Hosted by top 5 banking and fintech influencer, Jim Marous, Banking Transformed highlights the challenges facing the banking industry. Featuring some of the top minds in business, this podcast explores how financial institutions can prepare for the future of banking.
Building a Human-Centric Workplace Model for the Future
According to our Banking Transformed podcast guest, Alexia Cambon, senior director of research at Microsoft, “There is no going back to the way we worked before. Flexibility is no longer seen as a perk by employees, but as a right.”
Flexible working has produced a ‘crisis of trust’ and a ‘productivity paranoia’ in employers, but there needs to be a mindset shift and recognition that ‘performance does not equal presenteeism,’ states Cambon.
The pandemic and the emergence of generative AI have radically changed how employees experience corporate culture, and firms must embrace the new reality. The question will be whether leadership is ready for the changes the workplace of the future presents.
This episode of Banking Transformedis sponsored byMicrosoft:
and its partner ecosystem help banks reduce cost and risk, modernize core systems, and delight customers and employees to achieve differentiation and spur sustainable growth.
Hello and welcome to Banking Transformed, the top podcast in retail banking. I'm your host, Jim Marous, owner and CEO of the Digital Banking Report and co-publisher of The Financial Brand.
Jim Marous (00:21):
According to our guest, Alexia Cambon, Senior Director of Research at Microsoft, there is no going back to the way we worked before. Flexibility is no longer seen as a perk by employees, but as a right.
Jim Marous (00:34):
Flexible working has produced a crisis of trust and a productivity paranoia in employers. But there needs to be a mindset shift and recognition that performance does not equal presenteeism, states Cambon.
Jim Marous (00:47):
The pandemic and emergence of generative AI have radically changed how employees experience corporate culture and firms must embrace this new reality. The question will become whether leadership is ready for the changes the workplace the future presents.
Jim Marous (01:05):
On the podcast today, we'll explore principles from the world of sports that can inform more human-centric work models, key data on what employees need and how leaders can implement flexible, collaborative, and empathetic work environments that drive performance.
Jim Marous (01:20):
So, Alexia, before we dig into the massive amount of research you've done around the Future of Work, can you share a bit about your career background and your perspective on where we are today in the transformation of work?
Alexia Cambon (01:33):
Sure. Yeah, and thanks for having me. Delighted to be here. So, I'm Alexia, I'm a Senior Director of Research, working in the modern work org at Microsoft, where I've been working for coming up to a year now. Prior to that, I was a lead researcher at Gartner for about a decade where I co-led the Future of Work Reinvented Key Initiative for a very long time.
Alexia Cambon (01:59):
And way back before that, I was pursuing two degrees in law and then decided I didn't want anything to do with law and became a researcher instead. So, that's my career in a nutshell, but it's for sure very accurate to say Future of Work is 99.9% of my day job, which essentially consists of asking very big questions about how the world of work is changing and trying to find data back answers to those questions.
Jim Marous (02:27):
So, how much did your role, looking at the Future of Work completely change after the pandemic? I mean, obviously that had a major disruptive effect, but weren't some of these changes going forward even before the pandemic?
Alexia Cambon (02:44):
Oh, my gosh, that's such a great question. I remember very clearly the moment where it felt like we were building the boat as we were trying to sail it which was as the pandemic was just sort of starting. And we were in the midst of a very big research study and we just realized we had to pivot course because they were much bigger questions that became apparent that needed answering.
Alexia Cambon (03:11):
And they were all questions that we were living. They were all questions around, how does team connection suffer or benefit from being a distributed workforce? How do you conduct an effective hybrid meeting? Very nitty gritty questions like that.
Alexia Cambon (03:30):
Should we expect flexibility once offices reopen? What does the average work week look like? And there weren't answers to those questions in the middle of the pandemic, but it was becoming very, very clear that we needed to start doing the work to at least set up structures in which we could explore different options and different models.
Alexia Cambon (03:54):
So, I think you're absolutely right in pointing out that some of these questions predated the pandemic. And by that I mean were long overdue. It was long overdue that we asked ourselves more about the right for employees to have flexibility and the right for them to integrate their own personal needs into the way they work. Because the way you work has such a huge impact on your personal happiness.
Alexia Cambon (04:18):
And so, to be able to bring that more into the work models that we have in place, I think it was time that we did that. And the only way we could really do that was if we had this huge remote work experiment that the pandemic became.
Jim Marous (04:36):
Yeah, huge work experiment. Huge experiment on so many different levels. It's interesting, the data shows that human-centric work models work to better performance, better retention, and lower fatigue versus location focused approaches.
