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Humanising the Future of Work Podcast
How do you see the Future of Work impacting your customer, your organisation or your future workforce? In our 'Humanising the Future of Work' podcast series, our experts explore the big questions around the Future of Work and what this means for you. In each episode our host, Daniel Hind, Manager within our Human Capital practice, speaks to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out. Although technology is often a key driver of disruption, this podcast discusses the why, and how, organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation.
Episode 1: Automation: The Human + Machine connection
Advancing technologies in automation are reimagining the human and machine relationship. In this episode our experts discuss whether they foresee automation taking over everything, how automation technology is being used in the marketplace today and its impact. The discussion also explores whether jobs will be lost or replaced and how all of this will change work for humans.
Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte
Speakers: Will Gosling, Human Capital Consulting Leader, Dupe Witherick, Senior Manager within Monitor Deloitte’s Automation & AI Team and Dave Wright – Partner and Robotics and Intelligence Automation Lead
DH: Deloitte’s recent Automation with Intelligence Report throws light on the advancing technologies within automation and how the human machine relationship can be reimagined. I’m your host, Daniel Hind, and today I have the pleasure of exploring automation and the human machine connection with three experts from across Deloitte.
From our Robotics and Intelligent Automation Services, we have Dupe Witherick and David Wright, and from Human Capital Consulting, I’d like to welcome Will Gosling. Thanks for joining us today. So, jumping straight in, I think we can acknowledge that the machines are here. So, a big question to start, is automaton coming to take over everything in the workplace? Are those headlines correct? David, do you want to start?
DW: I think what my experience, Daniel, is that’s not reality yet. There are definitely new opportunities with automation coming from the new technology, particularly around robotic process automation in terms of linear script based if-then rules type automation and then, on the AI side, with more algorithmic-based predictive or probabilistic type automation. So, I think we’ve a lot more tools at our disposal then we had, say, ten or 20 years ago, but we’re still nowhere near getting to 100% automation even in very transactional areas.
I think it was probably 1999 when one of my colleagues wrote a report focussed on the finance function, talking about light side finance and we’re still… 20 years later, we’re still not at light side finance yet. But actually, the percentage that can be automated and therefore the percentage of capacity that organisations can focus on higher value tasks is a lot great than it was.
DH: Dupe, anything to add?
DU: Yes. It always makes me laugh, because when we talk about automation and robotic process automation, everyone expects the dancing, walking, talking robot which it really isn’t and they also think that if you think about things like The Matrix or you think about I, Robot, for example, and everyone taking over, it’s really not that at all and we’re really not there.
However, the technology is changing the way we work and fundamentally it’s shifting repetitive, dull, rules-based activities away from people, which I think is for the better.
DH: Will, from your perspective, when you’re talking to clients, is there a general… Do you think there’s an acknowledgement about what kind of technology is out there with the clients that you’re engaging with and talking to?
WG: Certainly, clients… Well, they’re on a spectrum. There’s a spectrum, I think. There’s some who are very advanced in their thinking and are really pushing boundaries and really trying to drive experimentation into their organisation and some having success, and that’s flipping into scalings.
And I’m sure we’ll talk more about the others who have just heard about it and feel they need to be doing something. In some respects that can be a little bit dangerous because there’s no real plan or strategy around doing it. It’s just… it’s unguided experimentation and, actually, can miss the opportunity.
My own personal perspective, just listening to the conversation so far, is I think it’s fair to say pretty much every job… And remember I come at this from a human job perspective, every job has the potential to be impacted by automation, but I agree with my colleagues here that we’re just there. It’s not scare stories yet.
DH: So, David, for listeners who maybe aren’t sure what RPA is and what cognitive automation solutions could be, could you give a snapshot as to breaking down what the technologies are that are out there currently?
DW: Yes. So, robotic process automation generally refers to the kind of automation in business processes that automates rules-based administrative processes. So, as Dupe said, there’s no robots walking around an office, but what they’re doing in software is effectively replicating the kind of tasks that might be taking data from one system, doing something structured with it that you can express in rules, and pumping it into another system.
And then, on the cognitive side… Again, an interesting word. It’s generally how we anthropomorphise what technology can do and so we describe it in human terms. So, we can talk about computer vision, so a computer being able to look at text and understand what it’s saying, or it can image vision, or it can be processing natural language and generating natural language, and so on.
So, all of those kinds of technologies generally are provisioned through algorithms that use a training data set and machine learning type technologies to effectively categorise things and have multiple layers of categorisation that allows you to solve a problem or get to an answer.
And typically, we would see some of the better-quality automations to combine the rules-based and the probabilistic automation that then allows you to cover a greater scope.
DU: Yes, agreed. So, I think in terms of robotic process automation, what I’ve found is that’s where a number of organisations have started and so, two and a half years ago, a couple of my clients really started on the robotic process automation, looking specifically within finance to start off with and now are, more enterprise-wide… So, looking at the front office areas such as fleet and logistics as well as moving to other back office areas such as HR and procurement.
And what we found is those organisations that have started and begun to scale… And what we mean by scaling is over 50 automations, are now looking at the intelligent automation side, so the cognitive side, and how you combine the two. And people are finding that benefits them a lot more as well because they’re able to do more than they were able to do before.
So, an example of that is intelligent invoice processing where you would think, to Dave’s point, lights out 20 years ago, finance hasn’t happened. Even things like processing invoices which you think should be quite straightforward to automate has been a challenge because it’s quite difficult to actually read the images and extract the data, etc.
And so, one of our projects that we’ve done recently is combining of robotic process automation with machine learning optical character recognition, which is effectively able to extract and classify the data, hand it over to a robot to process it within an ERP system, and that solution has been quite successful and, I think, will enable other organisations to think about how they can combine RPA with intelligent automation.
DH: So, I suppose from an RPA perspective, it’s almost imagining some code in the background is opening emails, sending emails, pulling information through…?
DW: That’s exactly right, Daniel. And sometimes what we’ve done with clients is display what the robot is doing. So, typically, these robots or software programmes will run on a virtual machine, so you can run them on a laptop if you want, but typically you’ll just give them a slice of the virtual server somewhere.
But what you can do is output and they’re screened to a physical screen and you can watch what they’re doing and that’s often… Some of our clients, when they actually see the robot working on one of their processes, it all comes alive to them. They realise actually this technology can be used in a bunch of different places and take away, as Dupe mentioned earlier, some of that boring repetitive work and then free people up to do much more value-added tasks.
DU: I like to think of it as you’re watching someone doing some work, and it’s a ghost using the mouse and you can see things happening, but actually there’s no one touching it and you just see the robot going from one system to another and doing things as a person would, and going in as a person with a user ID, etc.
One of the fun things we do with our clients is help them name the robot. So, a lot of our robots actually have specific names and it’s a bit of a game and it’s a bit of a challenge. So, the teams say, okay, what’s the competition, and the competition is, think of robot names for the next 20 robots, who can come up with it, what’s the prize, etc, and that just adds some fun around the automation experience.
DW: I think that also helps crystallise in people’s minds that these robots are effectively digital workers. They are workers and they’re performing a specific task or set of tasks, and I guess what we’ve talked about there mostly is unattended automation which is the robot doing some things by itself.
Actually, what we’re seeing a lot of as well is what we term attended automation, and that’s when you have a little script sitting on your laptop, so whenever… Particularly it’s relevant for call centre workers.
If you get a call and they’ve selected one, six and two on the interactive voice system, then you know it’s… I don’t know, maybe it’s an insurance company and they’re about to cancel insurance, maybe there’s a database that it needs to bring up, or some other recommendations, and actually rather than the user taking the 20 or 30 seconds to bring those screens up, the robot can just trigger from the fact that one, six and two were pressed, that those databases need to be opened up.
It just saves the person that 20 or 30 seconds of effort, maybe makes the call shorter, or allows the agent to focus on developing rapport with the individual rather than concentrating on opening different screens. So, that kind of automation, assisted automation, really augments what people can do and helps them to be more effective in their roles.
WG: Just this concept of thinking about robots as part of the workforce I think is really interesting. I saw a great example the other day. I think it’s the Australian Defence Department who actually have commissioning ceremonies for robots that they are introducing into the workforce, in the same way they would for new recruits who are joining the military workforce, which I think just shows an establishment like that, they’re seeing huge benefit from this and therefore thinking about this, and wanting everyone in the workforce to think about these robots as workers.
And it sparks a few other thoughts as well though I think, one of which is automation creates work as well as saves work, so someone’s got to look after the robots, someone has got to be the governance around them. Even performance, reviewing performance management, you see organisations starting to think about that to extend the concept of being part of the workforce to its extreme.
I think the other thing that this also makes us… Realises if you think about robots and automation as part of the workforce, you’ve got to think about the workforce in totality and think about how the workforce needs to develop as the organisation introduces more automation over time.
And not having that view, that vision for how the workforce is going to evolve and the mix is going to evolve, and therefore what you’re going to do with the time that free up for workers, human workers, and what you’re going to do to reskill or what you’re going to do to use existing skills better with technology, these are all questions that need to be asked if organisations are going to get the real return on the investment that they’re making in this technology.
DU: Yes, I absolutely agree with that and it’s one of the key things that we said for organisations looking to scale automation, one of the first things is really what is the vision, what is the ambition, and how do you make it enterprise-wide in order to know what to head towards? Because without that, you will fail. If you just start with a task automation somewhere, the likelihood is… And there’s no thought around it, it will just end up being sat there doing something, but you won’t be able to scale that up.
DH: So, from a perspective of seeing organisations embark on an automation strategy, do we often see that they’re considering the workforce transformation at the same time?
DW: So, from my experience, Daniel, not enough is the answer, and I think that’s borne out by our survey results. So, we as Deloitte do a survey every year, this is our fifth year running it, so this year we had over 520 organisations respond globally to the survey. We asked them the question, what is the percentage of the workforce that’s seen changes to their roles as a result of intelligent automation, and actually 44% of organisations hadn’t really calculated that.
We also explored a little bit about how much they had really started training their workforce and, again, it was surprising how many organisations really hadn’t begun that journey of retraining their people in terms of how to deal with the automations they had as well as look to the future and what they might need.
DU: So, it’s really interesting. I think organisations look at this type of automation as, in some cases, taking full roles away from people, so the whole job, which is not really the case. It tends to be arms and legs, it’s parts of roles. And so, then thinking about how to retrain, what skills are required, etc, for me I always think we’re taking things away that are the repetitive rules-based, if-then scenarios that you mentioned earlier.
However, the key skills for me, that are the skills of the future and I think, Will, you can always add to this, but it’s really the creativity, the communication, and the cognitive, so the problem-solving and how do you actually embed that into day-to-day lives?
And from young children and build that up over the years because that’s really where we know those skills are going to be automated. Or at the moment they’re not! I assume they won’t be, but it would be good to get your input on that.
WG: Yes, these are the skills that make us human. These are the skills that, as you say, at this point in time, and certainly I’m sure for the foreseeable, are the skills that machines can’t replace.
And it was interesting, there’s a lot of unhelpful headlines, scaremongering headlines, about the rise of automation, the rise of the machines taking over our roles and jobs. Actually some other research we’ve done where we spoke to workers in Europe, the voice of the European workforce, where actually we learned that most workers are very positive about the introduction of technology into their roles, see it actually as a force for good and believe that they do need retraining and they need skills to complement that technology.
But interestingly the skills that most workers think they need are technology skills. They think to make the most of technology, I need better understanding of technology, and actually what most organisations and what we are obviously proposing as well is that the emphasis should actually be on helping people make the most of their human skills and develop those human skills to get the most from technology.
Of course, there’s an element of technical training as well that’s important, but it is those human skills. And those are the skills also that are really starting to rise to the fore when you look at skills and demands surveys, so what skills are most in demand in the market are the type of skills we’ve been talking about here, the human skills.
DW: It’s really interesting actually. One of the things we asked in our automation survey, we asked executives to respond on the level of support for intelligent automation across different stakeholder groups and it was interesting, they reported over 75% of them saying their workforce is either supportive or highly supportive of intelligent automation.
And when we drove into that, actually it was interesting to see that the more mature an organisation was in its intelligent automation journey, the more supportive they felt their workforce was. And I think that’s because the more mature ones had had the time to talk about what the automations were actually doing and how it benefitted individuals, employees and roles.
DH: Where we were talking earlier about some of the games that organisations were seeing through RPA for example, and we were talking the speed that they can process certain transactions, but beyond that and tapping into these human skills that are going to become much more sought in the workplace, what are the benefits that organisations are seeing beyond just productivity gains? So, what… Is there an improved customer experience…?
WG: Yes. I think we’re seeing a variety of things and actually it comes back to the point about having a strategy, what are you trying to target. So, one of the pharmaceutical companies I worked with, their main goal was not productivity in a cost-out sense, their main goal was how do we get drugs to market faster because every day they can get a new drug to market faster globally was a million dollars benefit. And that was much more important to them than just saving a few heads or being more productive here or there.
Other organisations, it can be accuracy. So, one of the advantages when you automate a data key-in task effectively, you can be 100% sure it’s accurate because the data will move, follow the rule, and you can have that check and balance and report in the automation and you know it’s done right. Actually, with humans we have variable accuracy and you often need to have more checks and balances, and so accuracy can be another benefit.
I think you can deliver benefits in terms of customer experience, especially with cycle times, so if you’re reducing cycle times that could have a good benefit. If you’re allowing agents to focus, as I mentioned earlier, on the quality of the conversation rather than searching for particular data points in different databases so that they give it to the customer, then the customer has a better experience.
DH: I’ll ask a direct question…there’s a large proportion of the population who favour transactional work, rather than engaging with people and maybe empathy is not their strongest point. What do we see the future within this? Is there going to be a change in the way they can engage with their work in the future? Or is there a potential section of society that may struggle to find work because of this?
DW: I guess my personal perspective is that those, the very transactional repetitive roles are reducing and reducing, and maybe if you look at it over time, when 120 years ago the percentage of people involved in physical repetitive agricultural work was much, much higher, we’ve moved away from those manual jobs. There’s still some, but there’s few.
I think in the clerical and administrative side, we’re in the middle of a shift from many repetitive clerical jobs or administrative jobs to few, and I think what’s positive, I guess, is that in terms of education, we’re becoming more and more educated and typically a more and more educated workforce doesn’t like that repetitive clerical stuff. So, I think it is reducing, but I think our education is and needs to help equip the workforce of the future for the jobs of the future.
WG: I agree with that absolutely about the role of education in the future. I think, though, organisations have got a duty to step in now already, and create learning and re-learning as part of a job. We’re all living longer, there’s demographic disruption that’s happening alongside the technology disruption we’re talking about, 70 is the new 50 in the working career, and we have to embrace life longer.
And organisations, I think, have got a real responsibility alongside the increasing amount of technology that they bring into the workplace, to make sure that employees can be reskilled. Some of that’s human factors, we’ve talked about human skills, but some of it will be new technical skills as well to enable them to be relevant to the market and relevant to their organisation. I think organisations must be ready to step into that space.
DU: It’s really interesting and I think that’s a great point. I heard recently that there was a survey done, I don’t think it was one of ours, but they were looking at employees, the employee’s responsibility to reskill and retrain or is it the employer’s, and neither wanted to say it’s their responsibility.
So, again, I think it’s a mind-set shift as well, and the way people think about upskilling themselves, and retraining and lifelong learning. That needs to be something that’s part of the way we are and I think that is something that, at the moment, probably isn’t, and it’s up to people as well to help themselves and to try to upskill and constantly learn in this ever-changing society.
WG: Yes, agreed. Great point.
DW: And to add to that, where does Government fit into that moving forwards in their responsibility for society?
DW: And I think I would say, start from the beginning of thinking of this as a workforce transformation programme, not a technology or a finance or HR… It’s a workforce transformation programme and that needs input and alignment across the executive team. Of course, one area may take the lead but it requires input and alignment across the piece because it’s ultimately, as I said, is a workforce transformation.
And make sure that, as well as thinking about all of the things we’ve talked about here in terms of where to start, policy and strategy and vision and goals and value, we’re thinking about the skills and the combinations of skills that are going to be needed to make the most of the investment down the line.
DH: Is there anything that the developers of these technologies or their partners who want to implement them or the organisations themselves, is there anything that they can do to actually help people, the future workforce, bond and trust with these new technologies, these new robots?
WG: Well, I think the best technology combines arts and science and it humanises, there’s a humanising factor to technology, and what I mean by that is it’s enjoyable to interact with. It might not necessarily emulate a human, but it has a personality, there’s a personality, and I think that’s what we’re starting to see organisations try and push a little bit further to give robots a bit of a personality, to make them feel part of the workforce.
I think that’s a trend we’ll see more of and I think it’s the route to probably success with workers embracing this even more.
There is a risk that automation could beat the life out of jobs and, alongside the need for organisations to invest in reskilling and retraining, and for individuals to embrace that as we’ve talked about, I think there’s something else here, something a little deeper as well that organisations need to face into, which is their role in society and how they connect work, both automated work and human work, into purpose and the purpose of the organisation, the impact it has on society.
Because in a lot of research we’ve been doing around productivity, what we’re seeing is where individuals can draw a straight line to the work that they do, with or without machines, and the purpose of the organisation, the impact it’s having for stakeholders outside of the organisation, the better the discretionary effort the productivity and the performance that you have. I think that’s really generational important thing as well.
Millennials and other generations coming into the workforce are really looking for that purpose connection and I think that’s something that organisations really need to face into as well.
DH: The last point from me just on one of the challenges, I think, for humans in the workforce of the future will be… I was reading an article recently about by removing menial activity from people’s roles and the ability of a human to operate for eight hours a day on quite cognitively challenging work. How will that maybe start to reshape the working day, the working week. Does anyone have any views on that? Dupe…?
DU: Yes, it’s interesting. I think you’re right. I think where we’re used to doing a mix of activities, be them quite problem solving, but then also doing the transactional work, admin, expenses, things like that, you do have that break. So, I suppose if you are just doing cognitive problem-solving work, although there is the potential to say, okay, let’s have a four-day week or let’s have more holidays, I still feel though there will be downtimes.
It may be the structure, the way things are structured, and if you think about a robot, a robot can operate 24/7, it doesn’t need to go for break, it doesn’t need to have lunch, but people will still be doing those things and so they’re not going to be working throughout.
I also think what will be important is the building of relationships as well and actually that interaction with other people which I think in a sense we can see we’ll lose people. Everything’s via social media and people aren’t connecting as well as they maybe were ten, 15 years ago when we didn’t have the technology that we have today. So, I think we’ll also see an increase in, I would suggest, relationship building and just being more human, which should be positive and again draws on the purpose part that Will was talking about.
WG: What I think we’re starting to take about here is what will work be? What is work in the future? That’s probably the subject of a podcast in its own right. But I think work is going to look very different, work itself, where the worker is, as we’ve been talking about here today, and what that means for the workplace, and I think we’re already starting to see the blurring of boundaries between work and life and much more integration of those things [unclear] in both workplace and home and other third places.
I think work is going to be thought of very differently. It’s the unit, the value, and how work gets done in the years ahead is going to be… Today we’re still very routed in 20th century management disciplines around work and there are parts of industries and certain functions that are driving that forward and that’s going to sweep, I think, across organisations in the coming years.
DH: That’s a great point. Any final words for our listeners? Anything that you think we’ve missed?
DW: No. I think from my perspective it’s really an exciting time. The removal of some of that more menial side of work, opening up the possibilities with more data, a better understanding of processes for organisations starting to deliver more of their purpose, rather than the administration that sometimes goes around that, I think is really good.
DH: Well, thank you for an enlightening discussion and that’s it for this episode. Thank you.
Episode 2: Superjobs…redesigning roles and the workplace
As organisations adopt new technologies, they’re finding that virtually every job must change, and that the jobs of the future are more digital, more multidisciplinary, and more data- and information-driven...creating new roles we call 'superjobs'. In this episode our speakers discuss how to navigate ‘superjobs’ and the trends they are seeing on the ground with their clients.
Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte
Speakers: Kate Sweeney, Human Capital Partner and Organisation Transformation Leader and Phil Coleman, Head of Workforce Transformation and Human Capital Financial Services Partner
DH: I’m your host, Daniel Hind. Today, I have the pleasure of hearing the views of two of Deloitte’s Human Capital partners, Kate Sweeney and Phil Coleman.
KS: Hi, Daniel. Yes, Kate Sweeney. I lead our organisation transformation business here in the UK. And in organisation transformation, we’re all about, how do we architect, design, and work with leaders through their major transformation programmes? Very much focused on the people experience of transformation. And the whole question of future of work is so exciting for us around how do organisations need to be designed differently to be effective in this new world.
PC: Hi, Daniel. So, I’m Phil Coleman. I’m the leader of the workforce transformation practice in Human Capital. In workforce transformation, we focus on helping our clients design the workforce of the future, thinking through what are the impacts of the future of work on their current workforce, what will their target state look like, and most importantly, how can they lead and manage the transition from where they are today to the workforce model that they need to have in ten, 15 years’ time.
DH: Great. Thank you. So, superjobs is quite a grand title. I suppose my opening question would be, what does superjobs mean to you?
