Read more: 5 workplace trends to watch in 2023.
Subscribe on any platform: https://pod.link/1599305768
This transcript has been generated using speech recognition software and may contain errors. Please check its accuracy against the audio.
Beatrice Di Caro: From the World Economic Forum, I'm Beatrice Di Caro, and this is the Book Club podcast. In this episode, we're joined by Professor Lynda Gratton to discuss her latest book, Redesigning Work: How to Transform Your Organization and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone. A psychologist and Professor of Management Practice at London Business School. Lynda teaches MBA students about the future of work and is widely regarded as a leading influencer on the subject across the globe. She also co-chairs the World Economic Forum, Global Future Council on Work. Redesigning Work is the culmination of a series of diaries Lynda started writing during the pandemic and acts as both a workbook for leaders and a deep dive into how to make hybrid work a success. She draws on real world examples of companies getting it right and offers useful insights into everything, from avoiding burnout to being a good manager. My colleague Kate Whiting joins us to interview Lynda and starts by asking her how much the COVID 19 pandemic has changed a world of work.
Lynda Gratton: The first takeaway was that I've been a professor at the London Business School for 30 years, and there's no doubt that this was the biggest break with the way that we had worked. Two years is a long time for us to change our habits, to change our assumptions, to change the way that we work. So that was the first thing. I think the second thing was that we were all really surprised at how it worked. And actually if it had been even ten years ago, I don't think the technology would have held. It would have been too expensive. We wouldn't have had internet connections into our houses and so on. So I think we were really, really surprised about the impact of technology on our work. The third takeaway was, of course, we loved working from home and we still do, which is why we now have a battle of a hybrid, you know, with people battling it out. But the truth is that really right from the beginning of the pandemic, Kate, only about 55% of people actually could work from home. I was very aware of this because my youngest son Dominic is what worked on and the accident and emergency. So he couldn't say, Oh, I'm not coming in today, I'm going to work from home. And that's true for about 50% of people.
Kate Whiting: I think the main theme that comes across is there's no one size fits all. So we've been through these changes and now we're much more focused on the individual employee needs. Is that what you feel?
Lynda Gratton: The real point I made in the book is don't ask people what they want. Find out. Look at the job. And the reason I said that, Kate, is the truth is we honestly don't know what we want to know. And we know there were very few studies of homeworking before the pandemic, but the one that was the most important was showed that, you know, people quite like working from home, but after six months, 50% say I want to be back in the office, I'm too lonely, I'm too disconnected. And so I feel that we all learn what we want by doing, by doing stuff, you know, we don't a priori I know what it's like to work from home 'cause we've never done it before. So I felt the best way in to thinking about this was to say, what does the job require? Now you are as you're a journalist, Kate. So you probably just spent, you know, the last hour or two writing something. You could do that in the office, but you could just as easily do it at home. But there's lots of jobs where actually being in an office for for some of the tasks, for example, tasks which have high levels of cooperation. That way you have to really collaborate with people. It's great to be in an office. So my push in the book was to say, let's start by asking what does the job require? And as you rightly say, Kate, you know, one of the big takeaways in the book is one size doesn't fit all. You know, an investment bank is not the same as a university. It's not the same as a factory. It's not the same as a professional service. But the truth is that most leaders have just asked themselves, how many days do people have to be in the office? That's where it's got to. And part of the reason I've had to go back and write all this stuff is to say, hang on, that's not the question. What's happening right now is that people saying you've got to be in the office three days a week and somebody saying, I don't want to and what are you going to do about it? And that creates a level of confrontation that I don't think any of us wants.
Kate Whiting: You describe what has happened during the pandemic is moving from unfreeze to refreeze. So I really wanted you to kind of explain to the listeners what exactly that means and then what's at stake as we're now trying to refreeze.
