Organisational Development


The next normal: hybrid working

Inclusive leadership, inclusive workplaces

Let’s be honest, the covid-19 pandemic has been nothing short of brutal hasn’t it; a virus not just pervasive to health, but to our whole way of living. Our work, home and social life have all been turned upside down by this seismic, global event. 

Life can now be defined as:

  1. ‘The old normal’ – life before covid-19; the way we lived and worked, the 9-5, office-based, mask-free(!), close contact interactions.
  2. The new normal– life during the global pandemic; waves of infection, lockdowns, remote and flexible working, mutations and more restrictions. 

Recently it feels like we’re entering a new period of change though. It’s what I and others are calling:

  1. ‘The next normal’ – life from summer 2021 onwards; the future! Things are feeling more hopeful with:

✅ The vaccination effort making huge strides. 

✅ Variant boosters being developed.

✅ Workplaces and society opening up again. 

I no longer feel like people or businesses are in survival mode. Yes, we still have challenges ahead of us(!), but I feel like we can finally take a moment, breathe and start planning for the future again. I love planning. Maybe it’s my love of stationary(!), but mainly it’s the relief I feel from turning chaos into calm.

Planning is so important in business. It’s the foundation for creating positive change and making great work – and we need this now more than ever. Going forwards leaders must plan and create workplaces which work for everyone. We all have differing needs and when organisations flex, (something the pandemic has shown us is possible) it means people can thrive, which benefits both the individual, teams and companies.

If we want to boost the economy, if we want increased productivity and profits, improved employee wellbeing etc, then workplace diversity and inclusion must be at the centre of our vision, goals and the steps we take to achieve these. (See the D&I business case for more detail.) 

Inclusivity, which starts at the top a.k.a. inclusive leadership is our roadmap to the future. 

Let’s not forget, employees are an organisation’s greatest resource! When staff feel valued, listened to and supported, they’re more effective at work. Leaders must value their employees, ask them what they need and want from their workplaces going forwards and then get to work delivering on this. It’s such an exciting time! Yes, we’ve experienced a phenomenal amount of change, which has been absolutely gruelling at times, but we’ve also learnt so many lessons and there are some transformative positives we can take from the experience. 

So where do we begin…

The first step in any great plan and journey is to know your start point! The Forever Flex: Making flexible working work beyond a crisis report gives us some interesting insights on where we are at the moment. In a survey of 1,420 employers, from all sectors, across the UK, during lockdown in 2020, Flex Appeal & partners found:

  • 58% of employers were working from home more than before covid.
  • 36% of employers had seen an increase in flexitime.
  • 27% of employers reported more part time work than before covid.
  • 13% of employers had increased job shares as a result of covid.

Powerful stats right? With this information we can see that:

Covid-19 has changed the status quo and culture of work in a global way. It has led to the potential for increased diversity, as higher numbers of women, people with disabilities (aka different abilities), carers, parents etc now have access to jobs they didn’t before, with more remote and flexible working. 

As James Taylor at Scope summarises, “employers have embraced, out of necessity, the flexible working measures that disabled employees have been requesting for years.” – Financial Times.

Leaders must do all they can to ensure these flexible working practices continue in ‘the next normal’ and post-covid era. The door must remain open for under-represented groups to access work and career opportunities. They have vital skills, experiences and unique insights necessary for business growth, not to mention how important it is from an equality and social justice perspective… 

We already have gender, disability and racial/ethnicity pay gaps. Whilst the pandemic has increased flexible working, unfortunately ‘racial/ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and women have been disproportionately affected by the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.’ – Gartner. Inclusion of these groups must therefore be prioritised when re-envisioning how workplaces operate going forwards.

Another key learning point is that the pandemic has disproven the false narrative that flexible working results in less staff productivity. This is a major finding; a silver lining to the torrential thunderstorm that has been covid-19.

Much research has been conducted on remote working and productivity in the last year. For example CIPD found: ‘71% of survey participants said that homeworking had no detrimental impact on productivity. This figure is made up of 33% who said that productivity improved, and 38% who said it was unchanged.’ – Flexible Working: Lessons From The Pandemic (Sample size: 2,133 senior decision-makers in UK organisations.)

There are so many positives to remote working and perhaps the most valuable one that employees have found is the gift of time. Some people have gained 2+ extra hours a day, by reclaiming time from their daily commute. Instead of sitting in gridlocked traffic or standing on busy, commuter trains, people have utilised this time and engaged in more sleep, exercise, hobbies and had quality time with their families. These things are incredibly beneficial for mental and physical health, and have positive effects with regards to work; people are more productive because they’re better rested, healthier and happier.