PC: First of all, I’m not sure that the term superjobs is one that I particularly like. I have a vision of a caped crusader coming into the workplace, and it’s not really the correct that I would have in mind. But what I think it represents is that there are a number of jobs that used to be characterised by the application of deep specialism, often knowledge specialism, which increasingly are being augmented by technology, automation, machine learning, augmented reality.
And what that means is that the role of the human is to work with a multitude of these technologies to be able to apply the skills that are very much the essence of the human in the workplace; very much increasingly utilising the skills of empathy, situational judgment, and situational awareness.
And when you have the knowledge now codified in the technology, what that means is that the individual who is using that technology, they can apply that knowledge and skills in a way where, in the previous world, they would have very much been focused on a particular domain expertise, now they can use technology and apply multiple domain expertise, but leverage the human skills that actually really matter for the engagement with their colleagues.
DH: Thanks, Phil. Great perspective. Kate, anything you want to add?
KS: I completely agree with Phil about superjobs being an interesting title. I think, for me, the really interesting question is just about how the world of work and the world of jobs are changing. So, for me, the concept around superjobs, as Phil was saying, is about the fact that jobs in the future will need to blend very different skills, and the skills that will be important in the future are going to be different.
I think it also needs to be a challenge that we set ourselves, as we start thinking about work going forwards, and an aspiration, because we know that the trends that are hitting the workplace are going to fundamentally change jobs, both in terms of the nature of jobs, but also where jobs are.
And I think as we go through that journey, it’s going to be important for us to aspire to jobs that are more interesting for people to do. Whether they’re the CEO of a business or whether they’re working on the shop floor, how do we make those jobs the sorts of jobs that people want to do, where they are bring their whole self to work, and they are stretching themselves in these new roles? And I think we’ve got a real opportunity to start thinking about designing jobs in a very different way.
DH: When you talked about trends that we see affecting the workplace, are there any examples you can give to bring that to life?
KS: I think, I mean, Phil touched on a number of them. So, absolutely, the automation of the workplace, but the rise of AI, the mixing of machines and humans, I think is a big trend. We’re also seeing significant trends around the nature of learning and the half-life skills.
I was talking to the European director of a major technology firm, and he was saying that they now encourage their coders to learn a new coding language every year. So, within a year, that coding language is obsolete. So, some big changes in the speed of skills. Some big changes as well around the rise of the gig economy and the move away from all employees being owned into ecosystems and networks of employees. There’s a whole range of different trends that are dramatically shifting the workplace at the moment.
DH: With regards to what we see happening in the UK, some of the projects that we’re working with clients on, have we got any examples that we can talk about, that maybe help the listeners bring this to life?
PC: Yes, we do. So, we’re doing work across a number of different sectors. And clearly, the UK economy, the workforce challenges and the workforce trends do differ across the sectors that we’re facing, but there are some common themes and some common threads that actually are cutting across all of these.
I’ll give an example to start with, from the customer operations centre of a major industrial utility organisation. These are customer operations who are regularly dealing with business-to-business inquiries, as well as a little bit of business-to-retail customer engagement and customer problem solving.
Traditionally, they basically will have call centre structures, fully staffed on premises, with call operatives, usually in excess of the actual demand that is required, because that is what is necessary to meet their customer operation service levels.
What they have recognised with the advent of technology and the gig economy is that they can actually train a contingent workforce that are not necessarily able to travel to a call centre.
Could be based at home. Could actually be able to offer careers and job opportunities that can reach people who are not able to travel, therefore increasing their diversity footprint.
What that’s allowing them to do is to identify peaks in demand, call in through the gig economy, contingent to extra capacity that actually can go online from their home working place rather than coming into a call centre environment.
And that use of technology is both enabling diversity outcomes, in terms of being able to give work to working mothers and to disabled people. It is able to have much more flexibility and dynamism in terms of how they ratchet up or ratchet down capacity, based upon the demand.
And it’s allowing them to optimise and manage the customer experience and the service levels much more effectively than they could do, where they had a fairly fixed, rigid capacity at any time, that didn’t necessarily have the flexibility to cope with the spikes in demand that they may foresee.
DH: Sticking with the theme of automation. I saw yesterday that the BEIS, which is a cross-political committee of MPs, had announced that UK firms are losing out to competitors across the G7, and their view was that this was partly due to the support from government, and also the investment within the UK into automation and robotics in particular.
Do we expect to see over the coming years much more focus on this area? So, the actual redesign of jobs within organisations is going to be a much hotter topic for a wider range of industries and sectors.
PC: Absolutely. And I think that there are some very clear technology enablers for changing the nature of jobs and the nature of work, and there are also some employment and, beyond that, some social consequences that we are going to need to face into.
So, let me give an example. Sticking in the industrial sector. For a major power and utilities company, we’ve been looking at some of the jobs that actually are helping to manage and keep safe their field operations; high-risk environments, where, effectively, power is being produced and created.
Today, they have console operators, who are sitting in control centres, looking at the dials and identifying where there may be any emergent issues or problems from the telemetry that is coming in. And they have field engineers who quite literally are trained to be using all five senses to identify problems; arguably, the sixth sense of experience as well. They’re looking out for smells that could be indicative of a problem; taste in the mouth from the atmosphere that they’re walking around; the sights and the sounds.
And what they are looking into for the future is an environment where augmented reality, predictive analytics, internet of things that will actually allow parts and components that are breaking down to be able to be reported before they actually give and break.
All of these technologies are coming together and creating a new class of job for the super operator, who actually is able to use augmented reality, machine analytics to work out where they might go to, be preventative in terms of problems being solved, but still retain that human element of having that sixth sense and that awareness of the broader environment.
And that effectively is going to take what currently is two jobs, console operator in a command centre and a field operator in the arena of the production, into one job, where a lot of that telemetry can be provided in real time, using augmented reality, to the field operator that now is doing an expanded job.
What we are also seeing, though, is that in society at large, there is an increasing pressure that workforces are retooled to be able to take on the jobs of the future. So, it’s not simply a case of automation and redundancy. There is also increasingly a social responsibility expectation on organisations to actually do the right thing by their employees.
One of the best examples of that was a bank in the Southern Hemisphere, who were automating a lot of the customer interactions and transactions. The need for the volume of branch tellers who were dealing with customers face-to-face, or call centre operative dealing with them on the phone, was rapidly reducing because of the digitisation.
But they identified that there were other industries where the same type of skill sets that those operatives had, will actually be able to provide jobs. So, they actively helped with redeployment and reskilling and moving those employees into other types of employment, where their skills could be utilised.
So, I think what we’re increasingly seeing in terms of the social circumstance is it’s not simply a case of automate and reduce. It’s also a case of automate, retrain, or have a responsibility for the effective redeployment of workforce to areas where their skills are best utilised in the future of work.
KS: And there are some, I think, knock-on implications as well, that it’s worth us thinking about. So, we’ve been talking a lot about the jobs themselves, and particularly the jobs that are being impacted by automation. I think if you take a holistic view of the organisation, that is a very different requirement for leaders. How do you lead in this new world? What do those roles look like? What are the capabilities that you need?
It’s going to have an impact for the whole organisation around finance function, decision-making that you will need to take around, how do you invest? How do you understand value? How do you understand cost? All of those things will be different in this new world.
So, even some of the roles that are less directly impacted, I think there is a knock-on change to the skills and thought processes that are required in those roles as well.
PC: So, what I think we are seeing is that the skill requirements of the resultant generalist jobs, or superjobs as we’re calling them, that are actually combining a lot of the previous knowledge or specialist-based skills, and then applying them more broadly, the skill requirements are often quite different from the skill requirements of the specialist jobs which tend to be either knowledge-based or mechanical-based.
And that means that interpersonal skills, personal confidence, empathy, the ability to relate and problem solve for customers, be they colleagues or be they end customers of the organisation, become increasingly important. And very often, for the people impacted, those are not necessarily skills would’ve been well honed or well developed in early parts of the career.
So, what we are seeing is there is an increasing imperative on learning functions in organisations to be able to help people build the skills and build the capabilities that actually is going to allow them to step into those new roles, where the specialist component of what they were doing is now heavily aided by automation, but where the balance of what they’re going to be expected to do will play much more on those human interaction type of skills and capabilities.
DH: So, Kate, what’s the scale that you see of the impact of automation in the workplace? Are we seeing particular roles that more affected?
KS: So, I think we’re only just beginning to touch on the impact of automation coming into the workforce. And as we were talking about earlier on today, I think it is going to have an impact on all roles. And the superjobs is definitely one factor that we’re seeing, where people are really having to redesign roles around automation, and really thinking about some of the different skills that people will need to do those jobs.
But I always worry, when we talk about superjobs, that we’re focusing on some of the really high-end roles, and some of the opportunities for people in those roles. And in reality, if we’re looking at the workforce as a whole, we have some absolutely critical roles that are in the caring space, and those roles are equally important, and thinking about how they’ll change under the impact of future of work, we ought to be considering as part of the debate as well.
DH: Yes. So, how would an organisation typically try and embark on this type of project? So, if they’re talking quite large-scale job design, where’s the starting point? Because it can seem like quite an overwhelming task.
KS: So, I think one of the starting points is to start thinking about work very differently. I think the really interesting question that organisations ought to be asking themselves is, what are we going to need to be doing in the future? And then how might we set about doing that? I think, too often, people start thinking with their current workforce, their current set of roles and job descriptions, and start reorganising boxes on a page.
And actually, I think the really interesting questions are where people start breaking down jobs into tasks that need to be completed and reassembling them in different ways. And thinking about what needs to be onshore; what needs to be offshore. What can be automated. What could be sourced through our network, through our ecosystems. And really break down the jobs into component parts, and then start to understand how roles might look in the future.
PC: And some of the research that we’ve been doing is identifying how you can, in a consistent way, codify what is the work that actually is being done, distinct from how it’s currently done, and who’s currently doing it.
From that, identifying for that work how much of that work could be subject to automation, either now or in the future, as the technology evolves; how much of that work is suitable for contingent, or offshoring, or other types of talent model; and also what are the elements and the essence of work that actually needs to be done in a highly humanistic way.
From that, it provides the building blocks for organisations to think through what are the roles of the future, what are the jobs of the future; and beyond that, what are the organisational impacts, what are the cultural impacts, and what are the challenges of getting from the workforce they have today to the workforce they have tomorrow, in terms of retooling, retraining. Are the people that they have today, the people that they will need tomorrow? And understanding the nature of work is always the starting point.
DH: So, really looking at the output and working back from there.
KS: Absolutely, and reimagining the future. I think one of the challenges with this work is we don’t know the answers to most of the questions that we’re asking at the moment. So, I think, for an awful lot of people, there are some scenario planning they need to be doing around understanding the art of the possible and really stretching themselves.
I think people aren’t moving quickly enough, and now is the opportunity to do some pilots, to do some experiments, to trial crowdsourcing on a critical programme. Businesses are going to have to learn to operate in these new ways, and it isn’t a leap from how we’ve always done things to some mystical view of the future, where the world is populated by superjobs, and we understand how to work in those ways. We don’t know how to manage people who are ‘cobot’; part humans and part machines. We need to learn as businesses, and I think now is the moment to experiment and test and pilot.
PC: And I think it’s also fair to say that when we do this work analysis, organisations will look at it and say, just because something could be automated or could be outsourced to the gig economy, doesn’t necessarily mean that is what they want to do. So, it’s actually about providing choice.
There are many areas where there are many very positive reasons why organisations might want to stop short of the full potential of automation or the full potential of offshoring and exploiting the gig economy because of the intangible human element that actually makes the output of the work the quality that it does. And this is where what we are providing to our clients are tools and accelerators to actually allow good judgment to be applied. It is not a prescription to say, everything that can be automated, automate.
KS: And then there’s the step beyond jobs. So, we’ve been talking about, how do you break down work and think about how you want to reassemble it in the future. But key questions for me as well is, what’s the culture of the organisation that you want to have? How do you want to lead it? Who’s going to be in your ecosystem? And how are you going to partner with them? So, there are some bigger questions over and above roles and jobs.
DH: Thanks for that, Kate and Phil. Unfortunately, we’ve run out of time today. So, I must thank you for coming along and sharing your thoughts and look forward to seeing you again in the future. That’s it for this week. If you do like the podcast, please follow us or subscribe. If you have any ideas for a future topic, please contact our Future of Work team. Details are listed on the podcast channel. Thank you.
Episode 3: Future skills: Keeping the workforce human
What are the skills of the future? In this episode our experts discuss the importance of 'human' skills and capabilities and why these are essential to business. But how can organisations develop the skills needed for the future of work, and what key blockers are they likely to encounter when reskilling? Listen to find out!
Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte
Speakers: Jonathan Eighteen, Director, Human Capital and Aoife Kilduff, Senior Consultant and member of the Future of Work team
DH: How do you see the future of work impacting your customer, your organisation or your future workforce? This is Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work podcast, the show where we explore the big questions around the future of work and what this means for you.
In each episode, we speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out. And while technology is often a key driver of disruption, we will discuss the why and the how organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation.
In our previous episodes, we have discussed the human machine connection in a world of automation and intelligent systems. Exploring how effective workforce transformation and focused job design can ensure organisations positively impact the type of work carried out by the human workforce. Today, we get to explore these further and understand how they will keep the future workforce human. I'm your host, Daniel Hind. And today I'm excited to be joined by two experts from across Deloitte. Jonathan Eighteen, director in workforce transformation, and Aoife Kilduff from our Future of Work team. Welcome to you both.
DH: So, Jonathan, what are these skills and capabilities of future?
JE: Well, I think it's a very interesting time to be answering that kind of question. If you look back at the way that learning and skills and recycling [?] has been done over the past few decades, I think the time when we were providing the similar types of skills to large volumes of people, in a time of mass delivery of training and skilling is certainly coming to an end. I think now what's driving that is a huge drive towards personalisation. And obviously, as you think about the way that organisations and indeed consumers want to get things from businesses and organisations in this day and age, everything is personalised and therefore by default, the way that we need to skill our people needs to be personalised as well too, because providing something in a very consistent way is no longer necessarily going to create value. So, this has given rise to trying to make sure that people are skilled in a very different way.
And there are some things which are genuinely human that needs to be followed through to make sure they're consistent. So, those enduring human skills that we've got such as curiosity or insight, empathy, resilience, the curiosity to look at various different things come to the fore. And I think organisations are seeking to try and develop these skills a lot more than they have done in the past. So, these are the ones that I would point to that are potentially the skills of the future. And if you can skill your workforce in that particular way, you have the ability to be able to adapt and be more agile in your approach to delivering value for your customers.
AK: The one thing that I would add is that it's quite interesting from our research, that actually, employees see different skills that they need to build to stay employable than organisations. So, in one of our recent surveys, while organisations were trying to build process skills, cognitive abilities and system skills, those broader sets of skill sets, employees thought that they needed to build advanced IT skills to remain employable. So there seems to be a real disconnect between what organisations need and what employees think that they need to build in terms of skills.
DH: And do we think that that comes about from all of these scary headlines about how the robots are coming into the workplace to take over everything and everyone thinks they know how to programme a robot?
AK: Probably. I think also, there's something around, there's so much learning available to people. So, with a mass of online courses, there's so much content out there, it's difficult for individuals to figure out what it is that they should be learning and what skills they need in the future.
DH: Jonathan, from your perspective, is there any particular type of employer or sector or industry that's really embracing these future skills and capabilities?
JE: I think it's a really good question. There are certainly some industries that are naturally more tuned to these kinds of things. You can create big divisions if we create extremes between heavy industry and manufacturing vs a telecoms firm or a multimedia firm or something like that, which is generally a very different business model in that particular way.
However, what I do think is interesting is that I think there are examples of different organisations in all industries, trying to take this up. And this human capability, the human skills is becoming far more prevalent. And we get so many more increased requests for what are these, how do you develop them, and so on. And there are definitely things that you can develop on an ongoing basis, like emotional intelligence, the ability to collaborate and team work better across different silos given different ways of working where people are focusing around particular problems, and not necessarily do things in their vertical cycle in one particular function within an organisation.
Trying to make sure that they're making sense of various different things that are there, critically thinking and analysing various different things to try and identify new ways of value. And I think those kinds of skills can be applied across all different sectors. It's not specific to one in that particular area. But I think it's fair to say that some organisations have certainly gotten past and through the first gate a lot quicker than others.
KA: And I think also in terms of that, there's something around within industries and also even within organisations, the way work is described is quite specific. So, you could be doing a similar type of work in one function and another, but actually, it's described very differently. So, it's difficult for people to see how their skills could be transferable, and they could work in other organisations or roles within the workplace.
So, I think one of the things that we are seeing now is organisations starting to adopt a common skills framework for more of those human skills so that people can start to self-assess, and also figure out where best to go in the organisation to build their skills.
JE: Empathy is an interesting one in terms of understanding and considering others feelings. By definition, I think it's probably a good enough definition of empathy. There are lots of roles in areas where you could think… A stupid example to prove the point, very extreme, but if you could automate a doctor by getting a computer or a robot to learn every single piece of scientific research that's ever been written, and therefore be able to diagnose an individual, but could you get rid of the nurse in terms of the empathy that's shown in a bedside manner. That's a very different skill set, but very important to someone's care who's going through the time of their life where they might need that. So, I think that's one extreme example of empathy in that area.
I think another example could be something around resilience. You can automate everything as far as you can go. But if the answer is computer says no, then that might lead to a dead end. I think the skills in terms of having resilience, being able to push and being able to critically analyse where the next thing could be, and which next step to take, is an innately human skill, which is difficult to programme. So, I think when those kinds of roles where they've got that requirement, that would be a great example of where these things could be applied.
DH: What would you say, in your opinion, is the key driver for businesses to really embrace these skills and capabilities of the future?
JE: I think there's more than one the key is a very crucial word in your question. There's lots of different drivers around that. Clearly, the pace of change given technology and automation you've alluded to, is ever increasing, and organisations are needing to keep up. Barriers to entry are coming down through technology in terms of the opportunity to enter into new markets. The traditional healthcare life scientist type firms are having competition from all sides now, from non-traditional areas by just one example. So, there are loads of different trends and forces that are moving forwards.
I think the firms that we see that are enlightened around the way they're doing this are actually really beginning to think about the work itself, and really challenging the older, more traditional ways that things have got done either in a research and development type area or a manufacturing stuff or a commercial/sales environment or something to that effect, really challenging the way that the work in the future can be done, and challenging the way that they are then getting the talent, and therefore the skills that are needed to develop that work itself, whether those are on balance sheet, off balance sheet, freelancers, automated, robotised, etc, or indeed in terms of different geographies as well too.
So really challenging the way that the work is done and therefore the skills that are needed. The workforce is therefore changing, given the variety of different talent channels that I've just mentioned, and then potentially the workplace could be changed as well, too. So really thinking through all of those things as a nexus of forces is then coming up with a new learning strategy, a new skilling strategy for the organisation that they need moving forward. So, I think these are some of the enlightened practices that we're beginning to see, fledgling in some cases, but different organisations trialling to do work in a very different way.
AK: And I think, also, you mentioned around looking beyond just on balance sheet workers to see who is best to do the work. I think even within those on balance sheet workers, organisations are starting to realise that actually, the skills that they need are oftentimes quite expensive to buy in. So, it's difficult for them to go externally and recruit for the new skills that they need. They actually need to put more emphasis on retraining and reskilling their internal staff, the employees that they've already got, because it's too expensive. to hire it externally.
DH: I was listening to an HBR podcast recently. They were talking about the apprenticeship route in the States, and they were saying that the development of internal pipeline, the development of skills and capabilities is a far more cost-effective route than actually trying to buy it in. So, there’s certain expertise that you can buy in, but to actually develop the workforce and the skills and capabilities that you want to be able to deliver that customer experience is far more cost effective to develop in house.
So just on that, what are the typical barriers to organisations wanting to or being able to actually embark on quite a significant shift in their skills and capabilities framework?
JE: So I think it's important just to back up a second before we go to that really good question. I think that one of the things that we've seen through our own research, our latest human capital trends, is that organisations are recognising this is a really strategic lever in terms of learning, skilling, training, reskilling, reengineering their workforce. End executives are reporting that this is a really hot topic for them in that respect. But many of the organisations are finding that their strategies to which your question is aimed are not necessarily keeping up with the challenge that they've got where they see this as a really big strategic lever. And this is the reason why learning as a topical reskilling has flown up the charts in terms of human capital trends over the last few years.
So, coming back to your question then in terms of the challenges around it, and I think already mentioned, this learning is just the opportunity is everywhere, given course content, internal stuff, external stuff, networks of learning from other people around you, specialists or people who have got certain knowledge around a certain skill capability or something else that you could learn from. So that whole notion of training/learning is changing. The definition is getting a lot broader. And organisations that do well are offering those kinds of experiences, not least in multiple different types of channels, but much more in terms of volume as well too.
So, the channels they’re offering are much more volumous, and the volume of stuff is getting bigger and bigger, which gives rise to another challenge around how you, as an individual, can make your own personal choice. So, adhering to that before the whole situation the whole area gets too noisy for someone to navigate their way through. So, one of the challenges is how you navigate your way through that and find out that you're getting the right personalised situation for yourself. Because long gone are the days where you joined a trade, learnt your trade, got more senior in that area and became a leader because of your learnt trade. It's possible for people to be jumping around lots of different jobs over a period of time, and therefore adding their skills and capability over a long part of their career.