Lynda Gratton: Now, that wasn't my idea. Those of you from organizational development backgrounds will be saying, hang on, Lynda, we had Kurt Lewin talking about that and you were right. You did hear Kurt Lewin talking about that. It was the great Kurt Lewin's idea. But. But the reason I appropriated it for this book is it just felt so right. And what Kurt was saying with that idea was that most organizations, in fact, most people most of the time are frozen. He didn't mean that, by the way, as a negative. He just said, you know, when you go in every day, you sort of know what's going to happen. You know, it's not a complete oh, wow, I didn't expect this today. You know, the practices, the processes are all in place. You could think about it as a snowflake. All the bits are there. But when you have, you know, a major threat to an organization, it can sort of melt, it can sort of unfreeze. And at the point of unfreeze, people are saying, you know, I don't know what's going on. My assumptions have changed, my skills have changed. And that's where we were with the pandemic. And part of the reason you're not getting everyone coming back to work is some people use that time to say, I don't know why I'm here. We're in a dynamic system at the moment. And I think what you're seeing, Kate, and what I'm seeing with all of the press is that CEOs, some CEOs are thinking, OK, I can freeze the system. There you are. I'm a magician. I freeze the system. This is how it will be from now on. But actually what we know about organizational change and dynamism is that the dynamics of the organization are going to change, and I see this even on a daily basis. So yesterday I talked to a very senior person, in a large company, and they said, 'We've told everyone they've got to be back in the office for three days. But we are realizing that some people haven't come in' and I said, 'Well, what are you going to do about that?' And they said, 'We don't know yet.' All of this is being played out at the moment. And it's really fascinating. And I think that in my view, we will have to have more flexible ways of working. And in the book I describe some of the reasons for that. You know, we're living longer. We have to work longer. Technology means that we have to invest in our skills all the time. And at the same time, many of us are in partnerships where two people have an income. So we've got more flexibility, we've actually got a bit more choice. So I think that the tides of flexibility is there. The CEO can stand at the front of it and say no. But honestly, I don't think there's much they're going to be able to do at this stage.
Kate Whiting: And I wonder if, you know, there's an argument that things will never freeze again, that because, as you say, it's such a dynamic system, things will just stay fluid and continue evolving and moving and changing. And we'll just have to get used to this this kind of very strange kind of fluidity almost.
Lynda Gratton: I suspect not, actually, Kate. I mean, the organizational theorist in me would say, you know, organizations do refreeze and they refreeze because, you know, all of us need quite a lot of, you know, understanding of what it is we're doing and why we're doing it. And when we're doing so, if we come in and one day it's looks, you know, your office looks like this, and the next day it looks like something different. And we don't like that. So we are definitely going to refreeze. I think the question is what will we refreeze into? I think there's going to be a lot of differences between organizations and that's good because it gives employees a choice about where they want to work. So if you want to work, you know all the time, but get paid a lot, there's a company that will do that for you. It's called an investment bank, or one of the big law firms. If you're somebody who says, well, actually, I want quite a bit more flexibility, there's a company that will do that for you as well. So I think we're going to get a lot more diversity in terms of the deal that companies are getting. And in my view, none of those have good or bad associated with them. You know, in the book, it may be surprising to people, I said it's fine that the CEO of of one of the big investment banks says, you've all got to be back all the time. That's what a CEO's job is. It's to tell people what the deal is. If people don't want the deal, they don't have to work there.
Kate Whiting: I guess the point really is sort of what employees are looking for from work now and in the future. What sort of things are you seeing and you've said about this sort of big tussle that's going on over hybrid work, some people are actually refusing to go back into the office. So what do people want?
Lynda Gratton: Well, I mean, it depends, obviously, on the individual, but if we just take a look, just in general, what is it we want from work? We want to feel that we're learning something. Most people want to go to the office or go to work and feel I've I've learned something about about the world, about myself, about the job. They want autonomy. And that's really, you know, when a company gives flexibility, what the individual gets is autonomy. I have some choice. For example, I could see my children's nativity. You know, that's worth a lot. And of course, the interesting thing about time is it's it's got different values to it. You know, the value of being able, I speak as a mother here, the value of being able to see your child's nativity play is much more valuable. That 2 hours is much more valuable to you than to two hours when you hadn't planned anything. So having some choice about that, i.e. autonomy is something that people really like. The thing I'm talking about quite a lot, actually, Kate, is friendship. And actually, you know, it turns out the reason that many of us are going back to the office is because we have a friend at work. I just spent the day today at London Business School and I just walked around the office, my office, and went to talk to all my friends and it was pretty brilliant. Do I want to do it every day? No, I don't, because I'm a writer and I like to write from my home. But, you know, friendship is something that we really love. So people like to be able to increase their skills. You know, they like to have some sort of autonomy. They like to have friends at work. And that's really what it's not just our work. It's our whole life. Our whole life is about that.
