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Optimizing the Hybrid Workplace: Taking the Pulse of HR in 2023 - Part 2



Download the 7th Annual Pulse of HR Report.

Watch, listen, and explore episode 1 and episode 3 of this series.

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View Transcript

Rob Parsons (00:00):

Hi all, Rob Parsons here. Welcome back to the Paychex PULSE podcast. This is episode two of our three-part series where we're digging into the research we just conducted on the Pulse of HR for 2023. Joining me is Stu Richards, CEO of Bredin. They conducted the research for us, and they've done a lot of great research for us. They're a B2B marketing consultancy that helps develop profitable long-term relationships with small and medium-sized businesses through original market research and outreach programs. Stu, welcome back.


Stu Richards (00:32):

Thanks for having me, Rob, it's great to be here.


Rob Parsons (00:34):

I really like when we start digging into some of the details, some of the nitty gritty here. And when you first gave top-line results of the study, I thought this whole discussion about the workplace was really interesting. What I liked was how we've moved from adjusting to it or even just making it possible, to now starting to optimize it. It's like we've gotten through that forced evolution phase and now, okay this is the way things are, now let's make it work. And we're applying now, starting to really think about productivity, efficiency, and really optimizing this new normal, aren't we?


Stu Richards (01:08):

Yes, yeah, absolutely, Rob, and it's just been so interesting over the past couple of years to see the forced migration to a hybrid workplace to optimizing for the hybrid workplace to now trying to motivate employees to return to the workplace in some cases, and in other cases, really setting the stage for long-term success with remote or distributed employees. And it is really interesting, as you mentioned with this research to dig into how are organizations approaching that and just to see the diversity of approaching they're taking and the wealth of solutions that are available to them today.


Rob Parsons (01:46):

That's what I also really liked, and there was varying by business size, by role, there was varying priorities. Could you gimme a sense of generally what the priorities were, and then if some of the things you saw that maybe vary between different audiences that you researched?


Stu Richards (02:04):

Yeah, absolutely, so the big takeaway was that for the moment, as I mentioned in episode one, the biggest grouping of businesses are still in a hybrid or remote workplace and plan to be in the next year, but are eventually, or would like to have the workforce return to some sort of central workplace, not everybody, but some of them. And what we see for the motivation around hybrid work, it's optimizing employee productivity. For those companies who are supporting it today and want to support it for the long term, they do understand that for some workers, individual employees, they're at their best in a home office or working in some sort of remote, or if they're a salesperson and they're on the road, they have to be, but they really want to equip them, whether it's through technology, simply to have effective communications or to do better training, to again, to be at peak performance as often as they can. And the other thing that we saw that was really interesting was the reliance on use of technology to improve employee wellbeing, and that was something that really came through is that I think a lot of employers, whether they're the principals or the HR leaders that we surveyed, have an understanding of how hard it has been for a lot of their workforce over the past few years to juggle the work tasks that they have and all kinds of family responsibilities, whether it's childcare or elder care, whatever pressures they're under. And so, it's really heartening to see how much emphasis our survey respondents are putting on making sure that their employees are equipped to cope and that their companies could really help them to be, again, as effective as they can be and ensure that each person can bring their whole selves to the workplace each day, wherever that workplace is.


Rob Parsons (03:57):

Yep, their best self.


Stu Richards (03:57):

Yes, exactly.


Rob Parsons (04:00):

Something I noticed, and you touched on it in the survey, there was a lot of focus on how to make the remote experience better, how to make the remote work more productive. But now we're talking about what's happening inside that hybrid office, what they're doing with communication technology. You would mention things about conference rooms and cubicles. Tell me a little bit about that because hybrid work doesn't just impact the remote employee, it impacts the in-office employee.


Stu Richards (04:28):

Yeah, no, it's really interesting. And yeah, so one of the things that jumped out at us was yeah, the difference between how HR leaders are seeing the use of technology to optimize for our hybrid workforce versus principals. So, for HR leaders, again, it was kind of interesting, because it seems like such a small tactical thing, but for them the most important use of technology was to make it easy for a hybrid worker to come in and request a workspace or a conference room or whatever they need to be effective in the home office or the central office that day. And for business leaders, it was more about equipping them for training, again, to be sure that their skills are as sharp as they can be, so they can be as productive as they can be. But we also saw a reliance actually on the part of either HR or business principals for using technology to foster onboarding, which is a real challenge when you're talking about hiring someone who is remote, may continue to be remote, making sure that they're not just booked into payroll and signed up for benefits, but they can really be acculturated effectively, and they understand what their goals are, and they understand how to achieve those and to communicate with their management most effectively. So, we're seeing a lot of really holistic thinking about how do you use technology to make workers most effective, regardless of how long they've been with you or where they're located.


Rob Parsons (05:56):

I love the technology story, I love the technology, but training was a part of this story too, and not just technology-enabling training, but really trying to get people prepared and acclimated and effective with new technologies, with new work arrangements, with new work environments. Tell me a little bit about what you saw on the training side.


