What will the Future WorkPlace, in the “Future of Work”, look like?

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As we enter Phase 3, of the S-Curve (A. Edmondson, adapted from G. Land), we have a unique opportunity to design “Future WorkPlaces” as a win-win-win for business, teams and individuals.

The “Great Working from Home Experiment of 2020”, did not have the benefit of the consciously considered human-centred design principles, we typically recommend for teams seeking to co-create high performance FlexAgile WorkPlaces of the future.

Rather, it was urgently rushed into place, to protect lives and livelihoods, in the middle of a crisis.

On good days we’ve heard our clients espouse the value of less “dead” commute time – positively impacting personal productivity and the environment due to l fewer cars on the road, in addition to closer connections with colleagues – resulting from the window we’ve gained into each other’s personal lives.

On bad days, we’ve heard it described as chaotic, confusing and alternately socially isolating or socially overwhelming (depending on your home schooling and/or home office circumstances).

The highest priority has been, to keep people physically safe whilst maintaining their ability to do their job, and support their emotional health and wellbeing.

This has not been a typical “FlexAgile” experience.

In the initial stages of the crisis, (it seems like a long time ago now!) the focus of business was to “keep the lights on” and figure out what the “winning model” was in the new world.

With many companies successfully emerging from Phase 2 of the S-Curve, with all but their most intractable challenges resolved, they now turn to the next order of business, Phase 3; devising what comes next.

With a very different economic trajectory to pre-Covid forecasts, many companies previously in the   throes of adapting their strategy and “go to market” approaches to ensure survival in the “old disrupted world” of just 3-4 months ago, now again, find themselves re-thinking their markets and marketplaces and devising what the next new winning formula will be.

We’ve coined the term “hyper-disruption” to describe the experience.

Whilst many companies are exploring cost reduction measures ensuring short term protection in response to hyper-disruption, it’s equally critical to explore short and long term reinvention and renewal of business models, products and programs, to lay the foundation for future survival and growth.

The very nature of reinventing business models in Phase 3 is complex, and we know diverse teams with diverse mental toolboxes are uniquely positioned to find optimal answers to challenging problems.  (S. Page).

So it’s crucial, as we design Future WorkPlaces – be they virtual or on-premise –  that we seek to enable high performance environments which enable both individual performance and the collective intelligence of teams.

What Future WorkPlace designs will enable “high performance teams” to thrive?

Beware recency or confirmatory biases which lead you to determine either a remote or on-premise WorkPlace is best placed to deliver this outcome.

If you’ve had recent positive remote experiences, you might be tempted to go “all-in” for remote / distributed Future WorkPlace models.  Conversely, if you’ve experienced frustrations, you might be tempted to swing the pendulum and opt for the traditional on-premise WorkPlace.

Crucial for “sparking” new ideas and generating new perspectives essential for the organic renewal and reinvention of every business, is the oft accidental and informal “water cooler” chat.

Enabling this organic human interaction, has been the rationale for much of the open plan, hot desking arrangements incorporated into modern office design.  During this crisis, instant messenger applications have sought to replicate this organic communication – with greater or lesser success, depending on their pre-existing level of adoption.

It is our view supported by data from clients, that achieving a blend of distributed and on-premise “Future WorkPlaces” will achieve optimal employee satisfaction, engagement and business performance.

FlexAgility is not just a “perk” for high performers.

It is a performance enabler generating win-win-win outcomes for business, teams, individuals (and the environment).

Symmetra’s Roadmap for designing Optimal “WorkPlaces of the Future”

When designing “Future WorkPlaces”, we recommend leveraging a Human- Centred Model of Design to co-create the win-win-win for your business and your team.

Human- Centred design principles always start with empathy for the human condition and experience.  Next they define the goal – which in this instance is to design a Future WorkPlace which maximises individual and team performance.

