tied to having to work at home, having to work at the office. They wanted to be out doing mix. That is a good number of people who actually still want to be full-time at home. Depending on the study. About a quarter to a third in that area. For others, it’s about a quarter to a third want to be full-time in the office. It’s across the mat. But most people, it’s pretty safe to say, most people really want to do something hybrid.
The context we have for this is that’s a great thing. I guess we have a growth mindset about lots of things, not everything. At NLI, we believe from our own experience and from the science, that the getting hybrid right can result in some really important things. Mode of hiring, work less practice, less bias decision making, greater innovation, greater wellbeing, faster learning, greater productivity, all of these things. That’s our point of view. Liane, anything you want to add in there before we get into the sort of solve for autonomy questions, just sort of the background, the context, anything you want to jump in there.
[00:08:01] LH: Yeah. David, I’m not sure I do because I think you’ve cracked it. The one thing that I perhaps would say is, I’m going to emphasize something around, you said, follow the science, then experiment and look at the date. I think as we go through this, we’ll see that experimental phase is super key.
[00:08:19] DR: Yeah, absolutely. Because you don’t know what, and science gives you a good indication of things to test, but you really don’t know until you actually do experiment. That’s how science actually works. It’s really, really important to do those experiments and learn from them. As any experiment, you’re often surprised in both positive and negative ways, and just completely surprising ways as well. I think it’s going to be really, really important to really follow the data there.
Let’s dig in to this first point. There’s a really big reason we think or actually three really big reasons why we think autonomy matters a lot. I think there’s an overarching decision that your CEO, and C-Suite and people leaders, there’s an overarching decision that you need to make, which is, what are we going to solve for with hybrid. Like are we going to solve for real estate costs and addressing that? Are we going to make that the organizing principle? Some companies are. Are we going to put this at the heart of your decision, like simplicity? Let’s just get these things really simple and just end up with like a three, two model for everyone. Simple, scalable, maybe not necessary the best. Are we going to solve how mangers feel? Which probably end up with bringing everyone back into the office full-time.
What are you going to really listen to? You need to consciously put at the top of your hierarchy one principle, really. I think it comes out of this for. We think it’s employee autonomy and manager autonomy. Actually, both. We think it’s really, really important and there’s a bunch of reasons why. I’m going to dig into those. I’m super excited to see the FLEXWORK consortium that Liane put together with Uber, and Splunk, and Box, and Palo Alto Networks and some others that literally was about driving this whole question, really collaborating a bit with those folks. She’ll tell you more about that.
But employee autonomy is such a critical foundation and I’m going to give you the three reasons why. A little bit of the science and then we’ll hear from Liane like what they’ve been doing at PAN with this. Firstly, autonomy is one of five big drivers in the SCARF framework. If you know that from us or have heard of it. It’s the A in SCARF. It’s a perception of having choice or having control. This was obviously ripped away from us in a big way this year. We felt out of control. It was really challenging. In fact, when something is out of control, it tends to be the highest stress level. It’s called uncontrollable stress. When something is really, really stressful, it feels uncontrollable. Then when we find where we have control, it tends to really bring it back, so that’s important.
There are three reasons why we think autonomy is the critical thing to solve. The first one is rather the most obvious one. This is really easy to understand. People are really wide apart and very passionate about their position. You’ve got 30% of people want to be four to five days a week in the office. 31% of people want to be one to three days a week at home. We’ve got 39% of people rarely or never. It’s fairly evenly split.
If you talk to the people who want to be at home. They’re very passionate about it. They’re like, “I got my life back from this. I got my kids back. I got my health back. I got my sleep back. I got my diet back, my health. I’ve got a puppy now. Just about everyone has a puppy now. I don’t want to give up my puppy. I don’t want to give up all that stuff. If they force me back, stuff is going to happen.”
What we’ve seen actually in a number of different studies coming out, this one has found 59% oof people would look for a new job if forced back to the office. There are quite a few different surveys showing similar things. People are really far apart. If you basically say, “You’re all hybrid,” about a third of people will be really annoyed. They wanted to be full-time in the office. They don’t want to work at home. And a third of people will be like, “Why? I wanted to work at home. I’m way more productive and I’m way more human. Why are you doing this?”
