In this new episode, Katie Poolton, Employee Experience & Frontline Worker Lead at Microsoft Canada is Zeshan Randhawa’s guest. Together, they explore what organizations can do to embrace the Hybrid Workplace and empower their employees to promote flexibility and work-life balance.
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Welcome to The Cloud Lounge. I’m your host Zeshan. I want to start this episode by making you think just for a second. Are you exhausted? Do you feel like you’re fitting more work in less time or worse fitting in work all the time? So for 15 years, I’ve had roughly a 2.5 hour commute every day, day in, day out. Of course since the pandemic, all that has changed. But even today, many of us are still working from home. Now theoretically with that 2.5 hour commute out the window, I should be experiencing a significant boost in productivity right in all this extra time that I have. But in actuality the inverse is true. It would be safe to assume, I think that the majority of you are in the same boat. I’m talking about back to back meetings, juggling multiple tasks or projects with little to no time to switch context, seeing emails all times of the day and frankly never truly feeling disconnected from work.
To back this up, last year Microsoft released the Work Trend Index survey. In this survey, self-assessed productivity remained the same or higher for many employees, roughly about 82%. But this all comes at a human cost because one in five global survey respondents say their employer does not care about their work- life balance and you know I’ve seen this first at hand. Some employers have chosen to take a more passive or business as usual approach when it comes to addressing the added load or pressure on employees in these times. And of course this may come across as simply an organization not caring at all. 54% feel overworked, 39%, feel exhausted. And again, having the experience of never truly feeling disconnected from work and having these back to back meetings without any mental breaks in between those meetings to recalibrate, prepare for your next meeting or even next set of tasks that really takes a toll on people and employees.
So to respond to this, some governments are taking action to protect employees. Just as an example recently in Ontario Canada here they passed a law making it illegal for bosses to bug their employees after hours. The provincial government passed the working for Workers Act in 2021, which was first proposed last October. So, this is an example of the government getting involved. But what about the organization itself? In my opinion, an organization’s most valuable asset, of course is its people and therefore it’s in an organization’s best interest to provide a healthy and balanced work environment. Of course, happy people produce better work.
So, to help us explore this topic a little further today, I want to introduce our guest Katie Poolton. Katie is an Employee Experience and Frontline Worker Lead for Microsoft Canada. Katie’s expertise revolves around solving business challenges with applications across the Microsoft Teams platform.
Welcome to the podcast Katie, how are you doing today? Excellent. So, Katie today, we’ve been talking about the new reality that workers are facing. I want to start by getting your perspective on what you have seen out there in the field with your customers.
Yeah, so obviously the last two years have changed quite a lot. I think we’ve kind of gone from everybody working in a very remote environment to sort of now where maybe not everybody is around and we sort of actually have moved more into a real hybrid work environment, which is where I think we were trying to get to anyway sort of from an environment perspective across all of our knowledge workers in Canada specifically. I think what we’re seeing now is there are people who have decided that they would like to prefer to stay at home, that kind of environment is how do organizations then take, you have groups of people who are would prefer to work from home, but you also have people who want to be in an office and so how do you empower individuals to be able to say I’m going to work from home today or I’m going to go into the office today and have the same experience, whether you’re remote or whether you’re in the office. And so that has in and of itself shifted a lot of how we take meetings, how we do calls, how we do all the things that two years ago we were all doing in an office and now we’re sort of having this shifted hybrid paradigm where it just depends. It depends on the person, but the experience needs to stay the same. And what we’ve really seen is organizations have gone from 0 to 100 and in a very short span of time and it’s been a really exciting time to see how different organizations have taken different approaches to sort of trying to address the same thing.
So that’s a really good point, Katie, the whole ability to support, you know, workers that are sitting in an office and then also the other folks that will be still sitting at home in this hybrid world, we really do believe it’s here to stay. So in your kind of idea what can organizations do to embrace it while protecting their employees? Can technology help in any way? Yeah, I think for sure technology plays a big part in this whole idea of hybrid work. And so it’s using technology to find signals that are informing us on the way we are being productive, in the way we are acting as employees within the organization and acting as people that are sitting at home and still, you know going out to walk their dog in the middle of the day or you know, taking care of their kids halfway through the day. So, I think where technology can really support is when we are looking at the way that they are interacting with other things. So how long are you in meetings for? How long are you working? What time do you start work in the morning? And what time are you finishing work. If you set your work hours 9-5, how often are you working after hours? How often are you working on the weekends? And it becomes an empowering tool, particularly when we’re looking at technology because now we have technology, we’re talking about Viva Insights that can give you the insights that really look and say you have worked 10 hours after hours, you are working during your quiet time, we see that you’re chatting when you’re in meetings, so you’re multitasking or like you’re scheduling meetings that often go over the amount of time that you set them for. And so there’s insights like that that just can appear not only for you as an employee but for managers to see, hey look, I have a bunch of employees that are working after hours every single weekend and so that is a sign of burnout and as a manager you need to be able to take those insights that you are getting from all of the signals that are pulling from different pieces that you’re interacting with at work and you need to be able to action those to help improve the lives of your employees because nobody at this point is saying you need to work after hours. It’s a habit that we’ve fallen into because we are always on because we have our phones with us wherever we are and so it’s how do we use the signals that we’re getting from technology to be able to drive better productivity and better performance from our employees without having this risk of burnout every time you know we turn on our computers.