We recommend leveraging the collective intelligence of your team to solve this complex problem by:

  1. Asking: what would our WorkPlace look and feel like, to achieve our highest performance, individually and collectively?”
  2. Challenging: your own traditional thinking and biases about performance in remote vs. on-premise Future WorkPlaces.
  3. Consciously: exploring a blend of remote / distributed and on-premise arrangements, to unlock the optimal mix of individual performance and collective intelligence.
    • When faced with a request for ongoing FlexAgile arrangements, ask “how might this work if we were to…”? rather than respond “it won’t work because…”
  4. Exploring: a wide range of FlexAgile options including:
    • Flexible start and finish times; compressed working weeks; time-in-lieu; part-time and job share; purchasing leave, unpaid leave and sabbaticals are all options available to retain and engage teams and enhance individual and collective performance over time.

It is the ideation discussions of the team, which co-create the experimentation required to refine the optimal solution for implementation.

Optimal “Future WorkPlaces” require experimentation and an ongoing shift in mindset of how “flexagility” supports optimal individual and collective performance.

We urge you to use this great ‘reset’ to explore your own unique and optimal “Future WorkPlace” to unleash the critical blend of individual and collective performance which will steer your business through Phase 3 of “hyper-disruption”.




Three Cheers for Gillette in Confronting Unacceptable Macho Sexism

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Gillette’s latest video advertising campaign for its men’s razors with the title: “We believe: The best men can be …” has evoked howls of outrage in some quarters for being a demonisation of the male gender as intrinsically bad and incapable of refraining from intolerable behaviour. It is suggested that the video is simply an all-out and totally unjustified attack on masculinity and a negation of positive male attributes such as self-reliance, assertiveness and stoicism.

The video depicts instances of unrestrained toxic male aggressiveness and offensive behaviour and effectively calls upon responsible men to reject this type of behaviour openly and unequivocally. They cannot excuse or condone it or as the narrator says: “men can no longer hide from bullying or sexual harassment.”

Release of the video prompted a huge amount of online interest with most people taking a strong view either in support or against. A number voiced strident opposition to either the fact that Gillette had chosen to wade into the swirling #MeToo debate at all and others opined that the tenor of the video was implacably hostile to the male gender as a whole. Some well-known personalities such as broadcaster Piers Morgan and actor James Woods were incensed to the point where they said they would stop using Gillette products.

The Gillete advert generated the further criticism that the manufacturer was guilty of taking an opportunistic ride on the wave of anger flowing out of the #MeToo movement and this was a cynical attempt to stir a public debate.

In our view, Gillette is to be commended for taking the undoubtedly risky step of linking its product with a stated position on a highly controversial but undeniably important issue which needs to be confronted by both genders. Most marketing and advertising campaigns have up until now, studiously avoided contentious social issues . In so doing they have presented hopelessly idealised and artificial images of genders and the way they behave. When they have touched on issues pertaining to gender, race age and sexual orientation this has often been accidental and occasioned by importing unconscious biases into advertising material which has offended one group or another.

But there are good reasons for manufacturers to show that they are alive to the issues that are of concern to their customers and the community. As a spokesperson for P & G,  the owner of Gillette stated;

Successful brands today have to be relevant and engage consumers in topics that matter to them. “

The frenzied response from some conservative men’s groups to the advert is inexplicable and in many ways, disturbing. Gillette does not condemn men as a gender but rather points out that bullying and sexual harassment, which most reasonable people agree are obnoxious, can and ought to be combatted. This is not a crusade for women alone but should be an enterprise in which men would want to join. Only a high level of insecurity and immaturity could prompt any man to rebel when called upon to acknowledge and speak up against socially- subversive behaviour.

As George Monbiot writing in The Guardian noted:

The notion that men should be distant, domineering and self-seeking is often described as toxic masculinity, but this serves only to alienate those who might need most help. Its proponents describe their behavioural ideal as traditional masculinity, but conceptions of maleness, like conceptions of the family have changed from century to century.

Moreover, two documents recently released, one being the American Psychological Association, Guidelines for the Treatment of Men and an Australian Study by the Queensland University of Technology into notions of masculinity have shown very convincingly that conceptions of masculinity which emphasise dominance and aggression are as harmful to men as they are to women. It leads not only to violence against women but violence against men and according to the Australian study leads men ‘….to consider suicide, drink excessively, take risks and drive dangerously.’