And this is one of the reasons why I think that one of the key things is around learning agility. The ability to recognise where you are deficient and want to pivot to something new, either for interest, or due to changes in your job or anything else like that. On a personal level, it’s going to be something which is going to make some individual stand out from others in the future.
DH: So if we were trying to embed this learning through the employee life cycle, how would we go about that?
AK: So if you're thinking about right from the beginning, when you're starting to attract people, how can you start to help people learn about the company before they even join? So, for example, some organisations use VR to simulate a day in the life in the organisation. So, you're already embedding learning right from the beginning. Then when you're thinking about onboarding, a lot of organisations, the key learning that they give to their people is compliance training and safety training. But actually, what are the other key skills and that you want your people to learn, and how can you start to embed that into your onboarding process?
And then if you're thinking about development going forward, it's really important to look at the learning analytics behind it. So, what are the training courses and the online learning and the other types of learning that are available in the organisation? What's working, what's not working? What do your employees prefer? And what actually has the greatest impact on employee performance? So, you can really get a picture of what to continue and maybe dial up, and that kind of learning is less impactful?
And then when you're thinking about that incentive piece, so how do you start to ensure that employees get recognised and rewarded for their learning? So, there are some examples of organisations who've actually changed their reward structure, so that their bonus reflects performance, but their base pay is based on the market relevant skills that they've developed in the last year.
There's also something so you're incentivising the individual, but actually, how do you incentivise the manager to release their employees and step away from day to day jobs? And also, how do you train line managers to have those fundamental conversations and guide people to the learning that's most important to them?
And then when you're thinking about actually retention, we talked about internal mobility, but how can you enable people to move around the organisation and learn on the job so that they don't necessarily have to leave the organisation to develop further?
JE: There's some great examples there. I think there's a couple of others at the organisational level that you could pick out. I mean, without naming any individual institutions, there are some that have recognised the need to reskill vast swathes of their workforce, and even gone so far as to pay individuals who've been chosen because they've got the capability and the aptitude potentially, and the interest to retrain and get accredited and certified in a new role, and therefore take up a new position. And your great example there about them paying them in a different way, based on a market rate, actually creates a new currency for the way that pay and reward is done based on skills in a true way. And that could be a new way of looking at things in terms of reward and recognition, linked to development in the future. And I'm sure that that that might become something that becomes more common.
There are other organisations who are actually now badging and certifying skill sets and so on, much like you would be when… When I was in the clubs and had my arm full of proficiency badges. A similar kind of concept. A silly example to make the point, but that kind of concept coming up, which is either internal accreditation or even an external one, so that people can be seen to be badged in the right way and accredited to do various different things.
AK: The other thing I would say just around the key blockers is particularly around those frontline staff roles, where the employees are dealing with customers on the shop floor or in a warehouse. Those roles are oftentimes the ones that are most likely to completely transform, due to automation or other factors. But these are also the people that are the least likely to benefit from reskilling. And part of that is that organisations think it's too costly to take people off the shop floor or off the warehouse floor to reskill them. So, there's a need to be a little bit more innovative and think differently about how you can start to reskill those people, that doesn't necessarily disrupt their day to day jobs.
DH: I was recently listening to Jeremy Bailenson, who is a pioneer within VR, and he was talking about some work that they have done on the shop floor training using VR. And actually, some of the stats that they have got is that three hours of classroom training through a VR headset can be condensed into 15 minutes. And you don't need the floor space because that they're doing all the customer facing roles. And the retention is the same. So, retention of the training is the same, or if not better. So, are we seeing any other technology enabled approaches to developing skills and capabilities?
AK: One thing that we've noticed with our clients is, in terms of internal mobility, and I know we mentioned that earlier as being important to build those transferable skills in an organisation, some organisations are now using technology that creates AI enabled talent marketplaces, which basically allows anyone in the organisation to put up work, and then AI matches to work to people who have the skills and capabilities, but also the ambitions to do that kind of work. That really opens up work across the organisation and enables people to move around more freely. But also, it enables them to build skills in line with their development needs and desires, at relatively low costs the organisation, because you're not taking people out and doing classroom learning. You're enabling people to spend some time on developmental projects for 20% of their time, for instance. So that's one of the interesting trends that we've seen with some of our clients.
JE: That's a great example. I think that in itself and giving the opportunity to look at new environments and different situations is in itself a learning opportunity. It's not a piece of eLearning. It's not a face to face class, but it is developing someone giving them exposure to a new experience, which is not necessarily just education. So, this whole notion of a much more broader definition of skilling or reskilling is really important when it comes to it.
There are lots and lots of new technologies that are able to make learning very, very specific to an individual, that can learn the systems themselves. Ironically, they can learn about the individual, the more they use them to understand what type of channel they like, what type of topics they're interested in, what their job role might necessarily be needing or seeing in the outside world, connecting them to people internally that are maybe thought leaders in that particular space or even externally as well, too. So, technology can actually help in that way, in a very traditional sense.
And this is actually forcing a lot of organisations to really rethink what they're doing around their learning technology ecosystem. And alongside the great example that you just gave around internal mobility and networks in that particular way, using AI as an underlying area. I think the great panacea is if you can do all of those things, and then meld all of this other data that's available, HR data, performance data, and really start being able to predict where those skills gaps actually are or could be in the future, and then predetermine how you're going to try and close some of those skills gaps. That's the great opportunity for organisations.
DH: I've seen a number of articles in the press about who is responsible for learning as this debate going on about is it the responsibility of the employee? Is it the responsibility of employers, especially if employers wholesale are implementing automation across many industries? Or where does government fit into it? And I just wondered what your take was on that.
JE: I have a take on it. Obviously, I'm slightly biased in terms of my profession. But I think generally speaking, it's the responsibility of everyone. I think those people that, as my example earlier on in terms of learning a trade, it's probably not going to be relevant in the future. But I think if my children who are growing up, who knows what they're going to do? But I think what they are going to need to do is to be able to learn and learn agility so they can change and pivot and then relearn and go where their interests are. That level of personalisation, I think, is what's needed.
I think organisations, to our examples earlier on, are now needing to do things in a much more individual fashion. You can't just roll out swathes of training that is very consistent, because things do need to be very different. And it's been in the press in the last few weeks, where we are in the current political cycle around training and government's responsibility and investment and everything else there. That's certainly something that's going to be pushed through. You mentioned apprenticeships in the US. Well, you look what's happened in the apprenticeship market here in the UK over the last decade or so.
AK: I think I mentioned it earlier around that disconnect between employees and organisations in terms of the skills that employees think they need to learn. But I think there's also a disconnect in terms of who employees think is responsible for the learning. And in one of our recent surveys, we found that employees think it's the responsibility of their organisations to reskill them. So there needs to be more of a two-way communication around, actually, we're in this together. I'm investing in you, but you also need to give the time and invest yourself in recycling.
JE: I think it's a good example. It's interesting that research has said that. There are good examples of organisations in multiple sectors who have realised that this is something which is really important, not least because it helps with their reskilling problem, and organisations have all sorts of reskilling problems we talked about, given all the various different forces there. But it also helps engagement and there is a direct correlation between engagement and training and learning and everything else and interest for people to remain in their jobs. And as we've said, it's cheaper to retrain or reskill people as opposed to again find experienced hires, with the same level of capability in the open marketplace.
AK: A lot of the time, organisations are worried about communicating what skills are required or the future direction of the organisation because it's so unknown and it's the future and it's hard to define. But there's a need to be more open around the uncertainties to work more collaboratively with the employees to say, this is where we think the organisation is going. This is the skills that we think will be important in future, but that might change, rather than not communicating because of lack of clarity.
JE: I think we'll see a lot more organisations be a lot more choice full about how they define work and the workforce and the workplace they need in the future. And this, I think, will then drive a difference in terms of learning strategy, learning culture required in the organisation, the reskilling that's required, and could drive a fairly significant change in terms of the way that organisations do these things.
DH: Do we see the opportunity to take this back almost back to source and about how we actually educate the next generation of workers as they're coming through school and university? Is there a potential change to the curriculum?
JE: I think you're onto something. How we are skilling our future generations is clearly going to be important. I think there's lots of, I can't talk to specific piece of research but just generally feeling is that maybe graduates and people coming out of university are not necessarily having got the skills that organisations are now needing or wanting, and therefore that kind of early training becomes really, really important. So, I think there's definitely something there. How the governments in the world are going to adapt to that opportunity, who only knows? But certainly, there’ll be something to work on.
AK: So some organisations are actually starting to partner with schools and universities to create more bespoke curriculums that will meet the needs of the skills that they need within their organisations. Because as you mentioned, Jonathan, some school leavers and university students, when they come into the workplace, organisations are finding that they don't necessarily have the skills that they need. So, we'll see how that goes and how those examples move forward.
JE: I'm also seeing a trend in terms of organisations through the learning and leadership and skilling challenges and therefore strategies, creating a lot more academic partnerships than they have done in the past, and connections with academia and other partners in their ecosystem, to enable them to either jointly develop things in a different way, to start that pipeline of skilling earlier. And, of course, to do things in a way that’s slightly off their balance sheet as well, as we talked about at the beginning.
Episode 4: Being human first – gearing up to deliver experience
What is human experience (Hx)? Why is it becoming more emotive and important in the world today? As we re-imagine the way we engage with tech and what work is, businesses are becoming human-centred in their design. Andy Sandoz, Chief Creative Director at Deloitte and Richard Evans, Director within our Human Capital Practice and Employee Experience Lead, discuss all things Hx - from brand impact, to customer experience and the impact on society as a whole.
Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte
Speakers: Andy Sandoz, Chief Creative Director at Deloitte and Richard Evans, Director within our Human Capital Practice and Employee Experience Lead
DH: How do you see the future of work impacting your customer, your organisation, or your future workforce? This is Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work Podcast, the show where we explore the big questions around the future of work and what this means for you.
In each episode, we speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out. And while technology is often a key driver of disruption, we will discuss the why and the how organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation.
In this digital world, you won’t venture far without hearing about the importance of your experience with an organisation, either as a customer or as an employee. The human experience is a key trend facing all organisations, but why? How does this topic called human experience set companies apart from their competitors? And most importantly, what does it mean for you and me, as customers or employees?
I’m your host, Daniel Hind, and today I’m in conversation with Andy Sandoz, Chief Creative Officer, and Richard Evans, Director within our human capital practice and our employee experience lead. Welcome.
DH: Hi, so a big question to start. What is human experience?
AS: Just an easy one to start.
DH: It’s small, right?
AS: Small, what is human experience? So it’s everything, anything. In the context of the way we’re talking about, sensibly, it’s experiences that really understand and are created for real lives, real people, real moments. So they’re experiences that are empathetic to human values, contexts, moments in time, what really matters at that point, really, and so whether that’s in a marketing sense or in a workday sense, or in any sense, really.
It’s just creating experiences from a human-centric point of view so that they really resonate, both logically and emotionally, with us as human beings.
RE: Yes, and I think that’s a really key point because I think we are all, at heart, humans, whether we’re a customer, whether we’re an employee. Whatever it is, whatever guise we’re working in, we’re a human at the heart of it. And I think it’s something that organisations now are starting to wake up to, that we really need to drive something around the human experience.
AS: Which is remarkable, isn’t it, that organisations are waking up to it? And if you look at it, you go, wouldn’t it be logical that everything was human-centric, but it isn’t. That’s a real… that’s the bulk of digital transformation, is driving human centricity, and you’re thinking, what did we have before that, you know?
DH: So if you think about a frictionless experience for a consumer, how do you create that? And similarly, then, how do you have your employee group that sit behind that, engaged productive, efficient, proficient, quickly to support that frictionless experience? And I’m thinking about then one organisation cross-selling through multiple organisations. How do you make that easy and simple for a customer?
AS: I think when you see retail that’s managed to blur the line between employee experience, and there’s a few examples out there.
DH: And how successful they’ve become.
AS: And you can quite easily see that the employees are having a good time. They’re engaged, they’re happy to be there, and it creates the energy with the customers and back and forth. And there’s that sense of bring yourself to work, work the way we live. They’re proud to be part of it.
RE: And they take that home.
AS: But what are the key drivers of that, then, just practically? It’s a culture that allows personalisation and humans to bring themselves to work and to have ideas and do that. It’s technology that releases them, great technology that makes them more productive, happier, that work the way we live through tech.
RE: Enables a more simplistic… absolutely.
AS: What other triggers are in there? There’s the digital transformation point, that technology can really bring out the best in humans. Then there’s the cultural point about creating permissions within that culture for us to be the best that we can be. There’s maybe that enhanced intelligence point from AI as well, isn’t there?
RE: And there’s the agility as well, to be able to work across the organisation, so that…
DH: Yes, I’ve got a brilliant example. So a certain technology company, I went into one of their stores to finally upgrade my personal mobile phone. Chatting with the sales assistant in the store, no pressure, took me through all of the benefits of upgrading.
I then went home to think about it, went online, look at their website, very easy to flow through. Decided I would buy. I bought using their finance package because I bought the unit itself, it wasn’t going through a mobile carrier. Then could have picked up the phone that evening in the store, but decided to go the following day.
They set it up for me, and I’ve obviously been with this particular technology company for a while. All my backup was on the cloud. It was all done in store, and then five days later, I had a follow-up call, where they took me through some of the new functionality of the phone. Seamless.
RE: Yes, so beautiful, seamless, great experience. And if you can think about that, then, being flipped internally for them as an employee, changing the world. What people are caring about now, when they go to work, is very different than potentially what we had many a moon ago, where I think organisations, and I think the relationship between employees and organisations has been broken to date. I think almost the monetary bribe that we come to work to work with, we’re paid, and there’s an end result.
AS: Is it broken or just not enlightened, in the sense that it was transactional?
DH: I think so.
AS: And then the… even just the term employee is an interesting one going forward, because as talent, you’re human resources. You’re a resource to the business and the business is all power. And I think that cultural shift has been fascinating and we’re in the early days of that, and who knows where it tracks. But the business is not all powerful. The business can be taken down by an individual, and that’s all new territory for all new businesses.
RE: Yes, agreed.
AS: But also the fact that that business is there to sell something. It needs to engage its customers and its customers are looking at the behaviour of the business.
RE: I think people genuinely now want to engage with business in a very different way. It’s not just about that monetary reward. It is very much about bringing my whole self to work, and is my organisation caring for me? Am I taking… what I’m taking home, is that reflected in my home life?
So being able to empathise with individuals but giving them the ability to personalise their experience with a business, I think, leads undoubtedly to more engaged, healthier employees that really outdrive the value that a business can bring to the marketplace. And I think we know that it’s intrinsically linked to value outcomes for a business, it’s intrinsically linked to a better, healthier employee, which will inevitably drive productivity and efficiency for that business.
AS: So it’s not just good, as in it’s a good thing to do. It’s good for business.
RE: No, it genuinely has benefit, better benefits to the bottom line. Obviously not that we should be focusing directly on the bottom line, but intrinsically, it’s linked.
AS: But it’s the same. You talk about purpose. You talk about profit and purpose and the triple bottom line and it’s all linked. And it seems very much the same here, that if you look at your business from a human perspective, then you start to look at the future of your business with better returns because of that.
RE: I personally, and I’m quite passionate about it because I want to bring myself to work, working with people and an organisation that genuinely cares about others and the individual, and making their experiences of work better for them. So whether they’re at home, whether they’re in their working life, that we are, as an organisation and businesses, doing the most we can for society at large.
Also, generating revenue, also driving money for us and those individuals, but really thinking about society and our impact upon them. I think we should hold that light up to a lot of organisations.
DH: Picking up on your point earlier, Andy, most people would associate the human experience as an output of digital transformation. But we’re saying it’s much wider than that.
AS: I think it’s a consequence of digital transformation, like many things, in a way. Digital has… it’s changing the way we work and it’s changing what it means to work, and so if you take the former, then it’s through technologies, changing how we connect. It’s not rocket science. I’m not going to hit you with a load of insight here that’s going to knock your socks off. It’s just changing how we connect, and because of that, it’s changing what we understand and how we talk.
It’s allowing businesses to get closer to their customers, to their people. It’s also allowing people and their customers to tell the business what they think of them publicly, and that’s damaging or not, depending on where the business is. So suddenly, it’s impossible to ignore the human experience from a customer centricity point, either because it’s promising great returns for digital transformation and impactful cultural change in your business.
Or it’s that if you don’t do it, then you’re not actually transparent and open as a business, and therefore your reputation is at risk because of that. And all that really… so some of it, some of the transformation is businesses being nice and being more human. Some of it is because it’s a threat if you don’t operate in this way and the thing that always amazes me about digital technology is it promises transparency and it creates opacity.
And so it promises that we’ll all know what everyone’s thinking. We’ll have an open and nice thing, and then it just goes really dark. You’ve got fake news, and who knows if that story is true. So all businesses are using these tools of connection to really rethink how they connect with people, and I think it’s having resonant waves into the leadership of businesses, who are human.
It’s easy to forget that businesses are boxes full of humans, and so as it comes back and you start to think about that, for most people, empathetic principles kick in and you start to think, I need to do this. But if you think about treating your talent differently, that’s not just because you think it’s nice. You should do it. It’s because it has a commercial imperative. It has an impact on your sales. It has an impact on your productivity.
There’s all kinds of... so it’s actually quite a strong commercial spine in why we are becoming more empathetic and human. And then, obviously, so I don’t rant for ten minutes on the subject...
DH: It’s a very good rant, though.
AS: The robots are coming, right? So there’s a sense of what are we, as humans, in work. So there’s definitely a humming resonant machine in the background.
RE: Yes, and I think what’s really interesting about this is thinking about an experience, like when you book a holiday or you stay in a hotel, what do you do? Do you go and speak to the hotel? Is that where you start? No, you start with other people’s experiences, and that’s how you then choose where you go on holiday, where you then book that hotel.
And theme parks did this an age ago, where they geared up the entire journey in a theme park through a specific experience that they wanted you to have. So this is old-school thinking, and I think what we’re seeing now is that transition, or the intersect, I guess, of CX, UX, and EX, flipping internally within organisations.
So as an individual, I have all those amazing experiences across businesses as a customer. Why am I not able to do that internally? Why am I not able to work the way that I live, and have that experience with work? Why is everything so difficult? Why is booking expenses so darn hard? Why is booking time so difficult?
AS: But also, if you think about it, if you get a productivity bump from that, you also get a… how would I put it, an energy bubble, like a happiness that comes with it. There’s a fulfilment in your job. We’re better when we’re happy, when we’re collaborating more, and so what is fascinating about that is technology can deliver that. It can deliver those benefits, and that’s maybe why it ties to digital transformation.
RE: And I think that’s where it’s intrinsically linked to how do we support businesses grow, and look at the way they can leverage the human experience to really accelerate their growth. Because fundamentally, productivity and quality are intrinsically linked to energised and happier individuals, who are collaborating across the business, bringing that bottom-line revenue bump.
AS: I’m only talking now because Dan’s been trying to get a word in for about five minutes.
AS: I was just going to chip over. I was thinking I was going to let him go in but now I’m just keeping him out. Dan, what would you like to say?
DH: I was just going to say that the brick wall that was there for years between employer brand and customer brand has completely vanished through social media.
AS: Yes, good point.
DH: And now, actually, what you present to your customer, fundamentally, your customers could be your employees or vice versa.
AS: Well, they are both, and often your best advocates as well, and advocacy and marketing is certainly a huge area through digital tech. For me, that’s one of the most exciting parts of it, and one of the reasons why, as a creative director, I work at Deloitte. Mostly because I believe if you take the idea out of marketing and put it in the centre of the business, it’s more powerful. And so if you think that the big idea, which is that the main productivity of a creative business is to create an idea that can tell stories for the business in many forms.
If you elevate that to put it in the business, not only will it do the marketing and advertising, it will do the employee experience. It will do the supply chain, it will have an impact on governance and behaviours and decisions that the business makes. And so for me, brand is becoming more important, that central idea to what a business stands for, the north star, call it purpose or mission, or there’s many structures you can use.
That central thought about what a business is and isn’t that allows people to gravitate around it, and can tell multiple stories of it, is becoming really important. I think it’s a really exciting area to think about customer experience and my employee experience together for the same story.
RE: Yes, I agree, and I think that now, for businesses, this is the argument, where does the employee experience sit? Is it a human-capital, owned kind of entity? Because it’s so big, because it’s so grand, it sits across the entire organisation, but I think it’s a real opportunity for human capital to really showcase their wares, to show them as that strategic partner to the rest of the business, really driving that experience forward.
And if you think back to Andy’s point around the intersect around CX and EX now, the brand that your business has within the market is so important to attracting that right talent, to getting those people into that recruitment process, into onboarding. Shying away from it, ignoring it, is just going to be catastrophic for businesses in the future. So I just think, as a fundamental thing that businesses need to look at, is how that intersect works for them.
What are people saying about their business who are present employees versus ex-employees, versus potential employees? And I think understanding that that all has a bearing on your business… are they doing enough to support you in that experience? Massively agree.
DH: Just picking up on your earlier point, the machines are coming. Automation, we’ve discussed this in previous podcasts. But thinking about visibility and brand and culture and pushing the value of humans up the value chain, giving them a more worthwhile work experience, is there a consideration for organisations moving forwards, maybe about actually truly embedding people and tech together to get the best out of each other?
