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Building Inclusive Colleague Connectivity in the New Hybrid Workplace

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Ten Thousand Coffees
Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
November 19, 2021

“How do I use my time efficiently and leverage technology to work for me, not against me?” That’s Steven Pae, VP Global Head of Marketing and Digital Technology at Prudential Financial, speaking in the latest instalment of Ten Thousand Coffees’ Virtual Coffee Innovator Series. 

An Adjunct Professor at NYU and Executive Advisor at Ascend Leadership, the largest Pan-Asian business professional membership organization in North America, Pae wears many hats, shifting between corporate, the non-profit sector and academia. The busy executive and father found the time to share his experiences with our CEO and Co-Founder, Dave Wilkin, to an audience of HR and business leaders.

Connection is key

From technological solutions in the hybrid workplace to the power of informal networks driving DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), the conversation was wide-ranging and put a spotlight on Ten Thousand Coffees’ recent research into employee connectivity, mentorship and career development. These survey results found that more than 60% of young employees want additional access to mentoring and coaching, and more than 70% (aged 18-44) want additional opportunities to build relationships with colleagues. The webinar attendees were also polled throughout the event about key topics like connectivity, mentoring and technology and the results are revealed below.

Pae’s passion for connecting others is a hallmark of his career and he is at the forefront of the new hybrid workplace in his myriad roles. Technology, he says, will play an even more critical function post-pandemic in connecting colleagues, beyond our traditional office spaces and networks, as the workplace oscillates between remote and in-person. The challenge for today’s business and HR leaders is how to implement that change, as how we connect and grow in the workplace is changing rapidly. Pae and Wilkin agree that a marker of future success will be how quickly companies adapt. 

Ten Thousand Coffees is the first technology company, Wilkin explained, to help clients around the world build, deploy, and measure everything outside the classroom, whether it's networking programs, mentoring, or onboarding buddies. 90% of learning and 85% of opportunities happen outside the classroom,” he says. Working with companies such as adidas, J&J and RBC, Wilkin says enterprise clients are witnessing a palpable anxiety in the workforce. “We know a lot of people in hybrid work environments are afraid that if they're not at the office and getting that face time at the watercooler, they’re not going to advance at the same pace,” Wilkin said. “Which has put certain populations at risk of not advancing and getting those opportunities.” 

AUDIENCE POLL RESULT: 58% of session attendees when polled, responded that lack of connection with peers and colleagues was the biggest impact of the hybrid and remote work environments.

Networks drive results, create allies

DEI is at the forefront of many companies’ agendas. “We think about connectivity in the sense of being able to have an informal network,” Pae says. Informal networks that support initiatives like Pride, Asian History Month, International Women’s Day, and Black History Month have a big social impact and create allies internally within companies.

“Studies have proven that people with informal networks have a higher propensity to succeed in their organization. With the pandemic and the remote working environment, we're seeing this opportunity to secure and create the right infrastructure around leveraging technology and connecting with partners.”

It can be challenging, he said, for Ascend, the largest Pan-Asian professional network in the US and Canada, to connect across different industries and different geographies. “Is it just about having people attend conferences or Zoom sessions? What more can we do?” Pae asks.People want the opportunity to connect — because they want to share and impart their knowledge. We see different populations, especially in the executive ranks, looking for ways to share their knowledge for long-term impact.”

POLL RESULT: 53% of session attendees shared that their company offers mentoring as the main form of informal development. 27% of attendees shared that their organization does not offer any form of informal development experiences.

Winning the war on talent

The conversation then turned to the relationships between executives and their employees, and the ever-shifting dynamic in a hybrid work environment. How was Ten Thousand Coffees, with a broad cross-section of clients, using technology to connect people, Pae wondered?

“Leaders are looking for ways to be connected with their teams,” Wilkin says. “They know that connection is directly related to retention, to innovation, and to culture. Hundreds of executives are without the right connectivity tools. Organizations who successfully drive connections (amongst their employees, teams and leaders) have automated and scalable tools to successfully do it, not just Zoom.” 

