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Cosmic Conference 2020 - Session 5: Company Culture, Employee Engagement & Wellness

The 5th session of the Cosmic Conference explored what it means to navigate the ‘new normal’ including reinforcing company culture, creating new opportunities for employee engagement, and prioritizing wellness. As a result of remote work and the pandemic, organizations and individuals have had to make a conscious effort to introduce new ways of hiring, onboarding, and engaging talent without a physical office space to convene in.

This session sheds light on these trends balancing perspectives from speakers across diverse industries and their views on which aspects of our new normal are here to stay.

About the Speakers

Jiten Puri leads the Human Capital function at Arab Media group, the media, and the entertainment arm of Dubai Holding Company. With 23 years of experience in different functions, every career change Jiten made came with a different industry experience for him. This allows Jiten to connect with people at all levels, and lead many change projects across the consumer goods, telecom, banking, FMCG, Real Estate, Media, and Entertainment sectors.

Michel Grebenikof co-leads Egon Zehnder’s Industrial Practice Group in the Middle East. His vast experience and deep acumen across the energy, engineering, and manufacturing sectors have made him a trusted advisor to corporate clients. Prior to joining Egon Zehnder, Michel served as Vice President of Business Solutions at Yokogawa in Abu Dhabi, heading the Business Solutions Group. Before that, he held the role of Regional Director of Strategy, Sales, and Business Development at Honeywell.

Said Baaghil or ‘Baaghil’ is an unconventional Global Brand Relevance consultant, author, speaker, and advocate of "Change or Die". His out-of-the-box ideas ignite companies to rethink their strategies for reaching their target audience and building sustainable brands. He is the proud co-founder of The Core Code – a global think tank on Brand – as well as multiple other ventures, including a fast-food chain.

Shereen Shaaban is the Director of People Operations at Talabat. Shereen is an Agile Coach, Trainer, and Consultant with over 14 years of experience in software development and change management. Having worked with multinationals and startups in the US, UAE, and Egypt, in both local and remote setups, she has developed a passion for supporting organizations on their journey to create environments that enable both the individual and the organization to fulfill their purpose and potential.

Key Takeaways

The topic for this session was among the most highly anticipated. Wellness has emerged as a major trend and the cost of poor employee engagement can have adverse effects on a business’s bottom line. This session began with some data to illustrate this.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, Genius, as Thomas A. Edison famously declared, may be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But building a company that employees truly love reverses the equation: it’s almost all inspiration, and sweat has only a little to do with it.

This is the unexpected conclusion of new research from Bain & Company, conducted in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit. This research shows that if satisfied employees are productive at an index level of 100, engaged employees produce at 144, nearly half as much. Moreover, inspired employees score 225 on this scale. Simply put, it would take two and a quarter satisfied employees to generate the same output as one inspired employee

This set the stage upon which panelists shared their insights and learnings on employee engagement, wellness, brand, and company culture.

The lasting impact of remote work

To begin, panelists were asked to share the impact of remote work they observed on employee engagement and culture.

Shereen Shaaban said. “A lot has changed but overall, we worked too much. It was not clear to people where to stop working and create a balance. We have now invited our whole self into the office, our pets and children now make regular appearances in our interactions with our colleagues.”

[In the remote work landscape] "It is not clear how things will evolve for organizations that don’t have a strong link between culture and brand," said Baaghil. “An organization without a brand just focuses on tasks and deliverables, it will result in the commoditization of work.”

Echoing this sentiment, Jiten Puri offered his perspective on how ‘brand’ also supports the sustainable remote work models of the future. “Leadership and brand bring together talent and organization. That will bring people together and help organizations to navigate difficult times. There is no one model that works. There will always be people who need to be ‘on-ground’ but going forward it will be a combination of things we have to assess and experiment with,” he said.

Sharing his perspective and outlook, Michel Grebenikof said, “The smartest leaders see this as an opportunity and a challenge of how we can adapt. Finding the commercial outset of what this means. Asking ourselves, how do we create more efficiencies and effectiveness within an organization? How do we keep a community of employees feeling included and engaged while we are physically disconnected?”

He continued, “With so much uncertainty, all the competencies you think you have developed as an organization, may not be useful anymore. Curiosity, ability to engage, process insights will help leaders navigate uncertainty and this will make or break the organizations that last.”

“For example, the airline revenue management algorithm is based on user behavior. They have so much data but their biggest struggle now is that the data is no longer relevant. Going forward they need to restart and the more agile they are, the more they will adapt.”

