What My College-Aged Daughter Taught Me About My Zoom Calls

Like many other knowledge workers during the pandemic, my days have blurred from Zoom call to Zoom call, with some email, writing, and the occasional phone call in between. I’ve done Zoom calls with publishers, ad agencies, the government, banks, media properties, clients, even the church. Many of these calls are “listen-only,” so a few months into the pandemic I started inviting my college sophomore daughter to sit in on some of them and get a taste of what the work world is like.

I’m starting to think she’s not very impressed.

Set aside the technical difficulties, the bad audio, and the questionable books on the shelves in some people’s Zoom backgrounds, it has been fascinating to watch my 20-year-old small-business-owning student daughter make observations about the business world she’s about to enter. After each call, I ask her three things:

What did you learn?

What were your assumptions going in and how have they changed?

What would you do differently if you were in charge?

Her answers have been a combination of enlightening, depressing, and refreshing.

She has been amazed to witness “mansplaining” in all of its glory in almost every setting where men are present. All of the tropes she has read about seem to be true. Men reframe the question to ask it in the same way a woman already has. Men will cut women off, tell a joke that is really only meant for the other men on the call, or go into a long explanation for something that a woman could have summed up in a few words.

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She’s also commented on the way middle-aged execs, especially in the creative business, talk about “things the kids are doing” with absolute confidence and a hint of dismissiveness, even though they’re completely wrong about their assumptions. One creative director went on and on about the “monetization” opportunities with TikTok when it was clear to my daughter that he had never really used the platform.

She’s also amazed at how often media people marvel at the phenomenon of kids being connected to their devices, as though it’s a phase that they’ll grow out of.

“We’ve had our devices our whole lives,” she told me. “We don’t know a world without them. We had phones since our parents allowed us, and iPods before that. We had Leapfrog screens when we were 2. We were required to use iPads and Surfaces in school. This isn’t a phase. This is our life.”

Not all of our Zoom calls are filled with the disappointment of hearing smug and dismissive people in power. She has been most impressed by the calls from government agencies, including a frequent small business webinars from the City of Seattle and some great events by the Seattle Public Library.

The bi-weekly Seattle small business roundup is well-organized and efficient, never going over an hour, featuring heads of relevant departments discussing their plans and changes in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. More often than not, my daughter has observed, the calls are hosted by young women in the mayor’s office. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Seattle has a female mayor.)

The library, meanwhile, offers webinars about the information and services that the facility has to offer. The breadth and depth of modern libraries in general, and the Seattle Public Library in particular, are mind-boggling. My daughter started her first business last summer, and she was fascinated by all of the information the library manages, from Census data to business publications to industry contact lists. Maybe because the library gets its funding from the general public, and offers education as its mission, the call hosts are never dismissive or demeaning, but, rather, almost grateful that people are willing to devote their time to the resource.

The opportunity to be virtually exposed to the real world has been a great bonding experience for my youngest daughter and me. I think the “real world” is a little less intimidating to her now. And, for better or worse, a little less impressive.


The World Management Survey at 18: Lessons and the Way Forward

Understanding how differences in management “best practices” affect organizational outcomes
has been a focus of both theoretical and empirical work in the fields of management, sociology,
economics and public policy. The World Management Survey (WMS) project was born almost
two decades ago with the main goal of developing a new systematic measure of management
practices being used in organizations. The WMS has contributed to a body of knowledge around
how managerial structures, not just managerial talent, relates to organizational performance. Over
18 years of research, a set of consistent patterns have emerged and spurred new questions. We
will present a brief overview of what we have learned in terms of measuring and understanding
management practices and condense the implications of these findings for policy. We end with an
outline of what we see as the path forward for both research and policy implications of this
research programme.

Social scientists have studied the importance of managers and of management practices for over
a century, and today armed with large and representative datasets are confident that management is
crucial for organizational performance. Understanding how differences in the adoption of management
“best practices” affect organizational outcomes has been a focus of both theoretical and empirical
work in the fields of management, sociology, economics and public policy. Earlier efforts relied
primarily on case studies, but over the past two decades we have seen an explosion of new datasets
and computing power that allow for careful measurement of these practices across a range of
organizational types.
The World Management Survey (WMS) project was born almost two decades ago with the main
goal of developing a new systematic measure of management practices being used in organisations.
Since 2002, we have been building the largest cross-country dataset including manufacturing and
retail firms, schools and hospitals, and we have provided assistance to other teams looking to use
the methodology in numerous other industries. To date, our dataset includes over 13,000 firms and
4,000 schools and hospitals, spanning over 35 countries.1 Other teams using the WMS methodology
have collected data on government bureaucracies [Rasul and Rogger, 2018, Rasul et al., 2018],
universities [McCormack et al., 2014], primary healthcare facilities and many more. The methods
and availability of WMS data is open to all, and at time of writing over 5,000 researchers have
downloaded the public dataset for research projects and benchmarking exercises.
The WMS has contributed to a body of knowledge around how managerial structures, not
just managerial talent, relates to organizational performance. A series of stylized facts have taken
form over the past eighteen years of research, both elucidating the robust positive performance management relationship, understanding how to improve measurement (such as the more recent
Management and Organizational Practices Surveys) and raising a number of important questions
about mechanisms driving the diversity of management practices. We present a brief overview of
what we have learned in terms of measuring and understanding management practices and condense
the implications of these findings for policy in the form of a simple table: a “management policy
toolkit”. We end with an outline of what we see as the path forward for both research and policy
implications of this research program.


If You’re Not Paying Attention to This, You’re Missing Out on Peak Performance

According to the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

If you can get to that state, you are at your most productive and produce higher-quality output.

It’s in this state of flow that peak performers often produce their best work. Although they do not necessarily know when they are in this flow state, there are certain key similarities that high performers mention. Flow state is a state of “no thought,” where the mind quiets down. Flow can even extend to groups of people working together.