If you force people into any one of those categories, you’ll actually going to really annoy about a third of your people. That’s the cliff note. Force people at any one category, you’ll really annoy about a third of your people. That’s not helpful. That’s not a good thing. That’s the first reason, is that people are really far apart and they’re really passionate about their view. Liane, anything you want to add there. What’s the data like at Palo Alto Networks and what’s your experience about people’s passion about those different perspectives?
[00:12:25] LH: David, just spot on and our data almost reflects to the number, your data. We’ve taken four surveys during the last 14 months, and we found the numbers are consistently looking like this. The one thing that I would add is this whole point of control and autonomy, starts with believing that you can’t be successful if your employees are not feeling aligned to your company. Now, we’ve shifted this paradigm and we’ve seen what we can do, and we’ve allowed choice. It would be so retrograde and so negative in terms of all of the business outputs we need to take that autonomy away. It’s not just that we need control. It’s with that they experienced it and now, there’s a danger we’re going to remove it, which would be very, very problematic.
DR: Right. There’s really interesting research on that. Unexpected threats are the worst. If we have a pandemic again in two years, it’s going to be much easier on us. It will still be frustrating, difficult, but it won’t be anywhere near as this one. Give or take the actual metrics of it. Because it’s much more expected. We know what to expect, we feel more in control. we know what to do, how to get through it, what the stages will look like, all of that. Unexpected rewards, like suddenly having all these more autonomy are also much stronger than expected rewards. But you take away a reward like that, it becomes an unexpected threat. Unexpected threats are really strong.
Take away this autonomy, even if it wasn’t the fact that a lot of people are being incredibly more healthy, and happy, and balanced, promised. Even if it wasn’t for that fact, it was just another issue, taking away employee autonomy doesn’t ever tend to play well in any domain. In this domain, particularly so. This is what we’ll probably see.
The second reason and I’ll dig into this one a bit more, is going back to shock pain and rehab. Autonomy is one of the things that will really help people through their rehabilitation stage, the psychological rehabilitation. Because it literally will gain a sense of control for people. There’s lots and lots of research showing that increased autonomy significantly helps reduce stress, and also lift performance. Some of the studies on this are just like amazing. It will blow you away. But I’ll give you the basic mechanics of this.
A perception of having a choice — well, you didn’t have a choice, now you have a choice, offers both a sense of predictability and perceived control of the environment. That’s really important because the brain is a prediction machine, literally, everything’s about predictive analytics in a sense, in the brain, working out what’s going to happen next. With no control, you have no ability to predict, and intervene and interact. Autonomy is a very, very primary experience to people and reduced autonomy literally activates the pain network, very, very similar to physical pain, a very strong threat network that pulls away resources from prefrontal and has some really strong issues with it.
On the flip side, discovering choices turns down strong emotions. When you are in a really difficult position, and you suddenly realize you have some choices, you actually become much more calm and you can use that. You actually can use that. I’m a scientist, I experiment on my kids a lot. I can’t do it much now. They’re 14 and 18. But I remember actually using this one time on the way to school. We were late and one of my kids was having a meltdown, full emotional meltdown. In the middle of it, I said, “Hey! We’ve been talking about watches lately? Do you want a digital or analog watch?” She was like getting really upset and then I said, “No, no. Really, look. Let me look at my risk. Do you want a digital or analog watch? Which one do you want?” She like thought for a second and said, “Digital” and then calm down and kept moving.
They’ve studied this and it’s literally when you make a choice, when you discover a choice or make a choice, it flips your brain back into its reward state. Whereas feeling like you have no choices is the away state, is the threat state. It’s such a powerful thing. Two really interesting points, really important points. Discovering choice is intrinsically rewarding even when they may seem trivial and just like incremental and not that important, right? Like it may seem really irrelevant that if you have to bring all your workers back to the office, if it’s a factory for example, I have to bring everyone back. It may seem irrelevant to let people decide to work through lunch, and get home earlier or take the lunch. But giving people that choice can actually be really helpful for people. It’s a tiny thing, but it actually can be really rewarding as an example. I don’t know if that’s legally allowed, so don’t quote me on that. But just as an example of very small things actually can go a long way to being intrinsically rewarding.
