Co-creating a better future

As the pandemic continues to unfold, it’s clear that the world of work isn’t going to be going “back to normal”. While we’re still living with great uncertainty, we have the opportunity to listen to our people, work with the information we have and build a brighter future together. Continuing our series on employee engagement, we spoke to Emma Birchall and Harriet Molyneaux, Co-Managing Directors of Hot Spots Movement (HSM) on what’s inspiring them right now, how to manage our multiple roles and ideas for the future of work as we move into the “new normal”.

What has been the most inspiring thing you’ve seen from the world of HR since the lockdown began?

The most inspiring example we’ve seen in recent months comes from Brit Insurance, a global underwriter of complex risk. In an industry ripe for innovation, they were keen to lead the way. But, rather than go down the usual route of creating a steering committee and action plan, CEO Matthew Wilson and Chief Engagement Officer Lorraine Denny decided to co-create with their people.

In partnership with our team at HSM, Brit empowered 10% of their employee population, (selected at random) to create a blueprint for the organisation’s future. Over the course of 12 weeks, we inspired and up-skilled the group in future of work capabilities before tasking them with pitching their ideas to Matthew and Lorraine. The ideas they generated created real change in the business, and brought new thinking into the leadership agenda. They showed that even in times of crisis, it is essential to experiment with new approaches and empower people at every level in creating the future.

What challenges do you think COVID-19 has brought to how people manage their working and personal lives? How does this compare to the challenges people faced pre-COVID?

I think the most interesting change we have seen is in terms of what’s happened to our identities and boundaries. Let me explain.

We all have a number of identities. Perhaps we’re a parent, a spouse, a manager. And we transition between those identities several times each day. Pre-COVID19 and remote working, we would transition from parent, to manager once in the morning as we left home for the office, and once in the evening as we left the office and returned home. Now, that home and work are no longer separated by different locations, we’re having to transition between our identities perhaps 15 or 20 times each day as we move seamlessly from a conference call to preparing lunch for our children. So, why is this a challenge? Well, each time we make a transition, it takes energy and generates stress. This is tolerable when we transition once or twice each day, but becomes overwhelming when this increases to 15 or 20. It’s why many of us are feeling like, in the absence of boundaries, we’re having to be all things to all people at all times.

The challenge then is to create boundaries where possible. Perhaps working in a different room. Maybe closing down and putting away our laptop at the end of the day rather than leaving it on the kitchen table as a constant draw back into our work identity.

As we head into the ‘new normal’, what do you think will be the biggest issue facing HR teams?

HR teams are going to need to work through three key challenges:

1. Ensure that the new normal is grounded in fairness

What will happen to performance reviews and promotions when people’s working circumstances have been so vastly different? Do we take into account that one person in a team may have been home schooling young children while delivering a project? Have we thought about the person that’s been living in a flat share without a proper home working set up? How do you compare performance in this setting? Likewise, how will we over the long term create a fair and consistent approach to hybrid working?

2. Create a positive narrative around the future

If we don’t highlight the positives of new ways of working, people will hanker for the past. It’s HR’s role to tell the story of what is possible and better in this new way of working so that people see the benefit of the changes they have made – many of which have been painful and required a great deal of effort. 

3. Co-create the future

The big questions facing organisations right now are too complex to be answered by HR departments or leadership teams alone. Instead they require the collective wisdom of everyone in the organisation. In the last month we’ve enabled HR leaders in some of the world’s leading companies, including telecoms leader Ericsson, to bring all their employees together in an online, crowdsourced conversation to co-create the future of work.

Yes or No. Do you think that companies will focus on training employee’s soft skills to prepare them for the post-COVID world?


Emma Birchall and Harriet Molyneaux

Co-Managing Directors of Hot Spots Movement (HSM)