READ the May 2021 issue of our magazine: EMPOWERING 'EXPERIENCE'
Natasha Dillon joined Inmarsat as Chief People Officer in November 2016 from Korn Ferry Hay Group, where she was a Senior Client Partner specializing in HR transformation and organizational change. Prior to Korn Ferry, she worked at EY, where she was responsible for delivering client transformation programs, developing EY’s HR transformation methodology, and building business across new markets. Before becoming a consultant, Dillon spent 12 years at BP, starting off her career in the commercial function, responsible for economic evaluation, commercial negotiations and conducting strategic reviews to inform merger and acquisition activity. She then moved into HR where she held a number of roles including organizational development consultant, employee engagement manager and Chief of Staff to the VP of HR operations during BP’s global HR transformation.
Here are the edited excerpts of the interview.
How do you see the new world of work? What kind of reinvention do you expect this year and beyond around the mode of work?
Our future workplaces will be vastly different from the workplaces of the past. Whilst many individuals are expressing a desire for permanent home working, others have found working remotely challenging from a mental health and well-being perspective, and the majority of people appear to want some form of "hybrid model" where they come together on a regular basis for collaboration purposes and social interaction but spend the bulk of their time at home. As a result, employers must be prepared to cater to a range of individual needs and preferences in a way that makes sense for the individuals themselves as well as for their teams and the wider organization.
Physical work environments will need to look and feel very different with ample dedicated space for group sessions and workshops. We can no longer ask employees to commute into the office, just to sit at a desk all day. Instead, we should focus on creating more human-centric workspaces that encourage collaboration. Companies will need to provide employees with spaces – be these physical or digital - that not only improve productivity but also suit their working style.
The next big challenge will be how we maintain and drive employee engagement with an increasingly dispersed workforce. This is where I see technology playing a critical role.
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Is this the right time for organizations to be bold in how they prioritize digital transformation, embrace distributed work models, and create exceptional work experience? How do you see the current larger landscape?
Absolutely, there has never been a better time to embrace new ways of working. The majority of employees don’t want to go back to the old normal and organizations that don’t adopt distributed or flexible models will fail to attract and retain top talent.
In order for the flexible model to work successfully, businesses and employers need to digitalize the employee experience. Employees are increasingly expecting a consumer-grade experience when it comes to workplace technology, which can come at a price. A challenge for some businesses will be how to do that cost-effectively. Thankfully the options are constantly growing, and price points are becoming more reasonable.
In the same way that lockdown initially forced businesses to adopt technology in order to continue working from home, I predict there will be another major shift towards digitized employee experiences.
With businesses striving hard to adapt to the new normal do you think the toughest leadership time is looming?
It has been incredibly tough for leaders throughout the pandemic for several reasons. Leaders have had to manage teams remotely, make redundancies, implement cost-cutting measures, and in some cases deal with employee deaths and grief – all the while dealing with their own personal challenges. I’d like to think that the toughest tests, from a human perspective, will soon be behind us.
That isn’t to say the challenges are over for leaders. They now need to manage dispersed teams with vastly different needs. And we can’t underestimate the impact that returning to work is likely to have on mental health. Whilst the reopening of offices will greatly welcomed by some employees, it may also be incredibly anxiety-provoking for others and will therefore need to be treated by line managers and HR departments with delicacy.
How has COVID-19 changed organizations' approach to employee experience and why is everyone focusing on EX? Is it about retaining the top talents and differentiating from competitors?
Part of the reason why people have focused on the employee experience is because coronavirus has effectively humanized the workplace. Seeing your boss and co-workers in their homes - in many cases juggling their personal and work lives simultaneously - has been a real leveler and demanded an increased level of empathy amongst us all.
Another big driver, in my opinion, is employee retention. Employees are likely to be less flexible moving forward, particularly as the economy improves, and will not be afraid to leave an organization if their preferences can’t be met.
As experts say, the role of HR leaders has changed amid all the chaos. How can HR leaders gear up to offer sophisticated solutions to employees' challenges and manage workers' overall experience as organizations enter the next phase?
Coronavirus has undoubtedly placed HR professionals firmly in the spotlight. A strong HR team has never been more essential to guide CEOs and Executive Teams than during the chaos of the last 18 months.
The pandemic has also been extremely polarizing from an employee perspective, with some desperate to get back to the office and others never wanting to return. Our role as HR leaders is to create a tailored employee experience that meets changing expectations. Of course, much of this will be dependent on the sector and the role. For example, at Inmarsat, we are offering employees a range of options depending on the requirements of their role.
Finally, we will need to find ways to keep people connected, both physically and digitally. Lockdown has proven that we can do our jobs virtually, but how can we go beyond that to recreate those informal, water-cooler moments that many of us have been craving?
What do you think will be the biggest barriers to empowering employees and elevating their work experience in 2021? Given that some are increasingly embracing ‘hybrid mode’, others are going fully ‘remote’, and then there are others planning for ‘back to the office’.
At an individual level, mental health, well-being, and burnout are all big barriers when it comes to empowering employees. However, the impact of going back to the office is vastly underestimated. That is why well-being will continue to be at the heart of Inmarsat’s employee value proposition now, and into the future.
From an organizational perspective, I think we are likely to see some level of disruption to productivity as people settle into new working patterns. For example, some employees will lose important time that they gained during lockdown by not commuting, whilst others may find it tricky to readjust to busy workspaces.
Employee retention is also likely to be a challenge in 2021. I expect we will see a fair amount of churn as organizations enter a more settled period. Investing in employee retention initiatives will be important if businesses want to retain high-performing employees.
What are the different ways to measure the impact of a great employee experience initiative? Does the employee experience truly impact business results?
At Inmarsat we’ve found that short, but regular polling works well, giving us an instant picture of how employees are feeling at that moment. We have also introduced an initiative called “Mood Lift”, which is often used at beginning of meetings. Mood Lift is simply a set of common adjectives and feelings, such as “excited” or “stressed”, but has become part of our shared check-in language. It is an easy way for us to assess how people are feeling in a non-intrusive way.
This connection matters. Apart from being the right thing to do, there is now an increasing amount of evidence that suggests employee engagement has a direct impact on improved business performance. According to data from the Workplace Research Foundation, employees that are more engaged are 38 percent more likely to have above average productivity levels.
How do you see technology and data transforming the office of the future?
We can expect digital innovations to improve the employee experience in many ways, including better platforms for social work, digital collaboration spaces, and quality apps for onboarding, learning, and development. The increasing integration of AI will also reduce the amount of admin required of HR professionals’ roles, enabling more focus on value-added tasks.
How is Inmarsat reinventing for a Post-Pandemic world and what are your top three priorities this year and beyond?
We have been going through the process of reviewing and refreshing our operating model and objectives at an organizational level. One of my top priorities is checking that these are embedded at all levels across the business and ensuring accountabilities are clear.
Secondly, but just as importantly, we need to continue to engage our people through the pandemic and beyond. Particularly with respect to implementing new ways of working and continuing to strengthen our culture.
And finally, we will continue to focus on building capability, ensuring we have the right skills and talent to help the business grow even stronger.