This is echoed in the CIPD report: ‘The most frequently mentioned benefit was increased wellbeing through avoiding the commute (46% of survey participants), followed by enhanced wellbeing because of greater flexibility of hours (39%).’

FlexAppeal have been campaigning for all employers to offer flexible working since 2015, including ‘compressed hours, homeworking, flexitime, smarter shift patterns or any other variation.’ This is because, ‘hundreds of studies have shown flex improves access to work, reduces stress and improves our physical and mental health. . . it’s good for employers, because it raises productivity, improves loyalty and can cut costs. It has been shown to work in factories, hospitals, shops and offices.’

Of course remote working has come with some drawbacks this last year, such as ‘screen fatigue’, less-than-ideal home office set-ups and reduced connections. However the trick is in learning how to off-set these downsides and what’s really exciting is ‘the next normal’ might just give us the perfect balance we’ve all been looking for…

What will ‘the next normal’ look like?

Picture shows a desk with a plant on and two laptops. One of the screens says 'Work Hard Anywhere'.

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

Conversations are taking place on this topic globally and I for one am very excited about the possibilities! The general consensus is that people want a hybrid of the old and the new: flexible hours, the option to work from home a couple days a week, as well as return to the office. How this will work logistically, globally etc is still to be determined and different companies will have varying approaches and methodologies to one another. 

For example, Unilever has been discussing flexible working and the impact of this from very early on in the pandemic. “We saw no decrease in collaboration and productivity from March to June – in fact, this rose significantly with 20% more time spent working together internally and 19% more time in virtual external meetings. . . Our UniVoice survey in October showed a 9% increase (to 82%) in people who feel Unilever cares about their wellbeing.” – Unilever. 

Fast forward to January 2021 and at a conference, Jope spoke of Unilever’s plans for the future: “Gradually we’ll shift to a hybrid mode of some time in the office, some time at home. And we anticipate never going back to 5 days a week in the office! That seems very old-fashioned now.” – Reuters.

Here at Enact Solutions, we’ve always prioritised offering full and part-time contracts, flexible hours and job shares. However during the pandemic we’ve learnt we don’t need to be physically visible at all times, but can in fact work remotely and to greater effect at certain times. It’s valuable learning we’re committed to taking forwards with us.

What’s inspiring is current research indicates extremely high numbers of employers feel the same. For example the Forever Flex report (November 2020) found:

  • 72% of all employers want to keep working from home.
  • 70% of all employers want to keep working flexitime.
  • 66% of all employers want to keep job shares.
  • 64% of all employers want to keep part time hours.
  • 58% of all employers want to keep compressed hours.

The CIPD report also corroborates these findings: ‘After lockdown, 63% of employers planned to introduce or expand the use of hybrid working’.

Worthy of note though is that, ‘only 28% have plans to train managers in how to manage remotely.’  This is very concerning! Organisations must invest in training if they want to see the benefits flexible working can bring. This is CIPD’s number 1 recommendation:

‘In order to achieve productive homeworking, employers need to provide training and support in hybrid working.’ This is because, ‘of those employers who offered such training, 43% said productivity had increased during homeworking, compared to only 29% that hadn’t offered training.’ 

Training is key in generating greater productivity. 

Here at Enact Solutions we run inclusive leadership training and pride ourselves on our business relevant content. We create experiential training programmes which focus on the types of challenges companies face today. We’re currently working with clients on how to effectively manage and support employees who are transitioning to hybrid working, helping these leaders bring the best out of their teams and individuals. It’s important work and we’re delighted to be coaching leaders in it.

Something we love teaching is the importance of involving employees at every level of consultation and creating a shared vision together. Employees from entry level, to middle manager, to senior leaders must be a part of the process working towards behaviour change for it to effectively work. Good communication and decision-making which is inclusive, is the key to redesigning workplaces which work for the differing needs we all have.

If businesses are to survive and thrive, we need inclusive leaders who understand how much of a priority this is and weave it into every area of the workplace, from recruitment, policies, processes, promotions and so forth. 

Employers must listen to the needs and preferences of their staff and together they will be able to:

💡 Find flexible working solutions which work for both businesses and employees alike.

💡 Harness the power of collective diversity.

💡 Unlock the amazing potential and contributions we all have to offer.

