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Business and technology leaders gathered on 16th April 2024, at the Babble-hosted Fit to Lead Executive Lunch and Forum. Held at the prestigious Buffini Chao Deck in London’s National Theatre, the event featured a lineup of prominent speakers – with former head of Twitter in Europe, Bruce Daisley leading the charge. Their insightful keynotes, talks, and panel discussions explored the Fit to Lead framework. This framework equips modern leaders with the mental, physical, and ethical edge to thrive in today’s demanding landscape.

In the previous blog post, we introduced you to Bruce Daisley: the former head of Twitter in the EU and a notably seasoned leader in the UK tech sector. He delivered a riveting keynote based on his expertise on workplace culture in the UK and partly drawn from his book, Fortitude. Our deep dive into Bruce’s Resilience – The Myths of Inner Strength keynote entailed unpacking the insights he shared around workplace culture, employee engagement and the essence of resilience.

Bruce’s session ended with the floor being opened for questions from the audience – and here they are:

“We’re thinking about bringing in a compressed work week or two weeks, just toying with the idea at the moment to try and get more output out of everyone and also be the employer that people [want to] work for [What are] your views on that? So it’s like every two weeks, making like 10 days into nine and trying to get a Friday off.” 

BD: “[This] seems to be fantastic in terms of employee retention [and] motivating your team. The people who’ve done it are definitely worth exploring and checking out. What they broadly say is that you need to think about your processes [and] customers. If you’ve got customers, what’s the experience for customers there? How can you create adaptations where it doesn’t just feel like you’ve vacated the space that you used to occupy on a certain day? You need to be a bit intentional about it.

From the evidence, it seems like it’s incredibly motivating for the team members. The Financial Times did a lot of work and some organisations said, the way we’re going to do it is that you earn this extra time off. So, if you’re ahead of your business, if you’re on track, then you can have it. But if people are underperforming and they’re struggling, then they will be expected. Try and learn what’s gone well and what’s gone badly for [the people who’ve done it before].

The other thing to think about is that for a lot of people right now, work has changed a little bit already. [For example], if you send a Teams meeting to any of your colleagues for 3.30 on a Friday afternoon, I suspect you’ll get a quite hostile response. We’ve reached a zone where people have got a different mode of working on Fridays. Understanding what adaptations your company’s already made without anyone acknowledging it is probably a good thing to think about.”

“Given that flexible working hours improve productivity, would you suggest doing a trial?”

BD: “100% do a trial. Some firms call it summer hours [by saying]: ‘We’re doing this from June the 1st  to August the 31st. It’s contained [and] there’s no uncertainty, there’s no upset when it’s taken away on September the 1st. But in those summer months, it just feels like, ‘Okay, that’s a reason to stay here because we have summer hours.’”

“What’s the single thing that you introduced that you felt had the biggest impact?

BD: “The biggest thing we had was when I worked at Twitter. From the head office, we’d had two rounds of job cuts in a year. And broadly with job cuts, a team can take them and can adapt to them. But there’s a bit of trust breached. If you do it twice, then people start thinking, ‘I’m not sure I trust that I’m going to be safe here in the future’. So you get this dissonance between their emotional connection to the job and their head or their friends telling them, ‘Be careful, you’ll be next’.

In the aftermath of that, we saw our quit rates – the people resigning – was high and stayed high and we couldn’t get it. The worst thing is when you’re talking about resignation rates, it’s always your best people who are resigning because they’re the ones who are getting the phone call or the LinkedIn connection. The best people [were] leaving. So we’d start [doing exit interviews and ask],‘What’s the reason you’re leaving?’ And they said, ‘To be honest, it’s the climate, the circumstance of the company is one thing. But the second thing is the work here is overwhelming.’ We did an audit, people were spending more than 20 hours a week in meetings [and] video calls.

I did some work with one organisation just before Christmas, [and I asked] them, ‘How many hours a week do you spend in meetings, video calls?’

But this organisation told me everyone spent 40 hours a week in video meetings. I felt, ‘Oh, there’s nothing we can do about it’. [But] I thought, ‘It’s bananas that we’re not going to do something about that because there’s no single owner.’ It’s not like you can go to someone and say, ‘stop doing it’.

We then set about trying to create the climate, the culture, where we halved the amount of time we spend in meetings. If you sat someone there with a calendar and [asked], ‘Which of your meetings are good?’, pretty quickly they’d tell you about two hours a week are really good ones. But when it came to reducing it, it felt like a really hard thing. [However], you can do it in a number of ways. You can reduce the length of meetings, the frequency of meetings, the invitee list of meetings – [which can be a] sensitive one. [Reducing the amount of time] by a third [reduced the quit rates], and people said, ‘I’m actually enjoying my job again, I feel really inspired, motivated’.

One of the things adjacent to that is a lovely piece of research into firms introducing meeting-free days. Some companies have tried it, but the research [says], if you introduce a meeting-free Wednesday, people say it becomes their favourite day of the week. It’s not that you can’t meet people on that day, but no one can put something in your calendar apart from you. So, you can put a lunch [or coffee] in with someone. Pushing back on meetings seems to be about the most effective thing at making people enjoy their job again.

How important is working from the office in creating the right culture?

BD: “What you generally find is as the organisation gets bigger, the amount of time that they expect people to be in the office goes up. So, if teams are a group of four people, generally what you find is that they say, ‘Oh yeah, we have a day together once a week, or once a month. Don’t worry, we’re all in real sync with each other. We feel really connected.’ As organisations get bigger, typically that is harder to achieve.

But [I’ve found] that [we aren’t] intentional enough about office time. [Firstly], office time really should be coordinated. There’s no point saying to someone, ‘It’s two days a week in the office’, and then they go, and there’s no one in the office for the days they go, because they think, ‘Well, what’s the point in me coming in? It’s cost me 30 quid from Watford to get here. What’s the point in me doing this?’ So, focusing on coordinated office time is more important than total amount of office time.

[Again], bigger organisations generally feel like they want more office time, because they associate office time with chance happenings and serendipity. [But] what people generally say is, their office time is them sitting at their desk with headphones on, trying to have a Zoom call with someone who’s at home. [Be] more intentional about, ‘Okay, we’re going to be in the office specifically these days, whether it’s just by team or whether it’s by organisation, specifically these days, and those days look slightly different.’

[While there are] different modes of meetings, you put certain sorts of meetings that are face-to-face on those days. [Then] try and put the reporting meetings or the check-in meetings on days where people are dialling in from home. Try and be a bit more intentional about how you use office space. So, there’s no right or wrong answer, but generally it corresponds with how big teams are really.

The takeaway? Rethink your approach to work!

Compressed workweeks can boost morale, but plan strategically. Drastic job cuts hurt trust, so be sure to prioritise employee well-being. Don’t forget to make meetings matter: people need focus time, not constant video calls. Finally, make office time intentional by coordinating schedules and activities to maximise its impact. By embracing Bruce’s tips, you can create a work environment that builds resilience in the workplace and keeps your team happy.