Jim Marous (04:51):
Now, we talk about human-centric, but human-centric and location centric are not mutually exclusive because for some people, location centric work models are more human to them. What makes a human-centric model so effective?
Alexia Cambon (05:08):
And I should attribute this study obviously to Gartner, and my time there, this is one of the major studies I worked on in, I want to say 2021 or 2022. And really the first big finding there was if you design every single work principle around a location, surround an office, around a physical headquarters as opposed to around your people, around the human, if that dictates every decision you make, we saw worse outcomes.
Alexia Cambon (05:39):
And so, the difference essentially between a human-centric model and a location centric model is when you are thinking about things like, what does flexibility look like? You have to think about it in terms of humans have certain needs that need to be taken into consideration when you're designing work. And if location is at the center of everything that you do, you're not going to take those needs into consideration.
Alexia Cambon (06:07):
If the human is at the center of the way you think about work, then you might suddenly realize the benefits of having two days a week at home where for whatever reason, it's a quieter environment, you don't have to do the commute. You're able to pick up your kids from school. That provides a more holistic success of several outcomes.
Alexia Cambon (06:30):
Where I think traditionally, historically, we've always just assumed that work has to happen in an office between the hours of nine to five and it can't happen anywhere else. And essentially, the pandemic proved that wrong.
Jim Marous (06:45):
It's interesting because obviously, when the pandemic took place, there were a lot of things that had to be done very fast in brand new ways. And in the banking industry, there became a PPP lending process or distribution process that the government put in place on a Thursday. And the financial institutions were told they had to have it in place by Monday.
Jim Marous (07:09):
If you had talked about the ability to build a brand-new product in a three-day period with nobody able to get together, you would've said there's no way that could happen. But it did. And even with that experience and other experiences like that in the banking world as well as other industries, you have a lot of organizations, a lot of leaders that have a very difficult time of letting go of legacy work models.
Jim Marous (07:37):
We have examples in the states where Jamie Dimon has said he wants everybody to be at work and he's not the only person and being at work means in the facility itself. Sometimes there's flexible days, but overall, there's organizations that are holding on tightly to the ability to have people in the office.
Jim Marous (07:57):
How do you work with organizations to help them let go of that tendency to hold onto something so dearly that may not be right for everybody and actually may hurt the ability to hire going forward?
Alexia Cambon (08:15):
Well, one thing we have to be empathetic towards, that we have to be conscious of is that we have worked a certain way for decades, and human behavioral change takes a long time. It takes a long time to form new habits. It takes a long time to change mindsets.
Alexia Cambon (08:33):
If we think back to that human-centric versus location centric modeling, a location centric model with it comes certain attributes. And those attributes is what we have founded a lot of our leadership philosophy on. So, one of the biggest attributes of a location-based model is visibility.
Alexia Cambon (08:53):
If I can get all of my employees into one location, I can see them. And for the longest time we have equated seeing people with assuming that they're working.
Alexia Cambon (09:02):
And so, obviously, if you suddenly take that visibility away, your leader is standing there thinking, "I don't know if they're working. I've always relied on visibility to feel comfortable and reassured that my people are working." So, that requires a whole other new leadership philosophy.
Alexia Cambon (09:18):
The other really important attribute that has always existed within a location-based model is consistency, is standardization. We are giving everyone the same thing. We are giving everyone the same work environment, and we're getting everyone in there in the same work hours. And we expect them all to operate in that same way.
Alexia Cambon (09:39):
And that historically has always been very important because the idea has always been, if I give everyone the same thing, I'm treating everyone fairly. But we now know that there is a huge difference between equality of experiences and equality of opportunity. And that is essentially what equity is.
Alexia Cambon (09:57):
Equity isn't giving everyone the same thing, it's giving everyone an equal opportunity. And that might look different. Not everyone is hardwired to work well in an office, just like not everyone is hardwired to work well at home, just like not everyone is hardwired to work well at night versus in the morning. We are all different.
Alexia Cambon (10:16):
And so, I think I have a lot of empathy for leaders who suddenly have seen visibility, consistency, standardization taken away from them because that's what they grew up knowing. But also maybe it was time that we questioned to what extent those things make up good leadership philosophy.
Jim Marous (10:34):
So, it's interesting because in a certain way this gets down to trust, doesn't it? I mean, it's trusting employees to do what they're supposed to do or trusting employers to allow the flexibility to do what they want to do. It's interesting because a brand-new Deloitte study just came out and said the number of people that want a hybrid work environment has gone up 6%.