It’s a historic and exciting time for inclusion. Join us. 

Jemma Houghton


Jemma Houghton is one of our Associates at Enact Solutions. She’s passionate about people being included and feeling valued at work. It makes for happier, healthier employees and increased productivity. 


Is unconscious bias training effective? . . . Part 2 1

Examining unconscious bias learning outcomes.

Last month unconscious bias made the news again after KPMG’s UK Chair, Bill Michael said in a zoom meeting to hundreds of employees that he thought unconscious bias was “complete crap”. – Financial Times.

In a recording of the virtual meeting which was leaked online, we hear Michael say: “I think unconscious bias is complete crap, complete and utter crap . . . There is no such thing as unconscious bias, I don’t buy it. Because after every single unconscious bias training that has ever been done, nothing’s ever improved.” – YouTube.

Shocked at his comments, some KPMG staff shared their thoughts anonymously via an app during the meeting. One employee wrote, “There’s no such thing as unconscious bias?! Are you joking? Please do your research before just making such statements. Check your privilege.”

In addition, when discussing the impact of the pandemic on employee lives, Michael said, “You can’t play the role of victim unless you’re sick . . . don’t sit there and moan about it”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Michael no longer works at KPMG(!). After apologising to staff first verbally and then via email, he stepped aside from his role when KPMG launched an independent investigation, before resigning shortly afterwards. 

Whilst the above occurrence, is not the focus of this blog, Michael’s inaccurate supposition that ‘nothing’s ever improved’ after unconscious bias training is what I want to talk about today.

It’s such a fascinating statement because it points to the classic misunderstanding people have around the ‘effectiveness’ of unconscious bias training: 

The expectation that training will result in automatic behaviour change (a reduction of unconscious bias and discrimination in the workplace). And when this doesn’t happen, people can become disillusioned, disparage training and write the topic off as a whole (as evidenced above).

This is highly problematic because it stops organisations seeing what the training does achieve – awareness raising; and how important this is in the process of working towards behaviour change. It is often the first step and the foundation upon which all subsequent work in this area is built on.

Ask yourself: How can people change their bias-based behaviours, if they’re not aware of them? . . . If they’re not aware of how potentially harmful they can be, to both individuals and organisations as a whole? They can’t, can they?! You have to have knowledge of a problem in order to take steps to do something about it; in order to facilitate positive behavioural change. 

This is something I talked about in detail in my last blog – Part 1 of the effectiveness of unconscious bias training. I explained that because unconscious biases are formed as a result of a lifetime of experiences and media exposure, they understandably take education, practise, time etc to dismantle. Unconscious bias training is just one small step – the educational, awareness-raising part of that journey.

So how do we solve the disconnect of people or organisations misunderstanding what unconscious bias training can achieve? The answer is learning outcomes! Both training providers and clients need to be clear on what the learning outcomes of any training will be.

‘So what types of learning outcomes can employers expect from quality training providers?’, I hear you ask. To answer this, I’ll be looking to Enact Solutions and their unconscious bias training programme. The reason for this is that Enact Solutions have successfully delivered unconscious bias training to thousands of employees since 2013 and they have an excellent reputation because of the quality of their training. They use drama-based, experiential learning which is extremely creative, interactive, with business-relevant content.

I’ve also personally attended Enact Solutions’ unconscious bias training, can attest to the quality of it and seen other individuals and organisations take part in and be similarly enlightened by it. I was genuinely blown away by it, from the expert facilitation, to the use of characters and the interactive content. The training was so powerful and raised mine and other employees’ awareness and understanding of what a complex phenomenon unconscious bias is and the adverse impacts it can have on people and organisations. 

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to use an evaluative report from an unconscious bias workshop Enact Solutions ran last year, which is representative of their training as a whole on this topic. The workshop in question, was delivered to a group of of directors and senior managers totalling 22 people. The training was highly interactive, blended multimedia digital material, anonymous polls and group discussions with excellent facilitation. Participants filled in an online feedback form after the training, and then a follow-up survey six weeks later to further evaluate the legacy of the training.

learning outcomes:

✓  Greater understanding and awareness of unconscious bias.

✓  Appreciation of the potential adverse impact unconscious bias has on individuals and organisations.

✓  Reflection on their own potential personal biases.

✓  An introduction to ways to challenge personal bias and minimise its impact on decision-making.

✓  Increased confidence to engage in honest conversations about bias at work.

✓  Their own individual action or pledge to take forward after the session.

