What's Next for Workplaces?
About This Episode
Ester Martinez, the CEO and Editor-In-Chief of People Matters, talks about adjusting to remote work and how this transformation has created irrevocable changes for the future of workplaces.
The views expressed by guests are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Skillsoft.
Michelle BB 00:00:07 Welcome to unleash your edge, a Skillsoft podcast for learners and leaders alike to engage in thought provoking conversations and open dialogue on the topic of learning and growth in the workplace. You know, from a global standpoint, we still find ourselves at a very interesting time in our work lives. Many of us and even entire organizations still continue to work remotely. And while there is discussion and in certain cases, plans in motion for return to what was once normal office work life so much has changed and likely will be irrevocably changed forever. Today. Our guest is Esther Martinez. Esther is the CEO and editor in chief of people matters a media brand that engages with top business and HR leaders to challenge transform and enrich the way HR technology and talent management practices contribute to business growth and success. We'll let Esther tell us all about people matters in a moment, but what I can tell you is that Esther and her team of incredible content writers and researchers, product thinkers, and marketers have done an amazing job with their media products to enable more impactful HR and talent decisions. And not only are we thrilled to have her as a guest here today, but I have to tell you her partnership and support it. Perspectives was amazing. So Esther, so great to speak with you again. How are you
Ester 00:01:31 Really good. Thank you, Michelle. And it's a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the show.
Michelle BB 00:01:34 Oh, wonderful. Excellent. So I would like, you know, I gave you a little bit of an overview of people matters, but I'm not sure I did it justice. Would you do us a favor and tell us a little bit more about people batteries, but also where you operate, because I, I want people to know that we're not sitting here, you know, in the United States, Esther, you're actually in India, correct?
Ester 00:01:54 That's right. That's right. So home is a good gun, uh, in India. And, uh, we are actually locked down as well here and unable to get out of, uh, the country. And I think not because we don't want to go out, I think it's the other way around that. I think we kind of stopped because we are not allowed to go anywhere. Uh, so we based in India, but we operate globally. Our footprint is mostly Asia, but we first started as well to contribute in the community outside of Asia as well. And from a brand perspective, we are a media technology, uh, digital community. So our purpose is to get the talent community, to find answers for the most challenging problems in business. And I think this is really a golden time for us as a community, because there are so many challenges that we need to overcome that we've seen that community coming together stronger than ever before.
Michelle BB 00:02:44 Yeah. You know, I think you're right. So we, we initially, when this pandemic hit, I think we were so focused on what do we need to do right now to make sure that our people are safe, that, um, we have the right business operations, that we can continue to work in a remote environment, but I'm not sure that anybody anticipated that we would be where we're at here in July, still working remotely, likely looking at, you know, a much longer term, um, stay at home order for, for many, uh, countries. So I feel like this world of work is transforming, um, as we go through this and I think workforces have changed so much in such a short period of time, as you engage with HR leaders, whether in Asia or any other part of the world, what are some of the things you're hearing about the sort of next normal and what are the challenges that these HR leaders are trying to tackle right now? So,
Ester 00:03:51 Um, the requirement of resetting what we used to define as work was needed, even before the pandemic, there was a lot of tension already building up. Uh, and I think we had stretched the way that we were looking at people and work, uh, for many decades. And, and there was, uh, there was, uh, uh, a high tension already coming from different stakeholders, whether it was, you know, the, the lack of focus on employee experience, the lack of focus on diversity and inclusion. The lack of focus, when I say lack of focus on generalizing, the lack of business, focus on critical areas that were breaking the way that, uh, organizations had to function and the need that the organization needed to move to the wards. So I think what the pandemic has brought is a, of course, a huge humanitarian crisis, but at the same time, there is also a silver lining for us to be able to reset a lot of things that we wanted to change and accelerate that.