Jim Marous (10:59):
Which when you think, gosh, I can't believe it's still going up, I would've thought that maybe there's been a peak and people are getting back to normal. Well, normal is not going to be normal. And what I get concerned about when I look at certainly the financial services industry, is that we have a hard time letting go of legacy thoughts and legacy processes.
Jim Marous (11:20):
And even more importantly, when they look at empty buildings, which is a monetary decision, it is very hard not to force people into we're going to give you some flexibility, we're going to let you do three days at work a week as opposed to five.
Jim Marous (11:39):
Is there a model that is best or is it really getting down to a human-centric work model that says every single person is different? It's a personal decision.
Alexia Cambon (11:50):
Yeah. A couple of things that you touched on there that maybe we can pass out. I think the first thing is the value proposition of the office. What is the value proposition of the office today? It's a huge question. It's one that millions of dollars is being spent on figuring out the answer to that question.
Alexia Cambon (12:05):
And for the most part, the research is pointing towards the value proposition of the office is people. It's having people in the office that I come in for to meet and be with and work together with. That sets up a very interesting conundrum for leaders because the big problem right now is there aren't that many people in an office.
Alexia Cambon (12:27):
So, if you're going to sell the office as this is the place you come to meet people, but then your offices are empty, you're not going to do well on that marketing promise. So, that is where I think we see a lot of the times, the mandate to force people back in to create a critical mass of people so that the office then becomes appealing and attractive.
Alexia Cambon (12:47):
But as we've also seen, there is a lot of backlash to that approach. What we've seen in the Microsoft research that we've just done is that the better model, the more impactful model is one that we're calling moments that matter. Which is there are certain moments, the research suggests where it is really important to get your people together.
Alexia Cambon (13:10):
Where being together in those moments creates energy, creates momentum, and sustains those interactions. I don't think anyone wants to go into an office to do something they could do at home, and no one wants to go into an empty office unless it's to do heads down focus work.
Alexia Cambon (13:26):
So, there are certain cases where the office has a value proposition that is unique to you. But on the whole, if we're thinking about what should offices be used for today, for the most part, it is to have those moments that matter where we are together and we can create that sense of togetherness and community.
Alexia Cambon (13:45):
And that does not rest on a set number of days a week. If you think about your project lifecycle, for example, I can tell you right here and now on a nine months research project lifecycle with my team that I'm running, I can tell you exactly what are the days where it would be really helpful for my team to come together.
Alexia Cambon (14:04):
Because either there's high tension in certain of these meetings, either because we need to have stakeholders around the table to talk to them about what we're seeing in the data, either because we want to brainstorm and we want to iterate.
Alexia Cambon (14:18):
And that I think is a much smarter approach to thinking about how we want to use the office is along the lines of a lifecycle, along the lines of the moments in the lifecycle that matter, rather than the number of days in a week that we think would be good to get a critical mass in the office.
Jim Marous (14:35):
So, what types of flexibility do employees need today and how does it help drive results? And it may be playing off your last answer to a bit.
Alexia Cambon (14:45):
So, let's start first with the importance of flexibility. Why is flexibility important today? I think for a long time we have assumed that we could separate work, professional life and personal life really neatly and put them in two different boxes, and they never need to interact with each other. And as a result, the expectation has always been don't bring your personal life into work, keep them separate.
Alexia Cambon (15:11):
But we know that the idea of work life separation or work life balance is a bit of a myth. Your personal life does impact on your professional life and your professional life does impact on your personal life. Like, who am I the first person I'm going to talk to if I've had a really bad day at work? My husband. He is absolutely going to feel my bad day at work.
Alexia Cambon (15:34):
And so, these things impact each other. And so, we can't separate them neatly into boxes. And I think what flexibility does is it makes it okay for you to say, "Look, I'm working from home today because I need a quiet day at home. Or I only got three hours sleep because my baby was up all night."
Alexia Cambon (15:55):
And that I think is inherently healthy to be able to showcase your full human self at work and integrate personal needs into that holistic circle that is made up of business needs, team needs, customer needs, personal needs should have a seat at the table. It should be okay for you to display what you personally need in order to perform at your best. So, that's why flexibility is important.
Alexia Cambon (16:21):
Then when we talk about how we exercise that flexibility, it again comes back completely to what you were just saying around trust. Because what is going to happen is there will come a time, and it probably comes on a daily basis to be honest, where you have to ask yourself, "Is my personal need more important than my customer need. Or is my personal need more important than my business needs, than my team need?"
