Episode 18 – Revolutionizing Work with “Workstyle” – with Lizzie Penny and Alex Hirst
The way we work had not been significantly redesigned in over 200 years despite massive cultural shift and technical advances. The pandemic forced change upon us and now that we have tasted autonomy and proven productivity does not suffer, redesign is on the table. While many organizations are embracing flexibility, hybrid, and remote work as a hiring advantage, Lizzie Penny and Alex Hirst say that it doesn’t go far enough. When they explain the number of people who are still left out of the workforce, you might find yourself agreeing. Tune in to learn more about how they suggest we “fundamentally redefine our psychological contract of work”.
Lizzie Penny and Alex Hirst are friends, entrepreneurs, and changemakers. They also both celebrate and design around being highly sensitive. They have been leading the Workstyle Revolution for a decade, co-founding a social enterprise, Hoxby, in 2014 to prove the concept. Alex and Lizzie have helped thousands of workstylers around the world to set, project and respect their own workstyles, and are conducting pioneering research into the link between autonomy, productivity and wellbeing. Hoxby has delivered projects working in a workstyle way for some of the biggest businesses in the world including Unilever, Amazon, AIA and Sony.
00:04:50 Sensitivity informs the journey
00:07:49 Shift to output value
00:11:52 A taste of autonomy - the heart of the revolution
00:16:18 Flexible work is our nemesis
00:21:51 How do we contract this kind of work?
00:27:15 Building trust
00:31:16 Give people what they want along with structure to get things done
00:32:48 Structure? A free for all invites chaos.
00:37:51 The aging demographic
IMAGE CREDITS (see images on Youtube video)
Taylor Review - credit Taylor Review PDF
Starbucks cup of coffee - credit Envato Elements
Unilever logo - credit Unilever
Wordmoji - credit Clare Kumar
#autonomyisforadults - credit Clare Kumar
#FlexibilityIsInclusivity - credit Clare Kumar
#productivityISpersonal - credit Clare Kumar
#ALLin - credit Clare Kumar
Symbol of London underground - credit Canva
Workstyle symbol - cropped from book cover - credit Clare Kumar
Refresher candies - credit Valeoconfectionary
Refresher over top of underground sign - credit Canva
Workstyle cover - credit Clare Kumar
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Highly sensitive executive coach and productivity catalyst, Clare Kumar, explores the intersection of productivity and inclusivity continually asking how can we invite the richest contribution from all. She coaches individuals in sidestepping burnout and cultivating sustainable performance, and inspires leaders to design inclusive performance thereby inviting teams to reach their full potential. As a speaker, Clare mic-drops “thought balms” in keynotes and workshops, whether virtual or in-person. She invites connection through her online community committed to designing sustainable and inclusive performance, the Happy Space Pod. Why? Because everyone deserves a Happy Space.
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Alex Hirst: That was the experience that I went through. I reached a point of burnout. And coming out of the other side of that, having tried to sort of rest and recover, I realized that actually I needed to rethink my relationship with work.
Clare Kumar: You're listening to episode 18 of the Happy Space Podcast. Today we're talking about a movement towards individualized work with the authors of “Workstyle: a Revolution for Wellbeing, Productivity, and Society” with co-authors and fellow sensitive folk, Lizzie Penny and Alex Hirst.
Welcome to the Happy Space Podcast, A place where highly sensitive people thrive. Not only will we learn how to better navigate life with our superpowers, we'll find ways to better manage the challenges too. We'll hear from product and service innovators, space designers, and leaders who believe in creating an inclusive neurologically-safe world.
If you are highly sensitive or want to better understand and support someone who is, then you are in the right place. I'm your host, Clare Kumar, and I'm so very happy you are here. “Together we can create a happier, more fulfilled society through a world of work without bias”, this is how the book “Workstyle: a Revolution for Wellbeing, Productivity, and Society” opens. Written by two fellow HSPs, Alex Hirst and Lizzie Penny,
They immediately invite us to be part of a movement to radically redesign work so that more people can contribute. You know that I am so totally aligned with this, so you can imagine how I excited I was when I found this book. It brings us through the journey of work from the establishment of the 8-hour workday, right up to the 40-hour workweek, and now to today's desired autonomy.