Ester 00:04:51 And I think that's where, uh, I think the opportunities, and as you correctly said, Michelle, the first phase one phase two was about safety, was about cash conservation was about, you know, what is it that we need to do to, to engage with the customers and support them and service them depending on the industry that you are operating in. I think we've moved towards the recovery phase. What we've not probably realized. And yet come to terms with is the fact that this is going to be a much longer time and we really need to, um, start thinking about, um, you know, how are we going to rebuild for the future? Because this is not something that I think for many of the predictions that are coming, this is not something that it's going to probably end by this year. And we may be looking at the next financial year when we start seeing things coming back to Mormon. And I think it's an opportunity for organizations that have built the right, um, uh, robustness in terms of culture, in terms of, uh, being able to align people very fast in terms of building a distributed or decentralized decision making. So there's a lot of things that are going to be, uh, positives for organizations that had seeded the right foundational elements.
Michelle BB 00:06:08 Right. You know, it's interesting. Um, am I want to stay on this topic for just a minute, because I was with a number of CMOs yesterday from a variety of organizations. And one of the things that we talked about a stir is that, you know, initially when the pandemic hit and people had to start working remotely, we actually saw an increase in productivity. And I think part of that increase was, um, it gave people something to focus on. They could really dive into work. Um, those, those who frankly were still employed. Um, and it, it, it allowed us to continue to get through what was essentially what we thought was going to be a short period of time, right. This, uh, initially, but now, you know, I think we're starting to see fatigue. I think we're starting to see potential productivity losses. And I think that as we move into the fall and, you know, as we have to deal with children who may not go back to school in the same way that they did before we have to rethink what productivity actually means, and also what the work day looks like, do you agree?
Ester 00:07:17 So, Michelle, I couldn't agree more. And I, I was, um, uh, I had the privilege this week to speak with, uh, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Who's our opening keynote speaker for the guitar, uh, in August. And of course, he's going to talk about anti-fragility and he's going to talk about what can we learn from this pandemic, from the perspective of building the buffers. And I think when you, when I'm hearing you talk about the dimensions of productivity, I think organizations will need to really think about, uh, how do I embrace small volatility all the time? And I think as individuals as well, I think, or individuals that are going to be more anti-fragile at individuals that are able to adapt, they're then able to find solutions to those challenges. And they're able to be, um, um, problems solvers, not only for the business and for the teams, but also for themselves.
Ester 00:08:13 So unfortunately, or fortunately, it's going to be a journey which is going to be a very individual journey because people themselves need to be antifragile and antifragility gets built with, uh, skills with, uh, you know, investing in your own self as well in being able to be very fast in building impact. Uh, at each one of us have an opportunity to rethink even the work we want to do, what kind of work we are best suited for. Maybe some of us are stuck in a work that maybe we don't enjoy. So maybe that increases even more tension and more stress, right? So I think it's sort of a reboot or a reset opportunity for everyone from organizational perspective, from a business perspective, but also for each one of us as individuals on what matters to us and how are we going to take this?
Michelle BB 00:09:01 Yeah. You know, it's really interesting because you talk about the importance for the individual of taking ownership. And I think, you know, I think we're seeing a lot of that. I would imagine that with the tremendous uncertainty we have, because there is so much uncertainty about when we're going to go back into an office, if we're going to go back into an office, when we're going to be able to gather in larger groups more than, you know, just our immediate families. I imagine that the role of the HR professional and our HR leaders is changing and shifting. And in some ways, a little bit of the unknown, what are HR leaders focusing on and where are they struggling right now?
Ester 00:09:42 I think the focus is on two velocities. And I think that's the power of not only HR, but I think any, any professional on being able to drive at the ambidextrous speeds on the one hand, you're solving problems for the here and now. And there are a lot of them that are a lot of firefight things. There are a lot of things that need to happen from steel, from safety perspective, still from here and now, uh, casket, uh, uh, decisions that need to be taking implementation, uh, safety compliance and so on and so forth. So a lot of focus on the here and now I think what, uh, HR teams also need to do very strategically is also thinking about what's next, which is Michelle, what you were talking about, the new reality, because I think that's where the opportunity is to be able to solve the here and now with a lot of clarity, but also making sure that the positions that you've taken in the here and now are aligned to where you want to be as an organization.
