73 | Future of Work Panel, with Ireland Together


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By Scott McInnes and Inspiring Change. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.


Friends of the Building Better Cultures podcast, Ireland Together (www.IrelandTogether.ie) ran a series of mini-conferences focused on the next great reset—returning to the workplace. They asked Scott to facilitate a discussion on the Future of Work—what we will do, how we will do it and where we will work from.

The panelists today are thought leaders in their own right, and during this discussion, they offer their insights into how work will be shaped by trends going forward. Our featured speakers are: Denise Black, Head of HR at Invest NI; Gillian French, CPO at Cubic Telecom; and Kevin Empey, Founder at WorkMatters.

We hope you enjoy the conversation.

Key Takeaways:

  • Opinions about where work can be done vary widely.
  • Employers should focus on gaining their employees’ trust before moving into mandated reporting.
  • Establish key contact points for in-person gathering.
  • Companies should look at this as an opportunity to change the culture.
  • Organizations need to include their employees in the conversation.
  • Leadership is responsible for making sure these hybrid models are equitable.


Scott: Is there going to be any real significant change to the future of work?

Kevin: The future of work didn’t start with COVID, and it will continue way beyond COVID. One example is the idea that business interruption is normal, that the frequency of change is happening more quickly. Another is that keeping an eye on the periphery is a crucial skill set. Finally, the ideas about how and where work can be done—as well as the expectations of management—are all changing as we move into the future. It’s also not just what’s happening within our own little bubbles, but what changes we can expect for our whole customer base and our suppliers with their own digital agendas.

Scott: If companies don’t adapt to small change curves, they’re dying. Gillian, what can we expect the future of work to look like for smaller companies?

Gillian: Generally speaking, smaller businesses are more agile and able to adapt to changes more readily than large, multinational companies. If smaller businesses can afford it, they should give their employees the flexibility that they desire. It will actually build social capital and build trust in your employees. It’s ultimately about focusing on building strong relationships because those are the tools they need to successfully pivot when hard changes do come.

Scott: How do you balance the needs of the company and the needs of employers when they don’t mesh?

Denise: I advocated that we start from a position of trust and empowerment. I said let’s look at it based on the principles of four pillars to focus on when you come into the office. Those pillars are: to Connect, to Collaborate, to Client, and to Commute. And each team will look at what their responsibilities are and what pillars fit best.

The key is to train the people leaders to think in this way. The other key part is establishing critical contact points, like team meetings, new starts and critical HR issues, most definitely. Other key feedback moments, too, like performance reviews or midterms.

If staffers haven’t made up their mind yet, I encourage them to. As soon as my staffers made a decision and showed they were going to roll out a plan, the shoulders dropped, and they could say now they know what’s going to happen.

Scott: And they can say, “alright, now this is what we’re going to try.” Kevin, if organizations don’t do something different after all of this, what is the impact going to be? What trick will they have said, do you think?

Kevin: I think there’s an opportunity to leverage competition, talent and expertise from around the world. There is also the threat that if they don’t act, they could be opening up their talent to other companies. You’re engaging in a culture exercise as much as anything else. It allows the opportunity to show vulnerability, which can improve the culture in the long term, past when COVID is forgotten. They would be embedding some of those skills in the future.

Scott: We seem comfortable with contracting work from remote locations. What do you think it will take for leadership to feel the same way about their own teams?

Gillian: They are hard-pressed to make the argument now because we’ve proven that it works during the pandemic. They’d have to have a strong case for why those roles can’t be filled remotely. One key thing I want to emphasize is that we need to squash presence privilege because it’s unjust and it’s a big threat to the hybrid model. My concern is that people will miss that and it will hurt our ability to fully capitalize on the culture change.

Kevin: We know that some people are nervous to come back, so many should embrace phases or waves of returning. And it should be stated that employees are wise to the problem of presence privilege, too. We are actually using technology to capture everything on a common canvas, so no one is disenfranchised. There’s no doubt that these tools will help us.

Denise: A lot of people are asking about the deadlines, but my advice is to make the most of your day if you’re going to go in.

Scott: Denise, how do you generate psychological safety within an organization?

Denise: It’s intrinsically linked to the leadership in an organization. No matter what level you’re at, the pandemic acted as an equalizer. And I think this helped us to see each other as equals again. I think psychological safety is something you have to work on as a team.

Scott: I think it was you, Denise, who shared with me the acronym “F.A.I.L.”—if it’s not a failure, it’s a first attempt in learning. Denise, do you have anything to add to that?

Denise: We kept the comms as transparent as possible, which I think built a lot of trust in the organization. We need to involve the members of our teams as frequently as possible.

Kevin: It’s that trust piece. It’s fundamental to the relationship piece, too. There’s also a stretch element to this next phase because there’s an element to psychological safety that requires more trust-building. And leadership needs to set that tone.

Scott: What do you all think about the question of gender equality in the hybrid work place? Denise, I might throw that one to you.

Denise: It’s actually quite topical. Promotions tend to be very Belfast-centered—but now we know that that doesn't have to be the case in a hybrid model. I think this is going to help make the workplace more equitable by leveling the playing field in that sense.

Gillian: I see a lot of concern about this because many women dropped out of the workforce because of stresses of home life and so on—

Kevin: We just need to watch that the hybrid model doesn’t get skewed so far as to be associated with the different genders or presenteeism and so on. It’s really important that our promotion and development programs are agnostic as well.

Scott: To close, what’s the most important thing that companies should be doing to reap the benefits of the future of work.

Denise: They need to start the conversation.

Kevin: Leadership needs to be involving team members in the conversation rather than forcing it on them top-down. Also, you need to make sure the technology is there to boost employee engagement. Try as best as you can to create what is as close as possible to a “normal” work environment.

Scott: For me, the jigsaw piece in the middle is that we should tell people really obviously that we have made decisions in response to your feedback.

Gillian: They need to provide flexibility or employees will leave. And they need to make sure everyone is treated equally. There’s nothing more important.

104 episodes