Updated: Sep 13
You want your talent to thrive.
In a post-Covid world, how do you make this happen? Some employees want to go back to the office. Others want to work remotely forever.
A McKinsey report found that 29% of employees are likely to switch employers if they're made to work on-site full-time.
At HVO Search, we wanted answers, so we enlisted the help of nine fashion HR directors. They've been battling with this question of re-engaging talent in a post-Covid world.
Here’s what we found at our roundtable event (hosted at Dunhill offices in Mayfair).
#1: You Need to Know How Your Employees Are Feeling
“Productivity increased in the short term because employees weren’t commuting… They managed to get a lot more done…”
Kim Wylie is the Global Director of People Development for the Farfetch Group. When Farfetch employees first went remote, the pandemic had a positive impact on productivity.
This was a common finding at our roundtable. Frances Dyson, SVP of People at Lyst, had this to say:
“Everybody pulled together. The team camaraderie was amazing. 2020 going into 2021 was a strong year of performance for us, our employee retention significantly reduced and engagement increased."
Farfetch wasn’t sure if these productivity improvements would last. For this reason, they worked with Humu which helps companies measure happiness and retention.
Humu recommends pulse checks. These are surveys sent to employees once a quarter. One of the survey questions was how many days a week are you coming into the office?
Here’s what Farfetch has found so far:
“... people who are coming into the office one to two days a week are the happiest and the ones most likely to stay.”
- Kim Wylie
#2: Act on the Feedback
There are many benefits of surveying employees, but there are also pitfalls.
Abigail Wilmore is the Chief People Officer at Dr. Barbara Sturm. She highlighted the dangers of over-surveying people:
“We were surveying people every three to four weeks… With all this continual feedback, it started to break down and we weren't sure what to do.
“(It’s also demoralising) for employees when they’re not seeing any changes…”
One of the HR Directors, who chose to remain anonymous, offered this solution:
“Most of the people wanted to go back two days - not more - which we had in mind…
“(Listening to their feedback) was a way to make employees feel heard. They had the ability to speak out and we implemented what they asked for…”
#3: Social Connections Are Critical
Another company Farfetch has worked with is the NeuroLeadership Institute. This company has done research on hybrid working. In Kim’s words, they gave this advice:
“... Instead of spending money on the office, spend money on parties.
“As humans, we have to create a space where people can spend time in person, but it needs to be social.”
Victoria Foley, People Director at Beauty Pie, has found that two-day boot camps can help build connections.
The engineers at Beauty Pie expressed doubts about an engineering away day. When they came back, they surprised Victoria with their enthusiasm:
“You're a bit like, oh, I'm not sure how this is gonna go down with our engineers. (But they) absolutely loved it. We had videos hitting our Slack channels yesterday where they were creating adverts for the brand.”
“We want you to be the best version of yourself… When you bring the best version of yourself to the office or to the work environment, it's only going to benefit us.”
Fabiola Williams, Chief People Officer at McArthur Glen, also highlighted social connections. Her company uses an app for booking desks, and she encourages employees to “mix it up” by sitting with other people.
“(Innovation is) only going to come from human connections as we make meaning together…
“Sometimes it's just habit forming… Nudging them into doing things a bit more.”
These habits are formed from repetition:
“There's a lot of repetition of things. Sometimes the HR team is looking at different ways to communicate, a webinar is not always going to reach people.”
“We forget and more engaging messages are key, even if the content is not radically new.”
#4: Being Flexible Within Frameworks & Trust
Heidi Coppin, Chief People Officer at Sweaty Betty, highlighted employee flexibility:
“My job is to empower the workforce to make their own decisions.”
At Sweaty Betty, she encourages employees to make their own decisions using frameworks the company has set up. This way, employees can choose their working arrangements.
There’s a strong element of trust:
“You’ve got to let people explore within those boundaries, otherwise they’re not learning… People don’t want to be told what to do.”
This is a philosophy Victoria from Beauty Pie subscribes to. She lets managers choose working arrangements for their teams:
“We'll give you a mechanism, but if you’re having great conversations with your people every week, and you choose not to follow that strict framework, then I have zero issues with that… It’s a balance of structure versus freedom.”
Trusting employees and managers is something Lauren-Faye Millingham believes in too. She’s the Director of People at FACEGYM:
“We would like (employees) to come in two days if possible, but we don't monitor it. We use it as a rough guide.”
Lauren recognises this can cause friction across teams:
“The Studio team sees how flexible the office is… Outside of ten to four, we don't really do meetings. It's flexible for people to come in later if they want…
“Studio sees that and they think it's not fair.”
This is a challenge one of the HR Directors has encountered too. Like Heidi, they believe flexibility can help:
“HR is exhausting because you work on a case-by-case with everyone almost… But as HR people, we justify the fact that we are human beings and we factor that into everything we do.”
This flexibility has led to frank conversations with their CEO and directors:
“My CEO would like our people to come back every day to the office… I was like, I understand, but with due respect, you don't have the same job. You walk to work…
“There was this whole conversation to change the mindset…”
#5: Delegate Responsibilities
Like Victoria, one of the HR Directors also lets managers decide what’s best for their teams:
“(With respect to working from home), we cascade this responsibility to line managers.”
They also encourage open communication within the business. This can help bring misconceptions to the surface:
“The misconception is on both sides.
“People were like, oh, people on furlough. They do nothing. They're on paid holiday. And (yet) some people have to go through hell, like sharing flats, not having space…
“The only way to debug all this is to talk (across functions).”
#6: Doing What’s Right For Your Company
Jean Pierre Blaison is the Global Human Resources Director at Dunhill. Like all HR directors, he wants the best for his company.
He believes accepting every employee's demands may not fit into this:
“It has gone quite far in one direction… I want to accommodate you because I want you to come back to the company… But if you face it, maybe they are leaving because they were not right for the business in the first place.
“We have to be somewhere in the middle…
“‘I understand you don't want to be in the office, but some people want to see you in the office. They need to work with you. The junior people don't grow without you being in the office.’”
He also notes that employee responsibilities may have shifted because of the pandemic:
“Some people say, oh, I moved to Brighton. I cannot come to the office. It's your problem, (employee). It's not really mine…
“At some point, you have to push back… You cannot accept everything and anything.”
We found through our roundtable event that there are many ways to re-engage talent in this new hybrid environment.
Are there any you would add?
Thank you to all our guests who joined our round table breakfast!
Are you looking for help growing your team? We can help. At HVO Search, we work with Founders and CEOs across beauty, luxury, fashion, and wellness, and understand what (and who) it takes to elevate their businesses.