If nothing else, the Gillette advert has given impetus to a public debate which is important and pressing. It will give many men pause and grounds to reflect. If its message is taken to heart it will help to reduce the corrosive atmosphere which prevails in some Australian workplaces and public institutions. If it does that it will have achieved something valuable.

Facing up to Australia’s illusion of classlessness

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Test Australia has traditionally perceived itself to be a country of egalitarianism – the land where everyone has a “fair go” at least insofar as socioeconomic status is concerned. If this were literally true there would be little difficulty for anyone to move (up or down) into a different socio-economic bracket, regardless of where one was born, and regardless of the socio-economic status of one’s parents.

However, in reality, public and private sector institutions do not really reflect the diversity of the Australian society at large as regards gender, ethnicity or socio-economic backgrounds. Of these, the issue of class (encompassing social origin and economic mobility) is the one which has been largely neglected or ignored by the diversity and inclusion strategies of private sector businesses. Accordingly, class distinctions and their impact are the focus of this article.

We examine the following propositions:

  • Class distinctions are indelibly etched into Australian society
  • Movement from lower to higher socio-economic status is difficult and beset by obstacles
  • Private sector organisations have not been motivated to elevate class distinctions and the need to propel social mobility as priority components of diversity and inclusion strategies
  • A whole swathe of Australians are unable to make their full contribution to the economy and society at large, because of social immobility


Classes and their Boundaries

Recent studies and emerging data show that class make-up in Australia is more complex and nuanced than is sometimes believed. There is compelling evidence that Australian society is segmented by class and that Australians know it only too well. However, an appreciation that classes exist within a society is very different from being able to say exactly how belonging to a specific class impacts one’s prospects economically and socially. The all-important question is, how easy or difficult is it in a given society to move from one class to another?


The Economics of Class Difference

The most common measure of income inequality across the globe is the Gini- coefficient which varies between zero and one. If every household had the same income the Gini would be zero (perfect equality). If one household had all the income the Gini would be 1 (complete inequality). In 2014, Australia had a Gini co-efficient of 0.337 in an OECD ranking of income inequality. The UK was worse than Australia at 0.356 and USA even worse at 0.394. Of 37 OECD countries, 22 had better Gini co-efficient scores than Australia and only 14 worse.

Australia is not directly comparable with every country that has a lower Gini co-efficient – because some of those countries are less wealthy or have different social systems. Nevertheless, Australia’s unfavourable position in the table highlights that economic (and by extension class) disparities are a harsh reality for many Australians.


Wealth Divisions

Apart from income differentials in Australia, the growth in household wealth has been a factor which increasingly separates classes as asset values, particularly property prices, have risen over the past two decades, shifting a greater proportion of the country’s wealth into the hands of the already affluent.

In 2016 the lowest quintile (20%) of Australia’s population owned under 1% (0.9) of the country’s private wealth while the top quintile owned 62% of the private wealth (ABS). This, of course, together with income disparities, widens the gap between different classes.

A third way of measuring equality in a society is by examining equality of opportunity. If affluence is mainly passed on from parents to their children in a society then intergenerational mobility is low.

The most common metric of economic mobility is the IGE (intergenerational elasticity). Again, the scale runs from 0 to 1. The closer to zero the score is, the greater the mobility.

A large-scale study in September 2017 (IZA Institute of Labor Economics) fixed the IGE for Australia at 0.409 – which means that economic mobility is not that easy in this country – or to put it in the words of the author of the study: “a substantial proportion of economic advantage is passed from parents to children in Australia”.


Class segmentation in Australia

Current views have made it clear that the orthodox division of classes into upper, middle and working is outdated and the notion that one’s class is determined solely by one’s wealth and the type of job one does is too simplistic to be a useful indication of class categorisation.

The French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, in 1984 developed a new approach to class. He suggested that class was determined by access to different types of ‘capital’. He identified these as economic, social and cultural capital.