Of course, I mentioned this, the effect is strongest when a choice unexpected. So doing things that people kind of didn’t see coming. There’s a lot of workplace research on this. Here are some examples of pieces. There’s a lot of workplace that people who have greater autonomy actually experience lots of great things. More motivation, higher engagement, productivity, work, all these things. I mean, this has really been studied and you can take this to the bank.
Just as an example of one like crazy study, just to tell you how important this is. These are people given permission to basically personalize their cubicle versus, you’re not allowed to personalize your cubicle. Same cubicle, same computer, same office, same job, but people were given control group, some people were given the permission to actually personalize their cubicle. Put your photos in, put your things in, put stuff up, do whatever, however you want. Those people are 25% more productive. Just think about that, just letting people play with a little space there. They’re a quarter more productive. What do you think it will be to let them just choose where to work, and how to work and when to work, all those things? It’s going to be quote big.
It really has quite a big effect. Then finally, really interesting thing is, autonomy is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. You could give people money and the reward networks will have gone a few weeks later. You can give them more certainty, it will do something short-term, not much. You can increase relatedness, and shared goals and bring people together. Long-term it will going to do stuff. But autonomy has benefits at multiple places, like when you’re given the choice, when you make the choice, like if you are choosing your hours at a factory for example. Just being told you have this choice now would be rewarding. Making the choice, et cetera would be rewarding when you do it and it would really activate reward networks. You would actually choose the choice that was right for you, which would be much more beneficial and ongoingly, you would have benefits from enjoying that.
We just put this article up, but we had a really fantastic conversation with some folks from General Mills recently, where they talked about giving their literally 10,000 factory workers choice over a thank you gift from the company, either dollars day or donation. You can see kind of what people chose. But it was incredibly motivating and engaging for people in this whole process. What we see is, giving people autonomy is rewarding in multiple different ways and over time.
Let me pause there to take a breath. Liane, any comments before we sort of get into tactically how [inaudible 00:19:31]. Any comments on autonomy as a key driver, as a lever. How have you been using it at Palo Alto Networks and what are your thoughts are?
[00:19:39] LH: Well, it’s really key, David. It’s super, super critical. I love the examples David gave of small things. Some of you will be sitting there going, “It’s going to be really hard for us to give employees autonomy over location, because you all have to be in the office or whatever.” But we have done some really interesting research, where we’ve given people autonomy over when they train, how they learn, what their benefits look like, how they spend their benefits dollars. For example, we’ve done a silly little thing that everyone will go, “This is crazy.” Instead of putting more money into X, let’s give you a bit of money. And if you want to take your kids to Disney, go do that when everything opens. The amount of positive emails I get into my inbox just because of tiny stuff like that it just incredible.
For those of you thinking, “Golly! This is tough.” It does not have to be. There are so many ways to give autonomy. The second thing that I would just say before I hand back to David is, keep giving. David mentioned that this is a gift that keeps giving. I talk about spring cleaning the fairy dust. Every six week, we give a little bit more autonomy over something. It constantly reminds our employees of all that we’ve done. Final point, if I look at our employee survey since we’ve been doing this comparative to our previous years, even in COVID when employee sentiments gone down generally across the world. Our employee surveys 10% to 12% higher. The comments tell us this is why. It’s the choice, it’s the autonomy, it’s the treating me like an adult not a child. So we bear it out completely.
[00:21:22] DR: That’s great. Thanks. I think some important points. For those of you who don’t know, Palo Alto Networks is like 100,000 people in just about every corner of the world. It’s a big organization. If they can do it, you can do it. They definitely got support from a really forward-thinking CEO who’s really supportive of this initiative overall, but they’re experimenting really powerfully.
Just to reiterate this. Be careful of your leaders, like your CEO, your top team solving for cost. Call them on this. What are you solving for? What’s your organizing principle for a hybrid decision? Not what are you going to do, but what’s your theory for how to solve for hybrid? Is it cost? Is it just asking managers what they will feel more comfortable with? Is it a terrible idea? Is it simplicity and scalability? Or is it actually to use this opportunity to really get the best possible organization out of this? I mean, this has been an incredible crisis. Lots we’ve all gone through, a lot of suffering in many, many ways. There are really good things that we can get out of this.