Ester 00:10:41 So I think organizations that would be able to sustain and take positions and, and, and really navigate through this huge volatility. They're probably likely to do really, really well after the pandemic because they've built that resilience and that resilience is built with the centralized decision making with a lot of clarity on the direction and, uh, and taking those risks and enabling those HR individuals to work with the business partners, to actually take decisions for their teams very, very fast. You would, we don't have the time to, you know, to go through the bureaucracy and the hierarchy that I think HR was most associated with in the bust that that's just not going to be what the business needs.
Michelle BB 00:11:24 That's interesting. So potentially a decentralization. You think what
Ester 00:11:30 It's all about the business, it's all about being able to, to, to enable the business to survive. So I think some industries are pivoting. Some industries are finding ways to, to generate new offerings and to, and to service the customers differently. So that requires HR to be very agile, to help the business, adapt to that. Some of it may be new skills that we need to build. Some of it will be, uh, you know, helping teams collaborate better. Some of it is about supporting people managers to help them to transition to those new roles. So I think it's that role of being very agile and supporting the business to what's needed at that moment. And some businesses are retrenching and some businesses are, uh, moving to some of the employees are moving into a geek role. So there's a lot of transitioning and a lot of creative work that needs to be done and executed very, very well.
Michelle BB 00:12:23 So, yeah. So that's interesting. So it's less about maybe the organizational model and more about the HR professionals ability to adapt to the needs of the business in that moment. Um, so, you know, I wanted to talk a little bit about something that you touched on earlier, diversity, equity and inclusion. You know, we here in the United States have had, um, quite an experience, you know, the, the, the tragic events of, of recent weeks have reminded us that injustice and inequality exists in the workplace real, tangible ways. And it's really hard, I think, especially in this environment to know what to do, how to help, um, particularly as organizations are trying to navigate this pandemic, but also support the growth and development of all people within their organization. This, this isn't just a us centric issue, is it, I would imagine that organizations around the globe are grappling or grappling with this challenge.
Ester 00:13:27 Um, it is a big challenge because I think, um, I always, if you look at it from a two by two perspective, there is on one side that desire to build a inclusive environment. And you have leaders who have the desire and leaders who don't have the desire, but fortunately, uh, I think there are a lot more who have the desire, but on the other side of the equation you have that have the deep understanding on how to do it and the deep expertise on how to do it. And I think that's where we are. We have a lot of leaders who have the desire, but there is a very, I would say, a low understanding. And I think that quadrant is very dangerous because that quadrant means that you have leaders promoting that, you know, we really need to build inclusion in our organization that we really need to think different, but they themselves don't walk the talk because, you know, they just unaware of it.
Ester 00:14:24 They just don't know their own bias. They just don't know that the fabric that they are taking positions on is not, uh, you know, has not moved out to the, to the, to the students, to the stand or whatever, to the, to the inclusive lens. So I think that's the challenge. The challenge is not desire. The challenge is more awareness and understanding. And I think when you have the desire and you don't know that you don't have the awareness and understanding you are living in a blind spot, and it's very difficult to show the mirror to those leaders saying actually, uh, and all of us have been in those meetings. I have been in so many situations where, you know, I'm listening to a C-suite or a leader saying that, you know, this is really important. And then you ask the question saying, but why don't you then have, you know, at the verse, um, reporting C-level to yourself. And then the answer quickly go say, well, it's really difficult to find people from this particular gender or this particular. And then you start to see that, you know, there is a desire, but there is so many underlying, uh, blind spots on each one of us. And that's, what's, that's, what's taking way too much time, way too much time to, to move out of the fabric of organizations.