So I suppose where I’m going with this is there’s a lot of headlines at the moment around the machines are coming. Everyone’s going to be unemployed and the machines will do everything. But actually, the reality is that machines can’t do everything, and by truly getting some of these new technologies to complement human skills will bring the best value to your customer and, fundamentally, to your employee.
But if the machines are coming and we just wholesale out certain activities, isn’t there a risk to that brand, the image of that organisation in the marketplace? Because it is so visible now, the line between.
AS: I think that you hit on the most human of human points in that, about… I don’t know how old The Matrix is now, but old enough.
DH: Favourite film.
AS: Yes, you go back to cyberpunk and the books and go back to sci-fi. The thing that always strikes me about sci-fi is none of its happened and it’s old. So it’s all in the future and it hasn’t happened yet but it’s old. It’s a very strange medium for me, sci-fi, now, because it takes me back 50 years and forward 50 years at the same time.
It’s disorientating, but at the heart of that was a point for me that it’s how organisations are considered in how they move forward in the relationship of technology and humanity to allow the best for that. And I find it very positive that we’re so focused on the human aspect of that, like my pithy response about technology is, I don’t think it’ll replace me. I think it’ll release me.
And I think… but I also recognise that I am marginally sophisticated in my understanding of technology. I wouldn’t say a lot. There’s plenty of people much further down the line in their comprehension of what tech can do than I, but there’s also plenty of people who are less sophisticated in their comprehension of what technology’s going to do.
And I think because of the messages we have been given from culture about technology and the potential threat, they’re very scary things to jobs. And you are seeing and you will see the loss of employment through AI because of what it’s doing. So it’s on those businesses, it’s on our business, to retrain and think about the people impacted to… certainly when I think about me as someone who writes stories for businesses.
How you articulate change is really important in the business, about why this change is coming, what it means. And I find that if you educate people around it, you can create some confidence. If you include, you can get more trust, and if you excite, you can get productivity. So a story can do that. It can engage people and it can include people, so one of the things around technologies is talking to people about what your technological future looks like and where you’re going and why and what impacts you would expect to see.
And where there are negative impacts on the human workforce, what you’re going to do to mitigate that, to train, to move forward, to change the business. And so there’s a higher degree of transparency and narrative for me that understands that. But then also to create this positive viewpoint that says, this is what it can look like when we have humans with technology and that connected point that says it’s about the with. Together with AI, what can we achieve when we are enhanced by that.
DH: Is it the book Sapiens, where he talks about the power of storytelling and why we’ve advanced as a species?
RE: Because of it?
DH: Because of it.
RE: Yes, it’s interesting. I think what’s most interesting about the technology, AI question, there’s two things. I think one is, how are we going to leverage to augment, to build businesses based on the technology inputs that we’ve got? I think that’s a very interesting conversation because it’s about rescaling and I think it’s about augmenting. I don’t think it’s about replacing. I think elements of it will be replaced, but I think that’s the core, menial tasks that are easily repeatable, that can push people up the value chain.
And then I really like the idea of back to HR, thinking more about the roles that they have in place today. So marketing, for example, the way in which they build that narrative, the way in which they are going to help and support the business move forward, whether it be with technology or through the narrative, or through marketing, which I think today is something that generally HR don’t necessarily have as a role specifically within that HR department.
But they do need to recognise that that is something that from, whether it be the experience, whether it be the service delivery model, it all needs to be underpinned by somebody that can build that narrative, that can market it in the right way to support people on that journey of change.
AS: The creativity angle in there is interesting also, in that I’ve got a vague hope that the output of work is going to get weirder because humans are going to get freer in what they do. Because technology’s doing a lot of other stuff so humans can be more human, and we are weird. We’re bags of chemicals that come off at weird angles at different times of the day, and all kinds of stuff.
RE: I’m all for a shorter working week, though. Like if we can work two days a week and they pick up the rest of the slack. I mean, two days of optimum output, obviously.
AS: Two days of weirdness and then they can just…
RE: Yes, I mean, that works. That totally works.
AS: But I think, if I project that way, then it’s all going to get more entertaining, which I like the idea of that because it’s about human stories and where we go. But slightly more… I am slightly serious about that but more seriously, I think, is that businesses are going to embrace creativity because humans are going to have ideas and we’re going to want to take those ideas forward. We’re going to invent and innovate and the more that we encourage that in all workforces, and the more that we skill for that, then the more productive the businesses will be.
The more productive the businesses will be in what they can create, and so empowering your workforce to be creative, in the broader sense of the word, I think is key for all businesses. And I think that’s really exciting, that all businesses are becoming creative businesses.
RE: Yes, and I think fundamentally as well, if you think about an experience, that is… if you think about drilling down into how can I create the perfect experience, something that is simple but that is meaningful, that I can personalise but to Andy’s point, that allows me to work in that way. So that I can be innovative, that I can collaborate, that I can bring the very best of me to work to create that end goal or end output for the business.
AS: Any business can have a culture that says, if someone has an idea in this business, we can back that idea if it’s the right idea, or we can prototype that idea to see it. And to just know that you work in a place, any place, in any job, that if you have an innovation that will improve the way that business works, the business encourages you to speak up and then rewards you appropriately, in whatever way is appropriate for the impact of that innovation you create for that business. For me, that’s what work culture should be about for everybody.
DH: What is success in the future? The whole automation piece is going to completely change what productivity looks like in the workplace and that’s sustainability. So what does success look like in the future? Picking up on your point, actually, it’s not getting 20 widgets out of the door. It’s actually a more engaging experience for the customer that may not obviously look like it’s giving an immediate revenue stream. But actually, longer term...
AS: We haven’t really touched on sustainability and the impact of that with… but I think the next transformational wave for us, that currently we’re in a technological transformation wave. And I used to think creativity would be the next wave, and part of me wants to, but I think it’ll be sustainability is. For a business like ours, that works in partnership with our clients around change for the future, how we, as businesses, get fit for a sustainable business future, it’s going to be… it’s already a very pressing question.
It’s only going to get more pressing if you look at the world around us, and a lot of the employee experience and the way people work, how we travel to work, how we work remotely, how we travel around work, all of that is going to change. And there’s going to be dramatic changes, I think, that need to be taken into fact. And that will factor what businesses create. They will factor who works in businesses over what we do.
And so I think… when you try and predict the future, sometimes you do grand predictions and nothing really changes. There’s a couple of little things, but I do really think that there are ideas here down the line that we don’t really know, the great unknown unknowns. And there are things that are going to come quickly through AI, through sustainability, that could radically change the way we work and what it means to work, and what we want from work.
And I think that’s very exciting. It’s that second beat, really. The first one is, technology is changing what we do at work or what a business does. But it’s changing how business works and how we work. And for me, that’s exciting, unpredictable territory.
RE: Can I throw something a little bit provocative out there?
AS: Yes. Wait.
RE: I’ll tell you what it is and then you can decide.
AS: Why is wellbeing provocative?
RE: You’ll see.
AS: What kind of evil world are you coming from?
RE: Wait to see what comes next. So I see a lot of organisations spending a lot of money on wellbeing programmes, like a lot of money. Most of those programmes, I think, lead to people working longer hours to sustain and…
AS: Interesting, they’re counterintuitive.
RE: Personally, I feel they are slightly counterproductive.
AS: Counterintuitive, yes.
RE: And actually, people don’t seem to be spending the time with employees to really understand what wellbeing is to them and what experiences they want at work, or from the businesses, to support that wellbeing.
AS: That’s an interesting point.
RE: And I like the idea of just ripping up what we’re doing in wellbeing right now, and just reassessing, actually, is this really having the impact we desired.
AS: But is it because a lot of… when I look about, so we have in our marketing point of view, we have a phrase, elevate the human experience. That says, elevate that human experience, understand what really matters in people’s lives, and then shape the business around them. And the reason we do it that way is because it’s customer-centric. Actually go and ask them questions about what people actually want before you tell them what they want.
And it seems like maybe there’s assumptions made about what wellbeing is before we actually go and prototype and experiment and ask people really what wellbeing means. And maybe, it’s a question humans can’t answer, because you say, what does wellbeing mean? And you’re like, wealthy?
RE: Yes, you’re well.
AS: It’s taxing, so maybe you’ve got to live with it a bit, prototype it a bit, and it needs to be more experimental and iterative to actually discover what it is before we answer what it is.
RE: Yes, I think applying that agile mentality to actually, let’s spend some time piloting whether wearing a watch that calculates my heartbeat and whether I’m happy and standing at the right time, is a good thing. Let’s pilot it. Let’s see. Let’s bring some graduates in. Let’s test it with them. Let’s see if it fundamentally changes the way in which those individuals interact with the organisation.
AS: That’s a good way to transform any business, though, right? Iterative, prototype, move with empathy and understanding for what you’re finding.
AS: From the facts rather than just jumping in.
RE: I think businesses too quickly jump the gun and say, actually, this sounds good. It sounds good for our brand. Let’s put it in there.
AS: And I was going to say, do they jump the gun because you can get the message out quick?
RE: I think so. Yes, I think it’s that.
AS: But I think it’s comfortable to get the message that we are trying. We are moving. I don’t need, we’ve done it, or we’re doing it. I want momentum. I want, we’re exploring this, and I don’t think you have to create a message that we have achieved our goal in this, which businesses always want to do.
RE: I agree.
AS: We’ve hit the KPIs, we’ve delivered the things. The outcome is achieved, let’s move. It’s not that, is it? It’s iterative development into the unknown of this digital future, this transformational future, that’s changing work. How do you have momentum?
And again, stories help that because stories can be consistent when the outputs can change. Going back to what I do again, always be closing.
RE: But I think that’s right. Whether it be a good or bad narrative, I think.
AS: Good, always good.
RE: Always good, but I think people want to hear what is happening and what you’re trying and what you’re testing and what are you doing to shift the dial.
AS: And what works and what doesn’t.
RE: And what does and doesn’t work. Not just to be told, I’ve got this great wellbeing piece in place. You should join my organisation or come and work here because we’ve got this huge chunky thing. We don’t actually know whether it works or not, but…
AS: Is it bespoke, then, from organisation to organisation? Because certainly the narratives are for me, because brand is, in some ways, very tangible, but mostly an intangible narrative that is bespoke to that business at that time in culture. One of the things about purpose, actually, that I think we get wrong is we call it brand purpose, when I like to call it business purpose, where the brand is an expression of a business purpose.
And I think we’ll get more out of purpose when we bring it back into the business and do more with it. But it’s interesting to think that the journey and the narrative of each organisation is to some degree unique, which means your wellness journey or your employee experience is equally unique, which strengthens that brand distinction. Which helps you retain staff, gain talent, and tell individual stories. So each journey is… where I’m getting to, I guess, is each journey is unique.
RE: Absolutely, and I think there’s this whole age-old debate around the personalisation of an experience. But I think it’s allowing people to work within that experience to personalise for themselves. It’s not, you have to make an experience for every individual, but it’s allowing that individual to bring their own personality and the way in which they [overtalking].
AS: So you don’t make a path, you make a platform.
AS: And you allow people to interpret that platform for their career and where they want to go.
AS: And then you just hang on and hope they’re going to good places.
RE: It’s handrails, so you give them guidance and you give them the ability to succeed across that journey, but without being counterintuitive and telling them that you have to go in this way or that way or that way because that’s how we like it.
AS: And is that a distinctive different management style from more traditional management structures in business?
RE: I think so because businesses typically like to say, here is a process. I can see a start and a finish, and I can deploy that and I can drive my efficiencies and productivities because there is my process. Whereas I think what we should actually be doing is ripping that up a little bit and saying, actually, it’s about creating something that’s bespoke to the individual.
AS: Here’s a promise.
RE: Absolutely. Again, it’s back to the whole narrative and how we plug that in.
AS: Yes, softer skills.
RE: Yes, and I think that’s the mistake that a lot of organisations make, is that experiences are just something that I can template and take from one organisation to the next, and I can say it’s onboarding or… and I think you can. I think you can ultimately say there are moments that matter within onboarding or the recruitment process from organisation to organisation. But the way in which that moment matters to that individual, whether you be an engineer or a retailer.
AS: The way they do onboarding and the way that person receives an onboarding experience.
RE: Yes, could be fundamentally different, and I think it’s recognising that.
AS: It’s interesting. I think there are probably some fundamentals that we all share and then there are some individual points that make you you, and I think that will be the same with everyone. I think that’s the point you’re making, that in these programmes, there will be some fundamentals.RE: There has to be. AS: Like new talent coming in as onboarding, so you can probably identify a baseline of experiences within a business that are consistent. But then what you want to do is make sure that the talent in your business, a, is unique to that business, so they stay and they get something out of that brand and that experience that’s more. And then this personalisation thing is that there’s enough gift in it that the individual can make it their own, which is how you bring your full self to work.
And those things that traditionally at work may have left them at home, bring those to work, because that’s what makes you great. That’s what makes you who you are. That’s what the business needs, actually, because certainly, in my angle, yes, diversity is the right thing to do for business, but it’s also the most productive thing that we can do for business.
Because if we can create a culture of diverse ideas, those ideas are better for the way they build together.
RE: Exactly. To that point, I think, building on Andy’s point, I think it’s about the narrative that surrounds your brand in the marketplace. So who are you attracting to your business? And the only way you can do that is by fundamentally making those experiences available to people, and whether that be a humanised experience, an experience that really matters to a certain individual.
It might not matter to anyone else, but you have to, as a business, understand what your narrative is. And then you have to get into the market and you have to talk about what that narrative is.
AS: Yes, it’s a core narrative with a mix for every single person. You should be able to take a narrative and tell your lens on it, what it means to you. It should resonate with you, but it doesn’t define you. Like in a sense, you define it. You are the example, the co-author of anything like that. Because what you do in the business every day writes that story, and I think that ownership needs to be there.
DH: So Richard, we’re coming to the end of the podcast, so as our employee experience lead, how would you bring all this together?
RE: I guess, to close, I think it’s really about thinking about the benefits that employee experience and the human experience can bring to a business. But I think this really starts with understanding the contributions to society and the individual that organisations can make. And I think in the context of the future of work, I think this begins with a healthier relationship between employees and organisations, and this being reciprocated between the two.
Whereas previously, before, I don’t think that was really apparent. But I think this fundamentally starts with leadership and changing the way in which they experience work, the things that they do at work, and bringing their whole selves to the working environment to really shift that culture. Undoubtedly, this leads to more engaged, healthier employees, that really do nothing but drive additional value for organisations and society at large.
DH: We could keep going for hours, I suspect.
RE: Probably could.
DH: But that is it for this week. I would like to thank you both for a very engaging conversation.
AS: Thank you.
RE: You’re very welcome.
DH: And yes, we’ll see you again at some point in the future. That’s it for this week. If you did like the podcast, please follow us or subscribe. If you have any ideas for a future topic, please contact our future of work team. Details are listed on the podcast channel. Thank you.
Episode 5: Making workplaces human
What is the impact of the future of work on real estate? What does the future workplace look like and how can organisations achieve a workplace of the future? We discuss these big questions with the Deloitte Real Estate Consulting team.
Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte
Speakers: Chris Robinson, Director, Real Estate Consulting and Workplace Transformation Lead and Kate Bossie, Manager, Real Estate Consulting
How do you see the Future of Work impacting your customer, your organisation, or your future workforce? This is Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work podcast, the show where we explore the big questions around the Future of Work and what this means for you.
In each episode we speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out and, while technology is often a key driver of disruption, we will discuss the why and the how organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation.
Deloitte’s Future of Work proposition explores three deeply integrated dimensions of disruption. Work; what is work and how can this be done? The workforce; who can do the work and how we enable alternative talent models? Today we get to explore the workplace where work can get done and how you maximise collaboration, productivity, and deliver a consistent experience to your workforce.
Today, I’m pleased to welcome Chris Robinson and Kate Bossie from Real Estate Consulting. Welcome. So typically when you’re engaging with clients, do we find that they hold certain organisations or have certain environments that they hold in such high esteem that you find they’re trying to replicate what’s already been delivered in another area?
CR: Yes and no I think is an answer to that question. It’s a very good question. I think some things we’ll touch on a little bit of time later on is around what makes a good workplace and the benefits of investing and doing certain things in the workplace.
So clients definitely do talk about, some examples, the tech giants are quite frequent ones that they reference. They sometimes actually say, we are not like those firms for these reasons. Generally, when they hold those firms in high regard, it tends to be not because of the gimmicky things that they’ve done. Certain things we reference, slides…
KB: Slides and beanbags.
CR: Which is always the thing that’s shown in pictures and talked about, whereas in reality, if you visit these places, that’s not really how they are.
So the things that those companies do hold in high regard is they know what they want and they know why, whether it’s to encourage people to spend more time there, or to help attract the right talent, or to provide the right spaces for people to do good work. That’s what they do well, and then they decide to invest in it rather than necessarily saying, let’s copy that templated design or the layout, or something like that.
KB: I think if we unpick those gimmicks, so what the slides, the beanbags, the free coffee does, is it improves… It’s meant to make employees healthier, it’s meant to make them happier, and then the ultimate goal is that it makes them more productive as a workforce. So I think it’s about moving away from just those perks, but having more meaning behind them. So beanbags, slides, better collaboration, healthier workforce, coffee – it just brings people together.
CR: We’re not going to talk about beanbags anymore, though.
KB: No, that’s it, we’re done.
DH: Has that been banned, the last beanbag?
DH: No more beanbags or slides.
DH: Free coffee?
CR: Maybe free coffee.
DH: Good. From where we are now, are you seeing that there is a particular direction that you see the workplace going towards? I’m just trying to think with the drive behind the Future of Work and the changes to operating models or the changes to talent models with remote workers and more contingent workforce becoming more prevalent in the make-up of workforces, are you seeing that that’s having any implications on workplace design?
CR: Definitely on workplace design, but also the things that people think the workplace can do for their organisations. So clients often talk about how it can be a catalyst alleviation. Deloitte just did a talk a lot about using the workplace as a catalyst for cultural change, but it can also be a real drag as well on those things. If you’re trying to enact change in your business and you’ve got a workplace that doesn’t really support it, then it’s pretty difficult to do that.
There’s a stat around something like around 20% of take-up in London over the last couple of years has been through the co-working providers and flexible workspace. A big driver of that is definitely no longer just the start-ups, but it’s actually the big corporates wanting to either get involved in those ecosystems.
So like Deloitte Ventures where there’s opportunities to work with different businesses and incubate and share ideas, but also just wanting a different space for a different part of their business. So whether they’re trying to create an innovation hub, or a different part of their business that doesn’t really fit with the rest, or needs different access or needs a different location, that’s definitely a big driver that we’ve seen over the last couple of years and that will definitely continue.
KB: It’s thinking about what enables you to collaborate and, just an example, on my current project but we’ve seen it elsewhere, as jobs change, skills change and it becomes much more technology driven, actually the way those project teams collaborate, they need to be able to manage the noise and the acoustics in the room.
So actually it’s almost like we’re reversing the trend and we’re going back to more project department style things where the open plan, we’re actually reducing the size of it. We’re enabling teams from eight to 12 to be able to collaborate together because they need to be really noisy within their team, but then they need their focus time as well and not to be distracted. So I think what co-working space offers in terms of those individual apartments will be something that we see much more as a trend.
CR: It’s also, real estate is really important for the Future of Work, partly for the reasons I’ve just said, but also it’s really expensive generally. You have to spend a lot of money on real estate so you need to get it right, and generally the decisions you’re making are quite long-term decisions. You’re making lease commitments, or you’re building something that’s probably going to be there for 15 or 20 years.
So when you compare that to talent cycles and investment in technology and things, the decisions you make have much long-lasting implications than other things in the business, so having to spend time thinking about it and making sure you’re getting it right is really important.
KB: I think we have to look at the make-up of the workforce who are in these workplaces as well and where their values are. As we see an increase in the Gen Z and Millennial workers, they place a lot more value on that, the social impact of a business. I think your workplace, as Chris says, using it as a catalyst could help drive your sustainability and your inclusion agendas and create that culture as well.
DH: Have you got any examples to bring that to life for our listeners?
KB: Yes, let’s use our recent example of the construction of our new London headquarters at 1 New Street Square. We achieved BREEAM Outstanding and WELL Gold, and that was through choosing sustainable materials in the fit-out and then operationally we’re doing things like removing single-use plastic on campus. So there’s a lot of things we can do going forward as well, and I think the workforce become more engaged when they recognise that their values align with where the firm’s going as well.
CR: Yes, there’s also, I think back to purpose but more around the purpose of the organisation itself, I think a lot of consumer business organisations you find particularly have a real… They use their workplace as a way to connect their employees to their brand and for what they do in the market, whether that’s having products on display, or there’s a famous business that lists accommodation options for people to choose.
They have a really strong branding in a number of their offices, particularly in America. They literally design rooms based on the listings on their website so people can sit, in effect, in their customers’ spaces. So I think there’s partly an employee purpose thing, but then there’s also a, let’s remind people why they’re here and why we’re doing what we’re doing to help improve the customer experience through the colleague experience.