Alexia Cambon (16:42):
And that is where you have to equip employees to be able to make those decisions in a way that has a satisfactory outcome. And sometimes we'll fail, sometimes we won't have the right answer, but not giving employees that option doesn't feel healthy to me.
Jim Marous (16:59):
It's interesting because with this hybrid work environment or the ability to at least have some hybrid flexibility, we're seeing it happen more and more frequently, sometimes recently, COVID is starting to rear its ugly head again in certain areas.
Jim Marous (17:15):
We've had major heat waves where schools have been closed in the states, where parents have to stay home. This was a lot harder; they'd have to take a vacation day in the past. Well, now there's a little bit more flexibility, there's a little bit more feeling of empathy from the company standpoint where a person can actually take those days to be with their kids, to help them homeschool for that one or two days that there may be an impact.
Jim Marous (17:41):
But when you're talking about empathy from managers, what's it take to lead with empathy in a hybrid work environment, especially when there's less visibility?
Alexia Cambon (17:53):
It's interesting because visibility creates the illusion that you know what's happening. And I think that is often a very dangerous dynamic for a leader. And one of the things that I try very hard to follow as a principal, as a leader is to not lead with assumptions, but lead with questions.
Alexia Cambon (18:20):
And I think visibility, when you see what's happening in front of you, you make certain assumptions. When you don't see what happens in front of you, it becomes necessary to ask questions. Because if you lead with assumptions without any visual intelligence, any feedback, you are going to get it wrong.
Alexia Cambon (18:42):
And so, that to me is one of the most important characteristics of an empathetic leader, is that they lead with questions, not with assumptions. And that they take the time to really sit down and root cause and diagnose what is happening. And that is difficult in an environment that is fast-paced and that is complex and that is dynamic.
Alexia Cambon (19:02):
Because when you are called as a leader to make decisions, you want to be able to make them quickly and you don't feel like you have the time, especially with the pace of work as it is now, to sit down and ask questions about, "What made you do this and why did you send that email? And what made you edit that PowerPoint in that way?"
Alexia Cambon (19:22):
But I think that is at the core of empathy, it's really taking the time to understand why people act the way that they do. I mean, that is the definition of empathy. It's I can put myself in your shoes and try to understand what's going on in your brain.
Jim Marous (19:44):
So, in all the research you've done, you've obviously seen certain organizations that have implemented new work models very successfully. You've also seen ones that have done this very poorly, I'm sure. When we're talking about tactical implementations, are there any key elements that really are consistent with winners versus losers?
Jim Marous (20:10):
And then where's the 20% that is different because of the organization dynamics? I mean, what are the things that organizations have to do today to make the implementation and acceptance of a hybrid work model better?
Alexia Cambon (20:27):
So, in the research, one of the things that we found, the big differentiator was this idea of intentional collaboration. Flexibility and empathy were two of the defining characteristics. Intentionality is one that was right up there as incredibly a winner as you say.
Alexia Cambon (20:45):
And the concept of intentionality is this idea that if we think about the new hybrid work environment, the benefit of it is that we're introducing new ways of working. And as we've spoken about, that is great because that is more accommodating and inclusive of a larger spread of individuals.
Alexia Cambon (21:03):
If you just have nine to five in an office, that's going to exclude a whole lot of people who don't like working that way. But in a hybrid work environment, we have more variety, we have more options. It is a scientific fact that when you introduce new variables to an equation, you introduce complexity.
Alexia Cambon (21:22):
And this is what we are now navigating is a complex work environment because we now have double, triple, quadruple the amount of ways of working as we did before. And that is where intentionality becomes really important.
Alexia Cambon (21:34):
The way we've collaborated historically has always been a very spontaneous approach. It's always been, let's gather around the water cooler and maybe I'll pass by your desk later on. And maybe some sort of serendipity will come out of an interaction at some point.
Alexia Cambon (21:52):
And we can't rely on that anymore because now we are faced with the very real reality of, I don't know where I'm going to see you next. Unless I sit down and map out carefully, what is our work cycle going to look like? When should we come together and thinking about all the different ways of working that are available to us, what makes sense? Where does it make sense?
Alexia Cambon (22:18):
And I mean, even down to the most simple stuff, Jim, even down to why should we have a meeting? Because what we are seeing today is that everyone is doing meetings for everything, and that is causing meeting overload. It's one of the questions we ask in the research, what makes a meeting worthwhile joining?