Tasks that might take days to do can be done in hours if done with the requisite mental focus and clarity.

This is completely at odds with the “hustle culture” and always-on mentality. You cannot achieve flow while in a state of pressure. Just because you are always on and always busy does not mean you are productive.


Product design and UX company, Design Partners, released a report based on the insights of 11 experts and high-achievers. Observing the behaviors of the best in the world at work allows us to understand how we can start to create flow states for ourselves.

The brain and flow

An added benefit to the flow state is happiness. The feeling of performing a task optimally and producing superior output leads to a release of dopamine in the brain. So, performing at your peak is where the greatest work satisfaction lies. Stress and anxiety counteract flow, so learning to manage that is key.

The flow state also reduces the pre-frontal cortex temporarily (the part of the brain that deals with long-term planning), so we are able to stay fully in the present moment.

By focusing on the process, rather than the end state or desired result, you have full liberty to immerse yourself in the present and produce your best work. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more we can let go of the outcome, the better our mental focus on the task at hand.


What circumstances need to be present for flow to occur?
You need to be an expert in your field, but that by itself is not enough. Achieving a state of flow relies on a state of constant improvement. For flow to occur there needs to be challenge, but not a challenge so great that it induces a feeling of stress. The challenge should be just outside your expert comfort zone. This means that challenge works best when it is incrementally increased and built upon. For example, when you train at the gym, you build up to lifting greater and greater weights, otherwise you might injure yourself if you try and do too much too soon.

As world-renowned sculptor and designer Joseph Walsh, whose pieces have been commissioned for the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Museum of Art in New York, puts it, “The secret is not seeing the expert as a milestone to achieve, but an attitude to have. An expert is someone who constantly seeks to improve.”

That experience of flow is intense and can also occur in group scenarios, where the team works as one, each individual in their particular zone of genius. In certain circumstances, such as an operating theater, for example, this can mean reframing the reaction to stress (once the mind gets stressed, it can knock you out of flow). So, it’s important to be able to channel pressure to remain in flow state. Interestingly, something as simple as making a joke can keep stress and anxiety in check.

Flow is not limited to creative fields. It can be applied by anyone looking to innovate, creatively problem-solve or produce their best work.

How can we get into flow?
In the Design Partners report, the panel of experts reveals personal rituals devised to get into the flow state.

The rituals tend to center around quieting the mind through applying relaxation techniques and setting the stage for success by creating an environment that supports a flow state. That could be, for example, switching off your phone or internet to avoid distraction.

While controlling your environment may not always be possible, it also seems like certain tools or equipment can create that feeling of flow. So, if you’re an athlete using a certain type of shoe or a photographer using a particular camera, those objects can become an extension of your identity, allowing you to stay in the flow state, almost like a “lucky charm.”

Once in that flow state, action becomes automated, and a state of “no thought” presides.

When we are trying to work out what our personal flow tools might be, it can be helpful to reflect back and understand what was happening for us, what we were doing and how we were doing it, during times when we felt the most in flow. Even if it was just for a few minutes at a time, it can help us uncover important clues about our process — making us more likely to achieve maximum productivity and quality output.


No going back: the world of work resets

As new working patterns become entrenched, employee satisfaction will rise and employers’ costs will fall.
While the pandemic still moves in unpredictable ways, the future of work is becoming clearer. Regardless of the evolution of COVID-19, we believe employees will continue to spend a significant amount of time working away from their corporate offices. This has major implications for business planning, in terms of physical location, sites and buildings, and other office-related expenditures such as rent, utilities, maintenance, and security.

Before the pandemic, office workers typically spent 5 percent of their work time at home; during the lockdown period remote working increased to between 40 and 50 percent and we anticipate the figure will plateau between 20 and 30 percent in 2022 (see figure 1). Although people will in all likelihood return to their offices, for social interaction and work that needs team collaboration, tasks requiring concentration and individual focus are likely to be done at home.

Figure 1: Impact of COVID-19 on remote work
Some companies have already stepped into this more flexible future. Spotify recently announced that employees can choose to work in the office or remotely or in a co-working space paid for by the company. Declaring the nine-to-five workday dead, Salesforce now offers three categories of work for employees: flex (in the office one to three days a week), fully remote, and office-based (the small number of staff who need to be in-person four to five days a week). Dropbox has gone further still, letting all employees work from home permanently. But they can also choose to work in existing office space, now called Dropbox Studios.

Now’s the right time to really change!
COVID-19 has forced employees and organizations to get used to new locations, work patterns, and digital tools, while finding a new balance between work and private life at an unprecedented speed. But the situation remains fluid and dynamic. As each wave of the pandemic subsides, some people revert to old ways of working. Many employees’ willingness to change has been overstretched and snaps back, as the immediate threat to health wanes.

If leaders are to bring about sustainable and lasting change, it’s important for them to understand the what and how of new ways of working, which are complex and affect three core strategic areas:

People satisfaction (for example, individual/team performance, health/well-being)
Customer satisfaction (ways of engaging, service offerings)
Financial performance (savings due to digital and automation, space efficiency)
With most organizations still in alert mode, the time is right to define a change to the work environment. Leaders need to develop appropriate remote work guidelines and policies that will enable employees to continue to be effective and productive, balance their work and personal lives, and improve employee satisfaction during times of transformation and uncertainty.

To that end, CXOs could promote a new remote or hybrid leadership style, using the right collaboration tools and training for employees. In parallel, it’s time to reconsider the future of physical offices, space layout, and costs.

Recruitment and retention costs are coming down
Many companies froze their recruiting activities in the first wave of the pandemic but have now restarted them remotely: interviews take place online, digitally supported by robots. Similarly, onboarding days for new employees have gone digital. Reduced travel expenses mean lower recruiting costs.

At the same time, HR marketing costs are falling, as activities move online, via affiliate marketing, newsletters, search-engine advertising, and online fairs. LinkedIn is now one of the leading talent search and recruiting engines.