Michelle BB 00:15:42 Yeah, that's fascinating. And I, I agree. I think that, you know, it's interesting because when you look at organizations, you can have diverse organizations that aren't very inclusive and you can have inclusive organizations that aren't very diverse. And so this isn't a, you know, it's about having, um, or looking at it through the lens of diversity equity. Am I, am I treating everyone fairly? Am I, am I treating people the same and then inclusion and my fostering a sense of belonging. And those three things are very different. And, and I think we have to start looking at them as, as different as well. Right. It's not enough just to stand up and say, we've got this policy, because I think right now we're seeing so much, um, self-reflection organizational reflection. And it's an opportunity, I think, to really identify those blind spots that you talked about and make changes within our own organizations,
Ester 00:16:44 But it takes that courageous step to, uh, even sometimes to the expense of short-term loss. Um, because I remember having a conversation with specifically, and I'm remembering that conversation, Jay now in particular with one CEO of a large, uh, Asian, uh, multinational, and he was a male, and he was kind of sharing with me that, you know, this really important as you say, equity is very important. Inclusion is very important. And then when I pose that question saying, what, why your group are your direct reports are all Asian male. So how does that happen? Right. And I think the courage of saying, you know, if I want to have a direct report team, or I want to have an inclusive or a diverse, uh, organization, it may mean that I have to take some decisions, uh, to maybe not hire a particular role four more months, if it's going to take longer or maybe, uh, do a inorganic acquisition, if that's going to bring that diversity. But those are decisions that I need to be willing to take as a CEO. And some of those decisions may have short-term losses, which I should be willing to take, especially the equity part as well that you spoke about.
Michelle BB 00:17:58 Absolutely. I want to switch gears for a moment because, you know, one of the things that we see and we see organizations in particular they're contemplating and trying to figure out is when, and how do we bring people back into some kind of office space, right? And I can tell you that everybody I've talked to has said, I'm not sure uncomfortable going back and having to social distance and wear a mask and not be able to gather in common spaces, because that's really frankly, what, what I like doing at the office. And those are the things that make the office environment so wonderful. Do you have a perspective on what that next office environment could or will look like?
Ester 00:18:42 That's a really difficult question, Michelle. I can only give you my,
Ester 00:18:49 I think on the one hand, of course you have, uh, uh, people who are, uh, really eating to go back to our face. And on the other hand, you also have a lot of people who have gone back to, you know, either their local towns or, uh, they've come back to wherever the family's from, or they're actually operating from a tier two city. And they seen a lot of joy on this whole concept of distribution. So I think that the whole concept of distributed workforce will take a full shape. Um, and, and this is not a new concept, but I think now it's coming to its potential because distributed would mean that ideally organizations should give the choice. And as far as I'm able to deliver my work efficiently and productively, whatever that means from measure perspective, I think people will want to have the choice to say, well, I want to come to our office.
Ester 00:19:43 And of course, we'll make sure that it's safe. And that is the right environment to be able to make sure that everyone who comes to offices is as safe as it possibly can be. But a lot of people will want to have the freedom of not going either because they are scared and they say, well, I don't feel comfortable going, or because they choose to maybe operate from a different location. I think what's most going to be most important is the second and third element of distributed workforce. The second element to me is about the contractual relationship. I think organizations will have to be a lot more flexible, um, being open to, um, get leaders or talent who may not be on full-time roles. And that was something that paradigm was really not accepted before that I'll be working for an organization, but that employee is also working with other organizations because he or she may have a particular skill set that it's, that can actually be co-shared.
Ester 00:20:37 So I think that second element of distributed is, is very interesting and I think very, very fascinating and organizations that are able to explore that are going to be ahead of the curve. And I think the third is going to be about looking at not, not jobs anymore, but really looking at skills and work. So I think giving the freedom for people to be able to pick up the work that they enjoy the most and probably pick up other work that you don't enjoy so much, maybe someone else can do it, or maybe it can be automated. I think that third element is going to be a lot more fascinating as well. So work will not be just to summarize work will not be about going to office anymore. Work would be about yes, the workplace, but also the relationship that I have with, uh, the organizations of work with, and also the nature of the work I choose to do. So I think if you take these three things together, then we can understand the definition of work a lot more deeply and not just office. I think we will not get paid any more because I go to office nine to six or seven to eight, that's gone forever. I don't think none of us will ever be paid again because you kind of show up in the morning and you leave in the afternoon or in the evening.