Alexia Cambon (22:36):
And in our latest Microsoft research, the number one answer that came back was to get the information I need. And that, if you ask me, is an absurd use of a meeting. Like if I need to give my employees the information they need, that's what email is for.
Alexia Cambon (22:53):
A meeting should be a place to ask questions, to brainstorm, to be creative. And that's not what meetings are being used for right now. So, I think this idea of intentional collaboration is really to get down to basics around let's be super intentional and respectful about people's time and energy.
Alexia Cambon (23:14):
And that actually almost maps back to one of the key benefits that you'll hear again and again and again from employees about hybrid work, which is, I don't have to commute anymore. And if you think about what commuting is, it is an expenditure of your time and of your energy.
Alexia Cambon (23:31):
It is two hours a day that you'll never get back. And who knows how much energy spent standing on a train, in a really crowded place, feeling really stressed and getting that refunded for a lot of employees in and of itself was a huge benefit. And rescinding that feels incredibly disrespectful. It feels like, "This is my time and my energy that that you are trying to grab a hold of, what makes you think you can do that?"
Alexia Cambon (24:02):
And so, I think that's where winners that we've seen, is have that understanding of time and energy, finite resources we need to protect and use and allocate very intentionally.
Jim Marous (24:15):
That's so profound. Not illogical in any way, but it's interesting because it makes the whole work environment become more of a value transfer. If you're going to ask me to come in, what is going to be the value transfer I'm going to get back other than you saying, "I got to come in."
Jim Marous (24:35):
If you're going to ask me to attend a Zoom meeting, am I actually there just because you want me there or because I'm going to be a part of that meeting either from a learning or a distributing of insights perspective. People complained at the beginning of Zoom that people put the meme up as opposed to them being there and you're going, "Is that person even really there?"
Jim Marous (25:04):
Well, that value transfer becomes an important component there, and that's interesting because I guess I never thought about that that way, but at the end of the day, it gets to be very much like what you try to do with your customers, end customers is, "Am I giving them the value to engage with me as opposed to just being a transactional engagement."
Jim Marous (25:24):
So, you've also found that the implementation approach matters massively. Why is it co-creating model so important with employees being involved in the process? I mean, from a financial institution's perspective or any organization, why is it important to have people from both sides of the spectrum being involved in how a new process gets implemented?
Jim Marous (25:52):
I mean, it seems logical, but I think that we take that for granted that you implement it. The old-fashioned way is, "Here's the new rules, thank you very much, they're yours." It's not been collaborative.
Alexia Cambon (26:07):
Well, I was going to ask you, Jim, if you can see my bookcase behind me. I have this lovely, three levels of books in this beautiful white bookcase that many possibly listening and well known as the BILLY Ikea bookcase. I spent two days building this bookcase. It was an effort. It was hard work, but I was incredibly proud. I will give no credit to my husband who helped me out with this. But at the end of it, it's a rickety bookshelf. It's not particularly steady. It's got issues, but it's there on every book I do-
Jim Marous (26:46):
The books hold it together.
Alexia Cambon (26:46):
The bookshelf is together, it's holding my books. It's there on every call, I do it is the backdrop for every single customer call or team call or direct report call that I have.
Alexia Cambon (26:56):
And as a result, I love this bookshelf. And I don't think I would love this bookshelf anywhere near as much if I'd have hired a lovely builder to come in and build it for me.
Alexia Cambon (27:06):
And so, just from a pure employee engagement standpoint, which we are now seeing in the research as well, is actually highly correlated to business outcomes, and financial performance is whether or not your employees are engaged and satisfied in their job.
Alexia Cambon (27:22):
The importance of co-creating your work model is obvious to me. You are going to feel so much more invested and you're going to care so much more about something you helped build than something that was forced on you.
Jim Marous (27:39):
Oh, wow. Well, I see it come around. It's interesting too because we are now seeing employees ... the demand for labor is insane right now. We have a very low unemployment rate globally compared to what it was. We have a lot of people that are underemployed, we have some people that are unemployed.
Jim Marous (28:02):
But the reality is, people have choice, with that choice, is it going to be a bigger item going forward for organizations to show the flexibility of work no matter where you are, no matter when you are, is that going to be a major differentiator as far as getting what today is what I'm going to call the new employee.
Jim Marous (28:26):
The employee that's being sought out for their technical skills, their innovative skills, all the skills that you really need the most. If organizations don't get this right, is it going to cost their bottom line a lot?
Alexia Cambon (28:43):
I think a lot of the answer to that question depends on the market forces in play and which way the power is swinging towards in that sense. Whether there is high - how the supply demand equation is, which way it's trending essentially.