Alex and Lizzie were put this to the test with the creation of a company called Hoxby. A company that is committed to Workstyle and enabling their stable of freelancers to work wherever and whenever they choose. So we explore the demographic, economic, and social justice reasons why this redesign is necessary.
Tune in and find out why they do this flexible work and how they talk about the relationship between autonomy and accountability. I really hope you enjoy meeting these two thought leaders, Lizzie and Alex, who are really ready to push us into a new world of work. Enjoy.
Alex and Lizzie, welcome to the Happy Space Podcast. I'm so thrilled to have two fellow HSPs join me and HSPs, who are not just, you know, recognizing the trait, regulating their own world, advocating for what they want, that have moved into the active phase, which is really moving to change the world. And, Alex and Lizzie, as you know from the interview, have written Workstyle, and I have so many questions for you.
The first one is actually, I'll start with high sensitivity and ask you, maybe I'll start with you, Alex, because I first read in the book, I think it's page 32, where you say, you mentioned you come out as being highly sensitive. I'll start with you. How did your sensitivity shape or inform your journey to get to where you are now?
Alex Hirst: Hi, Clare. Thank you for having us. I thought it was important, I think firstly to call out, the high sensitivity in the book, because I think it's not very well known nor understood and yet affects a huge number of people. So for me, that was important, which is to acknowledge that we're all different, but also the more that we understand ourselves, the more we can shape our work environments and our Workstyles to bring out the best in us. And you know, for me that is, one aspect, one of many aspects, to what makes Workstyle so exciting, but also so necessary and relevant.
‘Cause we're all individual, we're all different, and we all have, personal needs that work needs to fit around. And up until this point, those personal needs have had to take a backseat to the needs or, and the pressures of our jobs that we have to be done, nine to five, Monday to Friday in most cases.
For me, it was that kind of hours-based, same place, same hours. In fact, longer ultimately led, to burnout. And I think highly sensitive people are probably more prone to burnout. In fact, I think they are statistically more prone to burnout. And that was the experience that I went through.
I reached the point of burnout. And coming out of the other side of that, having tried to sort of rest and recover, I realized that actually I needed to rethink, my relationship with work to be not based on how much time I spent doing it. I always rationalized my value as a worker based on the number of hours I put into doing it, rather than what that work was actually achieving. Some big realization.
Clare Kumar: Leaders can often value the derriere in the chair, the buttocks. It's like, if I don't see you working, how could you possibly be working?
Alex Hirst: Yeah. And that was the thing that kind of, for me, it made me think, “Okay, so if it's not about, you know, how many hours, and the input and it's about the output, then I can change the way I work so I don't have to go to the same place every day and work the same hours every day, but in fact, choose workspace and time best fits the type of work I'm doing in order to get the best output.” And that's kind of what took me to a conversation in the pub with Lizzie to come up with the idea of WorkStyle, which is where we had our meeting of minds, really, which is about that shift to output value rather than input.
Clare Kumar: Yeah. Like results only work. Right. But we haven't been able to look at the work design and all the symptoms that come out of it. We really know back, need to go back to designing. Lizzie, any comment from you on high sensitivity?
Lizzie Penny: I think for me, Alex and I both went on a bit of a voyage of discovery at the same time, with high sensitivity. Alex came across it when he had children and said, “Look, I think I'm this, I think you might be too.”
And, I read it and I just thought, “Yep, I think I am, and I think one of my children is as well”. I think it explained a lot about my life, but I think one of the things that really, has had a profound impact on me is the sense of injustice on behalf of other people. And I think I feel that really acutely.
So in the book, we talk about seven excluded groups. So seven groups are fundamentally and structurally excluded from work. Older workers, carers, those with chronic illness, physical disability, mental health challenges, those who are neurodiverse, and parents. And I think I feel really acutely the sense of injustice on behalf of those people that they aren't able to be involved in work.
And since we started Hoxby, experienced a number of those things myself, including having breast cancer and seeing firsthand how working during cancer treatment is something really different from being a happy, healthy person. And similarly, with children, you know, working around children, it just doesn't fit nine to five, five days a week, 50 weeks a year.
And so I think it's a kind of combination of me always having really empathized with those people, but also now having personally experienced it myself.