  • Economic Capital is a person’s accumulated wealth in property and savings.
  • Social Capital represents the resources available through durable connections and institutionalised relationships which can be leveraged and which confer a benefit to those that have them, but a disadvantage to those who lack them.
  • Cultural Capital comes in three forms: Institutionalised cultured capital: qualifications and credentials; objectified cultural capital: pictures, books instruments and machines that reflect not only wealth but the ability to appreciate those goods and profit from them; embodied cultural capital: tastes, lifestyles, skills and habits.

From 2011 to 2013 an extensive survey of over 161,000 respondents was conducted in the UK by BBC Science to identify existing classes in that society, based on the Bourdieu formulation. The survey identified seven separate classes in the UK. At the top is the elite, distinguished through its wealth and the other social and cultural accoutrements. At the bottom the ‘precariat or ‘precarious proletariat’ – the poorest, most deprived class. Between these are five middle and working classes. Unsurprisingly, British society was found to be characterised by distinct and fairly insulated classes.

In 2015, two researchers from ANU conducted a similar survey in Australia, though on a much smaller scale. Their conclusion was that the elite class was not to be found in Australia. They identify six separate classes which they label as:

  • Precariat: have the lowest mean household income and lowest savings and poorest educational attainment
  • Ageing workers: older, includes many pensioners, occupational prestige higher than precariat
  • New workers: are in the younger age group and are employed full time; are financially better off and have better social and cultural capital than ageing workers
  • Established middle class: have lower full-time employment rates than new workers but tend to have more accumulated wealth
  • Emerging affluent class: come from middle class families but have above average educational qualifications so their income, assets and social capital are higher
  • Established affluent class: have highest level of occupational prestige; have high levels of income, a significant asset base and wide and influential networks.

Twenty four per cent of the Australian populace are in the precariat or established affluent – but the 76% in the middle is, in fact, widely spread in terms of income and status. Any suggestion that Australia is close to a “classless” society is clearly misplaced.

Changes to the job market as a result of rapid technological developments will create even more obstacles for the less well-off who lack the skills and connections of their compatriots. Young people whose parents have a higher level of education are 26% more likely to see themselves as expert or creative users of technology compared to those coming from families with lower education. The increasing use of artificial intelligence and outsourced gig work is likely to impact most heavily on low socio-economic groups.


The impact of Class on job prospects

The upper echelons of Australian companies, universities, corporations and public institutions are noteworthy for their uniformity and homogeneity at the leadership and management levels. Firstly, there is a high degree of ethnic, gender and social origin uniformity. Of the 2490 most senior posts in Australia, 75.9 per cent are occupied by those of Anglo-Celtic background and 19 per cent have a European background. Of the ASX 200 group of chief executives,72.5 per cent have an Anglo-Celtic background and 23.5 per cent a European background (AHRC 2018):74% of ASX board members are male; two thirds of chief executives in the ASX 100 companies went to private schools the reverse statistic of what applies to the population as a whole (AFR, 2014).’

All people possess a multitude of personal attributes. Some of these may operate to provide either advantage or disadvantage. This is the well- known phenomenon of “intersectionality”. At the lower end of the economic spectrum there is often a noticeable convergence of attributes pertaining to gender, ethnicity, disability, national and social origin and class, which might result in discrimination. For the economically-disadvantaged these interlacing attributes act as multi-dimensional hurdles which stand in the way of socio-economic upliftment.

There is a good deal of anecdotal evidence to indicate that when applying for a job in Australia, one’s accent, area of residence, school, university, social activities and network can play a positive or negative role depending on the biases of those conducting the interviews.

One of the most sought-after characteristics which companies look for in job candidates is whether they are likely to be a “cultural fit”.

Too often, however those assessing candidates are marking out characteristics which make him or her “just like us “. This “affinity bias” can impact recruitment and hiring both on the demand and supply sides of the potential employee pipeline. A survey conducted on behalf of three top- tier law firms in 2017 showed that of the candidate pool of 1650, 13 per cent came from the top 1 per cent of Australian schools and a further 52 per cent came from schools amongst the top 10 per cent in the country.