Midterm, we believe low-cost remote recruiting will continue. Some 60 percent of chief HR officers expect a significant decrease in recruiting costs. At the same time, new work models—defining where to work, when to work, and how to work (space allocation and collaboration)—will become a crucial differentiator in the war for talent and employee retention. Implemented well, such models could result in a better work-life balance, greater employee satisfaction, and lower turnover costs.

Optimizing office space and purpose
During each coronavirus wave, cities’ business districts have felt like ghost towns. Many organizations aren’t using their expensive office space efficiently, while incurring unnecessary rental and maintenance costs. Although many space optimization initiatives (such as subleasing) are underway, space capacity benchmarks (such as that produced by Gartner) reveal further potential to lower office costs in the new normal. Based on what we’ve experienced with our clients and internally at Kearney, there’s room to reduce unused space by at least 25 percent compared with pre-COVID times (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Impact of COVID-19 on location cost
Taking a midterm perspective, companies’ location strategies should support new remote work models that offer significant savings potential. When less working space is required, neighboring sites (those within a radius of 100 km) of similar purpose and low utilization can be consolidated. Some companies might even consider shifting from shiny landmark buildings in the heart of a city to more low-key sites outside. Others might reinvest the savings from space reduction to move to attractive locations that will draw the right talent. A move to the city suburbs might result in less costly work space per square meter and offer room for agile working areas (for example, thinking rooms), social meeting rooms, and other site amenities (such as a coffee corner, gym, or library).

To optimize site selection and achieve cost reductions of up to 40 percent, we suggest redesigning the corporate location strategy using a set of purpose and location tiers criteria (see figure 3).

Figure 3: Definition and implications of global location tiers
As well as less space, a different kind of space will be needed: more collaboration and engagement work areas will be required as people will come to the office to brainstorm with their teams. On the other hand, less work space will be dedicated to quiet activities that need concentration, assuming such work will generally be done at home with the right equipment.

However, some space reduction efforts will be offset by new social-distancing rules: some of our clients have already had to rent additional office space to comply with the regulations.

Beyond that, many rental contracts will change: for some companies, such as small or medium-sized, or smaller subsidiaries, it might be more attractive to move to co-working places that offer capacity on demand that can be rented on a daily basis.

For most companies, lease contracts and their duration need to be redefined to reflect the fact that fewer people are in the office. Some of our clients have already started to reorganize their facility management, as fewer people generate less garbage and reduced cleaning needs, while renegotiations of contracts will likely lead to lower maintenance charges.

Employees shoulder more operational costs
During the pandemic, utility costs (for electricity, heating, water) have shifted from the employer to employees working from home, as have some drinks and food costs that were formerly provided by the employer. At the same time, travel costs fell substantially and, given the current travel restrictions, they will remain low at least until the end of 2021. On the other hand, most companies had to invest in technological and ergonomic equipment to enable employees to work remotely.

Although many employees will see a reduction in commuting costs, we expect the shift of operational costs from employer to employee will have to be rebalanced in the long term, for example, by an energy bonus paid by the organization or via tax reductions by governments.

Still, our clients anticipate a massive decrease of operational costs of up to 50 percent for the new normal compared with pre-pandemic times (see figure 4).

Figure 4: Impact of COVID-19 on operational cost
The end of working as we knew it
In summary, we expect the new normal to be in place by 2022. This reset will not only affect our ways of working but will also reduce costs related to recruiting, onboarding, training, and other HR activities that change from physical to digital events. At the same time, location costs will decline, even when accounting for new social-distancing rules, while operational costs will partially shift from employer to employee. As travel and business meetings decrease, their associated costs will also fall.

For all organizations, a core question in the coming months will be: how do we take the lessons from the pandemic and the new ways of working (and fully realize their cost potential), while continuing to attract, retain, and fully utilize the workforce?

In our ongoing work with clients, we’ve found the following four-step approach to transformation to be effective:

Thorough analysis of “as-is” ways of working and cost baseline
Ambitious target setting (improve employee and customer satisfaction, increase financial contribution)
Concrete measure of definition derivation
Implementation of policies and tracking of measures
Bottom line: as the world of work resets, and new working patterns become established as part of a strategic transformation, employee satisfaction will rise and employers’ costs will fall.


Who Has Potential? For Many White Men, It’s Often Other White Men

Many well-meaning companies want to diversify their workforces but face an all-too-common problem: They take great pains to hire more women and people of color, only to find that these employees don’t stick around long.

At one midsize consulting firm, so many talented people were walking out that the partners worried the high turnover was damaging the firm’s competitive edge, according to research by Robin Ely, the Diane Doerge Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, who studies race and gender relations and works with businesses to break down barriers to workplace equality.

The partners took a hard look at the firm’s internal culture, and what they discovered was a roadblock to equity that trips up many companies: When challenging assignments for important clients cropped up, the all-white, mostly male partners regularly turned to their go-to people—other white men. Meanwhile, white women and people of color who were recruited from the same competitive MBA pool received more mundane work, including tasks they had already mastered. This disparity in development had long-term career consequences; when women, for example, did make partner, they waited an average of two years longer than men.

The firm may have welcomed traditionally underrepresented groups, but its workplace practices systematically, if inadvertently, undermined them—a familiar scenario that plays out at a lot of companies.

“Merely increasing the number of employees from underrepresented groups and trying to be inclusive isn’t enough,” Ely says. “Instead, companies that are intent on diversifying should consider whether their internal culture gives all workers equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

Breaking the sameness cycle
One troubling pattern Ely has observed in many organizations struggling to retain white women and employees of color: They tend to have an “assessment” culture, which assumes a person’s talent is fixed rather than developed. In assessment-oriented cultures, managers act as if employees’ talents are set in stone, and they make snap judgments about who on the team has talent and who doesn’t.

“When they talk about what it takes to be successful, managers will often say, ‘I know it when I see it,’” Ely says. “What they’re really saying is, ‘I recognize the qualities I value, which just so happen to be the qualities I have.’”