“The companies that are retaining top talent are developing people to have the types of skills we all need in this new world of work. The turning point…in this war on talent is whether organizations are prepared to have that network of connectivity. It’s people-driven relationships that are going to make the difference, not an internet connection.” 62% of employees will leave their company for better mentoring, connectivity and development opportunities, Wilkin said, citing the Ten Thousand Coffees survey. “The organizations that are losing are the ones still stuck on Excel spreadsheets. The ones that are winning are looking at this next frontier of technology.” Applying online dating technologies to employees, “creates data driven connectivity so that everyone has those networks internally.” 

Pae agreed. “People think about how to replicate that physical connection, that having that physical connection is the answer. We're going to be living in a hybrid work environment for a while, it could be years. This could be the new norm,” he says. Pae invites his partners to “lean in” to technology. “There are some basic, easy things technology can do. I know today, even though I've been in a meeting, people were chatting with me privately on Teams for quick questions. If we didn't have that technology, they'd be waiting for that answer in an email. Information is plentiful out there, but the quality and the expertise around that data is what matters.”

POLL RESULT: 77% of attendees responded that their organization either manually matches them to mentors through HR/talent teams, business unit managers or via Excel spreadsheets.

First impressions matter

Pae and Wilkin shifted to the future of work and long-term happiness in the workplace, especially for new hires.

“With what we've gone through in the last 18 months, employees have higher expectations on how they work and where they work,” Pae says. “As we move forward from this post-pandemic remote environment to a hybrid environment, giving employees the flexibility to meet their expectations on where and how they work is going to help us in terms of the areas that matter, like celebrating wins, collaborating, communicating, learning, and employee onboarding experience.”

That employee onboarding experience is going to play a crucial role, Pae says. “Many of us, including myself, joined new companies during COVID. That first impression of the employee onboarding process is going to make a huge difference in an employee’s satisfaction in the long run. Studies have shown the first six-to-nine months of an employee's experience helped shape their thinking about their employer and what their long-term opportunities would be.” 

That goes for everything from who's helping and coaching them to who's providing them with the kind of mentoring and coaching they need. Wilkin revealed employees are reporting more work silos than ever. “They don't have the ability to be creative or to innovate with colleagues despite being on Zooms all day. They don't have that same diversity of connection that helps us get work done and feel a sense of belonging,” Wilkin told the audience. “We've got to figure out how to democratize and scale those informal conversations, because this is where decisions get made, learning happens, and careers are created.”

Culture creates connections

All of this data had Wilkin asking Pae: What should people be taking away in terms of how to think about these experiences from a technology perspective, and what can we do with The Great Resignation in full swing? Pae shared that Prudential is fighting this talent drain by creating initiatives within the company that foster culture and team building such as a talent marketplace and a “gigs” program to create new opportunities. “We're going to give employees opportunities to partake in small projects, gigs on the side, where they can learn new skills and meet new members of the company. We want people to learn new things.”

“Meeting-free Fridays” is another program Pae sees gaining traction. “I think that allows people space and time to connect,” he says, emphasizing it’s not a time to put your head down or take care of mundane work tasks. “Our leaders are using that time to experience one-on-one connections with individuals they want to talk to but haven't had a chance to because of their busy schedule.” Pae is bullish on having a colleague by your side during a meeting to replicate the five-minute “meeting after the meeting” that naturally occurs in boardrooms.

One word kept coming up and again in this webinar: connection. Pae says leveraging his own networks has forged indelible cross-industry relationships that exist to this day. “I have a pretty extensive network across three different types of entities, and I share my network with others. I think that's very valuable. It's one thing to have that network and leverage it for yourself. But if you can share that with others, I think that's really important.”

That’s just scratching the surface in this wide-ranging, hour-long discussion. Tune in to the latest episode of the Virtual Innovator Series to hear Wilkin and Pae dissect synchronous versus asynchronous learning, how to go beyond our work silos to achieve success, and how we scale and democratize our informal, outside-the-classroom conversations in hybrid work environments.

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