Just going back to how things were, it’s a terrible loss to opportunity. I think all the data and evidence points to, you will lose a lot of people, a lot of very good people, probably your most talented people, a good chunk of them will leave, a good chunk. The other people will be really frustrated and you literally will be less productive and even less innovative. I think it’s really important to get some urgency across your leaders.
Liane, how have you found kind of getting that story?
[00:22:43] LH: It’s been fascinating. When the pandemic started and leaders were, “Oh my goodness! This is disastrous. Let’s get everyone back to the office as soon as we possibly can.” The most dyed-in-the-world leaders with that view are now not saying that. The reason is simple, our employees were productive, our employees were equally or more creative, our employees delivered. We’ve just announced results that are probably our best ever yesterday. The data absolutely spoke. What I found with our leaders is as they watch it for themselves, and they saw that this paradigm could shift, they went, “Oh gosh! I’m going to have to let go of my biases.”
Then one second thing that I’d like to add is point of cost. So often, the debate comes down to cost. I’ve done work in the past that says, every time you lose a person who is high talent, and you have to then go and replace, you’re talking tens of thousands of dollars. You might be thinking of cost of real estate, which you can dump over the long-term. But really think and maybe do the work around what is the cost of lost high talent, and what is the opportunity cost that’s lost if you can’t hire them because they want to work in hybrid environments. That is a very significant argument with your leadership team.
[00:24:12] DR: Right. I think you nailed the really important one, which is a lot of organizations are reporting this best year ever, literally from a performance perspective, performance, growth, profitability, all sorts of things. Some of those are other factors, but even accounting for flat industries in this time, a lot of organizations reported much better results than they had before. People are really surprised by that. I think it’s really important. We’ve done this grand experiment, there is this data to follow, but let’s now give them some of the science so they can understand why things were better and kind of what was driving this.
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[00:25:09] DR: Let’s dig in a little more. Firstly, it’s one thing to say but how do you do it? How are you going to solve for maximum autonomy? Now, the first thing is, is to actually loosen up your thinking about this. There is no one-size-fits-all for every part of the organization. You want to think organizationally about functions that might be in different categories. Firstly, think about categories. Here are some examples of categories: full-time in the office, full-time at home, fixed ratio, mostly in the office, a little at home, mostly at home, a little at the office. Like those are five reasonable categories.
Think about which functions make sense to be in each category. Now, really important, I said solve for autonomy, manage for fairness. You want lots of input from diverse perspectives up and down the business on this question. Because there are some obvious answers that you might get this wrong. You want to really listen to your people around this. Which functions should be in which category for you? Then the next thing is, how much freedom can you give the teams to actually then make decisions?
Provide some principles for teams to work within and again, really rethink about the fairness issue and get lots of consultation happening, lots and lots of consultation.
Organizationally think about functions or the team that will think about principles, or just kind of shake up your thinking a little bit on the principle side. Give some examples of principles. So you might say a principle at a team level that, 50% of a team should be in the office on any day or 0%, we don’t care, or 100%, whatever it is. But what is the percentage and maybe it’s 50%, and then maybe the team can between them work at how to manage that. Maybe some people want to come to the office more, maybe some people never want to come. Can you balance that out?
But from a location perspective, that’s sort of an obvious one. There’s also an availability perspective. What percentage of a team should be available to work during business hours, so they’re 9:00 to 5:00. What percentage of people actually have to be 9:00 to 5:00? Is it a hundred? Really? Is it 50? How many people do you need responding to customers in that time? Then a third question that’s really interesting is the synchronous hours also. The synchronous hours can really help. So synchronous hours is basically, “Hey, team! How many hours a week do we all need to actually be online at the same time for meetings?” If you can minimize those to maybe 20 or 30, you’re really freeing people up a lot.
You’re thinking across these different axes and giving managers as much control as they can to actually be at a play with different frameworks and different models. That’s kind of how we’re seeing it. This has sort of started to come up though. You are going to hit up all sorts of pushback. We’ve actually written a piece on this. I’m not sure if it’s out yet or not. If not, it’s about to come out, the biases driving managers decisions in this.