The organization’s norms, processes, and interactions are structured to give those who “have it” opportunities to demonstrate their talents and advance accordingly.

But leaders in such cultures typically aren’t thinking about how to identify talent in people who look different from themselves. When a company’s talent arbiters are white men, research shows, they tend to more easily recognize the talents of other white men. And so, the cycle continues: These employees get the challenging assignments that help them learn new skills. With more opportunities to shine, they rise through the ranks faster, preserving the status quo.

Assessment-oriented cultures are difficult for everyone, since people in these settings feel compelled to prove their worth, hide failures and mistakes, and avoid taking risks. But they are especially challenging for white women and people of color, whose talents are often overlooked or underestimated because they are less likely to fit the firm’s image of a star performer.

“Missteps can be perilous for these employees,” Ely says, “because managers see their slip-ups as reason to write them off.”

Meanwhile, those deemed stars are given the benefit of the doubt, even when they make mistakes. Ultimately, employees who don’t make the “talent” cut early on are left to find their own way; they flounder and eventually leave, reinforcing the judgment that they weren’t worth investing in, she says.

Adopting the development mindset
To foster more equity, firms need to move away from an assessment culture and instead cultivate a “development” culture, which entails adopting the mindset that all employees have the potential to grow their talents while making sure that opportunities for that growth are distributed fairly, Ely says. In these cultures, white women and people of color would get an equal shot at plum assignments, for example, and receive the coaching and support needed to help them succeed.

“People may respond to a company survey and say they feel included, but ‘inclusion’ too often translates to the equivalent of having a taco day at work to acknowledge someone’s culture,” Ely says. “What people really want is to be given the chance to grow and have an impact and to have that impact recognized and rewarded.”

Breaking the inequity cycle requires leaders to see talent as something that’s cultivated through hard work, stretch assignments, and investing in each employee’s success, Ely says. These organizations are structured so that all employees get the opportunities they need to grow and advance. In turn, by cultivating a broad array of talent, developmental organizations are not only more equitable but are also more agile, innovative, and, ultimately, competitive, she says.

Unlike assessment cultures, development-oriented firms:

Encourage candor and risk-taking. Employees feel safe to share what they know and don’t know. They’re not afraid to offer new ideas and perspectives; in fact, leaders value their perspectives as opportunities to learn how the organization could do its core work better.
Monitor and recalibrate their development efforts. Businesses track indicators of whether people are thriving—like promotion and retention rates and employees’ self-reports on annual company surveys—so they can address patterns of advantage or disadvantage that may arise across groups and ensure that development and advancement opportunities are broadly available.
Provide honest feedback. At the heart of the development mindset is managers being willing and able to give candid, actionable feedback to all employees, including those from traditionally underrepresented groups, so that all can reach their full potential.
“It’s critical when giving feedback to hold the belief that the person has the capacity to learn and grow,” Ely says. “If a manager delivering feedback has already written the employee off, the employee is likely to sense that.”

Embracing the tough work—and reaping the rewards
That’s why it’s crucial for leaders who are adopting a development mindset to carefully examine how they deliver feedback to their employees about their work, Ely says. Are they making people feel supported by offering guidance when they slip up? Or are they tearing people down by nit-picking over every misstep?

Ely recalls one manager’s efforts to become a better supervisor to a Black female employee who was smart and hard-working, but made a lot of mistakes. His typical reaction, he noted, was to point out each error, instruct her to fix it, and tell her not to do it again.

“But as he reflected on his behavior, he realized that his approach was probably demoralizing, especially to someone who may already have felt marginal in the firm,” Ely says.

In contrast, the manager recalled, when he had made a colossal mistake with a client early in his career, his supervisor reassured him, telling him, “Don’t sweat it. It will be fine.” His supervisor then helped him see how he could fix the problem and brought him to the client meeting so that he could do so. “His mistake became an opportunity to learn,” Ely says.

That recollection helped this manager reframe his interactions with his employee, leading him to initiate a more direct conversation to help her think about specific ways she could improve.

“Some people are forgiven their mistakes; others are not,” Ely says. “Some are given useful feedback that feels supportive and gives them the opportunity to grow, while the feedback others are getting is soul-destroying.”

Any company that commits to fostering a development culture could not only achieve greater equity by retaining and promoting a more diverse array of employees but also gain a competitive edge over assessment-oriented firms, which fail to harness all of their talent, Ely says.

“Cultivating a development culture would provide an amazing competitive advantage because such a culture is not easily replicated,” she says. “Other firms can’t just jump on the bandwagon. They would have to do the hard work of culture change themselves.”


How to improve mental health by connecting well with nature

Connecting to nature can boost our mental health and contribute to our physical wellbeing by reducing blood pressure, regulating heart rate, easing muscle tension and managing stress levels. The natural world is the foundation of our health, wellbeing and prosperity and exposure to nature is beneficial for all of us as human beings.

There are so many ways that we can bring nature into our everyday life from indoor or outdoor gardening, exercising in the fresh air, exploring green spaces and being around insects and animals. Any way that we can connect with nature will have a positive impact on our overall health and wellbeing.

Here are a few ways to connect well with nature:

Slow down and appreciate what is going on around you

We are living in the busy ages and often we have so much going on that we can take for granted the wonders of nature and what is happening around us in the actual moment. Being more mindful and creating intentional pauses in our day to notice and appreciate things is so important for our overall wellbeing.

The changes that we make don’t have to be huge and there are so many simple things that we can do at home or in the workplace that will help.

When we take time each day to be grateful for what is happening around us, we will begin to appreciate things far more. Simply observing a beautiful butterfly feeding amongst the flowers in the garden, or listening to a bird singing, can bring with it a precious moment of joy.

Open your windows and let the fresh air into your home

Opening our windows and doors allows natural air to flow through our homes which can provide a more relaxing and natural atmosphere. This also allows us to let out stale air because this is air that has been breathed in and doesn’t contain as much oxygen as the fresh air from the outside.