KB: Yes, I think Andy mentioned in your last podcast the importance of brand, and the workplace is a huge opportunity to drive your brand experience because it’s a physical piece. It’s tangible evidence of what your brand emulates.
DH: I joined Deloitte literally just after 1 New Street Square had opened. It is a great building. It’s a great place to work and there’s all those different working environments that you can go and suit the mood that you’re in at any point in time in the day so, yes, it’s a great place.
CR: I think it’s a good example as well of businesses needing to get it right and what suits them. The fact just that Deloitte is a, well, firstly it’s a diverse business, it’s also a large professional services business that has accountants and business modelling and parts of the business that are doing work that needs a big desk with a big screen and some meeting rooms for confidentiality, so I think it’s…
Which is why, going back to your original question about what buildings do clients hold up in high regard, they tend to pick ones from their industries because the requirements are quite different and you would never say, well, this is… You have to do this. You’d want to understand the people you’ve got and the tasks they’re doing before you go down gathering requirements or even designing the workplace route.
KB: I think that’s the trend we’re seeing. We talk about there’s the experience economy, we speak about things becoming more user centred, but what does that mean? Yes, it’s what the workplace looks like, but it’s also the process of how we got there. I think the challenge that we face in real estate is that it’s normally quite static.
It’s quite hard to change bricks and mortar. It’s a huge investment and it’s actually just quite tricky to do, but we’re having to become… If we’re going to be driven by experience, it’s becoming more iterative, it’s becoming more experimental.
Before we do anything, it’s about going out to your users and understanding the way they work, their needs, and being able to prioritise those. As hard as it is, it’s about prototyping and testing that early with your user group before developing what that workplace looks like, and that’s a challenge in times of money, time.
CR: The challenge with a lot of these things is often there are… I think you asked the question at the beginning, Daniel, about what’s the impact of all this stuff on the workplace. We could do ten episodes on this and talk about all the different things, but where we try and chunk it up sometimes for clients, particularly that are quite new to this stuff, and group it into three areas and talk about where, what, and how much.
So there is an impact of all these different things on where your workplace should be, whether it’s – well, in fact, do you even need a workplace at all? To your questions around remote work, and there’s different views on that, but do you even need a workplace at all and, if you do, where does it need to be to service your clients and to attract the right people?
We see lots of businesses now open it – well, Deloitte actually is a very good example of even the original Buckley down in Clerkenwell, that type of business needing to be in Clerkenwell to be with all the other design agencies and work in the right area. Now that’s quite a micro location decision, but other businesses make much more macro decisions which is, we can’t be in this regional city anymore, we need to be in this regional city to attract the right people.
So there’s definitely a where question. There’s a how much question which is, to your point on automation, the impact of automation on reducing roles, Efficiencies; with people working in a much more agile way, do you need less space per head than you did before? Do you actually need more space per head because you need collaboration space and spaces like this to record podcasts that you wouldn’t have done before?
Then the what is more around, what does the physical space look like? What does it need to cater for? You can generally find any of the… Whether we talk about the seven disruptors, or the four pillars, or any different construct or framework for the Future of Work, you normally can apply it through those three lenses.
KB: I think a lot of workplace surveys, and I think some of the human capital trends reports are saying that actually when you go out, the main things that people want is flexible design and a choice. People should be able to choose the way they work. I think it’s about the noise management. There’s a huge backlash at the moment against open plan. Open plan isn’t all bad, but it is about… It does allow for collaboration, but it’s providing those quiet spaces as well so you can… That transition between different work modes to allow people to do that as well.
It’s also just about having access to things. So access to people, being in close proximity, whether that’s physical proximity, but also distributed teams. It’s about having the importance on remote connectivity as well within the workplace and also just to resource and supplies as well. So what do you need? What are the tools and assets that you need to do your best work?
DH: Now, if I can talk about a bugbear in an office environment is where you’re walking down with a couple of people to just have a very spontaneous meeting and all the meeting rooms just have one person sat in holding a phone call. A lot of those spontaneous collaboration areas are sometimes taken up by people just holding phone calls.
KB: So a challenge back to you is, do you think that’s a design issue or do you think it’s a behavioural issue?
DH: Interesting. That’s probably a behavioural issue.
CR: Well, it might. It could be either. So there’s the one challenge which is get the requirements right, which is based on how you think people are going to work, how many of each thing do you need, which unless you’ve got a lot of money to change the workplace generally is a once in ten, 15-year decision. So back to our point on flexibility, you need to… That can be challenging. It’s a great point. It’s definitely…
Well, there’s two behavioural questions there. One, do the people that are in those rooms on their own, are they exhibiting the right behaviours or not? But then also, the people… Do you need…? If you’re just going on a phone call with one person, actually is it acceptable for you to do that in the open plan?
It’s interesting how in Deloitte, particularly in 1 New Street Square, generally you don’t find people making phone calls on the open plan. A lot of businesses do that all the time and everyone’s always on the phone, and it would be ridiculously inefficient for them to walk around trying to find the phone booth.
So I think there’s also a question around how accepted is it that actually in an open plan workspace people are on the phone and that’s acceptable, unless of course it’s confidential, whereas I think people do tend to hide away sometimes because they think it’s not the right thing to be on the phone in the open plan.
KB: But you can do clever nudges around that as well. So you look at phone rooms, it’s about not providing a date [?], like a power source, so you can’t actually physically camp out there all day. There’s things you can do to encourage better behaviours as well. Having the budget to be able to make changes so it’s not a one in a 15-year lifetime opportunity, is actually… I think some of the biggest insight we’ve learnt is that if people are able to, they will hack a space to make it what they need to do their work.
Actually, if that allows people to do their best work, we should enable them to do that. We should build in the flexibility. That’s a huge change in terms of, it’s not just about providing variety and choice, it’s actually giving people the permission to personalise and make the space their own, but that of course comes with a number of challenges when you’re sharing space as well.
CR: Everybody would want variety. The challenge is, how do you provide that in the right amounts and in a way that’s affordable? Because if you would like your own, Daniel, desk, [unclear] table and touchdown and meeting space and phone booth, well, that’s brilliant, but then the budget holder runs out of… He can only provide a building for 500 people, not 5,000 people.
Generally in our team, we tend to work for heads of real estate, or programme directors, or transformation directors and I’ve never met one whose at least second objective but generally first objective that he’s been given from the CFO or COO or somebody is, you’ve got to effectively manage cost.
So the bugbear if you’re walking around and not finding space is a consequence of dual objectives, of we want variety and flexibility, but also we’ve got an envelope we need to operate within, and therefore getting variety right is really hard because you need to make trade-offs.
DH: Got you. On personalisation, so we’ve talked about setting up areas so people can go into an area, maybe hack it a little bit and create their own, or there’s different types of areas for how your mood changes through the day or the type of work that you’re carrying out. But I’m sure I read about a Deloitte, I’m going to use the word experiment but that’s not the word, we tested the amount of oxygen in the air or something and it was to look at productivity.
KB: Yes, in Buckley. Yes, you’re right. It’s the Make Work Human and the Buckley experiments.
DH: The Buckley experiments?
KB: Yes, and they measured oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and over the course of the day the oxygen decreases. They are trying to see if it impacts on productivity, which I think generally trying to measure workplace and productivity has been a challenge in the past.
CR: Yes, there’s definitely scientific studies that will prove things like oxygen and light and stuff definitely does impact, but then translating it to a pounds and pence number is tricky.
KB: Yes, and I think touching on your point on having those pressures of cost and becoming a business issue where you have to have metrics of, well, why are we doing this, can this improve productivity, I think if we… We can say we would hope that if an employee is happier and healthier, they will be more efficient and they will be more productive.
Sometimes it’s not about putting just financial numbers on it. It’s recognising that it will drive the value of your business, and actually people being able to feel like they can contribute and bring their whole self to work is a trend we’re seeing. I think having your workplace that can support that as well is really important.
We haven’t really spoken about technology yet, but maybe it’s a good segue to speak about how as more and more technology we start to use, both in our home lives and at work, our physical experience needs to integrate with that.
DH: Can I just, before we move on to tech, are we finding…? In a former life I was a remote worker and it was literally leave the house by exception for a while, and apart from a cabin fever element that can sometimes kick in with that policy, I found I could carry out a work station assessment on behalf of the organisation.
But there was nothing else offered to help me within a home environment make me feel connected to work beyond the headset and a laptop. I wondered if you have come across any examples of leading employers who are thinking about actually truly connecting those remote workers into the workspace that they’re creating.
CR: Yes, there’s a few ways we can talk about that probably. Edgar [?] often talks about remote first and therefore the importance of thinking about, actually as remote working becomes more important when you’re designing a physical workspace, let’s not leave how will people interact with people not in the building as an afterthought. Actually, let’s think about, if anything, that first when we’re designing how spaces look, so there’s definitely something you can do around that.
There’s also I think a general… Well, we’ve seen a lot of businesses, particularly tech firms, push against the remote working principle and actually say – now, this depends what your job is and what your role is, but if a lot of the value that you bring to the business is your innovation and your insight and your ability to collaborate with people, that is not something you can do effectively at home.
So actually, although we talk about automation reducing roles and remote working enabling reducing space, they’ve almost mandated, no, we do want you to come in. Which almost makes you think it’s gone 20 years ago, but actually I think a lot of where these businesses are going is it’s changing what the purpose of the office is and therefore, actually to do these things, we want you to come in. Rather than saying, let’s support you better at home, it’s actually, how do we bring you in more and therefore what do we need to put here when you are here?
KB: I think either way, I think remote first is a really important design principle, but also brilliant basics. So I’m sure many remote workers, often they plan to work from home and then the server goes down, or the technology doesn’t work and they can’t connect to people, and it takes them three times as long to do something because they can’t… They miss that proximity.
So I think if we are becoming more experience led in the workplace, everyone has to have that same experience. It’s not just about people working from home; it’s people working from client sites, people working in distributed teams. I think more and more, especially on the sustainability agenda, we will see businesses starting to commit to less travel to achieve their sustainability targets so this is really important. It’s more than saying, yes, it’s fine for people to work from home; it’s also allowing people and providing them with the right equipment to do that.
DH: That leads me very nicely onto a technology question I was going to introduce to move us in that direction, but very much about this virtual collaboration with remote workers and part of trying to reduce travel. I wonder if we have any examples where we’re seeing specific workspaces created to allow for virtual collaboration. So it could be VR, it could be maybe AR headsets, but a different kind of layout.
KB: Yes, there’s a point where we probably will start to see more telepresence, for example, in terms of being able to dial in. Yes, we might see more VR headsets because you can visualise things, or augmented reality. But I think with so much technology and the disruptors, it’s quite easy to just fall in love with all this new tech and not really think about the end-to-end experience.
I think actually one of the biggest challenges is making sure that’s completely integrated so your workplace experience app or interface integrates with everything else you’re using. Because actually, otherwise you just have all this different tech and all these different things where you can maybe dial into a meeting, or you can use your facial recognition to enter a building, whilst getting out your phone to pay for something.
Actually, that can be quite a pain sometimes. It’s about having that seamless experience, and I think going forward one of the key/main trends in the workplace and elsewhere will be this digital identity piece and the opportunity that brings as well.
CR: These are all really good examples as well of why workplace is quite a complex area to deliver well in, because all these things… We’ve spent most of this time talking about culture and agility and technology and things. Those were never historically problems that the head of real estate bothered about. The head of real estate has to bother about the now because often they are the person that actually has the burning platform of, we’ve got to decide what we’re doing in two years’ time because we’re coming out of this building.
So the head of real estate can often be the person that provokes these discussions, but they can’t be the person that leads it. So where we see clients struggle and also be really successful, the struggle is often getting HR, real estate, and IT to work together effectively and make decisions on the right cycles and have combined business cases that articulate the benefits and the cost savings as a holistic rather than separate pictures.
Also, where they deliver really well is where we’ve seen… I’ve got a client at the moment actually whose programme, which is a huge real estate programme, is being delivered by an HR person. We’ve had clients where actually real estate ends up, not in all industries but in some industries, reporting through HR because of the value that’s attached to it now is seen as it’s a reward thing and it’s an agility thing, it’s a culture thing.
It’s not, yes, we need somebody to buy and sell buildings but it’s just a platform for other things, and that’s definitely something that we are… If we are talking about trends and what the future of workplace is, it’s definitely workplace programmes not being led by real estate.
DH: So we’ve touched on the technology within these workplace environments and I’ve read about smart buildings and all of this is driven by data, I assume. Have we got any examples of client work or anything that’s happening within the market at the moment that you feel the listeners would be interested in?
CR: So smart buildings, or intelligent buildings, or smart offices I would say remains a relatively new area. Now, I don’t think it remains new in the sense of, what can you do and what are the technologies available because there are millions, but more in the, what are the benefits of doing this, and how does it actually help generate return on investment is quite new and I would say relatively unproven.
We talked at the beginning about three dimensions of Future of Work. There’s also, generally we look at three dimensions of smart buildings and they all deliver different benefits. The first one is, to what extent does it support the real estate team making strategic decisions, so how does it give them better data? There’s an example of that you can see in 1 New Street Square with their sensors measuring occupancy and the screens that display the red and the green dots.
There is some user interaction element to that, but the biggest thing is that it gives brilliant data to real estate teams for them to know on a daily basis how many heads are in the building, where, what space they’re using. So that when they come to make long-term decisions, spending hundreds of millions of pounds on new buildings, do they actually need that new building at all?
Or can they push, can they change the way things are working? Or can they do something that means they avoid spending money that they don’t need to? Or could they actually reduce space and release it and therefore generate cost savings that way? So the first thing is real estate strategy and space management.
The second thing is managing the facility better, so proactive maintenance on things that users find boring around lift maintenance and things like that, or lights, or just reporting faults and understanding faults before they happen, so the facilities management of space being more effective.
Both of those things have a business case attached to them because you can spend less on energy if lights turn off automatically and you can certainly avoid cost, but maybe save cost on real estate space. The really hard one is user experience where a lot of people talk about the things that Kate gave great examples of, of facial recognition and digital identity and swiping in on your phone and being able to pre-order your coffee.
All that stuff sounds great. It can be quite expensive and it can also require the integration of lots of different systems, some of which is owned by the vendor, which can make all sorts of difficult things that make what in essence seemed a great idea and did deliver a lot of benefit, firstly, what is the actual monetary value of that benefit and, secondly, how do we actually go about implementing it?
Because a lot of these things, this is one area that definitely when you’ve got clients delivering big programmes and they’re under cost pressure, it’s always a nice to have generally. So if there’s not yet a really clear investment case, then it comes under pressure [unclear].
KB: I think on that user experience piece, if we step back from all the technology, or the sensors, or the security access that you could deploy and we think about the value of having data or an intelligent building for the user experience, I think we’re seeing a distinction between a smart building that’s able to monitor everything, so from your utilisation of annoying people in phone rooms through to it being stuffy in the workplace and your environmental conditions.
But an intelligent building is one that will proactively respond and enables you to flex and use the building the way you want to. If we’re saying that there’s a trend towards people being able to personalise the space or hack the space, that intelligent building where everything is connected by the user interfaces and how it all works I think is important on delivering that user experience as well. But, again, it’s hard to measure. It’s like the productivity question.
DH: Coming towards the end of the podcast, what are the biggest obstacles? Or, maybe an established organisation that’s trying to deliver significant overhaul of their real estate, what are the biggest challenges that you see organisations facing and, I suppose as equally important, how would you recommend they get round them?
CR: That’s a good question and it’s why we exist. It’s why we get to help clients with it. There’s a few things we’ve talked about already that are definitely relevant to that question. One is working out who owns the problem and the opportunity to fix. Is it real estate? Is it HR?
It generally actually has to be C suite because there are things that span different areas of the business and different budget holders and different challenges with the organisation that touch culture, and all those things that actually can’t really be owned by one person. So generally you need clarity on who owns the problem and has a mandate to fix it.
You generally need a sense of collective ownership at C suite level because often you’re driving changes that need, whether it’s breaking personal allocation of desks or corner offices going, or the concept that it’s okay to work from home, or that we’re going to have a different way that we measure people and it’s going to be output.
All those things, they’re quite strategic things that need C suite sponsorship and role modelling actually as well, so whatever the change… So there’s who owns the problem and who has the mandate to fix it. How does it get visibility at C suite level, and then how do you get the role modelling and the sponsorship at that level sustained is important.
Then the last, I was going to make one more point which is people need to care enough and see it as a big challenge that they need to pay attention to, particularly because these… Kate made the point at the beginning around you’re making decisions three or four years out. That’s a long time in business and it sometimes exceeds leadership cycles in business as well.
So to bang the drum and say, we need your input and your shaping to this thing that’s going to happen in four years, people don’t have the time. They don’t want to give you the time of day because it’s not… But then as soon as they are ready and they do think it’s important, it’s too late to make these decisions. So a lot of the challenge is the skill in the leadership of the programme and in their advisors in helping them articulate why it’s important, and the benefits of doing it, and why things have to happen now and not in three years’ time.
KB: Yes, I think two points there in terms of the value, it’s really hard to make a decision maybe four or five years out, but it’s even harder to think actually beyond day one of whatever it is, the new build or day one of opening. But actually being able to see the long-term value of what you’re delivering and enabling that flexibility, because you might take something and actually it has to be 15 years future proof.
So that’s even harder to look ahead because we could be having this podcast in 15 years’ time and we might all have arrived in flying cars, I don't know. It’s really hard to imagine what that looks like and I think having that stakeholder buy-in is really important. It’s really important to do your user research, really understand what the people who work for you and what your future workforce looks like, trying to anticipate those needs as well rather than just following the trends of the tech companies that we’ve mentioned.
I think just an additional point from me is that [unclear] programme is also about really effective change management, understanding what that change is and helping people implement it. Because you can design a fantastic building, but if people don’t have the knowhow or the skills to use the amazing technology that you’ve put in, or understand the purpose of the space, then I think it all gets lost if those behaviours don’t align as well.
DH: That brings us to the end. So I would like to thank you both for joining us. It’s been very enlightening and we look forward to inviting you back at some point in the future. Thank you.
KB: Great, thanks.
DH: That’s it for this week. If you do like the podcast, please follow us or subscribe. If you have any ideas for a future topic, please contact our Future of Work team. Details are listed on the podcast channel. Thank you.
Episode 6: The power of immersive learning
What is immersive learning and how are immersive experiences enabled and delivered? Our expert speakers discuss the significance of this learning method, how it can be used to develop skills of the future and what it is we need future generations to learn.
Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte
Speakers: Ed Grieg, Chief Disruptor at Deloitte and Daisy Christodoulou Director of Education at No More Marking and author of Teachers vs Tech
DH: How do you see the future of work impacting your customer, your organisation, or your future workforce? This is Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work Podcast, the show where we explore the big questions around the future of work and what this means for you.
In each episode, we speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out. And while technology is often a key driver of disruption, we will discuss the why and the how organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation.
In this episode we explore how learning technologies can support the learning sciences both in institutions and organisations of the future. In today’s episode I’m delighted to invite Daily Christodoulou Director of Education at No More Marking and author of Teachers vs Tech? And Ed Grieg Chief Disruptor from Deloitte, welcome.
EG: Thanks for having us.
DH: So, learning in the flow of life has been identified as a key trend and you could almost argue it’s now business as usual. Ed, with yourself, why are people talking about this, what’s the importance within the corporate setting?
EG: I think what we’re seeing is that the skills that people are using in their job and the work that they’re doing is changing quite fast and that’s specifically the type of thing that they’re doing. And so, there is this is kind of need to be learning continuously and I think the flow of life thing I think is that when you are having to do this kind of continuous learning it’s no longer really possible to take a couple of years out to update your skills or even a couple of months or something like that.
You need to be learning much more regularly and you kind of want to move away from this kind of big switch between modes. I know that for myself, we’ll come onto it in a bit but just as an example, we do stuff with virtual reality and 360 video.
And there was a whole set of skills that we learned around stitching 360 video together that was just rendered obsolete basically within a year. It was just like, we learned all these skills and then suddenly the technology had just got to the stage where we didn’t need to do it anymore. I think that’s the fastest I’ve seen that kind of change happen, but I think that’s where the driver is coming from.
DH: Daisy from your perspective learning in the flow of life could be quite a business focused tagline, but how do you see this panning out within the education environment?
DC: As I’d said, we are seeing more and more people are realising the importance and the value of lifelong learning. And I think what we’re seeing both in schools and in the workplace is more of an interest in the learning sciences. I think as both younger students and adults realise that if you do want to keep learning you have to have some idea about how your brain works. And I find it really interesting that the world’s most popular online course is called Learning How to Learn.
And it’s about the learning sciences, it’s about what are the most effective ways of learning and there’s a version for adults and a version for younger students too. So, I think that’s a sign that people are realising more and more that we do have to keep learning. I think also it’s a sign that perhaps a lot of the traditional narrative around education and how we learn is maybe not always that helpful. I think there have been problems within education in the past that it’s susceptible a bit to fads, susceptible a bit of pseudoscience.
So, I think the really important thing is we do need to be always learning. We do need a better understanding of how our minds work and what’s really important is both in the workplace and in schools, that we avoid some of the fads that’s are out there and ground our educational studies in real research. And I think there’s some room for optimism there and the online course I talked about, Learning How to Learn is a great example of that.