Michelle BB 00:21:52 I, you know, I think you might've just blown my mind for a moment because it, what you just, you said something that I think is so profound and maybe it didn't really occur to me before, but we've so long associated work with a workplace. At least those of us who have been in the workplace, there are a lot of people who've worked remotely and for them, this is normal. But for those of us who have gone into an office and been tied to an office, we have equated work with a workplace and, and we're no longer going to do that. That's what I'm hearing you say, Esther, that's right.
Ester 00:22:21 That's, that's what I think, Michelle. So the transformation is very profound and it will take a lot of grieving for us because that's not what work meant. So right. You know, we really need to grieve that moment and just, you know, be something
Michelle BB 00:22:42 I think there might be grieving. I think it might be grieving now.
Ester 00:22:47 Well, but that's you first grief to move to the new reality. And I think that's when the silver lining is when you understand that actually I am free. I'm not tied to an office anymore, which means that I can live anywhere. I want, I can choose the skills I want to pay. I can find the work that gives me full satisfaction. And that's just so empowering. Once you grieve, then you start seeing the crack in the clouds and you start realizing that, wow. So I think that's the opportunity for each one of us.
Michelle BB 00:23:20 I love that. I think I'll grieve a little bit longer, but then I think I will look at the possibilities because this is, this is exciting. It is excited. It's exciting to imagine, because if you think about it for so long, I mean, so many years, that is the way that we've looked at work and we have an opportunity to redefine it. We have an opportunity to reshape how, how, and we do, and with whom we do it magnificent. Um, so I want to do this to sort of wrap up the conversation because I I've been asking this question or it's a, it's a three-part question. As you think about, um, life now in this pandemic, there are things that, you know, we've started doing that we would never have started doing before. I, I am an avid bird watcher now, which I can't even imagine.
Michelle BB 00:24:10 And that's a whole nother story. Um, there are things that we've stopped doing, uh, clearly. And I think that in a lot of ways, they're, those are the things that we don't necessarily want to return to, but there's some things that we are learning now about how we work, the way we work, as well as just the way that we choose to live, that we want to continue, regardless of whether we go back into an office or not. So, Esther, what, uh, what is the, the thing you've started doing that you like, the thing that you stopped doing that you're not going to go back to and what do you think you're going to carry through the, what's going to be that continuing thing through this, um, next phase as we start to potentially re-emerge
Ester 00:24:51 Ah, beautiful question, Michelle, thanks so much for asking that you're making me think, you know, that's, that's a great, uh, reflection for my side. So I think that the fourth one is the easier one. I think as an entrepreneur, I had, uh, always been very, very, I've always been a workaholic even before becoming an entrepreneur, but I think when you run your own business, uh, the, the, the level of the stakes, you perceive a very high and the responsibility you perceive is very high. So one thing I'm going to carry forward is, um, being able to take things a little more easy, uh, I think take a larger long-term view perspective and don't get a stress for short-term challenges. And I think that's one thing I'm going to carry with. Uh, I think if we're able to overcome this pandemic and survive it, I think that everything else is going to be a little more real relative.
Ester 00:25:45 So I'm going to, I'm going to carry that forward. Uh, one of the things I'm going to, uh, stop and I've already stopped doing it is, um, uh, just, just making sure that I'm not doing something that someone else in my team can do. Again, I am very action oriented. I love to do things. And I take a lot of joy on doing things myself. And because I have been doing a lot of that things over a period of time, you become really good at it. So something that maybe one of my colleagues may take two hours to do it, maybe a five minute job for me, right. Because I have done it for so many more years than someone else. So I think one of the things that I'm stopping and I will, uh, stop and I have to join that up again, is to just create that, not to do list.