A lack of fresh air can mean a lack of oxygen to the brain resulting in fatigue and dullness of mind. So, even on a cold day, turning off the central heating, wrapping up warm and letting some fresh air breeze through our homes can do us the world of good.

Exercise outside as much as you can

Walking is a great form of exercise and it is simple, free and one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and boost our overall wellbeing. Whether we walk in the local park or around the neighbourhood, getting outside exposure will strengthen our connection with nature.

Walking 10,000 steps is equal to walking approximately five miles. This number of steps is often quoted as a good daily target to aim for and will help to boost our emotional and physical health. Any sport or hobby that involves the great outdoors is an excellent way to get our exercise.

Embrace the benefits of gardening

Gardening is a fascinating experience that exposes us directly to the work of nature as we watch things grow. It has also been proven to improve mood, manage feelings of anxiety and depression as well as reduce stress levels.

Gardening is also a great way to get fit with digging and shovelling coming top of the list for burning the most calories and mowing and weeding not too far behind. Gardening can be a very creative activity and provides us with a sense of purpose and achievement, as well as inspiring us with the many miracles of nature.

Notice each season’s flowers

Flowers can have an immediate impact on our happiness and a long-term positive effect on our mood.

Flowers can provide natural medicines for humans and some animals and they also assist in a plant’s reproduction by attracting outside pollinators. Without all the varied colours of flowers, plants would only be green, and the world would be a duller place. Noticing each flower that is in season and learning their names is a great way to exercise our minds as we learn about each one.

Protect and support wildlife

To maintain a healthy ecological balance on earth, animals, marine species and plants are as important as human beings. Every organism has a unique function in the food chain that makes a valuable contribution to our ecosystem.

Many animals and birds are becoming endangered so by conserving wildlife, we are ensuring that future generations can enjoy our natural world and all the important species that live within it.

Learning more about wildlife, living responsibly, volunteering and making donations can all be helpful. Adopting an animal for someone, as a special gift, is just one wonderful way that will help people feel that they are doing their bit for the environment.

Make a positive difference

If we all make the effort to reduce our impact on the environment, then together, we can make a positive difference. The changes that we make don’t have to be huge either and there are so many simple things that we can do at home or in the workplace that will help.

Making a conscious habit of eliminating one-use plastic, saving water, turning off lights or thinking twice before we drive our cars, instead of cycling or walking, can make such an important impact. Each of us in a little area of the earth can make such a positive difference and if all of us make a commitment to do our little bit of good by critical mass it will have a huge impact.


Asperger’s And Elon Musk: Examining The Fruitless Search For The Perfect Leader

This weekend Elon Musk guest hosted the US TV Show “Saturday Night Live” and announced to the world that he is diagnosed with Asperger’s. He said something really insightful in his monologue.

“To anyone I have offended, I just want to say I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship, did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?”

His monologue was self-deprecating and humorous, he shared personal insights and had his mother on camera to tease him about being a tech geek.

For many in the neurodiversity sphere, this was great news. A world famous thought leader, known for creativity and innovative transformations allying himself with a neuro-distinctive profile, to add to the growing list of famous entrepreneurs, creatives, athletes and activists.

However, I’ve also seen a very large number of complaints on social media about the performance. Some of his language and past comments about Autism have been publicly challenged and not everyone likes his politics or business style. He is a divisive character to say the least, largely because he doesn’t fit neatly into a hero or anti-hero box at a time in the world where black and white thinking has become so commonplace. For this reason, I wanted to unpack the reaction a little more and consider our attitudes towards imperfect leaders.

Gatekeeping Identities

As a public figure he has forged his own path, leftist idealism here, right wing corporatism there with a bit of internalised ableism to boot. It isn’t all good or all bad, but following your own path and not modifying your goals to fit in with a dominant paradigm? What could be more neurodiverse than that?

Can Elon Musk Fill The Trump-Shaped Hole In ‘SNL’?
Elon Musk Reveals He Has Asperger’s On ‘Saturday Night Live’
For those unfamiliar with the critique he has received let me update you. Some people are questioning his use of the term “Asperger’s” which has connections to eugenics and many Autistic people also feel segregates autism unnecessarily into worthy and not worthy categories. I have also witnessed a negative reaction to the idea of “admitting” Asperger’s, as though it is somehow a shameful confession or something that should be hidden. He’s also on record as searching for a cure for autism, which is deeply offensive to many autistic people.

Others are pointing to the political discourse he has engaged in recently, questioning vaccines and health care advice around the pandemic, much of which he has now refuted. Critique has been made about his business practices, accepting social investment loans from government but being against state funded social safety nets, anti-union sentiment and more.

There’s a balance somewhere between cancel and consequence culture that we haven’t found yet on social media. Challenging and holding to account is good community participation but tearing people down is not.

The questions raised when Elon Musk comes out as a neurominority are all good questions to ask. They are all of interest in the discourse and the creation of good, ethical business leadership but the tone of some went too far for me. We shouldn’t hold autistic leaders to a higher standard than neurotypical leaders, we can allow them to struggle, fail and reboot the same way we do the bankers and the politicians. Exposing any minority leadership, be it female or disabled, to enhanced scrutiny simply by virtue of their unusualness is systemic discrimination.

In some circles I have seen these conversations turn into the wholesale rejection of his lived experience of Asperger’s (I will continue to use the term to describe him as this is how he describes himself) and authors seeking to distance him from autism altogether. In other threads I have seen younger neurodiversity leaders chastised for wanting to celebrate his announcement and enjoying having a successful peer role model. This is deeply incongruent with the model of celebrating and making room for difference.

Leaders Are Not Gurus
Neurominorities are characterized by a consistent trait, diversity in our abilities. Neurotypicals tend to be Jacks of all trades, with preferences of course, but fairly consistent across most endeavors. Neurodivergent people tend to have large disparities between what we do well and what we find hard. This makes us specialists, masters of some but not all. And this is where our intersection with leadership can cause a schism in the corporate anglosphere of the twenty-first century.

