Proactive IT|15 Minutes
The DEX Show | Podcast #4 – IT Insights as a Cornerstone of Company Culture w/ Gil Cohen
Why do we continue to treat employees as if we are in the Second Industrial Revolution? How can we use personal insights to make decisions? What are ways to strike the perfect balance between work from home and in the office?
These are a few of the many burning questions answered on today’s show.
- How company culture is an experience felt individually and not by the masses
- Why supporting individuals plays a large role in company culture today
- The need for curated interactions that feel as if we were in the office
For more information on how personal IT decisions are driving organizations to be more technology enabled and foster an inclusive culture, Nexthink has an on-demand webinar for listeners of today’s show.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
You’re listening to Digital Employee Experience, a show for IT change makers. Let’s get into the show.
Tom McGrath (00:08):
Hello, change makers. Welcome to the show. This is Tom McGrath. I’m joined, as ever, by Tim Flower. Tim, how’s it going?
Tim Flower (00:13):
It’s going really well, Tom. How are you?
Tom McGrath (00:14):
I’m doing good. I’m doing good. I’d like to start today’s show, Tim, by asking you a question, potentially an awkward question, if that’s okay with you.
Tim Flower (00:22):
Go for it.
Tom McGrath (00:22):
How are you finding the show music? Because full disclosure to the audience, at first, you weren’t the biggest fan of it. We played it for you. We were all happy and excited. We thought it sounded great, and you simply said, “I don’t think so.” Is it growing on you? Is it starting to change?
Tim Flower (00:37):
Yeah, it’s growing on me, Tom. When we first started, there was some whistling in there and it was just… I think we’ve got it… Right. My musical taste has a range from jazz to heavy metal and a few places in between. So, it’s growing on me. If I had complete control, I’d maybe do something a little heavier, but it’s grown on me.
Tom McGrath (01:00):
Yeah. There was no whistling in that spectrum of your tastes, in other words.
Tim Flower (01:03):
Tom McGrath (01:05):
Well, we mention it not only because we wanted to check in on whether your relationship was developing with our show music-
Tim Flower (01:11):
Tom McGrath (01:12):
… our beloved show music, but also because the whole question of musical taste segues into the theme of today’s show so well, which is that of individual difference, for just as we are all different when it comes to musical preferences, so we are all similarly nuanced, similarly individual, when it comes to our professional expectations and needs, and culturally and technologically, we are now moving together out of the eras of both one-size-fits-all employee culture and technological provision. And we’re going to hear something about each of these changes from today’s guest. So, without wasting another second, let’s welcome him on. Gil, we’re delighted to have you on the show. Why don’t you tell the audience who you are and what you do?
Gil Cohen (01:55):
Thanks for having me on. My name is Gil Cohen. I am a practitioner in employee experience. I’ve been working in the field for about three years. I was a consultant in talent management and organizational development for about 16 years before that. My mission is to make the world a better place to work.
Tom McGrath (02:14):
Could I ask, what was your general perception from all of this experience, for good or bad, of technology in the workplace as a component of how people experienced work in the time leading up to the pandemic?
Gil Cohen (02:25):
So, it’s actually been interesting, over the course of my career, to see the impact of technology in the workspace as a whole. So, when I started in work 20 years ago, when I did my MBA, most people didn’t bring a laptop to classes. So, the impact of the digital experience has been dramatic. Whereas most of our lives were set in the physical space previously, now more of the work we have is digital. The pandemic itself has just upped that level, because a lot of people who previously went into the office, now their entire workspace, pretty much, is digital. Their interactions with their employer come entirely in a technological form.
Tim Flower (03:07):
That’s really interesting, and a lot of what I hear when I talk to folks about employee experience is culture, and I’m curious, from that standpoint, of the approach that you’re taking, how are companies now adjusting to the individual versus the culture of the large mass of employees as a whole?
Gil Cohen (03:25):
Well, I mean, I think one of the realities is that they’ve recognized that experience is individual. Every person is individual, regardless of what the culture might be, and even within a broader culture, there’s going to be microcultures within different areas of the organization. But it’s important to understand that the culture is what is intended broadly. Each person experiences it based on their expectations. That’s the problem that, historically, companies have faced. They’ll make one decision at everybody and not understand why it doesn’t work so well.