There are three sets of challenges happening here. I want to dig right into it, but we’ve written heavily on each of these separately and we’ve got a piece on this that should be useful for you. The first one is power dynamics. It’s essentially, people with more power conceptualize other people as concepts not as humans. Essentially, that’s important for kind of moving people around, thinking about them. But people with high power stop thinking about other people’s experience, they stop mentalizing, it’s very hard to do what’s called perspective taking, how it literally impacts how you perceive others. They just want to kind of get a sense of how people really feel.
The second thing is, there’s a lot of biases going on and the big one is experience bias, which is kind of cognitive laziness, which is just wanting this to be easy and just go, “I just want to send one email and everything is back to normal.” I think there are also managers, all of us lost control this year in so many places. I think managers just say, “Hey! We’re going back to normal” is a way of kind of regaining a sense of control for something that they lost. That’s another bias that’s happening there.
There’s a safety bias happening, so it’s safety bias around, “Well, if I don’t see my people, I wouldn’t know what’s happening.” So you got that one as well. I think the big ones, remember, is more autonomy won’t necessarily feel good for everyone. You’re going to have managers who feel that like, “Actually, giving my employees more autonomy means I’ve got less, so that’s not helpful for me.”
Liane, anything you want to jump in on that, on the sort of three cognitive challenges, any reflections, not just from PAN, but broadly, across industries as well.
[00:29:19] LH: There’s nothing to add. I think you’ve nailed it. I think that third point is really important, about how managers feel. That means, we have to make sure that we give them room to discuss that, and we make sure that we support them through this move to hybrid. One of the things that I’m seeing is, actually, this is an opportunity to really help our managers and our leaders really brush upon their real leadership skill, because this needs something different.
[00:29:46] DR: Right. They have to really manage differently and lead differently. I’ll share a hypothesis we have that we’re exploring around kind of how to do that effectively at the moment. Chapter 2 is the big debates. The big debates, these are essentially things that your leaders will be kind of pushing back on. One of them will be productivity. People are going to goof off. Actually, the research pre-pandemic was, people are literally a day a week more productive on average. Certainly. some people grew up, but definitely a day a week more productive in that realm. 15% is the lowest study I’ve seen. I’ve seen about 25% to 28%. But the average is around 20% more productive when they’re actually given permission to do that.
Many, many studies showed that people were more productive during the pandemic. This was this was from the New York Times. 75% the same or improved productivity. We saw the same number from our date. I mean, you just saw about three-quarters of people more productive. On the whole as we’re starting to see reporting coming out from companies, we get to really see this in the numbers as well. Productivity is a really easy once to address. Look at the data, definitely more productive overall.
Secondly, innovation. Now, there’s been some noise about this. We’re about to a put a piece out on this. The noise is unfortunate. It came from Microsoft. It came from them looking at the teams’ data, seeing that people became more kind of home-team centric. You spend more time talking to your own team, less time interacting with other teams, and they’re able to see that through their no team’s platform. They said, “Well, because of that, we think innovation might go down because of more silos and things like this.” But they never actually studied innovation, they never had any metrics or data or anything all about innovation did actually go down. They just said, “Well, if we have less interaction, it might.”
Let’s just look at the last year. I don’t know if you notice, but this was the most innovative year probably in all our lives professionally. Like more innovations happened just to get basic work done, as well as in product, and service and everything than ever. We innovated massively. Of course, this was partially need, but it’s also the fact that innovation doesn’t require people in the same room. In fact, people in the same room makes innovation harder. Literally, the experience of thinking deeply so you could have these breakthrough ideas and processing deeply, these things are inhibited by being around other people. The myth of the open plan office being great for innovation. No one’s looked at how many people have headphones when they think about that.
The hard data on this is going open plan reduces interactions between employees. Like having people together actually reduces interactions, increases emails compared to other things. You got to be careful of this bias people have that all will be more innovative. That doesn’t mean that it won’t have benefits to bring people together sometimes, but others benefits is going to be available bringing them together for three days a month or three days every two weeks or one day a week or something. Does it have to be? You have to bring it all back? No. There will be some innovation benefits from randomly running into people. There will be some, but there are much higher costs from being forced to be less innovative every single day. This is what we saw during the pandemic, because people were able to do their own work, their own quiet productive work better.