Ester 00:26:33 So every morning I'm waking up and saying, okay, today these are the things that need to happen, but I'm not going to do this 10 things. And I make sure that wherever needs to do them, it's clear that this is suspected that you need to do them and my not to do the list has to be at least 80% bigger than my to do so. My to-do should only be 20%. And those things should only be things that only I can do or only I should be doing. So that's one big realization for me. And I, I think I need to become better at it, but that's a one stop for me because otherwise as an organization, we will not grow. And that's really my responsibility. My responsibility to my team is to carry that flag that I am doing. Only things that I should be doing, because if I'm doing something else that I'm not playing my role as the, as the CEO of the organization, right. And one of the things that I want to start doing, uh, it's, it's traveling. I want to go back to Spain. I want to see my family. I want to see my friends. I want to start going out in a safe way, because of course we don't have to wait until it's safe, but I am really, really looking forward to star, uh, traveling.
Michelle BB 00:27:41 I love that. And so there are, thank you for this conversation, Esther, number one, I can't wait to meet you in Spain, so I will join you there. Um, number two, um, I am going to create a, not to do list. I love that. I, what a, what a wonderful idea as a way of empowering others. And then of course, we've already talked about the fact that you've blown my mind with this notion and this idea that I don't know why I never, I don't know why it just occurred to me now, but work in workplace, not tied. And I love that. And I think it's something that we all have to, as you said, we have to grieve, but then we have to get over it and move on because it opens up so much potential and so many opportunities. Um, everyone, this has been what, a wonderful time that we've had here with Esther Martinez. She's the CEO and editor in chief of people matters. And please, um, check people matters out. Uh, they are a media brand that engages with top business and HR leaders to challenge transform and enrich the way HR technology and talent management practices contribute to business growth and success. Esther, thank you so much for being here. It was an absolute pleasure and we will do coffee soon.
Ester 00:28:52 Looking forward to that, Michelle, thank you so much. And a privilege to be part of the show.
About Our Guest
As CEO & Editor-in-Chief at People Matters, Ester leads an incredible team of content writers, researchers, product thinkers, and marketers building fantastic media products to enable more impactful HR and talent decisions.
Ester holds a postgraduate degree in Human Resources Management from EADA (Spain) and a Master’s Degree in Management from Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. With more than 14 years of experience in human resources, Ester has a wealth of knowledge in all areas of Talent and Human Resources management. Until 2008, she worked as a professional manager with a host of blue chip companies, which included Hewlett Packard in different countries within Europe, and Tata Consultancy Services, both in India and in the UK.
In 2009, Ester decided to come to India and work on developing India centric data on talent management, leadership and HR, seeing the absence of any such research content could be referred by CEOs & HR heads. This spurred her idea to start People Matters, a magazine that aims to provide practical aspects of managing, developing and coaching talent in India.
She has been featured on the LinkedIn Top Voices list in 2016 and 2018, which ranks the top writers on LinkedIn for the year
About Our Host
As Chief Marketing Officer, Michelle leads a global marketing organization, focused on transforming today’s workforce for tomorrow’s economy. Since joining the company, she has been responsible for Skillsoft’s global marketing strategy, which includes generating awareness, driving preference, and building affinity for Skillsoft. Additionally – and perhaps most importantly – Michelle serves as the company's brand evangelist, helping to build a vibrant community of passionate learners.
With more than 25 years of marketing, branding, and strategy experience, Michelle has made it her personal mission to support the advancement of women in business. Prior to Skillsoft, she served as Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Watson, where she was instrumental in developing the first “Women Leaders in AI” program, which honors women who put AI to work across industries and around the globe. She also served as the global head of marketing for The Weather Company, an IBM Business, helping companies understand how to anticipate, plan for, and ultimately make better decisions – with greater confidence – in the face of weather.
Michelle is a prolific speaker on a range of topics, including the war for talent, digital transformation, and marketing in a post-pandemic world. She covers these topics and more as the host of Skillsoft's podcast, The Edge, now in its second season. She has authored countless papers covering a range of business and marketing topics, was at the center of Skillsoft’s leadership role in DEI through free “Leadercamps,” and has taught two Percipio courses on the Pink Pandemic and Public Speaking.
Michelle is also a founding member of CMO Huddles, a group dedicated to bringing together and empowering highly effective B2B CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. Michelle holds a Master’s degree from Simmons University and sits on the pro side of the Oxford comma debate.