Clare Kumar: There's your high sensitivity empathy trait showing up, right? This is partly why I'm so excited to be talking to fellow HSPs because not only do you connect the dots with what you see around, then there's this movement from empathy into active compassion and actually doing something about it, which just delights me to know when my personal journey was not, I didn't have the language around high sensitivity. So this is part and part why I'm talking about a lot and why I was very excited to see you name it in the book as well, is I didn't have this language.
So, in episode one of my podcast, I talk about falling down the stairs in 2007 I was still in the corporate world and I was, don't ever do this, Hatty Hills and Birkenstocks. Bad combination, right? Don't, don't, don't do that. And so I realized then something needs to shift and I love that you…
When you look at Workstyle, the one word, and I love that it's one word, it's instead of lifestyle, we have Workstyle and we get to design our lifestyle, so we get to design our Workstyle. So we have this sense of, this is really about autonomy and I love the exploration of etymology in the book of the brilliant sort of, how did we get from work in all its evolutions to where are we now, and why are we dealing with this system, but autonomy itself. I wonder if you can talk just a little bit about that and relating it to, you know, we've been through the pandemic and coming through. I would say the pandemic, more people are in touch with the autonomy that's been serving them
So what are we on the cusp of in terms of our global population? And I think you said 1 billion knowledge workers?
Alex Hirst: This is really at the heart of the revolution that we think is coming. To your point, during the pandemic, people experienced far greater freedom, and yet for the most part were locked down and confined to their homes, which is, I guess ironic. But the freedom came from, you know, as things changed, being able to remain at home whilst, you know, taking kids to school, picking them up by way of example. So we started to experience some of that freedom and we sat and worked from home during the lockdown.
The accountability to deliver regardless of being in the office or working nine to five. So there was a taste of that autonomy there, albeit under extreme circumstances. And in fact, autonomy was still very highly restricted at that point. You had to work from home rather than work from anywhere.
And there's a big difference between those two things. Being confined to your home if you don't have an office space or you do have animals, you know, pets and people and whatever buzzing around can be difficult challenges. It's not the same thing. But there've been lots of research over the years into autonomy and work, and the research has proved, a number of times over that autonomy is better for people's mental health.
It reduces stress. It is better for staff retention. And it's better for productivity. But for the most part, it hasn't really been something that organizations have known how to give. And the pandemic almost said, “Okay, here’s how you give it to an extent”. So that was a great kind of awakening.
But actually, autonomous working is something that we've been pioneering since 2015 with the word Workstyle, which is a word that we created because it didn't. People didn't have the language to talk about their personal preferences when and where they work, such that it fits around their lifestyle.
But it's a word that we needed because we could now work them anywhere and at any time. And it's a word that's enabling, anyone who uses it and anyone who reads the book to start to take control of something that was previously believed, to be out of their control, to control when and where, you now have a word for it and we can all have a word for it and talk about it with one another in a way that we couldn't before.
And so all that's really enabling is for us to take advantage of the opportunity that's already here, that technology is already giving us, and that the pandemic has opened our eyes to which is to liberate us from the shackles of nine to five, Monday to Friday mindset and enable us to start exploring our own preference and work with more autonomy.
And if we can do that then the benefits are huge. So we've done our own research in Hoxby, which is the company we created to test Workstyle back in 2015. So eight years of practical experience, but also four years of research into the people who are working to their own Workstyles, which proved a link between autonomy and productivity, which is wellbeing. So by being able to choose our own, I mean, it makes sense, right?
It's pretty obvious, but the data now backs it up. Which is greater autonomy increases your well-being and therefore your productivity. Yeah. So it's better for our work, it's better for our well-being and it's also better for society, which we can come on to talk about, in terms of enabling individuals to access work on their own terms and that's the really exciting part of this revolution.
Clare Kumar: Absolutely it is. Now you talk in the book about hybrid work and flexibility and you diss them a little bit. I wonder if, Lizzie, you want to jump in on this one and help me understand why it's not good enough to be just talking about hybrid work. It's not good enough to be talking about flexible work. Can you tell me why that is?
Lizzie Penny: We do diss it a little bit. I think at one point we actually say flexible work is our nemesis, which is probably a little cruel, because you know, any progress is good progress. But not if it's going to hinder a giant leap forward that we feel we should be making.