There’s other examples where you can look at more faddish ideas, more pseudoscience, so for me that’s a really important thing that a lot of this information about how we learn is better known and is used in both schools and in the corporate learning environment.
EG: And I think that’s the thing that the pace of technological change is driving both the change in skills, but it’s also meaning that people are I think for prone to faddishness and more prone to falling in love with solutions. And kind of looking for magic bullets because all this new stuff that’s coming along and obviously companies are investing in developing it really fast and so they’re trying to push it really hard and sell this stuff.
It’s one of the reasons why the motto, my team is fall in love with the problem not in love with the solution. Because particularly when you’re at the cutting edge of tech you will see people pushing these solutions really, really hard and pushing them as a magic bullet that will solve all of your problems.
And I think we’ve seen that both in kind of corporate learning. But obviously the examples that Daisy talks about in her book as well show that in a school context as well you’re also seeing examples of this kind of technology being pushed as a cure all solution. And without kind of understanding really the problem that it is that you’re trying to solve, i.e., how do we actually learn?
Ian Stewart our chief economist is always looking at what the reasons for the kind of productivity puzzle; why given all of this kind of new tech do we not see the advances that you would be expecting. In terms of, we’ve got all of this new stuff, why is it not leading to the changes in productivity that we would expect. And to be honest, it’s definitely not the only problem, but I would say that there’s a compelling argument that this is definitely part of it. Because we don’t understand how we’re learning we’re not getting the full benefit from this stuff.
DC: Absolutely and I think there’s a really interesting parallel between what you say about the productivity puzzle and some of what’s been happening in schools as well. And that line about we’re in love with the problem not the solution is so apt too, there’s just a real history of examples of investing large sums of money in big hardware investments in schools.
And no-one is really thinking about what you’re going to do with that hardware, how it’s going to be used, and what software or content? So, there’s so many examples of big, big investments in laptops, tablets, what have you, the interactive whiteboards that don’t really have the learning benefits that people hoped for.
And I think Bill Gates himself has come up with a line where he says, we know that just throwing computers at the problem is not a great solution. So, I think there’s definitely something similar there in schools where people are throwing the new technology at it without thinking what problem do we want to solve. How do we learn? How will this particular piece of technology enhance the way that students learn?
DH: We touched on earlier, I think the phrase was learning sciences or the science of learning, I just wondered if we could give some examples of that. And then maybe Ed from your perspective about how you see what may be deemed faddish technology, but actually the reality of how it can help with the science of learning.
DC: For me the science of learning, a really important part of it is looking how our mind’s work and particularly looking at the relationship between working memory and long-term memory. So, I think that’s a really important sort of basic understanding that’s important. And essentially all of us, we have limited working memory and a vast long-term memory.
And working memory you can kind of equate with consciousness, so everything you’re thinking about right now in your mind that’s happening in working memory and that’s why it’s limited. So, if I say, what’s the capital of France? Paris will pop into your working memory, it wasn’t there a couple of seconds ago, but you get a cue in your environment and it pops into working memory.
And then long-term memory is that vast store of information that you have that you’re not thinking about at any one moment, but as I say, if you get the cue in the environment you can summon something up from long-term memory. And what we know is is that working memory is really limited and quite weak and that long-term memory is vast and I think just that basic understanding of that relationship has really important implications for lots of things.
This idea that we no longer have to look things up because we’ve all got Google and that’s such a plausible idea, it sounds like it must be intuitively true. But again, when you understand how the human mind works you realise it isn’t, because we need information in long-term memory to be able to think. We can’t reason everything out in working memory because it’s so limited and just a really obvious example of that is if you’re reading a book and imagine you don’t understand every other word in the book.
Sure, you can go away and look it up, but how much meaning are you going to extract from the book if you have to be looking up every other word? So, for me one of the big fads in the narrative around, you can always just look it up, and that’s something where I think if there was a better understanding of the learning sciences and of how our minds work we would avoid fads like that.
EG: I think that when people have got to a certain level of understand then that is true, that then having that knowledge on hand is absolutely brilliant. But it’s just realising about where that level of understanding is and not just assuming that it’s there right from the start.
DC: Absolutely, and you make a good point about when experts do look things up, there’s a slight paradox here, in order to be able to look things up affectively you have to know something about what it is you’re looking up. So, the paradox is that when you know something a lot about an area you can look things up quite affectively.
So, whereas when you don’t know anything about it you would think, that’s when looking up is valuable, when actually it’s not. Because as I said you need to know something to be able know what to type in to look up and how to interpret the responses you get.
EG: We’re focusing on kind of immersive learning and using virtual and augmented reality as a learning tool and 100% super it’s at risk of being a gimmick, at massive risk of being a gimmick. When you approach it as a way of practicing something that you’ve got kind of a strong framework for I think then it makes sense.
But if you just hand it to someone and say, here’s a scenario, it won’t be as helpful. It will be good because they’ll be getting a chance to practice, but it won’t be as helpful as if they know what to focus on when they’re practicing.
DC: Yes, and I think all the things you’re saying there about breaking it down, that’s another big insight from the learning sciences, which is again because we’ve got limited working memory. That often if you want to learn a complex skill you do have to break it down and focus on the little bits. And then as you are getting all of those little bits, getting better and better at those then the challenge I putting them all together.
So, one of the things I talk about in Teachers vs Tech and in other writings as well, it’s about we need to think of learning as a sequence. So, your end goal is often a complex skill and you can think of this as being a teacher teaching a class as a complex skill. And then what you’re doing is you’re taking that complex skill, you’re isolating the component parts, you’re learning about each of them, you’re practicing each of them individually and then you’re putting the pieces together.
And there are definitely analogies with sports if you look at the way sports people practice, that even elite sports people are doing drills when they’re training. Footballers are doing passing drills; cricketers are doing fielding drills, so you are isolating those individual component parts and practicing those. And then the challenge is how do you put them together, how do you put them together so that you’re not just doing the passing drill that it’s then going to make you better in the gameplay situation?
And that’s where I think the challenge in sport and in all education is about those learning sequences. What’s the right sequence that takes you from practicing those small pieces to putting them all together as a whole? And that’s why I think it is interesting to look at in what ways can VR be useful there. Obviously there’s areas like flight simulation where you would say that’s a great way of when you’ve got some of the theory and you’ve practiced some of the really individual component parts you can start to put them together.
But again, you could potentially see examples perhaps with teaching, where teachers before they got into a classroom or if they want to practice a new technique they’ve got, might there be an opportunity for them to do that? So, I think the VR could potentially have a role to play in helping people put in the component parts together and practice those and becoming fluent with them.
DH: I can’t remember which particular study it was, but there was a learning using VR, and the ability, they had 30 unique data points from this learning through the headset. That they could then go back to the individual and help them focus on particular areas as opposed to looking at the holistic. It’s, right, so this is where you’re actually being marked down currently and really focus on those areas and then go on to the other aspects of the learning.
And that for me is a really powerful opportunity through being able to collect those quite unique data points that maybe just from a classroom environment aren’t immediately obviously there or take a lot more time to get there.
EG: And I think you do need those data points. Again, it’s very easy to slip into falling in love with them as a solution and starting to view them as an end themselves rather than a means to an end. You need to have those data points and I think in a corporate environment there is a real risk that whereas in a school environment by the time you get to your next set of exams you realise, wait. I’m actually not as knowledgeable as I thought I was.
In a corporate environment, with the VR sometimes having a quantitative analogy for a skill, again, breaking it down a bit, having something quantitative that you can focus on and again, not getting lost into it. But just something that you can kind of see improvement in, because that allows you to reflect, that allows you to say that you’ve improved and I think that’s really important.
To be honest, one of the things that’s interesting is there are some soft skills that we do teach in terms of lifelong learning. I think there’s quite a lot of stuff though within a corporate context that is kind of core skills that we don’t even really spend the time focusing on how to break them down or anything like that. One of the classic ones I think is email, email’s a nightmare, it is a little nightmare. I sometimes literally wake up having nightmares about it.
But there’s no time dedicated in all our courses, we do courses on PowerPoint and we do stuff on giving affective presentations and things like that. But something that occupies a massive component of what you do, we don’t necessarily try and do that exercise that Daisy was just describing, of kind of breaking it down into how do you actually do this affectively.
So, I think there’s actually quite a lot of aspects of corporate life that if we took the time to reflect on them we could actually break them down and then start to get people to do better and be able to improve. It’s definitely not to take the analogy from software development, it’s not saying, this is top down, this is what you must do. I think it is very much about people being able to reflect, but having a framework in which to reflect.
So, it’s not saying that it’s all going to be micromanaged, but it’s about giving people the time and it’s about giving people the framework in which they can understand their own performance better.
DC: Yes, absolutely and I think there’s a really interesting analogy over teaching as well, I remember when I started teaching there’s a real feeling that perhaps there’s certain things about being a good teacher that you just have to pick up over time. And I think what’s really interesting is there’s other approaches that are just trying to be more systematic and look at a good teacher and say, what is it that they’re doing? What are the things that they’re doing in the classroom that mean the class is settled?
And just trying to be a bit more systematic and forensic about that and then saying are there ways that we could then teach some of those techniques to trainees? Rather than just assuming you’ll pick these things up and I think email’s a very good thing to think about and I think about email a lot. Because it’s one of those things that’s just happened, isn’t it? And suddenly you’ve got people spending a third or a half of their working life on email and it’s evolved that that’s natural, that that’s what you do, but I think if we stop and be systematic.
Not just about how an individual deals with email, but how does email work within an organisation? What is the role of email? And I know from going to work at an organisation that used a lot of email to work in an organisation where everything is on work chat, that you realise the enormous difference. And yet that’s not something that I think a lot of organisations think about systematically, that that’s where an enormous amount of your workers time is going.
But exactly what does is involve and what is happening there and are there ways that you can make that more efficient and even if you don’t get rid of email, how you make processing and dealing with it more efficient. So, things like that I think would really reward, as I say, a bit more of a systematic focus.
DH: Thinking about that immersive experience and VR, I know we were kind of touching on this before we started recording the podcast. But one of the powers of immersive experience has been being able to put people in situations that historically would be quite expensive or quite resource heavy to actually recreate.
So, I’m thinking about big plant engineering and creating situations where the plant’s going to blow up and you put somebody into that environment. And just picking up on your point earlier Daisy about actually letting teachers experience quite a hostile classroom early on instead of just throwing them into that environment. And have we got any other areas that we see maybe the immersive experience being able to really help either educators or organisations in the future?
EG: I think when we initially started looking at virtual reality particularly for training; we were looking at those technical use cases where it was something that was dangerous. Or would be like a flight simulator where it’s not appropriate to put an untrained person into that situation. Or a very rare scenario that you wouldn’t get a chance to practice, so being able to kind of practice that more. And I think as you say, what’s interesting is then realising that that didn’t just apply to big pieces of machinery and being underwater and stuff like that.
Actually it could apply to scenarios that were difficult to recreate, for example, a classroom context or when you’re dealing with a customer. And I think that realisation that this could be useful for practicing those soft skills as well, I think that was something that was really key, but it’s still something that’s not being used as effectively as it could have.
There is a good example which was being used for psychiatric nurses and so, there in one Daisy’s earlier books she talks about this idea of the knowing doing gap. And I think this is one of the things about learning in the flow of life, if your learning is going to flow into doing then you need to reduce that gap as much as possible, because otherwise that gap can be a chasm down which people can fall.
We did some studies with a mining client and found that actually a large proportion of accidents were happening just after people were coming back from training. Because they’d basically only just got back from training, they were being given the additional responsibilities, but they didn’t actually fully have the skills that they needed to cope with that.
DH: And the experience.
EG: They didn’t have the skills and the experience, so basically the knowing doing gap was too wide because the theory had not fully prepared them for the actual situation that they found themselves in, the learning was effectively deficient. And I think that that’s another place where VR can narrow that knowing doing gap by allowing you to practice scenarios, but I think what’s interesting is reflecting on what Daisy said about breaking it down, is saying you’re not just practicing the whole scenario.
Actually you start to practice the scenario part by part or focus on a particular aspect for that practice run and again, because you can do it over and over again, it allows you to do that. If it’s a training session and you’ve paid a whole load of actors and stuff like that and you’re doing that kind of immersive training session the way that we’ve done that in the past, you can’t really run it over and over again because it’s too costly.
Whereas the exciting thing potentially with VR is that you can run it over and over again. There is a scene is one of my favourite programmes recently, The Good Place, which looks to teach philosophy through the medium of sitcom in a way that as far as I know has never been done before. So, they have a scene in The Good Place where someone practices a break up over and over and over again in like a version of VR.
It’s funny because they use the ocular sensor, but then he’s just got a headset, he’s just got a little thing attached to his forehead in order to simulate it, but it was an actual ocular sensor. Yes, he practices the breakup over and over again and that’s exactly the same thing, that’s a really difficult scenario. I’ve just described exactly what I described before, but I’m basically just saying watch The Good Place.
DH: And I think Netflix will thank you for it.
DC: I think what you said about the knowing doing gap is really interesting, so I’ve written about the knowing doing gap in the classroom a lot, but I borrowed the phrase from a business writer Jeffrey Pfeffer. And he’s written a whole book about the knowing doing gap in business. My go to example of it in the classroom is always that if you ask a class of 11 years old’s what should you use after a full stop or what should you being a sentence with?
They’ll all say a capital letter, so 100% of 11 year old’s pretty much will say you start a sentence with a capital letter. If you then look at their writing, how many of them routinely, reliably always begin every sentence with a capital letter, it’s nothing like 100%. So, that’s a good example of the knowing doing gap, when you know something, but you’re not reliably doing it.
And Pfeffer gives loads of examples of this in the business world, of how much knowledge there is about how to run a company effectively, about how much information there is about strategy and businesses and how it isn’t reliably employed. So, for me, the knowing doing gap is not just in business actually, it’s in life. How many things do we know we should be doing and we don’t do them reliably?
EG: Washing our hands is a topical example.
DC: Washing your hands is a fantastic example of it, of these are the things that are so simple, that are so basic, but for some reason it’s very hard to do them. The interesting thing there is, part of the solution I think is a lot of behavioural science things about how do you create environments that make the desired behaviour more likely. Part of it is about the way you practice and the way you train and the way you educate.
So, for example, in the case of education it’s about to address that issue that I just talked about, the capital letter at the start of the sentence. It’s that what you really want to practice on is not getting everybody to be able to repeat the sentence starts with a capital letter you want to get students writing lots of sentences that are always beginning with a capital letter.
So, you want to make that a habit and the same with the hand washing, rather than actually nagging people all the time and saying, wash your hands, wash your hands. You want to make washing your hands a habit; you want to design examples where it’s something that’s natural that you do all the time. So, a lot of it is about learning design and about how you structure environments, how you make things a habit and all those I think cut against perhaps a lot of the traditional ways that we learnt both in schools and in the workplace.
DH: So, what do you see preventing institutions or organisations shifting to new ways of learning? I know you touched on fads earlier, Daisy, from your own perspective, but are there any other obstacles that you see shifting as moving towards the right direction?
DC: As I say, I think the key thing for me is this understanding of the learning sciences, the understanding of how we learn and how we think. For me, the really key thing is that both within schools and within the workplace so that’s better understood, getting those messages out there and getting both institutions and individuals be more aware of that. That’s going to be a big way of making sure that people can focus on lifelong learning and they can adapt to the changes they need.
We have a new technique called comparative judgement, actually, I say it’s new, it was developed in the 1920s, but we’ve put it into a piece of software so it can now work very quickly and it’s much, much easier to use in real time. And comparative judgement, schools use it basically to assess essays, but we have organisations who use it as well, you can use it if you want to sift personal statements or CVs.
So, you can use it for any task you have that involves making open ended judgements of open ended tasks. So, it’s tasks you want to judge where you’re not saying something’s right or wrong, but you want give a gradation of quality. So, we work with lots of schools, we work with about 1000 schools in the UK and globally that use it to assess children’s writing and also organisations using it internally.
And we use it internally in our own organisation when we wanted to make a judgement about a new logo and new branding we set up a comparative judgement. And it’s interesting, all the things you were talking about what prevents the shift and new ways of learning is that we do find that this is a tool that when schools start to use it it actually starts to change the way they think about assessment and it often starts to change their workflow.
So, it’s something that gives them a new perspective on thinking about things, it’s something that will often change institutional ways of working. So, for me, certainly it’s been a real learning curve of realising how new technologies can change your assumptions and change the way that you work. And I think often the blocks to introducing any new technology often it’s inertia.
That even when something is more efficient and more effective than what it replaces it’s change and all change does involve some kind of loss, I guess, if you want to be philosophical about it. So, I think it’s also even when a change is positive how you manage that change is important.
EG: I think that’s absolutely right, one of the biggest realisations that I had, I joined Deloitte in the tech department because I was, everything’s going to be a tech project and actually what I’ve realised is everything’s a cultural change project. Most of them are now enabled by tech, but at the end of the day it’s about cultural change. What we see in terms of the barrier to it and overcoming that inertia we have this idea of think big, start small and test often.
So, come up with that end-to-end vision of the learning journey. What often happens is the learning journey just becomes a series of point solutions rather than something that’s kind of coherent, like a coherent end-to-end journey with a clear sort of goal in mind. So, we have that kind of think big idea and then start small is then about identifying those chunks along the way and looking at what interventions you can do to deliver that.
You might introduce a piece of immersive learning, for example, as something that’s replacing a fairly traditional, you might introduce it as a replacement. But actually what we then find is that once people see that and start to see the possibilities of that if you’ve done it in the right way you do actually start to change their mind sets.
There is no doubt at the start though often it’s easier to do a like-for-like where you can say, just to start with let’s do something where you know what the outcome is with your current system and you can then prove that it does better with the new technique.
DH: Thinking about the immersive experience and obviously with the current pandemic going globally and conferences being stopped, how do we see the immersive experience working with virtual conferencing, virtual classrooms, Daisy? Do you have an opinion on how effective this could be?
DC: Yes, I think this is obviously going to spark a lot of rapid changes and it’s going to really force people to think about things that have otherwise been on the backburner. For me, what’s really interesting though is to think of ways to think at maybe a deeper level about what teaching involves. So, I think at the minute we’re kind of thinking about well, in a normal classroom a teach stands at the front and teaches, how do we replicate that if we’re not all in the same room?
And that’s one way of thinking of it and I think certainly there’s interesting things to be thinking about video conferencing and potentially immersive learning. But a deeper way of thinking about it is to think about what is learning, what is going on and what are we trying to achieve. And again, to go back to everything I said about the learning sciences that we’re trying to achieve, if you like, a change in long-term memory that’s one of the aims and what are the ways we can achieve that?
We can use technology to help achieve that and so I think there’s some really interesting things which are not particularly cutting edge technology. But which goes back to what we were saying before about how sometimes it isn’t necessarily about cutting edge technology it’s about institutional change or reworking the way you work. So, one of the techniques I’m really keen on and talk about a lot is technology solutions that you use spaced repetition algorithms.
And spaced repetition algorithms, again, they’re not that new, the original ones date back to the 1890s, but it’s just a way of saying this is how you can present material that makes it more likely you’ll remember it for the long-term. And you could do them before the technology existed, you could do it basically with a shoebox. You could have a shoebox full of index cards and you would have to sequence them and make sure you were remembering the flashcards in the right order.
But technology makes it much easier that you can have a database of your flashcards and the algorithm is being used to present them to you in the right way. Now, a number of these flashcard apps exist, space repetition algorithms are in the heart of a lot of online learning approaches. So, things like that are not immediately one you think of when you think of online learning.
Maybe your first thought is it to think about video conferencing, but as I say, I think there’s a role for thinking a bit more deeply about what exactly it is learning involves, what it is we’re trying to promote and how we can use technology to help achieve that. So, I think all of these things obviously are going to be hugely on the agenda in the coming months and it will be really interesting to see how that plays out.
DH: In that scenario, using that sort of hybrid approach, what role would see the classroom setting playing if you were going to use a spaced repetition algorithm? I guess that would be something that the students would potentially be doing individually?
DC: Yes, so I think before this pandemic, my thinking was I felt the best way of using this was to have a traditional in person classroom and to set students homework or independent study that would make the most of the spaced repetition. If you’re thinking then about now, maybe we won’t have the traditional in person classroom or that’s going to be more challenging.
For me it’s then about how a teacher can implement, how can a teacher make the most of the data this coming from an online learning platform? So, if they’re not regularly seeing their students, how can they make the most of the data that they’re getting from the independent study that the students are doing when the teacher isn’t there? So, I think there’s also going to be a big role here for data analysis and for learning programmes that offer quite intuitive analysis of that for a teacher.
And I think there’s probably, and again, a lot of this is really thinking on the fly, is going to be that maybe there are moments in the day or moments in the week where classes or individual students are checking in with teachers. Checking in remotely and then where the teacher is able to monitor the independent study they’re doing in such a way that they can then be responding to them when they’re having the check ins.
So, in lots of ways it’s about, as I say, trying to think more deeply about what is happening in a typical class. And in a typical class in person it is all about feedback, it is all about a teacher responding to the student’s learning needs. And so, then it’s about thinking, how can we do that if we’re not all in the same room together?