In today’s world we have mistaken leaders for gurus. We want to put them on a pedestal and have them as heros, perfect beings in a meritocracy in which their power and influence is the result of being and doing only good things.

We are very hard on our Leaders when they make mistakes, we are quick to write them off when we discover anything about them that we don’t like. We take our leaders from hero to zero in the space of a tweet and are insensitive to nuance. We ignore the reality that progress is never a straight line, and that there must be room for human beings to learn and grow even *shock horror* our leaders.

I’m not sure this is wise. Should leadership of all forms be reserved only for those reaching the pinnacle of human development in their intellect, personality, social skills, communication style, moral development? Should we remove leadership privileges from those who fail in one or more of these dimensions? Does that mean only neurotypical people with straight line skills and average personalities can be leaders?

Even if this was achievable, we are going to fail because as a species we disagree about what optimum performance looks like in leaders. In cross cultural / timespan comparisons what a society considers the “perfect leader” is subject to a lot of variance, the current trend of the “listening, servant leader” is just that – a trend. Traits such as intelligence and openness to experience are more consistent, but aspects such as agreeableness are much more context specific. Sometimes humans idealize tyrannical leaders who are task focused and at other times we like sensitive leaders who are people focused. It depends.

I’ve been speaking with a number of high profile Autistic, ADHD, dyspraxic and dyslexic leaders for many years about why there are not more of us who are openly neurodiverse at work in corporate circles. I think the reaction to Musk’s SNL performance says it all, to be honest. We need to be more comfortable accepting specialists in leadership circles.

Can Two Truths Co-Exist?
As a CEO I am a terribly flawed leader if left to my own devices, but in partnership with my trusted colleagues we make a great team. I believe that this is true for lots of businesses, not just neurodiverse ones and that putting your faith in one person to tick all your boxes is somewhat naïve. We put leaders on pedestals and then feel betrayed when it turns out they are normal, imperfect people.

For example, it is possible that Elon Musk is both a brilliant scientist and a tough employer. He holds views that some consider left-wing and others that are considered right-wing. He may have internalized ableism whilst also believing that neurodiversity breeds creativity. These two seemingly opposing truths can co-exist in a way that allows us to celebrate his achievements whilst also applying pressure to business practices that, though legal, we dislike. Or we can applaud his business achievements and question the frivolity of his scientific endeavours! We can have this discussion without making it about his autistic status, without reducing him down to “in our gang” or “not in our gang,” without having to side with everything he does versus nothing he does.

Humans are complex creatures, being part of the neurodiversity movement doesn’t mean agreeing with everything each other says. Good Leadership isn’t about having one perfect person at the top of a hierarchy, it’s about a blend of complementary abilities and skills and that is everything the neurodiversity movement is supposed to stand for.


The role of company culture in a post-pandemic world


Wherever you stand on the subject, you can guarantee there will be differing opinions, and a range of needs, within your team. The prospect of widespread homeworking coming to an end raises a multitude of questions and concerns for employees; something which we, as leaders, should be addressing. While there is much uncertainty around how and when offices will begin to reopen, individuals need reassurance that conversations about their future are happening, and that when the time comes, they will have choice in whether they return to the office. How positively the process is managed will be defined by the company culture: historically the domain of HR, it will need to evolve to become a top tier, bilateral concern. Fundamentally, I believe how company culture is shaped will be critical in ensuring that employees are treated with equality and respect when we move forward into this ‘new’ normal.

Over the past year, company culture has been heavily impacted by the mandate to work from home. Our recent EMEA-wide study of 4,250 office workers, found that during the pandemic, company culture has improved for 24%, but has got worse for 29%. Clearly some companies have managed better than others to translate their company culture to a remote environment, but with hybrid working looking most likely in the longer term, businesses must find ways to build culture that translates equally between home and office, so that everyone is treated fairly.

Company culture will play a strategic role
Company culture begins with a business’ core values: at Citrix, for example, these include integrity, respect, curiosity, courage and unity. Historically, these values and the resulting behaviours are developed and role modelled centrally, and then rolled out to individual offices and territories. In a pre-pandemic world that model seemed to make sense, to help build a shared vision and sense of purpose across the entire organisation; also as a way to unite global teams and resolve cultural differences. However, the global pandemic has forced us to rethink many of the ways in which we do business, and due to the geographic variations in how the virus – and vaccination programmes – are evolving, I believe we need to start thinking differently about how we create company culture. Maybe it needs to be strategised at a local level now, instead. In the same way that we receive our targets and KPIs from the top down, which we manage by individual territory; we will need to be doing the same thing for company culture, so that it reflects local pandemic nuances.

Creating a culture that supports hybrid working
Our research found that 52% of European office workers would like a hybrid work model where they can choose to work remotely, or from the office, each day. We have proven over the past 12 months that individuals do not need to ‘go to work’ to be productive. Once stay-home restrictions ease and offices can safely reopen, it will be the responsibility of business leaders to ensure employees have complete choice in whether they return to the office, or not.

Company culture will need to embrace this hybrid model of work, so that remote and on-site workers can co-exist happily. Some individuals will not want to go to back the office, for a variety of reasons: they may be anxious about the virus, have an at-risk family member or they might have relocated outside of the city, over the last year. As leaders, we need to create a culture that ensures people working remotely some or all of the time, are treated the same as those who go back to the office. My worry is if we are physically connecting with someone in the office daily, our instinct may be to give them more responsibility, more opportunity, or more areas for growth, than someone who we haven’t seen in person for a while. As leaders we need to be aware of this “location bias” and make sure it doesn’t happen. Fundamentally, employees cannot feel that there is a requirement for them to go into the office for opportunities to be available to them.