Absolutely. Absolutely. So, it definitely seems like gathering that data, that information, the insights about how people work really is a key piece.
Can that data really drive business transformation or how can it actually drive business transformation? It definitely can. And I think data is data. So whatever we take from data only gives you up until a point and then it is what you are doing with that data that helps you know construct your entire business plan. So, if you are seeing from these signals and and we have you know within just Viva alone, there are multiple signals that can pull not just from an employee level but from an organization level to say we have a risk of burnout in these groups here. These groups are probably in too many meetings but what are you going to do with that? So, data is nothing without the impact of what you are going to do with that data to change it. So, how do you take those insights and turn it into action and that is where organizations are really starting to look to be able to drive change within their organizations because there is nothing that this data can do by itself.
We have a lot of customers right now who are using just data in terms of, we want to see how many of our employees are working after hours. And how do you, what do you do with that information? If 60% of your employees are working after hours, how do you as a company change your culture and change the levels that you interact with your employees on to make it okay to not work after hours. And so we’ve seen organizations that say like you know what turn off your phones. We have people who literally will uninstall like Outlook and uninstall Teams from their their mobile devices so that when they are in their off time, they’re in their off time. If they need to go and do something they can obviously turn on their computer but it’s enforcing the behavior that it is okay to not be at work, you don’t need to always be on. And you should be empowered to sort of take yourself away even if your desk is two feet away from where you’re cooking or where you’re you know watching TV at night and it’s just helping use those signals to reinforce behavior that it is okay. And I think that is where a lot of people still are a little bit nervous because they’re like, I need to go check my email, I need to go check Teams and it’s up to organizations to help sort of improve that culture to say it’s it’s okay to not check Teams. It’s okay to not check Outlook when you are not at work.
Yeah, and I think it also probably means, you know, other folks from the organization or other department starting to get involved, things like HR and leadership groups to really kind of instill that culture. And you know, either even try to drive that change through policies within the organization, right? We’ve seen a lot, even for when we’re talking about meetings in general, like everybody has too many meetings every time you do like an employee signal survey, I think one of the highest things is always I’m in meetings all day and I have no time to do work. And so we’ve seen a lot of organizations and Microsoft is included in that where we’re saying think about the meetings that you’re in. Are there multiple people from your own team? Can you not have, you know, can you not say I’ll take this meeting, you take this other one. If we’re in the same meeting together, there’s no point of us both being here. But it’s also to say, doesn’t meeting need to be an hour long, can it be 45 minutes? And so it’s using our own tools to be able to say. So like we have our default meeting set for 25 minutes and 55 minutes or in 45 minutes so that It is automatic, we have all set our expectations that way to say, we don’t have 30 minute meetings anymore, our meetings are 25 and so we try to give that time in between, even if it’s just to go get a coffee, get up and get a glass of water or whatever it is enabling people to have the time.
Yeah, absolutely, and and those five minutes seem like a very small thing, but absolutely being someone that’s experienced that those 25 minute meetings or the 55 minute meetings, it is a game changer, being able to have a little bit of a breather in between sessions.