Alexia Cambon (29:01):
But we do know from data that flexibility is a huge attraction driver for employees and they seek it out when they are looking for work and when they're looking for an employer.
Alexia Cambon (29:12):
And I think it doesn't feel like a stretch to imagine that employers will understand that if it's a key attraction driver for employees, and that's what's going to attract the best talent and the best skills, particularly in an era where it's fast evolving, what we need from talent.
Alexia Cambon (29:32):
AI is being introduced into this world and it is going to require new skill sets, it's going to require complete transformation of how we do work. And my guess would be that those employers that understand that offering flexibility is one of the key ways of driving talent attraction, that that would then become a differentiator for sure.
Alexia Cambon (29:56):
And I think, again, I've not seen in any data, anything that shows that flexibility has an adverse impact on your bottom line. If anything, I've only ever seen flexibility highly correlated with big performance outcomes. So, it feels like a win-win.
Jim Marous (30:15):
So, you had a recent paper published on behalf of Microsoft, where you found parallels between sports training principles and principles of the workplace.
Jim Marous (30:25):
What's interesting about that paper, as I've had the discussion with you here, is that because you're very athletic, because you have a stake in what you wrote there, and you have an understanding of what you wrote there, that became a better project for you. It's something you put your heart into because it wasn't just a typical research project.
Jim Marous (30:46):
Can you walk us through some of the connections between the athletic and sports training principles and those around the future of work?
Alexia Cambon (30:55):
Yeah, absolutely. I love talking about that research, so very happy to.
Jim Marous (30:59):
Well, it's like your bookshelf, I think.
Alexia Cambon (31:02):
Exactly. And it's a great example as well of this idea of, for me at least, there is no switch of work is done for the day. This idea for this research came from a session that I was having, a training session with my wonderful strength and conditioning coach Sean Burke.
Alexia Cambon (31:20):
And he was making me jump up and down a lot like on and off boxes, quick, rapid succession jumps. And I'm a runner, that's my discipline. I do marathons and ultra marathons, and the reason I hired Sean was to help keep me injury free. And so, the jumping I just didn't get, and I very grumpily said to him like, "Can we just do something related to running, because this feels like a waste of my time."
Alexia Cambon (31:52):
And Sean is a very scientifically minded individual, very grounded in research himself. And so, he rightfully so pointed me towards the six principles of sports performance. And these six principles as I was reading through them, it just became so apparent to me the parallel between these and the way we work.
Alexia Cambon (32:16):
And so, the principle related to jumping is the principle of specificity. And the idea there is that, you have to design your training around the discipline that you are trying to reach a certain performance outcome. And if you think about what running is, running is essentially just a lot of jumps.
Alexia Cambon (32:37):
It is a lot movement on your feet repeated again and again and again and again. So, there was actually a clear link between the jumping and the running, and that's the principle of specificity.
Alexia Cambon (32:48):
The ones to me that felt more acute and more urgent for leaders to be aware of, the first was the principle of periodization. And the principle of periodization is this idea that we've always thought of performance as one upward trending line where we just think performance is, it continues upward, upward, upward, upward.
Alexia Cambon (33:13):
But if you look at how athletes train, it is actually a series of peaks and troughs. You train, you go upwards, you train to do your race, you do your performance, and then you come down and you have a trough, you have a rest, you have recovery, and then you start again.
Alexia Cambon (33:27):
And we don't design work in that way. We don't design work as a series of cycles where we have peaks and then we have troughs. We design work to always be a continuous upward line. And as a result, I think we've seen a lot of burnout. And to me it feels incredibly important that we think carefully about how are we designing rest and recovery into our work cycles.
Alexia Cambon (33:49):
And I don't just mean holidays, weekends, those are important things. I mean, when we're actually looking at employee workloads and we are saying, "Okay, we're all working really hard to deliver at this conference, make sure the week after that conference that it is a low peak week, make sure that the workload in that week is nowhere near as high as it was the week before."
Alexia Cambon (34:14):
The other one that I think is really important is the principle of individualization. And the principle of individualization in athletic terms is that every athlete is different. Every athlete is made up genetically different, and every athlete has different context, different circumstances, and you need to adapt your training plan accordingly.
Alexia Cambon (34:34):
So, I'm a woman, my husband is a man, and the way we train as a result is completely different. Our usual goal is around 60 miles a week, 100K a week. For my husband, that takes him less than seven, eight hours, that's all he has to put in a week to get to 100K.
