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HR@Home Ep5: Rick Kershaw, CPO at Peakon

Today, we’re talking to Rick Kershaw, Chief People Officer at Peakon. Rick’s passion is creating differentiated employee experiences that support talented people to do their best work every day — which ultimately enables continued business growth. Rick has over 20 years of HR and talent management experience leading across different sectors for businesses such as Pepsi, Mitsubishi and most recently Expedia Group, where he led the People team supporting the EMEA region.

You can watch the episode below, or read the full interview underneath.

What do you think are the biggest remote working threats and opportunities facing businesses during the COVID-19 crisis?

Rick: Everybody is in this situation, so it’s something where there isn’t a set playbook. Everybody is impacted equally. I think at Peakon we were lucky that we were a tech platform, so we could enable remote working quickly as the pandemic started to spread globally. I think what we’re finding though is there are a couple of main themes for us as an organisation and what we’re actually seeing through our data is as a business.

One, I would say, is understanding and that really is around how are we really listening to the impact to the employee? So, what’s happening from their wellbeing perspective? We’re all juggling multiple priorities at home, whether you’ve got children at home or caring responsibilities, but are you truly listening to the needs of your employees and understanding the complexities that are going on for them? And then I think the second area really is about trust and how strong that is felt with the employees, especially around productivity.

I think for everybody that I’m speaking to on a regular basis, both at Peakon and outside, the general sense is everyone really wants to continue to do their best work. But the difficulty is with all of those complexities, there’s a real sense that productivity is very different, and therefore are we really trusting employees in that moment, and actively demonstrating that we trust people to make the right choices during that time?

I think that’s incredibly hard because people, I’m sure, will sense maybe productivity is changing for them. And actually then there is the sense of guilt that comes with that. I know when we moved to remote working at Peakon, we made it very clear that we enabled trust and we were very clear that it was free from judgment. So work how you need to work, free from judgment because we just don’t know the right solution in the moment.

We just wanted to make sure that our employees felt comfortable and I think how you treat people now during this first wave will then set you up for success. I see the first wave very much as employees getting set up remote work and going through that anxiety moment. The next wave is really how do you continue to operate for the long-term before there’s any thought of reopening offices?

I’m making sure that people continue to stay safe and we care for their wellbeing and so therefore I think it will make or break the relationships with our employees. As long as we continue to trust, we talk openly and we are regularly communicating and we’re agile to some of those needs that come outside of that.

Ultimately even when you’re in an office environment, you’re not micromanaging. I think it’s a case of, you just have to make sure people have clear objectives, you’re communicating regularly and then you’re really working with people to find ways that they can be productive and agree with you. We need to remove some of that guilt.

This is an unknown situation and we have to make sure that we make people feel comfortable and that everyone feels included in the direction of the business and everyone continues to contribute in the best way they can.

What piece of advice would you share with fellow HR professionals about how they can support their employees and their wellbeing during a crisis?

R: I’ve been speaking to a lot of colleagues globally and we’re all sharing advice, which is great as a community. I feel that we’re really coming together as practitioners, so yeah, increased networks during this time. I think from our data at Peakon, we’ve seen a 51 per cent increase in the comments in or around wellbeing and therefore, clearly that is still the most important issue.

We’ve all got to realise this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. I think we have to really find the balance of supporting employees with the needs of the organisation. I think for me it’s around staying connected and continuously listening to our employees - practicing self-care as well.

I think the other thing is you’ve got to make sure that you look after yourself as you would care for others, because in HR we take a lot on ourselves and we’re absorbing a lot of this situation and supporting our leaders to make choices.

So we also have to make sure that we’re practicing self-care. And clearly it’s a time to be creative. We can come up with creative solutions as a function that best supports our employees during this time. As the situation evolves, we can continue to be creative with the solutions that we provide for both our employees and the business.

I do think that we’ve got to keep coming back to how we protect the health and wellbeing of our employees during this time. We’ve got to continue that support because we want to retain our employees after this. I think there’s a real sense of what people will feel post this situation, about how they felt supported or treated through this.

This is going to be critical for any business because I hope that we will get back to some form of new normal, which will enable the businesses to continue to grow. And as we grow, we want to still attract and retain talented people.

What are your thoughts around how the remote working experiment and COVID-19 are going to impact the future of work?

R: I love the term experiment - I think it’s a great term and in some ways COVID - and this whole situation - has actually just accelerated a lot of what was already happening in the environment about how organisations really can work and what the future of work looks like for those businesses.

We’re a tech organisation and therefore our ability to work flexibly and a bit more agile was easier than some other businesses. I’ve worked in a lot of different environments and different business cultures where flexible working was frowned on or you couldn’t work from home. Thankfully I’ve worked in businesses that are a lot more enlightened as well, but I think what this situation has done is, is sort of blown out of the water, some of those myths, for organisation.

I think you can view it as almost like a transformation because the world of work as we see it will be transformed when people return to their environment - if they return to their environments. I think we really have to rethink how we work, how we communicate, how we care for each other and how you get that right work-life balance.

More of these things have come to the forefront for people during this time. So, your wellbeing, more than ever, has presented itself as a key topic. Whilst it was always high on any people agenda, I think it’s even more prevalent right now. What it will do is make organisations really think about what’s important for them. I’m thinking about as we return to any of our offices, what does that look like in the future? Do we have more collaboration spaces for teams? And how do we get the best of our people, you know?

Peakon genuinely believes that work should work for people and therefore what we’re trying to do is take the lessons that we’re seeing right now and think about how does that then translate into our future of work at Peakon?

I think for all of the HR professionals I’m talking to right now, there’s a bit of a conundrum that people are facing, which is: remote working, a hundred percent has worked; in some senses, office working has worked a hundred percent too. This sort of hybrid of what the future could be, nobody is quite sure whether that will work or won’t work.

I think it’s a great time to really be creative and work with our teams and figure out what’s worked for them during this time. We can then employ some of that thinking in the strategies we put in place, to ensure that we continue to work in the best way, drive the best productivity and engage the teams.

I don’t think we were set out to be a hundred percent remote business. You’ve got to think about how people socialise, how people connect and collaborate to get the best out of each other. But those things can happen remotely and are doing so right now. So we really have to take all of that into consideration.

I know what I’ve seen at Peakon has been amazing. Just huge amounts of care and empathy for our colleagues and the creativity of some of the activities that are going on. What I’d really love to see is, how we continue to build those back into our ways of working going forward as well.