Gil Cohen (04:00):
The reality is that we all bring our own expectations to work, and [inaudible 00:04:03] comes from our history, from our values, from our experiences, and that’s what we expect at work. Leadership controls those expectations only to a certain level, but they need to be intentional about controlling those expectations. And then, when it’s interpreted, that’s the individuality, like you’re saying, that it’s no longer about the culture as a whole, but it’s about finding a way to support individuals, that we are not interchangeable resources who come into the organization, all be treated the exact same, and then leave.
Gil Cohen (04:36):
That’s one of the legacies, unfortunately, of the second industrial revolution that we continue to live with, that a lot of the way we organize and manage businesses were built around automation, around an uninformed and an uneducated workforce, that we now live with, that all of our people would be seen as interchangeable, but now organizations are using a lot of technology, especially to understand, “Okay, this is how this individual works,” or how, at least, this persona sees things, as opposed to seeing everybody in the organization as part of this monolith.
Tim Flower (05:11):
And Gil, I’m curious. In this concept of the culture of the masses versus the experience of the individual, this executive said, “Tim, we went from four buildings with 10,000 employees to now 10,000 individual buildings and offices, each with one employee in each building,” right? We’ve got 10,000 offices to manage and one person in each office. So, what’s your thought about what the role technology actually plays in making sure that those individual employees have a positive experience at work, even though they’re at home?
Gil Cohen (05:42):
Well, I mean, technology plays a huge role because while there might be 10,000 physical offices, it can feel like one collaborative office if you create that digital environment, because that’s one of the realities of remote work is that companies used to be able to rely on shared space to inform culture. They used to rely on shared space to inform how people work together. Well, that shared space is no longer there for a large portion of the population. So, how do we then intentionally create these interactions that it feels like we’re at the same office? Because that feel is so important, whether we’re not actually there, when we log in to a digital workspace and we feel like there are others there with us and we’re interacting with others. It’s no longer, we feel so isolated in this individual space, because while it might be 10,000 offices, the physical element of those offices has been reduced significantly to, basically, ergonomics.
Gil Cohen (06:47):
I mean, that’s the reality. The physical space is ergonomics and about, for some of us, luck of what kind of room we can put together, right? Because I happen to be lucky. I have room in the basement away from my sons. I’ve also spoken to people who were a couple living in an 800-square-foot bachelor apartment who both were on meetings all day. Right? And so, that physical only means so much now. The shared office space is in the digital environment, that we feel like we are in the same place together. And it doesn’t matter… North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa. It doesn’t matter where we are, because we can continue to share an environment together.
Tim Flower (07:26):
Do you see that as a collateral benefit versus collateral damage, right? The silver lining?
Gil Cohen (07:31):
You know what? That is one of the collateral benefits. Absolutely. I think there are a variety of benefits to be found from remote work, and there are some intentionally remote-work companies who’ve been doing it for years who have found those benefits, because whereas unfortunately, a lot of companies, when forced into remote work, were fearful and stuck in old ways, they didn’t look for the collateral silver linings. They didn’t look for those things that, you know what? We’re better off at communicating these ways now than they would have, because a lot of companies and a lot of people I’ve spoken to have realized, “Okay, now we have to be intentional about communication, whereas before we would happen upon each other, and that was one of the benefits of a shared physical space.” It’s harder to do that. And that’s why they have to be more intentional in creating that digital experience that in some ways emulates the physical experience, but in some ways improves upon it.
Tom McGrath (08:24):
And given the increasing role of technology in general workplace wellbeing, do you see the role of HR as something that’s going to evolve in a more technologically astute direction, or conversely, do you see IT as something that’s going to have to be increasingly concerned with employees as individuals?
Gil Cohen (08:43):
Both. Both are, I think, the reality, because one, IT, as it grows in importance in the employee experience, when people develop and improve on it, need to recognize the role of the human in it. One of the things I learned working in an IT company is the best IT, the best technology, is the one that’s actually used, because I can’t count how many times my technology friends told me, “Here are two different products. This one’s amazing. This one’s terrible. Everyone uses the terrible one.” For whatever reason, it got implemented in a certain way. Right? And so, it’s all about having technology understand, “Okay, we have human end users that we need to align their experience, but then there’s also the HR side that needs to understand, we can’t work the way we used to.”