Alexia Cambon (34:58):
For me, just because I'm a woman, naturally, biologically I will be slower than him. It probably takes me two, three hours more than that. So, the training plan needs to take that into account, needs to take into account that we are different.
Alexia Cambon (35:09):
And I think it's the same for work. If we assume that everyone is the same, then we are not setting them up for equal success. If you gave me my husband's training plan and I tried to train against it, I would get injured.
Alexia Cambon (35:24):
And I think as we think about flexibility and we think about the power of flexibility to enable individualization, that's a really exciting thing for me because all of a sudden, we're understanding, some people work better at home, some people work better at night, some people work better in the morning. So, that I think is very promising that that principle of individualization is starting to come up a bit more.
Jim Marous (35:48):
Wow. It's interesting because as you're saying that I realize that even my work, I work remotely, I work from my home. But I have a different pattern of my work that I pretty much follow every day that's different than my wife's pattern of work or other people that I know and their pattern of work in that ... when do you like to run in the morning or evening?
Alexia Cambon (36:09):
Jim Marous (36:10):
Or in the middle of the day? So, if you don't do that, that changes your day. If you had your employer said, "We have to have all morning meetings," that would completely impact your mojo every day. And it would make it difficult.
Jim Marous (36:26):
And I find that when I have the hardest days, my wife is very used to me saying, "I've got to go to the store real quickly and pick up something." I don't even know what I'm going to pick up in the middle of the day. But if I have a break, I need that break because otherwise I'm just in my office by myself getting down to work. So, it's individualized patterns. It's a very good point.
Alexia Cambon (36:49):
Yeah, I was going to say, even just from a basic inclusivity perspective, like diversity and inclusivity, I remember when I was an entry level hire starting at my first job, and the only times that I could run would be at 6 in the morning or at 6, 7:00 PM in the evening. Now, London in the dead of winter at 6:00 PM or at 7:00 PM It is dark.
Jim Marous (37:15):
Oh, yeah. Very dark.
Alexia Cambon (37:16):
It's a dark, dark place. And as a young 19, 20-year-old woman, you don't want to be running down dark streets. But you feel like you have no choice, those are my work hours. I'm not going, as a young 20-year-old, go to my employer and say, "Hey, do you mind if I just take an hour in the middle of my day to go running?"
Alexia Cambon (37:34):
And that to me feels, again, like if we're thinking about how can we be inclusive, we need to think about something as important and as that affects work as much as women's safety. And so, for me, the ability to go running at 10 or 11:00 AM now because I work from home, is game changing.
Alexia Cambon (37:55):
It is game changing. I don't wake up in the morning every day thinking, I'm really worried about being harassed on my run, which by the way, happened on a daily basis when I was running in that way. So, yeah, I think it just has such a big ripple effect.
Jim Marous (38:10):
And oh, by the way, you make up for it. It's not like it's lost hours. Consciously, the normal human is going to make up for that because they have things they have to still finish.
Jim Marous (38:23):
So, finally, I think, and maybe I'm wrong, but I think a lot of financial institutions really are battling the reaction versus being proactive in the space. They're doing things because everybody's doing them.
Jim Marous (38:37):
I was in London about six months ago, and I was there on a Thursday night. I was in a really nice eating district and the streets were mob. And I'm thinking to myself going, "What is going on here? Is there a holiday tomorrow?" They go, "No, tomorrow's Friday. And most organizations have a three-day work week, and everybody takes Friday off." And so, the Friday is the old Saturday.
Jim Marous (39:00):
I'm going like, "Oh my God, it feels like college again, university again, where we all avoided Friday classes." But things are changing. But I get the feeling, and maybe I'm wrong, that a lot of organizations are simply doing what others are doing.
Alexia Cambon (39:13):
What recommendations would you give financial institutions or any organization today if they were to actually start to be intentional about finding a better way? Maybe it's not the same way as every organization like them, maybe it's specific to their organization around their own brand and their own culture. What are the three things organizations have to do?
Alexia Cambon (39:39):
Three things. You want me to enumerate them?
Jim Marous (39:42):
Oh, I know. I'm sorry. The top three things. Yes, exactly.
Alexia Cambon (39:47):
Well, I think the first thing I would do is talk to your employees. I think that has to be top amongst where you're going to go is soliciting your employees' feedback and perspective and inviting them (exactly to our conversation), to co-create whatever model you put in place because your employees are so tied to your financial success.
Alexia Cambon (40:14):
And it's a very cynical thing to say is, care about your employees because they're tied to your financial success. We should care about our employees in general because they're humans and because they matter. But ultimately, if you are thinking about your business goals, your employees really do matter for those as well.