So I guess there are, our main concerns with flexible working would be threefold. So firstly, it's flexing around an outdated. Fundamentally, it still relies on nine to five, five days a week to flex around. It's called flexible around those times. Now the 8-hour working day is 200 years old, more than 200 years old.
It was invented by the great social reformer, sir Robert Owen, or Sir Bobby to those of us who are mega fans, more than 200 years ago. And at the time, it was really progressive. But we think he'd be turning in his grave to know that people are still working that way now and the five-working week that was first conceived of by Henry Ford a hundred years ago.
So, you know, more recent, but still very old thinking. So we feel that it's flexing around an outdated industrial age system and that it requires that to exist where we feel that the whole system should be ripped up and we need to start again in a new way of working that's fit for the digital age we live in.
The second thing is it creates ingroup and outgroup dynamics. And that is really to say that as long as the prevailing way of working is still nine to five, five days a week, anyone who works differently to that or for whom that isn't their perfect way of working will be considered an outsider or in somehow some way special or different.
And I think that includes HSPs as well. Many, certainly, many HSPs, absolutely. And we really need a new system of work and a new word for it. Obviously, we feel strongly about that. That fundamentally levels the playing field so that everyone can work in an individualized way rather than the people who work full-time and the people who work part-time.
And with that there are, you know, there's negative connotations in language as well. You know, part-timers, shirking from home, flex test, you know, a lot of negativity. And that's part of the reason we felt we needed something neutral, like Workstyle. And then the third thing is that for many, many groups, flexible working and hybrid working and remote, Just isn't creating change fast enough or in fact at all for some groups.
So there was some research in the UK on neurodiversity and we look in the book at Gap Statistics. So the gap between the number of people who want to work and the people who do. 77% of people with autism want to work, but only 26% do. That's what we say in the book, that actually now they believe it's only 22% of people with autism who do.
So that gap is actually widening. So I think that actually flexible working isn't serving the purpose that it should. It's 70 years old and it's time that we came up with something completely different that fits the age we live in, and we think that's Workstyle.
Clare Kumar: Oh, I drank the Kool-Aid. I want to come back to your comment about language, because I just read the International Labor Organization's report and was able to do some media interviews around it, and it was interesting looking at it.
When you look at a global view of work, you know 35% of people are still working 48 hours or more. When we look at how it's spread around the world, it blew my mind. Their definition in the report of part-time work was anything under 35 hours and my jaw dropped. I just thought, “oh my gosh, that actually is probably an ideal full plate as a productivity thinker” and what the human brain can actually take on. I'm like five, six hours a day, plenty. You know? So,
Lizzie Penny: But also, aren't we centralizing work with some people having to work a huge amount and some people who want to work not being able to work?
Clare Kumar: This is marginalized.
Lizzie Penny: This something that, you know, we've been working on this for five years, pre-pandemic. I think the pandemic has really accelerated the conversation in the UK. there was a report called The Taylor Review that was done in 2017 that was a report on good work. What good work is. And it doesn't, it doesn't mention autonomous work as a route to bring people into work at all. And I think that shows just how rapidly things have changed, and there are people out there looking for a new approach, but they just don't quite know what it is.
Clare Kumar: Oh, absolutely. So, I'm a trained executive coach and one of the things we do as a coach is kind of try to meet people where they are. I get this vision and this is a massive shift and step-level change. What do you say to a leader who's listening who says, “Wow, that sounds great, but you know, I understand this idea of redefining the psychological contract with work”, but what do we actually do? How do we get at this with actual legal contracts? How do we design this around benefits? And how do I, how do I wrap my head around this practically? What would you offer to that? And maybe, Alex, you want to take this one?
Alex Hirst: Sure. Well, so when we came up with the idea of Workstyle we didn't want it to just be a word and an idea. We wanted it to be something that we understood intimately enough to write a book about it. and we knew that eventually we would write a book and the pandemic gave us the much-needed, kick to get it done.
But we wanted to know how it worked in practice. So Hoxby is almost a blueprint, if you like, for us to take to those leaders and say, look, this is how it could be done, you know, in the purest form. Here's an organization where every person has the freedom to decide their own Workstyle. And culturally, that is the norm.
And here's how we've built the business. I won't go into the specifics of it now. There are three fundamental shifts that leaders need to make in order to start to wrap their heads around it. The first is that work should be assumed as being done digitally first rather than physically. Much of the way that work gets done is actually done through messaging platforms as an evolution to emails that went before.