How can we use those processes or feedback and those questioning and that responsivity? How do you get that if we’re not all in a class together? And I think there certainly are ways we can make it work remotely. I do think though there is a challenge with younger students and another thing I write about in the book is I talk a little bit about embodied cognition. And I talk about how we’re not brains in a jar and particularly with younger children I think that is an issue.
And there are all kinds of things around how younger children will automatically pay attention to words they hear from a human adult when that human adult is in person, if they hear the same words on a video they just don’t pay as much attention. So, I think that there are things we do have to be aware of about the importance of the physical presence and as I say, I think those things are going just be more and more salient obviously over the next few months.
EG: I think there are potentially, and again, I think it’s this thing of taking a step back and evaluating what makes sense and what in the new distributed kind of learning environment what makes the most sense. But there are aspects of that in person experience that we can recreate. Interestingly, Dan and I were in a meeting on Friday and it was a virtual meeting and so there were avatars in the space and sort of to what you were saying about embodied cognition.
The fact that the avatars were standing up and they had the option to walk around and do stuff like that, they were not focused. And then we sat them down and obviously they were only virtually sat down, but actually it got a lot relatively senior people in our organisation to stop dancing, which was good. But I think that was interesting, again, psychologically and not exactly the same as that, but the fact that their avatar was sitting down made them feel more formal than when their avatar was standing up and could just wander around anywhere.
So, I thought that was fascinating and so potentially there’s going to be the option to do that either via video conferencing or something like that. But it’s interesting that idea of the one-to-one check ins as well, so combining the spaced recognition algorithm with the one-to-one check ins. You could see that being a model that could potentially work really well.
DH: It got me thinking about an effective piece of AI that really understands the learner’s need to allow a teacher to check in with many people, but they are actually relying on a piece of AI to support them in that process so it can speed them up.
EG: I think as Daisy said, it’s about presenting that information back in a way that you can quickly then see what the need is. But I think, again, it highlights the importance of that ability to reflect, because if you’re doing that spaced repetition learning without that reflection it doesn’t really work.
Interestingly I guess the spaced repetition algorithm that is a type of personalisation because you do touch on personalisation. That’s a type of personalisation that does kind of make sense because it’s tied directly into performance rather than any sort of preference.
DC: Yes, so, I write a lot about personalisation and personalisation is a word that has many, many different interpretations, it just means so many different things.
EG: Personalised meanings of the word personalisation?
DC: Absolutely, it means whatever a person wants it to mean. But the interpretation of it that I think has most value and is most useful is really the adaptive learning platforms. And adaptive learning platforms are those that are essentially responding to your questions, responding to your understanding of the material and then adapting what you see next. So, if you get a bunch of questions right on a particular topic it will adjust and give you some harder questions on the same topic or move you to a new topic.
If you’re getting lots wrong it will present them again, it will give you a different video to watch, a different text to read before it follows up with maybe some easier questions. So, adaptive learning platforms have quite a long history, but again, developing more and more. And I think those adaptive learning platforms are the ones both for children and for adults that are most powerful and where I think we’re going to see the most potential.
EG: Because it’s quite easy that you hear that described and think it sounds very similar to self-directed learning and yet it’s very different.
DC: Absolutely, it’s very different because, if you think of it as personalised medicine is a good analogy, with personalised medicine it’s all about richer data sources to help a clinician make a diagnosis, it doesn’t mean that you operate on yourself. And it’s the same with personalised education, what we need are richer data sources to help a system and a teacher make decisions about learning.
DH: New technologies moving away from the faddy, quite often it’s not about replacing. We find this in other areas of automation, it’s about complimenting, it’s a way of bringing in a new way of delivering something that works alongside existing methods. So, you redesign the whole learning process on the back of the technology, but actually it’s not a headset is going to replace me talking to you Daisy. It’s a way of complimenting an existing or traditional way of delivery.
EG: Yes, I think that’s a really good point actually, because we’ve definitely seen that. And that’s potentially an even better start small, because when it’s just an enhancement of something existing in terms of trying the cultural change. If it’s an enhancement and people aren’t thinking, we’ve got to throw it all out and start again, then actually I think people are much more comfortable with that.
An example is and this is something that a lot of universities and schools are starting to look at the moment with switching to online curriculums, but using a virtual online learning environment like a virtual classroom. For example, what we saw was a lot of people initially were, let’s put a virtual teacher in there and then they’ll just have to put a headset on and then that will be it.
And it’s like, why would you put a virtual teacher in there, you’ve still got the teacher, the benefit of this is that now everyone’s not having to all travel down to a single location to a classroom that they can actually do this remotely. But don’t throw out the ability of that teacher to be able to adapt and to be able to speak to people individually and stuff like that. Yes, too often it was, brilliant we can do everything in virtual reality and actually, as you say, your approach of complimenting and enhancing is much more effective.
DH: I think that’s going to bring us to the end this week, so I would like to thank you both for joining us and hopefully we’ll get to explore this discussion a little further in the future, thank you. That’s it for this week, if you do like the podcast please follow us or subscribe. If you have any ideas for a future topic please contact our future of work team, details are listed on the podcast channel, thank you.
Episode 7: Is there a future for HR?
Massive shifts in technological capabilities are driving change within HR. Even though technology is replacing some traditional HR roles, it is also opening up new possibilities and creating new requirements which HR needs to fill. How does HR pivot in order to achieve this? Our speakers discuss all things around the future of HR...
Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte
Speakers: Jill Trafford, Director and HR and Technology Advisory Lead at Deloitte and Katie Neal, Manager and Future of HR proposition lead.
DH: Is there a future for HR and why is this a key question now? In an age of digital transformation, with new operating models taking advantage of intelligent automation, new talent models, and ultimately creating new ways of working, how can HR place itself as a driving force to shape the future of work? I'm your host, Daniel Hind. Today I'm joined by two colleagues from our HR Transformation practice, Jill Trafford and Katie Neal. Jill, would you like to introduce yourself?
JT: Hi. Thanks, Dan. I lead our HR and Technology Advisory practice for the UK. I work predominantly on global HR transformation programmes, helping HR functions become more effective and efficient through new strategies, new technologies, and new operating models. Katie?
KN: Hey, Jill, and, hi, Daniel. My name is Katie Neal. I'm part of our HR Transformation team in the UK. I lead our Future of HR proposition. I'm extremely passionate about helping our clients navigate the challenges they're seeing at the moment in terms of technology, workforce, employee experience, and being able to transform their HR function and inject that adaptability that they're need to be resilient for the future.
DH: Thank you. My opening question is, is there a future for HR? HR in general is always under the microscope of different areas of the business, but what's the challenge for HR now in particular and how do you see that affecting the future of HR in an organisation?
KN: We asked ourselves that question when we first started off thinking about the impacts of the Future of Work and what the future of HR is. Fortunately for us we see the role of HR is bigger than it's ever been. We know that there are the drivers around people and purpose and having that purpose driven organisation. Looking at recent events, the role of the CHRO is increasingly important as the CFOs role was in the 2008 financial crisis. We certainly see that there's a really key role there for HR to have a seat at that CEO table, and that they're going to be fundamentally orchestrating that workforce and what's needed for the business through the technology, the strategic workforce planning, driving that purpose throughout the organisation and really addressing the trends around the social enterprise that people are expecting to see.
DH: Jill, anything to that?
JT: The piece that I would add is the shift that we’re seeing in HR functions now is, how HR puts themselves at the centre of the employee experience. So what is the experience of every colleague and every employee, as they navigate their own career through an organisation, and what is the essential role that HR play in that? Whether that’s from how someone joins and is on boarded into an organisation, or how they are developed or managed throughout their career, or even how they leave an organisation, what is the experience people have, how easy is it to access services, information, data.
You have a real mix of different types of employees, whether it's office based, people who are mobile and not coming into an office every day, and how does the HR function help all those different groups of people access the services they need. We're seeing the employee experience being at the heart now of HR function and how it's structured and how it's been set up, which is very different to how organisations have thought about HR over the last 10, 20 years.
DH: Are we seeing a shift in any other drivers, a technological shift from HR that’s making it more relevant to the organisations, to the needs, so that colleague experience, employee experience piece that you just touched on then?
JT: Yes, the existing HR cloud technology that most organisations have put in, or are going through the process of putting in at the moment, it's no longer enough just to have that one technology. They have to layer on top of that the different experience platforms to really give employees the experience that we're trying to create for people.
KN: Just building on that, the expectations that we have in our personal life around the technologies that we use are driving what we then expect in the workplace as well. If I can sit on a bus and do my mortgage application and take a scan of my passport photo as evidence, I don’t want have to then go to work and do my expenses in a plastic bag. So those expectations, and then also thinking around that employee experience lens of an employee not having to go into multiple different technologies for their HR transactions versus their finance transactions.
And what that on stop shop is, it means that I get a seamless experience as an employee. All of those factors are really driving the different technologies that are in the marketplace. Gamification and VR front boarding is, as Jill said, absolutely exploding, and for a lot of clients the challenge is how one earth do I start to choose what technology decisions I make. I've already invested in legacy technologies, and that now is opened up to all these different plug-ins and it's a huge landscape for them to navigate.
JT: The other thing to remember, just following on from what Katie said, is most HR functions don’t have the technology capability at the moment to really help organisations capitalise on all the technology that’s being acquired. They're having to reskill themselves to make themselves relevant in that market. If 65% of organisations report that technology is inadequate, despite the billions being spent on it in the HR market over the last 5 years, so coupled with this needs to be that reskilling of HR to truly capitalise on all the automation, AI, technology that’s coming into the function.
DH: We spoke a lot about those transactional pieces of processes that can be picked up by new technologies, but what about the shift of productivity that’s really putting HR in the driving seat of helping an organisation improve its productivity? Are we seeing a shift there and you have an experience from working with clients that we can talk about?
KN: Yes, there's much more clients that are now moving away from the traditional measures that we saw around time to fill a role, for instance, as an HR measure, and are now looking instead at time to productivity as something they want to be able to track and see in the workforce. We're seeing apps now being tested in the market around how to measure and track productivity and wellbeing when you've got a remote workforce, so there's sort of enablers coming through. We're working with clients to start thinking around what those new measures are, and to start helping HR transition in the wider organisation’s view from not being seen as a cost cutting function, but as a value adding function that’s driving that productivity and driving growth for an organisation.
JT: The other big shift is changing the very make up of what an HR function is and the augmentation of the HR professional. You're starting to see organisations looking at a much broader talent ecosystem to support organisations, rather than relying purely on a quite heavy permanent headcount. You're looking at consultants, contractors, joint ventures, robots, etcetera, and it's changing how HR are, what the cost is to the business and how we’re adding that value.
DH: Given the rise of automation and all these new technologies that are out there, how does HR see itself reshaping, in your experience, to still be relevant in the future so technology is not going to make HR obsolete?
KN: What we’re seeing more with clients is around what's that augmented workforce view look like.
If you're taking and adopting the technology options that are out there, then rethinking your workforce, from a people perspective, and what are the skills and capabilities and roles that you need to complement that and where you still need the human advisory element and the moments that matter, where you do need that face to face people interaction and technology isn't going to support. You will see now within operating models, absolutely people that are dedicated from HR perspective around employee experience and people experience and driving that as an agenda. But equally you're probably going to see roles in that operating model around workforce experience architecture or solutions architecture that works at an enterprise level, bringing together those technologies and capabilities across the organisation.
What we're talking about at the moment, the trend is the super job. So it's taking almost a discreet component, parts of the roles that are still remaining, that need that human element, and starting to create those super jobs. But also there are key themes that run throughout all of them, so fostering team collaboration, the ability to access talent, strategic workforce planning, and a real focus on driving work outcomes, productivity as a commodity. The ability to have that business acumen and narrate and tell the story for the business, all of those things are going to come out much more strongly in HR roles in the future and really set people apart. We talk about exponential HR and those are the sorts of capabilities we’ll see in that area.
JT: One of our clients recently has changed the roles in their HR shared service centre and they’ve started to appoint experienced advisors. So going back to what we were talking about earlier around the employee experience, although there is a great focus on technology and automation, ultimately, driving a great experience also needs to be coupled with those critical touchpoints in the moments that matter. Clients are now putting in roles such as the experienced advisors to make sure we've got enough focus on some of these critical moments.
DH: Obviously under the current climate, by the very nature of us finding very quickly a new way to do this podcast, so using a virtual tool as opposed to having the joy of sitting in our lovely Deloitte studio. But how do we see HR, or what is HRs role in helping organisations deal with maybe a global crisis, or in contingency planning, or helping an organisation very quickly change ways of working so they can meet whatever the demand is of the environment?
KN: Facing into a crisis is going to provide challenges and opportunities across the board and it's going to vary by industry. If you take the consumer industry, for instance, the grocery industry at the moment is going to be trying to massively deal with the increased demand, versus the retail industry has suddenly lost the majority of its revenue growth. But HR is at the front of all of this because it’s impacting the way we work, it's impacting our people, it's impacting our ability to have those face to face interactions that we're so used to.
HRs role around how organisations can respond, recover and thrive to these sorts of global crisis is absolutely crucial. Look at how we can prep and manage that community and how we can then emerge stronger on the other side of a crisis. Key things around that, such as the talent strategy, you’ve got to think how to get people back to work and how they're going to feel safe when we're out the other side of this. At the moment wellbeing is going to be at the top of everyone’s mind because it's an anxious and uncertain time. How you can have that employee engagement and drive that wellbeing is something that HR is going to be playing a fundamental role for, as well as just having the workforce that you need during the crisis, and on the other side of it, to deliver what you do as a business.
DH: An observation from my side is that I can't help but see that organisations or even sectors or industries’ digital transformation agenda has been fast forwarded overnight. The very nature of looking at a doctor’s surgery, it's been talked about can that be done virtually, as opposed to going down to a surgery for an appointment. Now we're finding that doctors are having to be able to meet demand, do virtual appointments, for example. Is there anything else that you believe is an advantage for HR with this current crisis, where they can help organisations move forward?
KN: Remote working and having the tools in place, such as video conferencing. We've been testing with clients the ability to run workshops virtually. They got very excited seeing their avatars running around a remote meeting room, so the tools and technologies that we can help organisations put in place to support their own remote working, absolutely. The other lens, as well as being able to do the work, is how you have that connectivity. There's technology such as Remesh, where we can help to capture how employees are feeling and use that to drive our different responses and our clients can do that as well.
DH: Obviously one of the things, as we come out of the current situation, is that we are very much social creatures and the need for face to face interaction, but will that look very differently? We had a podcast recently on the future of the workplace and about the importance of collaboration spaces. I wonder if there's going to be a shift towards, as opposed to just having a desk space to sit and come into an office to type away and do some emails, actually, will it change the shape of organisational workspaces so we have more collaborations and people will do more remote working to type up the outcomes of that? Do we have a view on how HR could help organisations in shaping this?
KN: There was a client conversation last week where they were saying remote working has been accelerated for the now, they’ve had to adapt to that with the technologies and ways to manage that. Absolutely, now they're thinking about in the future do they need to have the same amount of real estate space, the type of work environment as they have had to date, which is traditionally quite a high cost for an organisation.
We will come out the other side of this and see trends around staggered working patterns and looking much more at the parts of your work that you do need to come together in a collaborative nature that is face to face versus about being able to be supported by a technology.
JT: Just to play devil’s advocate on that though, I do think we will see enhanced collaboration tools and enhanced remote working. HR have got a great role to play in terms of the wellness and resilience of their teams. We've seen apps being developed to check in on people's wellness and resilience and how they're doing. On the flipside of it, human beings are ultimately sociable creatures, and many people have realised through enforced social distancing and working remotely, that what they do value is coming into a shared environment, bouncing ideas around with people, and having that social interaction. The other trend we will probably see is a shift in how workspace is set up, how workspace is organised, to enable people to connect better at work and connect better outside of work.
As the role of HR completely changes in organisations, Dan, the role of the CHRO role will change as well. Historically, CHROs in some organisations haven't even been a board member and have reported through an operation lead. Many organisations are now truly realising the value of that role rather than just paying lip service to it. CHROs and HR functions need to take advantage of that and start to use things like data and analytics in a far more effective way in terms of driving decisions, creating business cases, and having robust arguments and data behind some of the decisions that we’re trying to drive through an organisation. I don't think historically HR were good at that.
The other shift is probably the concept we talked about in our 2019 HC trends, the rise of the social enterprise, and what role does an organisation play in helping people feel that they are connected to the broader community, the broader environment, and giving back. Because that level of trust in government and in big institutions is dropping and people are looking at their own organisations and leadership to provide that social enterprise element.
DH: The challenge that I've always seen in HR and from my time working in industry is that the value that we bring, the value that HR brings, and going back to the introduction through Ulrich, of the business partner, that transactional versus strategic discussion. The capabilities for this new world of HR, where we’re needing a lot more technical skills within the HR environment, are we seeing any other shift on that more to develop that business acumen? Are we seeing a different kind of business partner or a different kind of business leader within HR?
JT: For me, Dan, the concept of the Ulrich model is dead and has been dead for a number of years. The tragedy is most organisations have been trying to shoehorn themselves into the David Ulrich model, no offence Mr Ulrich, for the last 20 years.
Now people are trying to unpick it because they’ve never seen the benefit that that model always promised, that the interface between HR operations, centres of excellence, and HR business partners, has always created more problems that it's solved. The technology and the level of automation now allows us to truly step way from that model and really think what are the roles that we need to create in HR. And to Katie’s point earlier, the concept of these super jobs, such as the workforce experience architect, that role can work across many different parts of HR, architecting the experience that people are trying to have. They're not aligned to a certain part of the business or a certain functional area of expertise. It's about focus on the colleague rather than what HR need, and that’s the shift that’s happening at the moment.
DH: Have you got an example that could bring that to life, so an example where we’re seeing that shift from, this is an HR process, as opposed to, this is the experience we want this process to deliver?
KN: We worked with a client last year where they were looking at moving away from that traditional process ownership and global process ownership, that was siloed away from the technology needs and the delivery needs, to thinking end to end, what does that feel like for an employee or a candidate. Equally, what does it feel like for HR delivering or providing that service, and getting that seamless end to end experience across technology, and the interactions and what the hand offs and complexities are, will start to deliver the employee experience. That’s the pivot that most organisations are working towards or need to start working towards.
DH: As a practice we will send a lot of time talking with CHROs, so that C-suite level member. But if an operational manager or another C-suite member was to ask our opening question is, what is the future of HR if we're investing in all of this technology, what you would you to them and how would you introduce the future of HR to them?
KN: It might be a frustratingly clichéd consultant answer, but it really does depend on the organisation and where they are on that journey and where they want to get to. But it is about positioning HR to lead in that people and purpose agenda, and coordinating at enterprise level some of those capabilities and talent needs across the workforce, that’s where there's a role for HR in the future. Positioning at the C-suite level in that way is going to be the enabler to getting to a purpose driven and productivity driven HR organisation that’s fit for the future and can continue to adapt.
JT: The other thing to think about, Dan, is current environment has really given HR the mandate to operate across the C-suite in terms of creating a great employee experience, focussing on wellbeing and resilience, and connecting employees through collaboration platforms in a way that they've never had that mandate before. They need to capitalise on those elements that are truly the human elements still of any organisation that will lead to run alongside the explosion in technology.
DH: Are we seeing a change in the type of question that we're being asked by our clients about the future of HR?
KN: The main trend or the new question that I keep getting from clients is very much focussed around the capability piece. How, when I've now got an augmented workforce and my workforce delivery is changing, what does that mean from a capability perspective and the model that I need in the future, and that’s also really angled around the expectations changing of the workforce as well. Not only do you need new capabilities in terms of what you're delivering, but the expectations from employees are changing in terms of what they want from a career progression. We see the trend of people coming in and out of the organisation, and so having the career journeys and the capability models to support that sort of career journey throughout the life cycle of an employee is going to be fundamental and certainly something that clients are now asking us to help them with.
JT: The thing that I'm talking to clients mostly about is around employee experience and what HRs role is in that. How do they reorganise themselves to deliver a great experience, what's their role versus the businesses role. And also organisations trying to get their heads around the future of work, and all the things that we're sharing with them and other organisations are sharing with them and what that means to them in terms of the way they have to operate. There is a question that HR need to ask themselves.
We've tried to move HR towards being a strategic advisor for the last 20 years. The role of the HR business partner, that was the whole intent behind HR business partners, and what happened was HR business partners either didn't have the capabilities, or there was not the technology in the back office to support a shift in moving activities away from them to enable them to focus on the strategic advice to the business. I genuinely think the technology is now there, but organisations do not view HR in that strategic space a lot of the time, or there isn't the capability in business facing HR roles to enable them to truly step up. It's about bringing the outside perspectives in and starting to shift that capability as Katie said.
DH: That brings us to the end of this podcast, this episode today. I would like to thank both for your time and we look forward to speaking to you again soon in the future. Thanks. That’s it for this week. If you do like the podcast, please follow us or subscribe. If you have any ideas for a future topic, please contact our Future of Work team. Details are listed on the podcast channel. Thank you.
Episode 8: Is there a future for HR Tech?
HR Technology has changed massively over the last 5 - 10 years, with more of a focus now on understanding how tech can deliver end to end talent experiences, and insights around productivity and wellness. The shift of HR's role to be the owner of productivity and employee experience, leveraging HR tech and data to add value across the organisation, is having a big impact on the HR function. Find out more!
Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte
Speakers: Tom Hughes, Manager, HR Transformation at Deloitte and Pamela Trinh, Senior Consultant, HR Transformation at Deloitte
DH: How do you see the future of work impacting your customer, your organisation or your future workforce? This is Deloitte's Humanising the Future of Work podcast to share where we explore the big questions around the future of work and what this means for you.
In each episode we speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out. While technology is often a key driver of disruption, we will discuss the why and the how organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation.
In the last episode we discussed if there was a future for HR, and one of the key areas we explored was, is HR technology making HR obsolete? However, that conversation poses a wider question insomuch as, is there a future for HR tech?
I'm you're host Daniel Hind, and today I have the pleasure of exploring this topic with two colleagues from our HR Transformation practice, Tom Hughes and Pamela Trinh. Tom, would you like to introduce yourself?
TH: Yes. Thanks, Daniel. I'm Tom Hughes. I sit in our HR Transformation practice and lead our people technology strategy proposition. So support clients around the people technology ecosystem from devising visions and strategies, roadmaps, selecting technologies from this broad ecosystem and really taking clients on that journey into implementation and getting the most out of this technology ecosystem.
PT: Hi. I'm Pamela Trinh. Like my colleague, Tom, I work within HR Transformation specifically aligned to digital HR. Working with clients on their global HR transformation, understanding how best to implement their technologies and ensuring that moment that matter, who their employee experience is captured to optimise their business objectives.
DH: Thank you. Of course, a big question to start, as normal. Tom, is there a future for HR tech? What are we seeing happening in the market at the moment?
TH: I did think about saying no, but I think it would be a fairly short podcast. For me, yes, there's a future for HR tech. I actually think we're at probably a tipping point right now where there's never been a better or more exciting time within the HR technology marketplace.
If you look at it from a client perspective, digital and talent for me right now is at the centre of many of the C-suite transformation agendas that we're seeing and talking to clients about with the notion of making humans better at work and work better for humans. The data and the experiences that people and HR technology can provide to really support those initiatives is really critical.
Then if you look at it from an external market perspective, the level of investment and funding and backing that this area of technology has had from venture capital firms and PE funding, or private equity funds, from across the globe over the last two or three years has really shown that they believe there's a future in this market. And the types of technologies coming through in this market are really starting to drive innovation in this space.
PT: I would definitely agree with Tom, especially within our current climate. I think HR technology has really shot into the limelight. We have a heightened demand from HR leaders to understand how are their employees doing in the current state. How can we help them be more productive? How can we make sure that their wellness is there, so that they can be productive? How can they still connect with each other even if they might not be able to physically see each other?
So I think that HR technology has definitely been even more important these days with more organisations, more jobs that are operating remotely.
TH: The use of HR technology in our clients has really changed over the last five to ten years as well. Before, when we were implementing big cloud HCM technologies it was all about process efficiency. It was about access to clean and reliable data for operational reporting and mobile access.
Now clients are really coming to us to understand how technology can deliver end-to-end tele-experiences and deliver predictive insights on top of the operational reports in areas such as productivity and wellness.
For me, the HR technology landscape now isn't really about HR and the abilities that the HR can deliver to the organisation. It's about putting an ecosystem of technology around people that allows the workforce to engage with one another in terms of productivity and collaboration suites. And in order to be able to interact with the organisation in terms of case management and knowledge management, chatbots and chat type tools. And also be able to transact with the organisation in terms of those processes in the most intelligent and seamless way possible.
DH: What are we seeing happening in the market with regards to HR's ownership of productivity? Are we seeing that there's a range of what may previously have been seen as operational type tech coming into the HR arena, and is that having an impact? Why doesn’t just the technology suite may be an impact on operating models or the way that HR are working or the services that they're delivering?
TH: I think it has to. For me, there's a whole new range of metrics that are associated to the workforce that we didn't really have two or three years ago, and the technologies that are associated as metrics, such as the workplace collaboration suites, don’t tend to really sit in… In HR, they tend normally to sit in the IT world.
But when you are talking about HR being the custodian of the workforce and the real custodian of that workforce experience, getting the most out of that workforce, productivity is a key driver of that.
So really starting to understand the metrics that sit behind productivity and the technologies that start to be able to measure that is something that HR really have to start thinking a look at. And really understanding in order to deliver to the business the most effective workforce model and the most effective workforce construct to align to their business strategy and where they want to go.
PT: Yes, again, just saying that I think it's just a bit more of a narrow or specific approach to productivity. So previously thinking about talent acquisition, it was time-to-fill, but what does that even mean? Just because they filled that role doesn’t mean that individual is going to be productive right away. What are some steps that we can take in an organisation to ensure that…? It's not about just time-to-fill, but what is the time, what is the technology to support them to actually start contributing to the organisation?
So I think there's just a slight shift and adjustment. It's still based off of the same similar, I'd say, data or KPI, but I think it has more meaning to creating an actual measurable thing that is attached to, say, revenue or whatever it might be as a business.
TH: Then just to build on that, I think it fundamentally shifts to the mindset of HR. If you had a time-to-proficiency of 50, 60 days beforehand, your time-to-fill would try and be as short as possible because you've got the time to added value in the business so long.
If you can reduce that time-to-proficiency by half, you can actually then spend more time making sure you get the right candidate through the door and giving them the experience they need because you know that actually the tools and technologies and culture you put in place allows them to add far more value quicker in the organisation when they get through the door.
DH: Great. You both touched on… Tom, you touched on metrics, and, Pam, you were talking around data. So I suppose that would lead me to talk about the broader analytics in the HR arena. Is there anything that we're seeing…? Are we seeing HR taking the ownership of money from information in a different direction to maybe where they were a decade ago?
TH: Over the last 12, 18 months there's been a kind of evolution in the data that the HR are using. The majority of our clients means that [unclear] have got the operational data now on pat in terms of… When they moved to cloud five, six years ago, one of the big benefits was I want to be able to see all my headcount in one place. I think many of our clients have now started to tick that box and starting to explore more areas.
But being the custodian of the workforce and that workforce experience, HR now have a unique opportunity to use data from that workforce to start to drive areas of experience and the business strategy.
And using tools that listen to the employees and listen to their wants, their needs, their desires, their thoughts and feeding that back into business leaders is a slightly different track to the traditional analytics and the traditional numbers, but it's far more qualitative. And using technology such as natural language processing and cognitive engines to process the themes and process some of those sentiments that are coming through those qualitative conversations.
DH: All this being said, what does all this mean for the HR tech within the landscape? What are we seeing happening at the moment? I'm aware of a… I read a recent Burson article where he was talking that this is slowly consolidating the landscape of HR tech. What are we seeing happening out there?
TH: The market's gone boom over the last three, four, five years with the investment that we've seen. I talk to clients about we're now starting to see this second generation of the best-of-breed evolution.
So you've moved from the on-premise systems, such as E-Business Suite, SAP and PeopleSoft. Then you moved into the first generation of best-of-breed with the likes of TILEO and Saba, and then the bigger players came back with full-suite cloud technologies that really tick 85% to 95% of the boxes of key client requirements.
Now we're starting to see this evolution of the next generation of best-of-breed. So smaller type technologies that are really dialled into niche areas and functionality that will deliver things like video interviewing or in formal recognition or VR-type technology in learning. For me in terms of that landscape, it's gone a lot broader, but it's also become a lot more complex.
I think that article that you referenced from Burson is actually really interesting because what he's saying is organisations are really now starting to look at what technologies are really essential to drive efficiency, productivity, experience, compliance across their workforce. Actually, some of the technologies that have come out maybe aren't deems essential [?].
So I think over the next two to three years you'll start to see a lot of M&A activity in this space with some of the larger vendors acquiring some of the smaller-type technologies that have some of this innovative technology. And some of the less essential technologies from a client's view will actually go away, and you'll start to see a lot more of a consolidated marketplace.
PT: I definitely agree that we're definitely going to see some consolidation with bigger organisations finding… Looking at vendors are really doing really well in that space and wanting a part of that business. But of course you just never know what's going to come up.
We mentioned earlier that right now within our climate that idea of understand the well-being of their workforce or further and accurately measure satisfaction and productivity level, that leaves an open space for new start-ups to try to push that boundary. So while the landscape might get a little smaller for a short amount of period, it continues to reduce and expand, reduce and expand just depending on trends of businesses.
To add to that, there's just the fact that we are going to see further evolution of this landscape, but funny enough, organisations themselves are not necessarily operating in terms of adopting new vendors or technology at the same pace. So they are two different viewpoints in terms of how that landscape's being interpreted.
Clients tend to be a little bit overwhelmed when they look at that landscape because there's just so much, and they shouldn't necessarily compare themselves to how quickly that vendor's landscape is growing because their material level might be… Maybe they don’t even have a headcount centralised for them yet. So trying just to check that box off for them.
TH: Where vendors have been very good, especial the bigger vendors, over the last 18, 24 months is making those types of innovations that they're brining out, one, accessible. But two, if you're not quite there in terms of the maturity, you can turn them off, and they're there when you need them.
It's not a forced upgrade/forced enhancement. It's a piece that… We're giving you this because we want you to still have the best technology in the market, but it's very much there to use when you need it.
DH: Pam, you mentioned earlier employee experience. Are we seeing this pivot within organisations towards delivering a great employee experience as impacting on HR tech?
TH: I actually think that HR technology has really helped to drive companies to think more about the employee experience. It challenges the status quo of… How are you planning to asses potential candidates? What are the skill sets that we can measure and help collect data that will be helpful for you to understand where are the right individuals to put in the right seat?
So that HR technology actually has a huge influence on how companies can think of… Again, typically companies, they talk to us, and it's like, well, we don’t know what we don’t know. So by having these vendors and their options and what they can do helps to start painting that picture or create those employee journeys for them in a better light.
That would be my take on that, that the HR technology landscape actually helps to influence organisations to think more about the employee experience.
TH: The importance of employee experience has actually shown or developed a whole new area of the HR technology market in terms of a physical or functional area such as… You'd see recruitment or learning, you've now got technologies in that space that are enabling organisations to listen to their workforce. We're seeing the next generation of employee engagement type surveys and that continuous checking in and pulse survey and understanding how people are feeling across the whole lifecycle of the employee.
Is really saying the way of starting to talk to clients about lot and how they start to measure the employee experience and how they can start to track and improve and refine that across the lifecycle and across the moments that matter and offer different personas across their workforce.
Because we recognise that from boarding, if you're onboarding a retail associate, it's an incredibly different experience to an exec. So how do capture that, and how do you make sure you're delivering differentiated and personalised experiences across your organisation?
DH: Might be a little bit of a chicken-and-egg-type question, this. Are we seeing a particular driver behind our clients' desire to change the way their HR is operating? What I mean by that is, is it generally a technology driver, or are they approaching it as about changing the employee experience? Or is it a little bit more generic about their looking at their operating models? Are we seeing a change in what is making clients look at their HR suite and operating models?
TH: Yes. I would say three or four years ago the amount of projects we had that supported clients go from on-premise HR technology solutions to cloud technology solutions was fairly big. The evolution that I've seen is we're now starting to see clients to come to us with a lot more complex problems that need us to look at multiple different facets.
If we're looking to improve the employee experience, technology is a key driver of that, but it's only one driver. It might be one of the fundamental drivers because a digital experience is now a given for many people coming into the workforce, and if you give them an onboarding pack of 500 pages, they'll wonder what organisation they're walking into.
But we have to look in terms of employee experience, that the culture, the processes, the operating model, how everything interacts across the organisation. Therefore, we are doing a lot more projects and having a lot more conversations with clients around how do you use multiple different levers across your organisation to drive a particular agenda or a particular objective.
PT: I would say… Just even thinking about previous work experience, I remember working with a leader who was basically questioning… If I can do this within my own personal life, that I can deposit a check virtually, why am I asking my employees to manually produce paperwork to do the exact same thing?
So just naturally within our own real day-to-day life technology is around us, but within the workforce it's been a bit slower, and people are trying to catch on. If we can do this in our normal day-to-day, why aren't we doing this within the work space to create more efficiencies and be more productive in that way and focus on, again, moments that really matter that produce an engaged, satisfied and productive employee?
DH: With all of this drive towards delivering an employee experience through either service delivery or technology, are we seeing that there's a drive and a shift in the capabilities that are needed within HR?
PT: I would definitely say, yes, we are definitely seeing creations of new roles of someone understanding the IT side of things and the HR side of things and even a little bit of marketing. When we think about recruiting, it was traditionally that job post. You have candidates. You assess them, and then you ideally hire the right individual.
But now it's like this war on talent. How do you make yourself better than any other company? So you're almost using the skill set of a classic marketing individual to be able to take that and be able to market a role or the company to attract the right person.
That's where I'm thinking in terms of… They are naturally going to have these gaps where these new role will get created. We talk about data and the AI space. We're going have an individual who will be able to have to reproduce a report and interpret that report and be able to create a story within the HR landscape to be able to communicate that to the business leaders.
So naturally you're going to have to have someone who is very much equipped to understand numbers and data and again be able to articulate that in a way where it speaks to the HR need but also speaks to the core of what it is, which is again data, and then to connect that to the business.
So I would say, yes, you're going to see that blend of IT, HR, operations, marketing, and it just continues to expand as we look at the different vendors within the HR landscape coming into play at any business.
DH: Obviously, we have seen quite a dramatic and quick shift of late to remote working and working from home. Are you seeing any changes to HR's ownership of these kind of collaboration tools or even just the use of some Zoom calls like this?
TH: Yes. Well, I think the current situation has left many organisations no choice but to adopt digital and actually are starting to see the benefits of adopting it.
You used to have… When we used to go into clients to talk about digital transformation or digital employee experience, you'd get some resistance around… Well, why can't I just pick up the phone and talk to somebody, or why can't I just walk down to somebody's desk and have a conversation? When that's taken away, we're actually now starting to see the forced adoption and actually the championed adoption of many types of work and technologies that we use.
Where HR has really stepped up over the last two months or so is really starting to understand what the employees and what the workforce want from an organisation in relation to technology, in relation to technology, in relation to culture, in relation to wellness. And have been far more receptive in understanding that information and feeding it back into the business.
I've seen organisations that have done day-long assessment centres that are now doing day-long assessment centres on Zoom, or typically would do a maths and English test are actually now saying, if you can send us a picture of your GCSE certificate or your A-level certificate, that's proof enough for us. And you don’t need to go through maths and English test.
So it's really driven that adoption and almost forced adoption to adopt and think about new ways in how you can use technology to deliver the same service you did before.
DH: In light of actually this dramatic shift and this adoption of digital almost overnight in organisation sectors, industries that maybe have had to go on fast-forward to be able to carry on, Pam, do you feel, touching on your wellness comment earlier, that there's a new drive…? There's a term at the moment. I don't know why poor Zoom seems to be named, but Zoom fatigue, but actual virtual fatigue being…
On a personal level, I've now stopped talking to my friends on virtual calls, and I've said, if you don’t call me, I'm not going on a video call because it's what I do all day. So it's almost reverting me back in an evening to old school telephone calls. But I just wondered if we see any clients, or do you have a view on the role of HR moving forward and just making sure that people are okay in this virtual world, that they are feeling okay?
PT: Everyone's going have their own personal preference of how they want to connect with individuals. Technology is there to support as a great tool an option. Not everyone is a classic soul like you, Daniel, and want to pick up the phone. I love a good phone conversation myself. Depending on your Wi-Fi bandwidth, maybe video is not an option. Love getting snail mail as well.
But technology is going to be there to help drive the option of connecting and Deloitte in general to setting up coffee chats to be able to connect with people and to continue inspiring people to network with one another even if you don’t know each other. Those people have been figuring out very unique ways, using technology, getting very creative to do trivia just to connect.
So it is what you make of it. Seeing how an organisation looks at the landscape of HR technology, it's whatever you want to make of it.
Going back to Tom's point before, they might have an all-in-one platform, but they might not be utilising and maximising the onboarding module to the best of their capabilities. They're continuing to believe that the best way of doing it is a high-touch manual approach, but it's there. It's there for them to use, and it's really on them to decide if this is a priority or not or if the pain points are big enough to exercise that. So it comes down to if you want it, and it's personal preference, and if it meets your needs.
TH: Just to build on that, this current situation has given us a couple of good things. If you look at your working day now, you get up. You walk down the stairs or walk down the hall to your laptop, turn it on and off you go. Whereas before you had maybe five minutes or ten minutes between each meeting to walk between the rooms or take a bio break, your mind is now constantly engaged in back-to-back meetings. You end a call at 10:59. You join a call at 11:01.
So there is this Zoom fatigue, and I completely get it and understand it, but where this has helped and supported is we now really start to take ownership of our own employee experience and work-life balance and become a lot more strict around it. And you're seeing organisations really start to push those wellness agendas in terms of virtual yoga or virtual Pilates classes at times of the day that you wouldn't typically see any organisations do them.
The other thing that this situation has really allowed us to do is trial a bunch of different technologies and different methods and see what really works in our organisations. If you're a typical really high-touch HR environment, you're not going be able to really get that experience if you're working remotely or on Zoom calls all day.
So does a chatbot work? Does having a widget on your laptop enable people to interact with HR and to interact with the organisation, rather than this classic HR high-touch environment that they might be used to? It might work. It might not.
But when we do go back to the work environment that we were used to, you have a better idea of what's going to drive value in your organisation and what's going resonate with your employees probably more than you did so before. So there are a couple of things that I've seen and taken as positives through this journey.
DH: Just on that point, I suppose what you were talking there about a chatbot and almost a service portal, traditionally that wouldn't have been seen as an HR-owned product. But I think we are seeing a shift in that direction, that we are really focussing portals to deliver great HR service and, like you say, maybe moving away slightly from the high-touch. Is there anything you can talk about in that area?
TH: Yes. For me, HR owns the employee experience or owns the workforce experience, and everything that touches that workforce should have a HR role or should have a HR influence.
One of the examples I use is we can have a great HR portal with all of our HR content and knowledge. So someone can type in, my partner's having a baby, and can get the the maternity or paternity [audio cuts out] this contextualised to them in their country very, very quickly.
But if the next day I go and try and search for the expense policy, and it's in a 20-year-old finance portal, and it takes you 15 minutes to find it, and the one I've got is for a different country and is out of date, my experience is still fundamentally broken because me as an employee, I'm not really to fussed where that policy lies. I just want to be able to get it quickly and make sure it's the right one.
So HR having a role in everything that influences that employee experience is something that we're seeing them take more and more of an ownership of.
PT: Just the idea that they are able to access a portal and be able to get advice and guidance on how to add a dependency to… They're being directed to the right information for an expense [?] will allow them to be more productive with their day. Therefore, it does directly impact their employee experience, directly impact how an HR technology would impact a business objective. Again, just agreeing with Tom, it's all connected in that way.
DH: What should organisations think about as they step into this technology journey within HR? What are the considerations?
PT: Typically, when we talk to clients they want to hear about what the trends are. They want to hear what other people are working on. What are their other pain points? Which is fine. We're happy to share that. We have a general idea of that. We have insight, but it's really about the company understanding their true pain points and what their priorities are to be able to help them with their technology journey.
Again, the vendor landscape is so large, and there is great technology to help with… Whether that's onboarding, digital signatures to whatever you can think of… But it's really trying narrow down that priority list and understand what will make an impact to their workforce, what will make an impact to incoming talent for that organisation.
TH: Just to echo that, and I think I said it before in my previous point, was that this is a great opportunity to try things and understand what works in your organisation and what doesn’t. This situation has only accelerated our clients' digital transformation agendas and future work agendas.
Coming out of this there'll be an expectation that functions are plugged in and ready to go to start to deliver that at probably a pace of change that we didn't see previous to the situation we are in.
So really starting to understand what works and what doesn’t is a real enabler in your organisation. We've seen organisations start to use VR in learning to go through health and safety courses. If you are a warehouse operative, and you're tasked with lifting heavy boxes and heavy pieces of equipment, you can do that as part of a very learning course. So actually you're not putting any stress on anyone's body doing the learning, and you're trying to promote wellness and health at the same time.
For me, it does… Those clients are starting to look at… For me, the couple of pieces that will really start to set the foundations for that acceleration into some of that new types of innovation is the foundational data that you have in your core platforms is absolutely… And working through what is essential foundational data and how clean and how up to date is that data and making sure that that is a consistent process with effective governance.
Because when you start to get into more complex reporting and start to use technologies that use the job architecture of your core platforms for things like skills and competencies, if that isn't as good as it could be, those technologies aren't going to be used at the level that they could.
Then the second piece for me is a standardisation of your technology landscape. We've seen clients over the last couple of years start to buy lots of different types of technologies for lots of different point pieces within that HR ecosystem.
We all come to clients, and we'll talk to their employees, and they'll say, I'm not sure what platform I'm supposed to go to for learning because we've got three or four different ones. Or I'm not sure where to go and get a policy or a process because we've got a portal, we've got a knowledge management and we've case management system.
So starting to standardise those technologies will start to drive a better, more consistent employee experience and stop the confusion of where things like and start to become more productive with what they're doing.
DH: I think that nicely brings us to the end of this episode. I'd like to thank you both for joining us, and I look forward to talking to you both again in the future.