Social mobility through the Workplace

In the UK the need to incorporate social and economic mobility as integral features of diversity and inclusion programs is not new. According to the Social Mobility Foundation by 2018 around 1 in 5 of the UK’s major firms are setting targets for social mobility.

The Social Mobility Foundation is a government-supported organisation which has established the Social Mobility Index which establishes a numerical ranking of UK employers based on the actions they are taking to give work opportunities and progressing talent from all backgrounds .Being voted onto the annually published index of the 50 best companies for social mobility is a highly prized honour and has led to organisations remodelling their diversity and inclusion strategies to incorporate a focus on this dimension.


Diversity Programs and Social Mobility

It may well be that class lines differ between the UK and Australia and that therefore methodologies in the one are not appropriate for the other. However, each faces the same problems of increasing wealth disparities and declining opportunities for social mobility. It is therefore instructive that the UK has decided to tackle systematically the issue of limited access by disadvantaged socio-economic groups in the best-paying sectors of the economy.

Workplace diversity and inclusion strategies in Australia have focused on changing the employee profile primarily with reference to attributes such as race, ethnicity, gender and disability. Class, and socio-economic mobility are sometimes mentioned as items in a list of attributes which qualify or may be relevant in constituting a diverse employee base. However, there do not appear to have been any attempts by either the public or private sectors in Australia either to articulate social mobility as a diversity goal or to consider whether class and social mobility should be priority elements in a diversity and inclusion strategy.

While lower class socio-economic status frequently intersects with other personal attributes, this does not mean that diversity initiatives aimed at gender or ethnicity will automatically uplift those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Quite the reverse is true. Being stuck in a disadvantaged socio-economic stratum means that one will not get the benefit of initiatives to progress women and diverse ethnicities because their reach often extends only as far as a few upper economic layers.

Case Studies from the UK

Grant Thornton – Linking the recruitment process to in-role performance In 2013, Grant Thornton removed all academic entry requirements for all of their entry level talent programmes; graduate, school leaver, placements, internships and work experience. They do not stipulate any minimum grade requirements and instead use a ‘balanced screening scorecard’ that looks holistically across a wide range of achievements (personal, professional and academic) and assesses candidates based on their overall potential and connection with the firm’s values.

In addition to this change, the firm also: – Invested heavily in coaching for students who had no access to skills training; created an online community called ‘I’ve Applied’ to provide a forum for candidates to interact with each other and their recruiters; and – applied aptitude testing so as not discriminate on the basis of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background.

The result: 20% of the firm’s annual intake is now people that would previously have been screened out

KPMG – collecting and publishing detailed socio-economic dataKPMG was the first business in the UK to publish detailed workforce data outlining the socio-economic make-up of the firm. The firm published comprehensive data, which measured employees’ parental occupation and education and the type of school employees attended. KPMG also shared graduate and school leaver socio-economic data from the past three years, demonstrating the efforts made by the firm to ensure a more diverse talent pipeline.The result: Through capturing this data, the firm has been able to monitor the impact of the work they have undertaken to boost social mobility. For example, their data shows that year-on-year they have recruited more school leavers from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2014, 12% of school leaver recruits were eligible for free school meals, and this rose to 18% in 2016.


There is mounting evidence that Australia’s class distinctions are, if anything, solidifying and that moving from a lower to a higher socio-economic group is not becoming any easier.

Governments have a role to play in addressing this problem at a macro level. However, business, the professions and other organisations can play their part in facilitating social mobility by seeking employees from every stratum of Australian society. If this is to remain the land of the “fair go” then businesses must step up to the plate and ensure that every Australian can maximise his or her opportunities and develop their talents to the utmost.



As there is a dearth of information available in the public domain on social mobility in D & I strategies in Australia, can you spend a few moments and share with Symmetra what your organisation is doing on this front so we can report back on the information gathered in the next Quarterly:

  • We articulate social mobility as a specific goal in our diversity and inclusion strategy-YES/NO —YESNO
  • If YES, the following are the explicit efforts we make in our organisation to advance social mobility….
  • If No, these are the ways that social mobility would be indirectly addressed via our organisation’s D & I strategy