You know, people would sit in offices and email the person next to them. So the reality is that's been happening for quite a long time. But we still leaders, and, and people because we're conditioned by it, still believe we have to be in the same physical space, first and foremost, to work together when actually collaboration happens first digitally.
That enables people to work from anywhere. The second thing is that we need to assume that work is done asynchronously rather than synchronously. So rather than assuming we need to be having a conversation in real-time, assuming that actually, the conversation will happen, not in time, it'll happen asynchronously so that people can access the conversation on their terms, more people can access the conversation because it's happening asynchronously, and we're not relying on meetings therefore, to communicate our ideas, but actually we're having conversations through messaging or exchanging of videos. This is happening increasingly now.
Clare Kumar: Just to pause on that point, because I think that's such, it's happening, but it's a fundamental mindset shift to think about, what do you mean I don't get to have someone in synchronous conversation? That means reskilling and upskilling around intention and patience. And communication, thoughtfulness, conciseness, clarity. Like there's a lot of training and a lot of development here to bring everyone's skill up to be able to do this.
Alex Hirst: Yes. And these mindset shifts that I'm talking about are principal mindset shifts to enable the future of work. There are a whole host of skill sets that need to be developed, for lots of them. But what they enable by way of benefit is access to a wholly more diverse workforce. So, Lizzie talked about the people who could be included that currently are, but it also accounts for individual working preferences.
It counts for introvert versus extrovert personalities, for example. Who can access a conversation? and give a concise and considered view as you described. In a way that they perhaps wouldn't if they were in a meeting room environment, having the same discussion.
Clare Kumar: So the skills are there, the mindset needs to be there. You talk about it being an antidote to bias, and I know we're going to come back to point number three. I'm not going to leave listeners hanging there. But this antidote to bias in the construct, there's a whole lot of learning because I see challenges around at like every level, which as someone who teaches this, it's like, whew, lots of opportunity. But do you think, let's talk about number three and then I want to come to where we are and the journey sort of forward bringing people along that. So yes, please finish with the third reason. So digital asynchronous and then…
Alex Hirst: And then the third one is trust versus presence. So having, building a relationship on the basis of trust rather than needing to see people. It's like we were saying before, you know, that there's an expectation that to know that someone's working, you have to be able to see them sitting at their desk tapping keys. When the reality is that's not the case.
A more adult, basis for collaboration is one built on trust. And that is also a huge mindset shift for people, which is, today, I don't need to see you to know you're working or, or to trust that you're going to deliver what we've agreed you're going to deliver. So those three things are huge things to get your head around as a leader, but as we said, they're the things that can unlock.
Not only the potential of a wider workforce, but also therefore, the benefit of that, diverse workforce, the collective intelligence as the group goes up and businesses can benefit from that, honestly.
Clare Kumar: There's the skill building around how to build trust and I mean, the mindset shift that it's possible to start, but then the skill building, is there anything in particular that you're doing at Hoxby? That is intentionally building trust in a group of people that may never actually be in the room together.
Lizzie Penny: I think this is so interesting cause this is what we've been experimenting with for the last eight years and there's a whole host of things that we're doing, but I think we recognize, a couple of key things.
Firstly, trust needs to be role modeled by leaders at the very top. You need to see trust all the time. And I think leaders actually are the ones who are most reticent. They say, well, I need to be there so people can see me. Well, what if you are not, what does that look like? How are you present and connecting with people if you're not physically in the same place, which Alex and I have had for the entirety of Hoxby’s lifetime
The second thing is about recognition. So praising those people who work in a trust-based way, and sometimes that might mean having trust to fail and learn from it and recognizing that. And then the third thing is rewarding. So the people who work that way are the ones who progress, get more responsibility, et cetera, et cetera.
So I think there's that element. I think the other thing is that, with this way of working, we often say, you need to invest in those three areas, by which we mean time, energy, and money. This doesn't happen overnight, and I think what we saw during the pandemic was yes, everyone suddenly had to work from home.
What they did was they took the way they worked in the office. And they translated it to home. They were on Zoom calls all day instead of in meetings all day. Whereas our recommendation to anyone seriously thinking of adopting this is in an upfront piece of thinking about how does this best work in your organization?