Additionally, over the past year, we have temporarily lost the ‘incidental’ contact that would normally take place within the office between employees, and across teams. What I mean by this is the informal cross-team dialogue that can happen around hot desks and in office kitchens, from which big ideas and fresh thinking can often come. And so, as we begin to reinvent and revive company culture around hybrid working, leaders need to find ways to drive connection and collaboration in this new environment, so that incidental contact can resume, albeit in a slightly different, virtual, way.

Challenging unconscious bias
It’s important to receive regular training in unconscious bias, teaching us to question our inherent prejudices and judgement, and to embrace diversity. Post-pandemic, I believe hybrid and remote working will need to be included within this, to challenge the presence of any unconscious bias towards individuals who choose to work from home. In organisations where there is a strong office-based culture, it is possible that rifts, or cliques, will form between those working on site and those working from home. These attitudes will need to be challenged.

To consider the inverse perspective, a lot of us are very productive right now, working harder and longer hours, without a commute or in-office distractions. When we go back to the office, there is a risk that we will see a temporary decline in productivity, while people who stay at home are likely to maintain their output. This could also cause challenges if we are unprepared for it.

Supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of employees
Employee wellbeing has received much attention over the past year, and it is unsurprising that in our recent research, 89% said a company culture that promotes mental or physical wellbeing is important to them. It is likely that once restrictions ease and employees have their freedom returned to them, we will all be in a much better place, in terms of mental health. However, it will be up to leaders to instil a culture of fairness that translates across the hybrid environment. If we fail to do this, we may end up in a far worse place, with individuals feeling isolated, constrained, or pressurised into returning to the office.

Stress levels are understandably high among employees right now, partly due to the pandemic, but also largely due to the uncertainty around how and when offices may reopen. Will we be required to wear face masks, will vaccines be mandatory, will we need to work in shifts? There are many unanswered questions and while no one knows precisely how things will pan out, leaders can show these concerns are a priority so that when the time comes, we will be prepared, strategies will be in place, and employees will have the same opportunities and support, wherever they may choose to work.


A window of opportunities: how leaders can harvest the good from the crisis

COVID-19 has turned the world of work upside down—now’s the time to build better working practices for the next decade and beyond.
If and when vaccines effectively curb the spread of coronavirus, working patterns will surely change again. But rather than just waiting to see what happens, business leaders need to decide now what they want the new world of work to look like for their organizations. The pandemic has given employees an unprecedented opportunity to experience ways of working that are less structured and less limited. Many won’t want to turn back the clock.

Where people work, when they work, and how they work all have huge ramifications for a company’s development of both its physical and human resources, affecting everything from office space to employee development and team building. If companies don’t plan now, they’ll face significant risks as the pandemic subsides.

Chief among these is the danger that some employees continue to work from home while others make a full return to the office, potentially splintering teams and company cohesion. Some employees may seek to physically be in the workplace to build a relationship with their bosses and advance their careers, while others may believe they are more productive at home. If half a team works in the same room while the other half connects solely via video calls, team dynamics are sure to be disrupted.

From a real estate perspective, there’s a clear danger that a business will end up with too much (or too little) capacity, depending on whether it has retained or reduced its office space during the pandemic. If business leaves it up to individual employees to decide when and where to work, it’ll be very difficult for estate managers to ensure there’s enough suitable office space to accommodate seemingly random fluctuations in working patterns.

Where do your priorities lie?
Given these risks, it’s important to plan now for the aftermath of the pandemic. To do that, the senior management team needs to prioritize. Should the priority be making employees happy? If the company’s involved in a talent war this could be very important. Or should the focus be on improving the financial situation of the company, given the way in which the pandemic has ravaged the economy? Or should the company concentrate on making customers happy and winning market share, while rivals flounder? Or a combination of all three?

If used wisely, the current window of opportunity could allow businesses to significantly increase employee satisfaction (in terms of when and where they work), improve the customer experience (through greater agility and better collaboration), and realize significant savings for the organization. If working from home becomes the default, the cost of operating and maintaining facilities will drop, while greater use of remote training and events should improve efficiency. As employees commute less and can work more flexible hours, the business may also be able to spend less on payroll and incentives. Remote working has proved to be efficient during the pandemic and is becoming more broadly accepted by organizations and their leaders.

But working from home isn’t a panacea. Kearney’s experience of supporting clients during 2020, and conducting a comprehensive internal global study, suggests that the upsides of the new working patterns are counterbalanced by various downsides (see figure).

If people spend much of their working life away from the office, a key challenge for CEOs and CHROs will be to give them a sense of belonging and ensure they continue to develop. People who work predominantly from home won’t receive as much informal guidance from colleagues and managers. When everyone’s in the office, problems and solutions are discussed in the cafeteria, in the corridor, or even in a bar after work. It can be hard to replicate that dynamic in a remote working environment.

Companies will also need to consider how many of their staff have enough space at home in which to work effectively. Parents who have to work in their kitchen, for example, could be interrupted by children returning from school or their partner making a meal.

In reality, many businesses are likely to pursue a hybrid model in which about half of employees’ working time is in the office and the other half is at home or elsewhere. It could become customary, for example, to perform tasks that need full concentration at home, while projects that involve a high degree of personal interaction and collaboration might be conducted in offices or other shared working spaces where colleagues can gather together and have access to the necessary amenities. For many service and software companies, the bulk of work may be produced off-site and delivered electronically, blurring the conventional definition of the workplace. Freelancers and contractors from different organizations will work together in ad hoc teams that are assembled and disbanded as required.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
For most organizations this will represent a major shift in working patterns, so they need to prepare properly. Now’s the time to review and adjust elements of the operating model to take full advantage of the new ways of working.

The first step is to define the ambition: draw up a people and real-estate strategy that includes targets in terms of where and when staff will work. The allocation of office space should reflect the different needs of different roles and job functions—someone in a back-office position may need less space than a project engineer but more than a salesperson. Whereas some employees may require a dedicated workspace, others may need to book before they visit the office. People performing back-office functions may be able to do most of their work at home, while a software engineer or graphic designer, for example, might need to be in the office to work on specific equipment or collaborate closely with colleagues.