A couple other pieces on this and I said we’ve got an article coming out on this. Brainstorming actually reduces original thinking, not increase it. This is a survey we did of 6,000 people. Ten percent of people do their best thinking at work. Are we going to really bring them back to the office to mess with like 90%? There’s a bunch of other things to say here. I wanted to take two part into it. But essentially, the argument for innovation, all the indications point to greater autonomy will increase innovation and greater work from home will increase innovation. Those two things will increase innovation. Provided you maintain a few principles, innovation should really go up.
Culture is another interesting one. I’ll be curious to hear your experience there, Liane. Culture is not the building. In fact, we have a piece we wrote called, The Culture Was Never the Building, and Now it Definitely Isn’t. It kind of walks through a point of view and research on this. Culture is actually shared everyday habits. It’s not where you work, it’s actually how you work and interact with others. If anything, culture increased because we all actually spend more time watching how each other interact. If anything, the tonnage of hours we spent watching other humans interact with other humans at work, the tonnage of hours went up by like five times. We had a lot more face time, literally watching how people worked.
One of the results of that was, culture actually became more evenly distributed. Now, that doesn’t mean a bunch of people might be sad, and go and leave the company because they want to be working full-time. It doesn’t mean a bunch of people might not wish that they could have more fun at the office. All those things are true. But on the whole, we shouldn’t be seeing a problem with culture. If you do hybrid, you should be able to address the central issues with this.
Liane, anything you want to add on culture before we go to —
[00:34:37] LH: Just quickly, David. I actually think this is the hardest one. I’ve noticed with leaders that I work with, and the consortium I work with, people are getting it on autonomy, they’re getting it on hybrid. But the question they’re asking is, “How do we keep our culture?” I do think this one is tough, and I don’t think we should brush over it. But the categorically are ways. The categorically are ways around keeping connections, making connections informal, giving more autonomy so that people can get together informally for themselves. Where we get a little bit trampled is with those people that have started during the pandemic and are early in career people that have never experienced the office. We just have to try doubly hard.
I think something around making sure that everything is virtual, sometimes for some meetings. Making sure as David said, you have some sort of variety, but also making sure that your culture becomes based on something different. Our culture now, we’re building on employee choice. If you can reinforce that choice, your culture actually benefits. But this one is though and it warrants an awful lot of thinking and an awful lot of discussion. You need to work it through with your leadership. You need to take through there so that they’re intentional about it.
[00:35:58] DR: Yeah. I think there are two things that you’ll need to be really intentional about. Culture is one and the other is bias, which I’ll talk about in a minute. I do think that monthly or every two-week kind of culture time if it works in your organization, if people are not to spread. I think it’s a great idea. I think we’re going to do that at NLI as best as we can. We’re going to have all-hands meetings at specific points to kind of bring people together a little bit. I think that there’s definitely some benefits to that.
Hybrid doesn’t mean everyone works at home the whole time. It means you’re giving a really good flexibility across the board, and also giving the option to come and be together sometimes. The question is going to be, is that monthly? Is it every two weeks? Is it weekly? How do you do that to kind of maximize the benefits? That will be interesting.
Let’s continue. Culture is something to work on and be intentional about, but I think that the benefits for productivity, innovation, diversity, all these things. I think the benefits are worth doing the work on that. Now, this is the one I think is the biggest concern out there. I think that you should be concerned. This is something that you need to be intentional about. Although I don’t think it’s an enormous issue if you can train managers in a few basic things, like there’s some things to teach people to do and make them as habits that can address a lot of the issues.
Experience bias is one of the five big biases in the SEEDS model. Experience bias could give those in an office some advantages and distance bias could disadvantage people not in the office, right? Those things are true, but there are some things you can do that can massively reduce that issue. For example, you can have a principle of one virtual, all virtual. If you have everyone in the office at a meeting, great. Do the meeting in person. But if half the team or even a couple of people are out of the office, then do the meeting where everyone is on an individual platform. Now, you leveled the playing field as people experience this year. You’re going to have much less experience bias, much less distance bias for those people and you’re going to have a much more fair set of interactions.
I think what we’ve got to watch out for is going back to a bunch of people in a room, talking over each other and a few people on speaker phone wondering where the next job is. That’s what we got to be really careful of and really work on this leveling the playing field whenever you got some people out of the office. That one habit, that one habit if you can instill that will go a long way. There are definitely some others, but that one will be really, really important.