Nurturing engagement, not anxiety

The pandemic catalyzed a massive wave of job losses across sectors, causing many to overwork out of fear of losing their livelihoods. Panelists share a little bit about what they did as leaders to manage anxieties and inspire employees during uncertain, volatile times.

“Our industry was hit hard,” said Jiten Puri. “We had salary cuts and redundancies and were forced to ask ourselves: ‘How are we dealing with and supporting the people who are facing the toughest situations?‘ That resonates with what they say about the organization and the brand as they are leaving. It is what you create in terms of experience and reputation.”

“We prioritized being as genuine and transparent as possible, using communication as the bridge between confusion and clarity. There is no one-size-fits-all formula on how to break this type of news, but transparency helps to lessen these fears.”

Sharing this sentiment, Shereen added, “a lot of organizations talk about being transparent but it is also important, to be honest with ourselves and asking ‘what kind of environment have we created’? Unless there is true psychological safety, regardless of how transparent you are there will always be a sense of mistrust. Leaders need to talk about how they can create this and explore with people what will make them feel safe.

“There is an angle of being very sharp and very fast in communication. It is not just about transparency, it is about how fast you made that decision,” said Michel. “If you lay people off and do it fast, others won’t live with anxiety. Emirates Airlines rapidly and publicly announced the salary cuts and layoffs, and other organizations dragged out these decisions, and did not see how it hurts the morale of the organization.”

Moderator Marilyn Zakhour shared her perspective on the value of organizations and leaders taking measures to keep companies afloat amidst the turbulence. “The most ethical thing a company can do is survive. It means that if you have to make tough decisions as a leader, including letting go of some of your people, you are taking care of a wider community. It isn’t just a company, it is the ecosystem that sits around it. If you are too kind and you become bankrupt, no one wins.”

A note on branding

In terms of the role brands play in corporate cultures, Baaghil shares his thoughts on this relationship: “A brand can be the glue, keeping everyone connected. The best stakeholders on a brand are employees, and if you get them to rally around the brand - and a leader can do this successfully - that is how you create engagement. The initiative you create internally will push people forward.”

An interesting perspective brought up in this session is how employees will feel about organizations as they are made redundant. This creates a lasting impact on the brands’ reputation.

Commenting on this, Baaghil said, “one of the key problems I see in my consulting career is that ‘brand’ is used as a commercial entity. CEOs don’t know how brands work as it relates to people, culture. They don't know how it works internally, they just see it as a logo on a building or package. We know that brands can influence behavior. It can influence the behavior of employees too.”

“Organizations should create initiatives to ensure that employees who are laid off or leaving companies have a positive experience. These are people who could tarnish their reputation and speak poorly of the company on social media or otherwise. If not handled well, you can turn an ambassador into a hater. 'Brand' is a holistic organizational purpose. It is ‘in’ and ‘out’ and ‘in’ before ‘out.’” he continued.

The future of work is…

All four panelists shared varying perspectives on what they think the future of work is. Here is what each had to say:

“The future of work is evolving,” said Jiten. “We need to learn from what we have seen in the last few months.”

Shereen believes that the future of work revolves around tailored experiences

“The future of work will not be industry-related or function-based, rather, organizations will create bespoke ways to move forward.”

“The future of work will be at zero marginal cost” according to Michel. “ Digital transformation is pushing us to an era of nearly free goods and services”

For Baaghil, the future of work means “vacationing for the rest of your life. If you love what you do, life is a vacation,” he continued.

Want to learn more?

Check out all other sessions from the Cosmic Conference 2020.

Session 1: Digital Transformation & COVID-19 - Watch the panel on our YouTube Channel or read the key insights here.

Session 2: How Remote Work Impacts the Top and Bottom Line of a Business. Watch the panel on our YouTube Channel or read the key insights here.

Session 3: Remote Work, Recruitment, Education & Entrepreneurship. Watch the panel on our YouTube Channel or read the key insights here.

Session 4: Workspaces of the Future: The impact of the remote work movement on commercial real estate in the UAE. Watch the panel on our YouTube Channel or read the key insights here.

Session 5: Company Culture, Employee Engagement & Wellness. Watch the panel on our YouTube Channel or read the key insights here.

Session 6: Cosmic Conference 2020 - Closing Debate: To Remote, Or Not To Remote? Watch the debate on our YouTube Channel or read the key insights here.


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