Stu Richards (06:20):

Yeah, it was interesting, Rob, because what we would expect going into this is that training just means getting you better at your skills. So, if you're a data analyst, you're going become a better data analyst, so whatever your job is, but it wasn't just that. So, we saw a real emphasis, as well, on the use of training to help, for example, managers to do a better job managing remote employees, because not every manager has a lot of experience with that. So, helping them to understand, again, how do you make sure that your remote employees are engaged? How do you make sure that they understand whatever might be unique about your work culture? How do you make sure that they're happy and productive? So, the use of training, it was broader than we assumed going into the research. It's one of the things we love about research, there's always some surprise, so it wasn't just skills, simple, straightforward skills management, but it was really helping managers to help remote employees to be as effective all around in their job as they can be.


Rob Parsons (07:23):

I thought that was a huge finding. We expect everybody to adjust, we expect a lot of managers, middle managers to just adjust naturally to it, and it's a completely different work environment now. So, I understand why we would want to bring training in to help them be more effective, be better at what they're doing versus, or not versus, but in addition to helping employees be better at what they're doing.


Stu Richards (07:46):

Absolutely, yeah.


Rob Parsons (07:47):

So, a lot of this even plays into the employee experience. And what I liked what you did this year was you explored the employee experience, if I'm an HR manager or an HR leader, what's my experience, as well as if I'm just a frontline employee, what's my experience? So, can you tell us a little bit about what you saw, what you learned about employee experience for those two audiences?


Stu Richards (08:09):

We did, yeah. So specifically, we asked a lot of questions around overall business priorities and then drilling down into employee experience, and it was interesting. So, burnout and quiet quitting continue to be ongoing challenges. As are productivity, and there were a whole host of other things that HR leaders continue to be concerned with about engagement. So, whether a team is remote or not, making sure that they really are focused and motivated on a task. Wellbeing, as I've mentioned, that just came up over and over again as a concern both on the part of HR leaders and principals. Training, skill building were really top plans for the vast majority of the respondents that we surveyed, so it was interesting. And what was also interesting as kind of a side note, Rob, was just around HR leaders. They're obviously very focused on the wellbeing and the productivity of their team, but they're also thinking about how can they themselves be individual best contributors. So, one of the tasks that came out is that they've kind of set themselves the objective of being as productive for themselves as they can by using productivity tools, technology for that. So, it's great to see that as service oriented as many HR leaders are, they're also thinking about how can they individually be top contributors to their organization.


Rob Parsons (09:37):

Once again, plays into that concept of digital HR.


Stu Richards (09:40):

Yes, yeah.


Rob Parsons (09:42):

The last part I wanted to touch on, and this was something you pulled out of the research a little bit, this difference between advising and service, and what business principals, primarily, were looking for out of a partner in this arena. Can you shed some additional light on that?

Stu Richards (10:01):

Oh gosh, yeah, it came up, and it's absolutely a huge component of being effective. Either as a principal or as an HR leader, is understanding how you can get the most from your team and from technology. So, we saw, really strongly coming out of the data, was just a need for help, for advice, in how do I take advantage of technology, specifically to empower my team. So, if I'm a business principal, how do I equip my HR lead to be as effective as they can be in their role? And if I'm an HR leader, how can I help the organization set the policies and implement the technology to help my team be as productive as it can be? And it's overwhelming. There's a lot of different kinds of solutions from very broad to very niche kind of things that for the very smallest businesses that don't have any kind of HR consultant or any kind of internal support, very challenging for them to try to stay on top of what's available to them and how to implement it most effectively for their organization. But even for HR leaders at the biggest companies, which you'd think would be the best resourced, they still need a lot of help in determining, again, how do they optimize technology? How do they optimize their workforce, whether it's from productivity or overall wellbeing standpoint? So yeah, we absolutely saw a need for a lot of advice and support on the part of both of the parties that we interviewed.


Rob Parsons (11:28):

Nice to hear the human element is still important.


Stu Richards (11:30):

Yes, very much.


Rob Parsons (11:32):

Well, thank you Stu. This was a great episode. I really liked this deep dive, and I'm looking forward to episode three where we're going start diving into benefits and some of the other aspects of what HR leaders are trying to do to take care of their employees.


Stu Richards (11:43):

Great, thanks Rob, it's a pleasure being here.


Rob Parsons (11:45):

And thank you all. If you're interested in downloading the full Pulse of HR Report, we'll have the link in our show notes. Thank you for joining, and as always, please stay happy and healthy. Be sure to subscribe to this and our Paychex THRIVE business podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Looking for more ways to keep your finger on the pulse of industry dynamics? Visit our resource center for the latest research, thought leadership, and news at, that's W-O-R-X. Thanks again for joining us. Until next time, please stay happy and healthy.


Announcer (12:23)

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