The never normal.
Will we ever stop talking about remote work vs. office work?
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Happy Tuesday, folks!
It's been a few days since I landed mentally and physically from Unleash World last week. Here's the longer write-up about the experience.
I've long been a fan of Unleash World, or HR Tech Europe as it was called back in the day. Over the years, it's been growing from a relatively small conference in Amsterdam to a massive gathering in the heart of Paris.
The conference is a mix of prominent, well-known keynote speakers and more unknown speakers and panels in breakout rooms. Attending conferences, I mix and match the two; you usually get surprised in the breakouts, while the keynotes are more crowd pleasers. This conference was no exception to this general rule.
Note-worthy keynote speakers were Costas Markides, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, London Business School, talking about organizing your company for continuous disruption, followed by Peter Hinssen, partner at Nexxworks.
I've only heard about Peter Hinssen's talks before this, but I've never listened to him. I buckled up and enjoyed the ride. He talks fast and has many slides. (I heard him saying in the speaker's lounge that he had 300+ (!!) slides showing during his presentation.) He talked about the "never normal" and the challenges that come with that. We need to hire people with a flexible mindset, meaning they can adapt and learn along the way. Both of these speakers presented nothing new or revolutionary. However, they served as great reminders about what's needed in organizations today and tomorrow.
Another great keynote speaker was Erin Meyers, who, amongst other things, has written the two excellent books The Culture Map and No Rules Rule. It was fun to hear her talk about insights and learnings from Netflix.
I want to break free.
On the breakout sessions side, two particularly stood out: Q from Airbnb and Danny Seals.
Q took us through the journey of how Airbnb has thought about working from anywhere. Airbnb employees can work from home or the office and live anywhere in a country (and compensation won't change). They also can travel and work around the world. Airbnb makes sure employees have regular gatherings and meet-ups as well.
This has come with issues, and Q addressed them and gave insights into how they've solved some of them. But the overarching thing that more companies should adopt is that they focus heavily on this. In terms of communication, they have a team working on this, aiming to make it as easy for the employee as possible. Then the team takes care of the messy backend.
It was one of the best concrete sessions I've attended at a conference. Q should have been a keynote speaker as he gave concrete guidance on a topic that many (if not all) keynote speakers talked about but didn’t provide further advice. Q gave the whole spectrum, from strategy to implementation to hurdles.
Another great session was hosted by Danny Seals, who framed his talk around work as a theater and said you have to put your people front and center, not view them as an audience. Involve them and treat them as essential players. And he did so in a fun and engaging way by involving the audience. (Which makes total sense given the topics, walk the talk, etc.)
I have summarized my impressions in the video from the first day. However, some of the points in the video are worth emphasizing, especially the ones around hybrid and remote work. Going into the conference, I thought there wouldn't be such a focus on the topic, as it were. I thought we were a bit past the discussion and that most people should have sorted this out by now. And by that, I mean landed in the conclusion that hybrid working is the way forward. But we're still not there, and this topic will remain on top of mind for the foreseeable future. Organizations still struggle with handling all aspects of this, and many, it seems, are yet to decide how they will do this now and in the future.
Henrik Font also asked a great question on LinkedIn, asking if there were no conflicting views and discussions around remote or hybrid work. Most speakers did reflect on that, acknowledging that there are pitfalls and challenges. However, to Henrik's point, no one I heard of said, "We're going back to the office five days a week because of X and Y." I might have missed such statements; after all, it’s hard to hear all talks and discussions.
However, the unified view is that remote or at least hybrid work is the only way forward. It still would be interesting to have speakers from Tesla or H&M who are enforcing stricter views on their workforce when it comes to this. Perhaps next year?
This year Unleash also tested the format of Roundtables. A very limited number of seats were available to each, and I hosted one on the topic of HR and the metaverse. It was wildly popular, with almost 200 people signing up for the 12 spots!
The discussions around the table were excellent and exciting, offering a broad view of what the metaverse might become and the implications it also might bring.
Fifty minutes flew by lightning fast!
Beyond the speakers and roundtables, the great benefit of the conference is meeting old and new friends, after all, discussing various topics and sharing learning and knowledge. I still have to pinch myself in the arm from time to time. Here I am, discussing HR with some of the brightest people on this planet.
For next year?
Did I lack anything? I did; there was almost no talk about web3 and blockchain. My session was the only one around metaverse. And I know the jury is still out on many of these technologies, but it's essential to start talking about them. We will inevitably meet sellers or other people selling on the hype, and we need to be able to separate the good and valuable products and features from the bad.
We must also discuss ethics and stop catching up on these trends. We could try being in front of the hype curve for once.
If you are arranging a conference and need a speaker on these topics, I'm always happy to host a discussion or talk about metaverse, web3, and blockchain!
The same applies if you need to future-proof your HR department or just need something to talk about during an offsite - I’m always happy to help!
Shoot me an email, and we’ll take it from there.
I also lacked Swedes! We need more Swedes on Unleash World, and Marc and the team have promised a good deal for next year, so I look forward to meeting more fellow Swedes in Paris next year.