How to be Human at Work

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In my opinion, I’d say businesses are made up of around 50% hard stuff and 50% soft. I put business process, business planning, marketing, data, metrics and systems into the hard stuff category and people, managing difficult situations, emotions and inspiring teams in the soft category. I’d even go as far as to say, the soft class often manages the hard class.

People will always be at the heart of a business. We need people to drive forward business — but what in the future is going to drive forward the people?

Often companies act on the basis that if they put a process in place, then people will eagerly follow that process. Perhaps this was the case 30 years ago but not anymore. With robotics, machine learning and AI technology replacing predictable business tasks and with technology changing the way we interact at work and in life in general, good employees expect more from their bosses and more from their workplaces.

How flexible are you?

Take flexible working as an example. Most companies’ employee working policy covers all the right stuff around flexible working: working from home, job sharing, compressed hours, part-time, flexitime, annualised hours etc. But in reality how many companies put it into practice for the employees? That is without an awkward conversation, without employees having had to show early signs of burnout or without having to have another child. These conversations don’t seem to happen as often as you’d expect for fear of missing out on a promotion or giving the impression they are skiving off.

How come even when there are known business benefits around this topic such as employee loyalty, discretionary effort, motivation and engagement — it is not yet a cultural norm for the vast majority of companies?

Flexible working rights ‘for all’ was introduced as an extension to the law back in 2014 as it recognised the needs of modern families extended past the needs of carers and parents. This means that since then everybody has the right to request flexible working. But in reality how ‘accepted’ is it by companies (other than a few) more advanced technology companies who have realised the power behind being more human at work. These companies recognise people work better when they have a more balanced life and when they can attend to life inside the 9–5 and when they can pursue training while still being committed to their role. Technology is making this change happen, and most technology companies are leading the way, but why are so few people taking advantage of this opportunity?

Is it because regardless of having access to the technology that makes flexible working possible:

  • It means having an open conversation between the employee and employer?
  • These types of discussions are not the ‘norm’?
  • Is management not seen to embrace or support it?
  • Culturally it hasn’t formed part of ‘work as usual’?

On being human…

Being human at work doesn’t just mean having a conversation about working arrangements. This was only used as an example to illustrate my point.

On the business side, being human means asking whether something makes sense anymore. It means challenging the status quo if you have discovered something more beneficial for the business that will bring more results. It means being agile, experimenting and trialling the new.

On the people side, it means playing on an equal playing field. It means being curious about the people you work with rather than making assumptions. It means listening to learn rather than listening to disprove or influence to your way of thinking. It means learning about what lights up their inner spark and recognising we all have one. It means adapting to the now rather than what was or what worked then.

Being human means cultivating the essence of all and embracing technology in equal measure.

The world and the workplace is changing whether your company’s policy is ready for it or not; the future of work is already here.

Technology is making corporate executives ask, how can we use it to perform better? Being more human at work means asking how we as people can perform better? The starting point for this is to understand who and what we really are and where our experience of the workplace is coming from.​


FastCEO is a leadership accelerator for fast growth potential technology companies. Its mission is to ‘create a world where human evolution is comparable to the speed of technical innovation’.

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