So, Katie, here’s the multimillion dollar question, you know, how can organizations find some balance between productivity and employee satisfaction or just overall happiness for an employee? It’s a good question and I don’t know that anybody has the answer yet. I think everybody is still learning and I think organizations are learning and employees are learning, but I think where it becomes super important to always just remember is that employees are happy when they feel like they are included as part of the culture of the organization, when they feel like they are being noticed and everything that they are saying is being heard and not just sort of you know, shoved under a rug or if they have concerns, it’s just not being set aside and they need to feel like they are empowered to do the work that they do wherever, whenever they want. The reality is if you empower employees to be their best, no matter whether they are in at the cottage, whether they are sitting, you know, they’re on a call, driving their kids to school, whatever it is, they need to feel like they can do their job wherever they need to do it. And I think that sort of leads to this concept of what is work life balance because that has changed and it’s different for every single person. I work out in the morning, I will set you know, I will set focus time for myself at seven o’clock to eight o’clock in the morning and my focus time is me going to work out, it’s not, you know catching up on emails and so I think how we deal and how we work is completely different for every person. We have people that will go in, they will set their out of office for lunch because you know what, I’m going to step away from my desk, I’m going to set my out of office so that people know that I am not at my desk and I’m going to go and do what I need to do and you have other people as a good example who you know what, they actually work better at night. And just because you are supposed to work 9-5 doesn’t mean 9-5 works for everybody. And so how do you empower an entire organization to be able to work at the times that they want to work at the things like where it is most convenient for them to do it. You need to have that culture and so you have to have an organizational culture that empowers employees to be able to do the things that they need to do while also feeling like they are still included within the organization. They’re not being excluded because they’re at home versus being in an office and having the tools and the technology to be able to empower that. And that is where you start to see employees that are happy when they are at work. They are happy when they are at home working from their offices and that is when you start to see change within organizations.
Absolutely. It definitely sounds like the name of the game is flexibility, right? Being able to identify and then promote that flexibility for employees to work the way they want to work. So Katie, I would love to end on a positive point and see if you have any examples or stories big or small with an organization that’s found a way to better the lives of their employees and help introduce some balance. Yeah, so it’s really cool because I think what we’re starting to see is a lot of organizations are doing this and a lot of them are doing it in really creative ways and it’s different for every organization. And so obviously I won’t share the name of this particular organization, but they have been doing some pretty amazing things from a work life balance perspective and it sort of stems from the concept of it’s sort of almost like think about it as a phased approach where like Phase one is collecting that data, getting the signals, finding what is the most relevant to you as an organization. So whether it is employee burnout that you’re tracking, whether it is, you know, how many meetings is everybody in? Do you have time to do your work? And and this organization has sort of found that you know what people are getting burned out. People are in too many meetings. And so how do we change our culture from a meetings heavy culture from a culture that says you should be on and you should be, you know, everybody two years ago wasn’t an office from 9 to 5, how do you strip that away and become a culture that empowers individuals to be more flexible to have a stronger work life balance. And so what they have done and, and it’s incredible to see is they have sort of taken, taken it to the next level in terms of celebrating when people are going out and taking their dogs for a walk in the middle of the day. Like they’ll post pictures and put them in a Team’s chat and be like, hey, look like I just took a 30 minute break and like look at my dog and it’s cool stuff like that where you’re seeing like, oh look and, and it’s making people start to think that it’s okay because I think there was this mentality and it’s across a lot of organizations of like if I step away from my desk, somebody’s going to think that I’m not doing my job or if I, you know, if I take a 30 minute break, somebody’s gonna be like, oh, that person is slacking and it is embracing this idea of flexibility to be able to start to promote that. Like, you know what? Hey, look, I set my quiet time and I kept my quiet time hours. Like check this out. I didn’t look at my, I didn’t look at my emails all weekend and like that is something that we should start to celebrate. And so this organization has done a really cool job of just promoting people that are taking the time away from their desks and how they’re doing it. They’re going for a hike. Are they going, are they going snowshoeing whatever it is that they’re doing, celebrating, taking the time for you is something that becomes then the new normal and then everybody thinks that and, everybody starts to do it. And so it’s just celebrating people for doing the things that they need to do throughout their day, making everything flexible. But also just, it provides a level of comfort to the rest of the organization to be like, oh everybody is doing this and so like it’s okay, as long as we have that flexibility, you can get your job done and you can be productive, but it doesn’t mean that you have to be on all the time and I think it’s just something really cool that we’ve seen and that’s had a very, a really, really big impact on this particular organization and you can kind of just see like the levels of employee satisfaction that have sort of started to go up and up and up.
Excellent. Yeah, literally flipping the culture on its head, just changing the way people think and perceive what’s working and what’s not working. Yeah, excellent, so thank you for joining us, Katie, I really do appreciate you bringing your insight and your experience from the field into this very important topic and conversation.
Thank you so much for having me. The workplace is an ever evolving thing, how people communicate connect and collaborate with each other is constantly changing. Just like the digital tools we use. We just have to make sure that this rapid change isn’t at the expense of the health and well being of people. Thank you for joining us at the Cloud Lounge and thanks again to Katie Poolton. Until next time, take care.