Alexia Cambon (40:31):
So, that would be the first thing I would do is set up a feedback system, a way of soliciting points of view and perspectives around what the future of work looks like.
Alexia Cambon (40:41):
That's one of the questions I love asking my team. If you are the leader of this organization, what does the future of how we work look like? What does your average week look like? What does your weekday look like? So, put that system in place. Make sure you have that way of collecting that feedback.
Alexia Cambon (41:00):
I think the second piece then is to be very clear about what your goals are and what are your key KPIs? What are the things that matter most to your business? And listen to the data because the temptation will be to listen to your gut in the sense of we have 50, probably more, 50 to 100 years of history telling us to feel a certain way.
Alexia Cambon (41:27):
If one of your key goals, which it should be obviously is employee productivity and all the data is telling you that hybrid and remote workers are more productive, that means something, like that means something. But your gut is going to want to tell you, "But onsite workers should be more productive because they're in the office." And the office has always been the place where work gets done. Listen to the data, the data does not lie. As a researcher, I obviously believe that very, very much.
Alexia Cambon (41:57):
And then the third piece that I think there's something inherently true about this moment in time where being agile, being willing to adapt, and a lot of that is tied to empathy is a game changing approach, I think. Because the pace of work is so quick now, and things evolve so quickly, and we are not operating in siloed boxes anymore. We're not operating in just one standardized way.
Alexia Cambon (42:28):
As we mentioned, there are a multitude of different ways to work now, and employees are attaching to different ones. So, being able to be adaptive, to be responsive, to be agile and to flex, I think is a very important investment to make at this moment in time.
Alexia Cambon (42:45):
And being sort of stubbornly rooted in trying to hold onto something that's not working or something that might have worked in the past, I don't think is setting you up for success.
Jim Marous (42:58):
Boy, those three are really key. Because as you were saying, I'm thinking, look at the numbers, look at research, but the research has to be on your employees because, I'm sorry, there's research that you can find that's going to support both sides of the equation. You can only hold onto the research that supports your thought pattern as opposed to what your employees are saying, that's so key.
Jim Marous (43:20):
And then we talk in the banking industry of how personalized customer experiences and how important hyper-personalization is. I think we have to take that internal and say, we got to personalize our employee experiences and be able to be flexible.
Jim Marous (43:35):
What is the model Bob wants rather than Joanne? What's the model that Jim wants rather than Alexia? And they're not going to be the same. We live lives differently. We're single. We're not single. We have pets. We don't have pets. We have kids. We don't have kids. We have older kids. We have younger kids. That flexibility is tougher, but the rewards are greater.
Jim Marous (43:57):
And all I can tell you is we could go on for hours because this is a really interesting thing and it's foundational. And I think there's a problem here that organizations don't realize that they have, they think they've answered the question by giving people two days a week.
Jim Marous (44:13):
That may not be good for somebody that says, "I've got to be in the office five days a week, or I can't be in the office two days a week." Make sure you know the risk reward because it's going to be significant.
Jim Marous (44:25):
Alexia, thank you so much for being on the show today and I really appreciate our discussion. We are going to have you back again.
Alexia Cambon (44:31):
Jim Marous (44:31):
Because I think there's a deeper dive in some of these things. We just scratched the surface on some of the theoretical issues. I appreciate the fact you're continually doing research.
Jim Marous (44:43):
Everybody continue to follow Alexia, the research she does in an extraordinary, some of it's fun. The one on connecting the athletic with the human performance in hybrid work environment, it's really key. And I think people can relate to it, because it's nice to see it in a different perspective. Again, thank you so much for being on the show.
Alexia Cambon (45:04):
Thanks so much, Jim. I had loads of fun. Great conversation.
Jim Marous (45:08):
Thanks for listening to Banking Transformed, the winner of three international awards for podcast excellence. We really appreciate the support we've received in making this endeavor a success. If you enjoy what we're doing, please take some time to show some love in the form of a review.
Jim Marous (45:23):
Finally, be sure to catch my recent articles in The Financial Brand and check out the research we're doing for the Digital Banking Report. This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thank you to our senior producer, Leah Haslage, audio engineer, Chris Fafalios and video producer, Will Pritts.
Jim Marous (45:39):
If you've not already done so, remember to subscribe to Banking Transformed on both your favorite podcast apps and on YouTube for more thought-provoking discussions on the intersection of finance, technology, and leadership. And remember, the future of work is human.