Gil Cohen (09:32):
Being HR means that we have to help the people use the technology effectively. We have to help them understand how to implement it effectively. You could implement this performance management system that is the best technology in the world, but if the managers have no idea how to use it, it will fail miserably. And so, that’s why there needs to be both coming together, where IT needs to recognize… And I think, from what I’ve seen, has a lot, over the last number of years, recognized the value in the human user, the end user, but then also the HR side, and understanding that technology is not getting in your way. Technology is not a frustration to you, and technology isn’t just about data analytics.
Tim Flower (10:13):
I think what we’re finding, though, is that it can’t be a hobby, right? For decades, the experience of the user has just been a result of the things that we gave them, and they experience it however they experience it. The concept of design thinking and a deliberate design of an experience, I think, is starting to become compelling for a lot of organizations, because they now realize that it’s actually achievable.
Gil Cohen (10:34):
And it only comes with that mindset and being intentional about it. That’s the thing, because every customer, every employee ever, has had an experience. It’s only more recently anybody started to actually care about it, right? Every employee, every job you’ve ever worked at, has been an experience. It’s driven the decisions you made. It drives the behaviors you had, and either it can be designed intentionally in a way that will elicit behaviors and decisions that serve you and the business, or it could create outcomes that doesn’t serve anybody.
Tom McGrath (11:06):
Gil, is there a tension between the need to treat employees as individuals, as you described, and the tendency to provision technology as a one-size-fits-all approach? Can you imagine an approach to users by IT which is successful because it’s more individualized?
Gil Cohen (11:22):
That’s a very tough question, Tom, because it is one of those things that goes against the idea of scale, right? I mean, IT is always looking to scale out, yet the problem is individuals don’t scale. Individuals have their own personal needs, their own personal requirements. Can we boil them down to personas and swing a little bit better at what we’re trying to do? Certainly. But there is certainly a tension, because everybody has their own individual needs. Everybody has their own individual requirements, but if everybody did their own things and worked their own way, then we’d have chaos and we’d have no organization. So, there is definitely a tension between that and trying to ensure that people have their needs met in a way that’s sustainable for the organization.
Tim Flower (12:12):
What do you see in the future, Gil? We’ve talked a lot about the past and our experiences and our insight based on what we’ve seen already. The last 10 months have been game changing, right? We’d never thought we would be using and leveraging technology the way we are. What are you thinking about down the road? What do the next six, 10, 12 months look like? Hybrid workforces, talent pools, in different areas of the country or the world. What’s top of mind for you?
Gil Cohen (12:34):
So, for me, and this is conjecture at this point, but I personally believe that the next six, 10, 12 months are going to be extremely exciting, because from the people that I’ve spoken to… and I’ve only spoken to a small percentage of people out there… but times like this create innovation. Times like this… Necessity is the mother of invention. So, we now have so many companies that were forced into remote work that are finding new ways of doing things. And so, my belief is that over the next six, 10, 12 months, we will be learning of new technologies that people have started to create.
Gil Cohen (13:14):
I mean, when we look at, for example, back to the crash of 2008, 2009, well, that brought forth companies like Airbnb. That brought forth companies like Uber. I don’t know what the next Uber is going to be. I don’t know what the next Airbnb is going to be. But I’m of the strong belief that smart people, a lot smarter than me, are figuring things out right now, based on their audience, based on their markets, that are then going to come out over the next few months.
Gil Cohen (13:43):
Because, like you said, it’s a hybrid. The future of work isn’t entirely remote, and it’s not entirely at the office. I think that’s one of the things that remote work enthusiasts got wrong at the beginning of COVID, is they thought, “Oh, we’re all remote now. Everybody, let’s just stay remote.” And that’s just not how it’s going to be, because there are people who are desperate to get back to the office right now, and finding a way to create that fair hybrid where people who are remote don’t lose opportunities because they’re not in the office, because people in the office ensure that they don’t lose opportunities because they’re not remote. Right? And making sure that that is a level playing field, regardless of where you are working.
Tom McGrath (14:24):
Well, whatever your personal tastes and work patterns, we hope you enjoyed today’s show. Profound thanks to the fascinating Gil Cohen as well as, of course, as ever, Tim Flower. A great follow-up to this discussion can also be found in the show notes, and that’s an introduction to Persona Insights by Nexthink, which is none other than the intelligent personalization of IT. Catch you later, change makers.
Speaker 1 (14:50):
To make sure you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And if you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, make sure to leave a rating of the show. Just tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. If you’d like to learn more about how Nexthink can help you improve your digital employee experience, head over to nexthink.com. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.