We’ve been thinking about this for a while and in fact, actually, I was working with Liane in the FLEXWORK consortium with Splunk, and Uber, and a bunch of others. We’re saying, if you can do hybrid well, you can mitigate the biases. A bunch of the folks started saying, “Can you tell us how to do hybrid well?” I was like, “Well, we’ve been talking about it for years, but we’ve never sort of synthesize it.” We spent the last few months synthesizing what it really takes to do hybrid well from the perspective of these skills managers need.
Our theory is it’s much better to do a few really central things well, just a few things and do them really well and give them to everyone than it is to trying to do a lot with a small group. Our hypothesis of culture change and learning is, take as few as possible ideas, give them to the largest possible audience in the shortest time possible, so you get the panopticon effect and the social alarming effect. That’s how we think about it.
We started piloting. We’re in the early stage of piloting. We’re excited about the design and feedback so far. But we’re in the early stage of piloting a new solution called FLEX, the neuroscience of hybrid leadership. I’ll give you a quick outline of this, kind of tell you how we’re thinking about it. But the overall goal is developing the specific mindset, skills and processes to be highly effective in a virtual world. We’re teaching this in what we call our HIVE approach. We’ve been doing learning like this for literally about 20 years. We’ve been doing really difficult learning on platforms, or phone bridges. It’s not new for us at all. In fact, 78% of all learning was actually virtual before the pandemic for us. The majority of our learning was actually all virtual.
This is essential a month experience, like a month sprint, 30-day sprint. Very much about mindset. Session one, the new leader’s mindset. Session two, working the in the new world, more about processes. Session three, maximizing time together. That’s more about skills. Across kind of mindset skills and processes. We’re trying to work out the absolute fewest kind of things people need. Give them a nice session each week, 80 minutes together, a cohort and then go off and do assignments. Including like, “Read these research summaries, practice these specific skills, follow this guide, go and teach it to your team. Go and introduce it to your team is really important.” Very specific actions between each week.
This is what we’re thinking at the moment is, the most important ideas or in mindset, we see two things, a growth mindset, continual experiment and really increase people’s ability to empathize. Those are the critical factors around mindset. We could do ten things around mindset. We think these are the big two. Around processes, how to maximize autonomy? A little bit on why but a lot on how to maximize autonomy is important, really, really important process. Then of course, goalsetting, check-ins and feedback with few interactions. We want to talk a little bit about that Liane in a second, your perspective in that. I think you had some interesting thoughts on that.
Then thirdly, in terms of skills, like how to actually reduce bias in hiring, assigning, rewarding, providing. Like really how to make sure that happens and how to run fewer, shorter and better meeting. So skills for literally fewer, shorter, faster meetings. We’ve developed three guides for creating, reviewing and deciding that can really accelerate and speed up collaboration in this to do well. That’s how we’re seeing. Liane, your perspective on the kind of foundational skills people needs. What’s your point of view here?
[00:41:32] LH: My sense here is that, as I’ve watched leaders and managers, they actually have increased empathy. It has happened because they’re going through the pain themselves. When people go through pain themselves, they can empathize better. That, I’m not too worried about. I also noticed an awful lot of the literature and awful lot of the training out there is how to help people show more empathy, more listening, et cetera. I think that will be okay as long as we keep working at it. The one I think is super critical and underrated is these goalsetting piece. My whole sense of where we are is, in order allow people to be autonomous, you got to start with talking to your manager about, “What do I have to deliver? Let’s just agree to what. Let’s just agree what you expect me to do over the next three months and what I think I can bring to the party. Then let me alone to do it. Give me the autonomy to do it.”
But that goalsetting conversation becomes super crucial. It also becomes doubly crucial than hybrid going back to biases. Because if you’ve got those goals, you are going to reduce bias. Because X person who is remote and Y person who is in the office, you can look at them and determine their progress by how well they met their goals. Then thirdly, the real underpin or the punch here on goalsetting is, people are feeling — David talked about the pain. There are still a lot of place in the world where people are going through a lot of pain. What you need is the ability to feel good about something. If you have a goal, and you hit it, and you knock it out the park, and you did it in an autonomous way, you’re giving people the ability to feel good about something. That’s a huge thing.