As you can see the learning outcomes do not overpromise what the training can achieve; there are no unrealistic expectations that the training will eliminate unconscious bias in the company and that the workforce and senior leadership positions will be representative of society. That behaviour change work will come later for an organisation. 

This unconscious bias training is about the first step of the process: raising awareness and understanding; of why unconscious bias exists, its potential impacts, self-reflection, ways to converse about, challenge and minimise bias. It is not about rushing the process, but about the steps that need to be taken first, to begin the journey. It is about creating the foundation from which change will be built on.

results:

  • 100% had witnessed or experienced behaviours at work within the last 12 months that point to potential biases. 
  • 100% appreciated the importance of unconscious bias after the training.
  • 100% felt inspired to make a positive difference back in the workplace.
  • 93% had better recognition of how personal bias may influence their actions.
  • 93% increased their understanding of ways to reduce bias in their workplace.

In the follow-up survey (6 weeks later):

  • 100% still felt inspired to make a positive difference back in the workplace. 
  • 93% continued to recognise the importance of unconscious bias and had ideas about what they can do about it.
  • 100% were more alert to their own personal biases.
  • 93% were more alert to the biases of others.
  • 86% self-reported that they hadn’t done any of the behaviours that point to potential biases since the training.
  • 71% had done all or some of the actions they had planned as part of the training.
  • 36% had identified a situation or behaviour at work since the training where they thought unconscious bias was a factor (64% had not been in such a situation) and . . .
  • . . . 100% of these employees then engaged in a ‘honest’ or ‘difficult’ conversations in response to it.
  • 50% had engaged in ‘casual’ conversations about unconscious bias at work. 

As you can see, the results speak for themselves as to how effective the training is in terms of raising staff awareness.

recommendations:

Within the evaluative report, Enact Solutions created a section entitled ‘Recommendations’ (a set of suggestions if you will), for the company going forwards, post training. I particularly like this addition, because it highlights Enact Solutions’ passion for the organisation to continue their journey on this topic, even after their training responsibilities have been delivered.

The recommendations re-enforce that the training is a, ‘start rather than the end of the journey.’ It identifies that further training for employees and managers, ‘who can lead by example and have the authority to change things,’ can be a next step. 

It states, ‘it’s important to keep the conversations going’, so that participants can reflect on their own and others’ biases and details that one useful way of doing this is through the sharing of informative articles and videos. 

Furthermore, the report delineates the more complex, behavioural change part of the process: ‘Identify where the greatest risks from unconscious bias are in the organisation’s operations,’ and ‘then take steps to reduce its impact’. The recommendations explain that it is, ‘not about setting targets’, but being clear on, ‘the differences the organisation wants to see as a result of its efforts,’ and deciding on a, ‘set of metrics’, that the organisation is committed to changing over time. 

The report details that any changes to procedures and processes should be shared within the organisation, thus ‘help[ing] people move the issue from the theoretical to the real world.’

in conclusion

‘Is unconscious bias training effective?’ – this was the title and question posed in this two-part blog series. Part 1 evidenced it is effective for raising awareness (see BIT report and meta-analysis). Part 2 then looked at a representative case study of Enact Solutions’ unconscious bias training and similarly confirmed and showed how powerful training is in raising awareness.

So why is this important in the wider world?

What significance does it bear?

And why must organisations take heed of this information?

In a world which has so much inequality and inequity (something the events of 2020-21 have brought into sharper focus and raised public levels of understanding on) and with biases considered the root of discriminatory behaviours, for organisations to not raise awareness about this subject is unacceptable and says something very significant:

It says they are accepting of and allowing these biased-based behaviours to continue.

If companies don’t raise awareness of unconscious biases, in order to try and challenge them, if they don’t invest in unconscious bias training, then they continue to perpetuate a climate where unconscious biases can go unchecked. 

We know that biases can adversely impact areas such as recruitment, promotion, allocation of work and staff development (for more info see this blog). We know biases can negatively affect employee well-being, productivity, inclusion and retention. There is clearly a legal, moral and financial business case for addressing the complex phenomenon that is unconscious bias. And unconscious bias training, which is effective for raising awareness, is the first step in that very exciting and important journey.

Jemma Houghton


This is the second in a two-part series of blog posts about the ‘effectiveness’ of unconscious bias training, written by Jemma Houghton, one of our Associates at Enact Solutions. Check out Part 1 here.

For additional reading on unconscious bias, check out our recent blog: ‘Shining a spotlight on unconscious bias‘.