To help clients revamp their working arrangements, Kearney typically develops between five and 10 archetypes of office-based employees who describe where they need to work (home or office?), when (traditional or flexible time model?), and the office layout they require. This analysis is based on an evaluation of how much time each archetype spends on the four Cs—concentration, collaboration, communication, and community. We also help identify the digital collaboration and productivity tools each archetype will need and whether employees have the necessary skills to use these tools effectively.

It may also make sense to provide staff with incentives (and the equipment they need) to work remotely, as the organization could benefit through a reduction in fixed and variable real estate/maintenance costs: tailoring office space to functions should reduce the amount of unutilized capacity and improve efficiency. Although flexible workspace will continue to be important for collaboration between teams, clients, and suppliers, this could be rented from private coworking facilities as the need arises.

Compressing and scattering time
One way to attract better staff and motivate existing staff is to give employees more ownership and control over their work-life balance. For example, allowing for flexible start and finish times will enable individuals to work when they’re most productive, or choose to commute outside peak hours. Some may wish to compress their working week into four days, putting in longer hours each day but gaining one or more extra free days to spend as they please. Others may want to scatter working time, fitting in their hours around childcare or other personal responsibilities. Short sabbaticals could become the norm, giving employees the opportunity to further their interests, such as spending more time with their families, advancing their education, travelling, taking part in charity or sporting events, or developing their entrepreneurial skills. If employees can achieve a better work-life balance, they’re more likely to stay with the organization.

Of course, giving employees flexibility on when they work can’t be allowed to compromise the business. The company will need to design mechanisms that enable compressed and scattered time models and other forms of flexible working, and can be implemented without weakening operating processes. In other words, the organization needs to proactively design rules and conditions, rather than simply allowing flexible working to take place. In practice, this could require a redefinition of roles and responsibilities and management models (for example, span of control) to make the organization more agile. New working models could call for fresh processes, a revamp of cross-functional interaction and collaboration, and even revised customer and employee satisfaction metrics. Indeed, it’ll be vital to ensure that managers throughout the organization are closely involved in designing new working models.

In terms of real estate, there may be a need to create flexible spaces that can be adapted to fit changing requirements, such as seasonal fluctuations or variations in the type of work being done. When people do come into the office, many will be looking for social interaction, so offices could be redesigned to provide space that allows people to meet and collaborate easily.

Finding the right formula
Clearly, there won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to post-pandemic working. Kearney is working with clients with very different priorities—one business is seeking to close one of its buildings in Paris to cut costs, while another is involved in a talent war and is focused on boosting employee satisfaction. A third client is based in a rural area, which has made it difficult to find good people. New ways of working can help overcome this challenge.

Still, almost all businesses have one thing in common: COVID-19 has opened minds by revealing how digital technologies can overcome many of the challenges related to remote working. The transformation in how, where, and when we work has just begun.

Beyond the pandemic, acute shifts in technology, demographics, the labor market, and the very nature of work itself could reshape the relationship between employers and employees. As remote working and virtual interactions become more accessible, location will matter less and less. Freed of this long-standing constraint, business leaders have a golden opportunity to shape working practices for the better. Now’s the time to act, to maintain your competitive edge.


Employees Are More Likely To Pretend They’re Working When Employers Track Their Productivity: Here’s Why

A new study released by research firm Gartner shows that employees are nearly two times more likely to pretend to be working when their employers use tracking systems to monitor their output. Gartner surveyed more than 2,400 professionals in January 2021.

“Our role as managers is to create an environment where people can do their best work. It’s really hard to do your best work if you feel like you are not trusted,” says Carol Cochran, vice president of people and culture at remote career site FlexJobs. “If I feel like someone doesn’t trust me enough to feel like I’m doing my work without monitoring through software, how do I trust them back? How do I build that physical safety?”

This past year, there’s been an uptick in reports of companies using monitoring software to keep tabs on their newly remote workforces, turning to technology to track their keystrokes and search histories, as well as tools to take periodic screenshots of their computers.

Reid Blackman, founder and CEO of corporate ethics consulting firm Virtue Consultants, said he’s not surprised employees are falsifying their work. “Obviously people are going to game the system … especially if they think the system is unfair,” he says.

Though he says it’s not unreasonable for managers to have concerns about their workers’ productivity, he suggests they think critically about why they want to use such software and what they stand to accomplish before deploying any systems. Blackman also recommends discussing the move with employees beforehand so they can ask questions and understand the reasoning behind it.

Alexia Cambon, a research director at Gartner, says employers’ initial instincts to track their employees may have been well-intentioned, especially in the early days of the pandemic, when there was a need to recreate in-office strategies at home. However, many companies did not take human behavior into consideration, she says.

“If you know that, as humans, we will struggle to disconnect from a remote world …. then you really need to create strategies to incentivize people to disconnect and not stay on longer hours,” Cambon says.

Gartner also found that adapting office-centric practices for hybrid work environments, such as creating an abundance of meetings, has led to virtual fatigue. Employees who now spend more time in meetings are 1.24 times more likely to feel emotionally drained from their work, the study found.

Cambon cautions that when employees experience high levels of fatigue, their performance can decrease by up to 33% and feelings of inclusion can decrease by up to 44%. Ultimately, these workers are up to 54% less likely to remain with their employers, she says.

Contrary to prevailing advice, Cochran advises companies to reconsider asking their employees to turn on their cameras for video meetings, as doing so can make them more exhausting. As a compromise, she suggests that everyone turn on their cameras for the first couple of minutes to exchange pleasantries with coworkers, but turn them off when it’s time to work.

“We shouldn’t do things just because it seems right or seems like the best practice,” she says. “We really need to be intentional in how we are managing these workforces, whether they are remote, hybrid or in person.”