[00:43:22] DR: Yeah, absolutely. That actually increases their sense of status and the sense of certainty, as well as their shared goals with others, so it impacts positive SCARF, like all domains of SCARF. It hit in many ways. That’s really powerful. Thanks, Liane. That’s great.
I mean, one of the things in this new world, you got to have fewer interactions with people, so they have to be better. You don’t have time to micromanage your people through every single project they’re doing, so you’re just not going to spend as much time, face time literally, physically together. The time you have has to be much more effective and that’s to focus more on inspiring people, motivating people, identifying learning, unpacking roadblocks faster, like bringing people to their own insights, not just telling them what to do.
If you’re a manager who just loves telling everyone what to do, you’ll struggle in this time, because you actually have to shift your style a lot to much more of a suggesting and asking style, much more of a softer style. They’re going to be fewer interactions, so they have to be much better. From our perspective, that means you have to be generating less threat, more insights in the mind of the other person and more of growth mindset as well. There’s a lot of interesting changes.
This is our hypothesis on this, that we’ve built something here. I just want to tell you; HIVES stands for High-Impact Virtual Experiences. It’s an approach to learning that’s quite different. Like everyone on camera, people being called on constantly, quite challenging, very specific assignments between the sessions. We measure it really, really carefully. This is some date we just pulled from three pilots of a solution called Ally, which we’ve just launched in three Fortune 100 companies, also some rapid development we did.
But you can see, in the last week, 72% of people help to amplify the voice of someone not being heard. At least one to three times a week. 15% of people nearly every day 4-6 times a week.You can actually see in a quite granular way the impact that that program is having and we expect to see similar results from FLEX, like real habits applied every single week. Because you delivering it in this style, because of the approach overall. So we’ve got some exciting data on that.
This is where we ended up. Solve for autonomy, manage for fairness. We think that’s the really big thing to do. If you need some help convincing your leadership of this, we’re doing what we call research briefings or executive briefings, we will get your leadership team together for an hour or 90 minutes and walk them through some of these research and others. But we think it’s a really, really critical thing to solve for autonomy and manage for fairness. We think the big concern is the two big ones to work on, definitely culture and in bias and we’re going to continue working on the tweaks and the nuances around that. We’ll be studying those things and looking at best ways to address culture and bias. What’s that space?
Then we have a solution that’s ready. If you’re trying to bring everyone back partially back or partially back or do stuff crazy, we’re ready to scale this in June. We’re actually ready to scale this to pretty much any scale in June, July, August to get people ready for the fall as well. Liane, any closing comments for you before we wrap up?
[00:46:19] LH: No. I think the only — well, I say no and now I’m going to give you a comment. I guess the only thing that I’m going to say is, I really believe this is a journey. I believe the paradigm shifted. I believe it’s something that we can all do very differently now the nature of work. I would say honestly, David has really helped us in our thinking. I think blending the science with the experience, and piloting, and watching the data is going to be the way that we go forward in the next six months.
I’ll give you a very quick example. We’re opening up our offices, so that people who want to come in if they’re vaccinated can. They absolutely don’t have to. What we’ve said is, we will watch the patterns of behavior for six months before we make any decisions at all about what the long-term looks like. Because this is a time where we’ve got to experiment, where we’ve got to do things differently and we have to really got to bring the science and the experience together.
[00:47:17] DR: It is time to experiment, isn’t it? I know the FLEXWORK consortium is doing some really interesting experiments and that’s part of the purpose of the group, is to actually got to share those experiments, that data. Liane, a huge, huge thank you for being here today. I know you’re really, really busy there. I really appreciate your passion for leveraging this moment to actually build a much better normal. I know that your passion is going to actually improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. If not, much bigger numbers and hopefully between all of us, we can make organizations better for humans through science.
[00:47:50] LH: Let’s do it.
[00:47:50] DR: Male them more productive at the same time, right? Isn’t that the idea? Thank you so much.
[END OF EPISODE]
[00:47:59] CD: Your Brain at Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producers are Matt Holodak, Danielle Kirshenblat, [inaudible 00:48:13] and me, Cliff David. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky, and logo design is by Katch Wehr. We’ll see you next time.