And then you need to train in three different ways. You need to train individuals in how to work this way. You need to train teams in how they can work as a group. Mm-hmm. And you need to train leaders because leadership in this model is completely different from leadership in a presence-based organization.
Clare Kumar: So that brings us back to how do we bring people along, Alex, go ahead.
Alex Hirst: Yeah, well, I was just going to say at the heart of the requirement for that change is two centuries of conditioning to the way it's been done up until now. And I think we forget that, you know, we are used to working this way. It's been, an immutable reality for generations and we've got to go easy on ourselves a little bit here because of that.
Times have now fundamentally changed to the point at which we do need to revolutionize the way we work to change it completely, but go easy on ourselves for the fact that this is right at the, we are right at the start of this time, this digital age. But it isn't going away. Our future is digital.
Our ways of working are going to be digitally-led, and so we need to evolve with that. If we don't evolve, then we are doing ourselves a disservice, as a species.
Lizzie Penny: And I would add even more to that, that for organizations who don't evolve and who go back to the office hybrid working, stick with flexible, they will find they are missing out on a source of competitive advantage. It's something that Alex and I feel really strongly about that. Your ways of working are something that creates a competitive advantage. They're not something just to hand over to the HR department to be in charge of. They should be squarely in the middle of the CEO's responsibility because this can fundamentally shape who you have in your organization, how you retain them, how you bring people together, how you leverage diversity. And we know that that leads to better outcomes
Clare Kumar: Yeah. So I, on LinkedIn recently, I was reacting to Starbucks and mandating people to come back two plus one days. And I'm like, what if you told your customers you must order at least a venti, otherwise. There's nothing for you here. Right? It's like, yeah. Do we not have, do we not offer, do we not recognize people want individualized drinks?
Lizzie Penny: It's ridiculous.
Alex Hirst: Exactly. It comes back to what you're saying about how do you engender trust. Well, you're going to struggle to engender trust if you are mandating anything. Because actually, if you are mandating, you've got to be here two days or you are instantly compromising someone's autonomy, restricting their trust in the organization. So, anything that involves a mandate is going to limit autonomy. And that's, that's really a crux of where leadership has to evolve.
Clare Kumar: So there's a tug of war out there right now with this idea of, yes, I can embrace these individual needs and flexibility. And I just, somebody I respect yesterday just came back to me on LinkedIn and said, I think flexibility's gone too far. And I was like, “oh, no, no, no, no”. I think the question here is, and I think if we're touching on when you, when you talk about the way Hoxby works, you talk about projects with deadlines and you talk about, you know, there is some structure here. It's not everybody decides, oh, I'm coming in whenever I want. There is, can you, can you maybe reassure listeners out there who are thinking that it's a complete free for all, what do you, what do you anchor in?
Lizzie Penny: I think we would say that we did try the free for all and it can be a touch chaotic, and you know, we speak to organizations all the time who say, “well, what if I want, my individuals within my organization, they want to know what they should be doing”,
This master-servant relationship doesn't just disappear overnight. Employees want to impress. They want to know what you should be doing. We recommend that any organization considers three elements as their authentic purpose, because that's the thing that really connects people to your organization, and motivates them to be really committed.
The second thing is culture, which, you know, goodness, we could talk about that all day, but having a community culture, effective, empowered, but fully distributed teams. And then the third thing is an agile structure. And the agile structure is about adaptable, but resilient, combinations of technology that mean and the structure of your organization mean you facilitate a digital-first asynchronous approach, but that everyone is really clear about what they're doing when, so you are or not necessarily when, but what they're doing for what?
Clare Kumar: Or by when. By when has to be clear.
Lizzie Penny: Everyone has to be clear on, and we start all our projects with Workstyle in mind. So you curate a team based on who can deliver what? When everyone's accountable for that.
Everyone at Hoxby knows Slack is our office. And we communicate through Slack. Do not send an email. We have a no-emails rule at Hoxby. All the work we produce is produced on Google Suite. That's where you go to collaborate, to produce work. So I think for us, you know, we are constantly keeping an eye on technology and actually technology's really helped us.
We would've liked to have started this organization before 2015, but the technology wasn't there to facilitate it. And we're always looking at what new elements of technology there are, but you need to purposely design those elements of your organization to make sure that they underpin this way of working.