Kate Whiting: We've sort of seen this great attrition, so-called great situation where people have been quitting their jobs during the pandemic. And you're saying that what is currently a sort of job seekers market almost is going to flip again. But at the moment in that sort of market, is there a sense that companies are having to think much more about their values and their purpose to try and attract talent and retain them?
Lynda Gratton: Yeah, I think I mean, some are thinking about their purpose and some are just asking a very straightforward question, which is, what's the deal? What am I expecting from you? And that the combination of that is actually really important because that's what attracts people. You know, part of the reason I like to be at London Business School is I have a best friend at work. Now, that's not a purpose of London Business School to give me a best friend at work, but it's sort of my purpose, you know, if one could call it that. One of the sources of happiness in my life is friendship. And so if my organization is able to give me time to have friends, then that's great. So how does it do that? Well, it can't just put people together. It can't say to me, Linda, you've got to have coffee with Kate next week and she's got to become a friend, although some try to do that, by the way, it's actually just giving me more autonomy. So quite a lot of the things I think are going to be really important for work. Come back to this question that people need autonomy. They need a choice about how they work, when they work, work and where they work.
Kate Whiting: Another thing that I found fascinating was and I want to get onto some sort of best-practice examples of companies that you've seen redesigning work really effectively. But one of them was, I think it was an architect firm where they actually move teams around and mix them up so that they actually got to grow their networks. And perhaps this is a good time to talk about the idea of networks and that we have these sort of weak ties and strong ties and how that might work.
Lynda Gratton: I think the company was speaking of was Arup, the design agency, wonderful company, actually. And one of the things that they do is they realize that, you know, they've got pods of people, maybe some who are civil engineers, some who are designers, some who are material experts. And, you know, if you put them in entirely different corridors, then they they just never they never connect with each other. So what they did is they said, let's move those those pods around every few months so that you're actually sitting next to another group that that you don't see so, so often. So that was a really smart way of thinking about how do you make an office really work for you? How do you how do you make it? And I also love the work that Fujitsu, the Japanese company is doing where they said, you know, it seems to us is three types of offices. There's this one where you want it to be a center for collaboration. And people would come into the center of Tokyo if they know they're going to spend a whole day collaborating, brainstorming, you know, socializing. But there's another sort of office where, you know, you just need to meet your people from the team and know that you've got the right screens to work on and you've got, you know, all of the sort of technology you're using for for team dynamics that doesn't have to be in the center of Tokyo. That could be in one of the suburbs. But there's a third type of office where certainly in Tokyo and in many countries, many of the cities of the world, people really don't have enough space to have a home office. And so why don't we create a place where they can go, which is just a Fujitsu piece. They don't meet the rest of their team. It's just a place they go which has a strong internet connection, which has a printer. So imagine that having a working printer, I speak as a person whose house is almost completely full of broken printers at the moment. So why don't we do that? And so they they really re-imagine space in different ways. I think that sort of reimagining is going to be very crucial.
Kate Whiting: The other sort of concept that I really enjoyed was the idea of tacit versus explicit knowledge. So I wondered if you can just explain that, why they're so important and how they've been impacted working from home.
Lynda Gratton: Well, explicit knowledge is the sort of knowledge that is written down in a manual or in a book. So it's available to everybody or on a YouTube. I mean, everybody knows it. It's there. It's explicitly described or explicitly shown. Implicit knowledge is the sort of stuff that you learn through observation. You learn because you notice that this is how you somebody dealt with a client or or this is how you saw somebody dealing with a child. There isn't a book that says this is how you deal with that client because it's so sort of deep. And the person who's doing it doesn't even know that it's knowledge that they've got. And part of... when we went through the lockdown and people were saying, well, you know, it's hard for young people or inexperienced people, I had a lot of sympathy for that because because what I could see happening is that tacit knowledge is often knowledge that's formed through observation. And so if you take observation out, it's quite difficult for you, therefore, to learn what that means. And it's a word that comes up a lot in the book is you have to be more intentional.
Kate Whiting: But it's easier to foster collaboration, I suppose, if a lot of people can see. And then in terms of things like neurodiversity, if you have neurodiverse people working in your team, they may prefer to have things actually spelled out in that way as well. So I can imagine it has quite a lot of benefits.
Lynda Gratton: Yeah, absolutely.
Kate Whiting: I suppose something that I've noticed and it was only when I read the phrase boundary work in your book that it made me go, oh, that's what it is. So the idea that when I get in my car in the morning and drive to half an hour to my office, actually what was going on was this sort of transition from the mum version of me to the work version of me. And I don't think any of us actually realized the value of that until the pandemic came along. So I wondered if you have any sort of advice to Homeworkers for managing the boundary work?
Lynda Gratton: Well, the first piece of advice for Homeworkers is to try as much as possible to recreate the office, i.e. make it really explicit to people that they can't come into your room, that this is your office, try to set it up, that you aren't interrupted because you know, you are certainly interrupted when somebody sends you a text. But if it's a text, which is a text about you being a mother when you're working, it's even more difficult for you to get back to where you were as a as a worker. So to try and separate out those roles as much as possible is really important. The other piece of advice I would give, and it's really what's coming out of the latest research on well, is don't have too many Zoom meetings. You know, we completely went crazy having these endless Zoom meetings and I think Microsoft to a measuring that with Microsoft teams have found that the number of meetings we've had has gone up by 50%. We just having too many meetings when in fact it would have been easier just to drop somebody a note or to speak to them on the telephone for a few minutes or just to bump into them into the into the when you were in the office. So don't overschedule your time, because if you overschedule your time, you become like a machine. Remember that the things that make humans valuable as humans in terms of their brain and their thinking is when they have undisturbed time. By time, I don't mean 5 minutes, I mean 3 hours. I was talking to a very senior woman yesterday who's obviously burning out and I said, 'Put time in your diary'. She said, 'Oh, yeah, yeah. You know, I'm doing that. I'm giving myself 5 minutes between...'. I said, no, no, I'm talking half a day, half a day every week. And it doesn't matter what you call it to yourself or what you call it to your assistant or who anyone who's got access to your diary, give yourself that, because otherwise you'll burn out. And you know, we are seeing that now that people this constant being on Zoom is debilitating. I did it all of yesterday and I'm doing all of today, but I'm certainly not doing it tomorrow. And I'm speaking to you on a set on a Thursday. Tomorrow I'm writing I'm not I'm not interacting with anybody using machines. And I think having absolute clarity about when you you're most productive and what stops you from being productive if you're home. Homework is is very, very important.
Kate Whiting: I suppose my final question is really around managers and how they can support employees and what are the traits of good managers and leaders that you've seen during this reset?
Lynda Gratton: Well, you know, the interesting thing is and and I wrote a Harvard Business Review article with this with with Diane Gherson and who had just stepped down from IBM. And we were sort of chatting about managers and I was sharing some of the data from some of the companies that we work with which showed that the teams that there was a real difference in terms of engagement and retention within across teams know some teams team seemed to be very engaged, seemed to stay, others were very disengaged. And the thing that made the difference was the manager themselves. And so when they went in and said, what is this manager doing? They found out, and this is a human trait, really, that these managers were empathic and they listened, you know, they were empathic and they listened. But then what Diane and I then said, 'Well, that's fine if all you're doing is sitting around showing empathy and listening, but most managers don't have any time to do that'. So that's why both in the book and in the Harvard Business Review article, we said you have to redesign the manager's job to give them more time to do that. And you have to show that this is a really valuable part of their job actually listening to others. I run a company, but I have a a team who manages and I can hear how much time they spend with members of our team listening to them, you know, being empathic and listening to them. And and that is good management.
Kate Whiting: Linda, thank you so much for your time today. It's been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.
Beatrice Di Caro: That was author Lynda Gratton speaking to Kate Whiting. Big thanks for joining us on the World Economic Forum Book Club Podcast. Please subscribe to this podcast and best of all, leave us a review. Don't forget to join our Book Club on Facebook, which is coming up on 200,000 followers. And to discuss podcasts, please join our podcast club also on Facebook. And of course, please search our sister podcasts, Radio Davos and meet the leader wherever you get your podcasts. This episode of the podcast was presented by my colleague Kate Whiting and myself. Beatrice Di Caro. Production was with Gareth Nolan and Taz Kelleher and thanks to our podcast editor Robin Pomeroy. We'll be back soon. But for now, thanks for listening and goodbye.
Professor of Management Practice, London Business School
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Beatrice Di Caro
Social Media and Live Communications Lead, Digital Media, World Economic Forum