Clare Kumar: I know you want to say something, Alex?
Alex Hirst: Oh, itching. Itching. Lizzie's absolutely right. And covered everything, from an organizational point of view. But the one thing that, and she touched on it as well, the people, is that you can't have autonomy without accountability. They go hand in glove. So you are accountable for your output, your work, for meeting your deadlines, and that's far better than being accountable for showing up at nine and staying till five.
Clare Kumar: It's accountability for the output.
Alex Hirst: Fundamentally that people can be trusted to do that. They understand that there's a trade-off between autonomy and accountability. It comes naturally. So there is, as long as there is clarity, as Lizzie says about the infrastructure and the terms of engagement, people can be trusted to deliver. And they understand that with autonomy comes accountability. And so it works very well in that sense.
Clare Kumar: I love how you added that bit of rigor to it, which becomes something to bounce off. I talk about having a trampoline with the right tension so you're not sinking to the bottom and hitting your feet, and you're not, you know, taking off to the moon. So it's, it's figuring out what that is. Yeah. Alex, go ahead.
Alex Hirst: I feel like I could just keep talking, unfortunately, which is probably not helpful. We were very fortunate. And we understand how fortunate we were to be able to design a business with Workstyle as the operating principle. Organizations now are trying to change from very traditional ways of working and a culture built in there into something different. But I think probably what's exciting or probably where we're at is the things they're exploring now, post-pandemic hybrid-type solutions are a middle ground, a stepping stone towards a more autonomous feature of work. They're almost like hybrid cars on the journey to all-electric. You know, it's a process. but we are excited that the destination is, is radically different from where we've been.
Clare Kumar: I love that you talk about Unilever and the project YouWork. I wonder if there's anything there that could be shared that you might expand upon as a potential, you know, beacon for an organization that, yes, is already working traditionally, but has taken up an area of work. And I know stories from Unilever that are not like this and progressive, they're a burnout and conference calls at four in the morning, you know? But, what can you share a bit more about that and maybe even the contract part of work? Like how are we, how are we dealing with benefits? What are we actually… What is the contract there?
Lizzie Penny: I think it's one of the things that really sticks with me about the YouWork case study in the book is that almost a third of the Unilever workforce in the UK we're going to reach retirement age in the next five years. And we have an aging demographic globally. Yeah. That is one of the key catalysts for us needing to change to this way of working. It's becoming a business priority, because of that. You know, 3.5 trillion could be added to the OECD economies simply by encouraging older workers to stay in the workforce for longer. So there's a massive need to do this, and actually, if we don't do it, there simply won't be enough people in the workforce to do all the work that needs to be done.
Clare Kumar: And we need to fund our longevity. We're going to run out if we don't keep working.
Lizzie Penny:. We are, and in any country where the nation-state can't fund pensions and social care, and where families and communities can't provide the support they need, which realistically they can't. The practical reality is that people will simply have to keep working for longer to remain financially independent.
Clare Kumar: In the book you talk about worried about the UK's productivity and GDP.
Just yesterday, I watched a video with Bill Morneau, who's was our finance manager owner saying, I'm worried about Canadian productivity. I'm worried about this element of what, what we're able to actually accomplish.
Lizzie Penny: Well, and in the UK we have a labor market crisis, you know, that, we have record low levels of unemployment and we're looking at, we actually were at the House of Parliament last week talking to the UK government about how they can include more people in work through adopting more autonomous working.
Yeah, so I think partly the Unilever case study shows that there is a genuine business need for huge businesses to whereby flexible and hybrid just won't be enough. They need to do something more radical. I think the other thing is that Hoxby is a freelance community because we believe that that's where you can get that true autonomy and true accountability.
But we have a vision for this to be the predominant way of people working and we cannot adopt that vision without large organizations also coming more towards Workstyle working. So that's something that Alex and I are squarely focused on as a kind of output of the book. It’s starting to talk to lots of these organizations and for us to learn as we do about how they can adopt Workstyle working in a way that best suits them. And you know, we are talking to a high-end fashion house at the moment, one of the world's biggest food producers, you know, radically different organizations who each have different characteristics that they need to make sure they're protecting whilst also adopting more progressive working practices.
Clare Kumar: It's such an exciting time, especially when you realize the pressures were under, if we can, you know, have that perspective on of looking at not just the next three months and hitting those targets, but really stepping back and saying, what do we need to do? We really need this, Workstyle revolution that you talk of.
I've got a couple of lighter questions just to close out our interview because I noticed your word emojis right off. I'm like, what is this thing? Right at the beginning. Yeah, just because it's all the way peppered through the book and such a neat concept, and I've been a big emoji fan. Would love you to share this element that you've incorporated in the book. If you could explain it. And then I have one other question for you.
Alex Hirst: Sure. So, we're not sure what's getting more traction, with the media. The word Workstyle or the word wordmoji, which we made up, wordmoji is when you are, converting in Slack, for example.
To add an emoji you would type and then start typing the word, and it would come up with whatever the associated emoji is, right? It's a cultural thing I think for people who used to work in Slack and quickly try to access emojis, you would start with a colon and type the associated with, so we weren't able to print actual emojis in the book, which was where the original idea came from, because that's how we speak in a kind of digital-first environment.
It's how we convey human and character and personality. But we wanted to, but the publisher wasn't able to help us with that. So we did the next best thing, which was to put the sort of the word form of the emoji in instead. And in many cases, we actually took some creative liberties and just made up, whatever we thought the emoji might be.
Clare Kumar: Exactly. And I love that peppered through then is there's a sense of personality, there's a sense of whimsy and, and there aren't emojis for everything that was in there. So I thought you had free license. I do it with hashtags, which mean things only to me. You'll love this one: #autonomyisforadults, #flexibilityisinclusivity, and #productivityISpersonal. These are ones that I've been using on LinkedIn for quite a long time now. They're going to be on t-shirts because I think we need to get this kind of feeling out.
Now I have one last question for you. I've loved this conversation. First of all, is there anything else that I've missed that you want to share before we wrap? And then I'll ask you the last question because I know there's an explanation here too.
Lizzie Penny: I don't think so. As you can tell, we could go on talking about this for hours and hours, but I would just say to anyone who's interested, read the book and let us know what you think.
Clare Kumar: Yes. You include how to reach you there and we'll include it in the show notes as well. And workstylerevolution.com is the website, I believe. Yeah. Now my question is, as someone born in England and with a great affinity for England when I go to the underground in London, I see a symbol. That looks remarkably like Workstyle, but it's like the symbol is like the underground but broken. Yes, exactly. Does that mean no more commute? What is it?
Lizzie Penny: There is symbolic, subliminal meaning to this, but that wasn't one of them. But we're going to add it in. going to add that in
Clare Kumar: That's what I, that's what I thought. This is no more underground.
Lizzie Penny: It came from, we call that the refresher. It didn't come from the candies. It came from in your web browser. When you refresh, there's that little, arrow and our Hoxby be our tagline is refreshing work. And so that's where the refresher came from. But it's time to refresh. It also is time to stop commuting on a crowded tube at peak rush hour.
Alex Hirst: It's the symbol of our revolution now. And you know, it is literally a revolution, a revolving circle. That's kind of where it came from. but yeah, hopefully it'll be the end of the commute as well.
Clare Kumar: That, that's why I think I know what this is. No, I didn't, but amazing. I knew there would be thought behind it.
Alex Hirst: You've given us an idea. Actually, I think we should do some sort of campaign with cheap signs all around London, placing them with refreshers. That could be fun.
Clare Kumar: Could be fun. You guys have brought so much thought, so much research, and insight into the book. I urge everyone to pick up a copy if you're looking at redesigning work because that's what this is. And, it goes through things that you're going to think about if this is for youth, things about that you're going to want to think about if you are a leader and if you're really concerned about benefiting society in the long term, there are points to be paid attention to here that you, you can't unsee is one of the things that I'm saying a lot now. You can't unsee the benefits that we've had and where we need to go. So Lizzie and Alex, thank you immensely for joining me. And I, I would love to have you back as I know you're going to be exploring this more and when you've got more to say about, you know, maybe your first organization that says, we are going to pilot a Workstyle team.
I can just, I sense this absolutely taking off and I'd love to further the conversation anytime. Thank you. That'd be great.
Alex Hirst: We'd love that. Yes. Thank you, Clare.
Clare Kumar: You're so welcome.
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