“We’ve conflated culture with perks for so long” – interview with Yessi Bello Perez


As long as the Government’s Covid-19 exit roadmap continues to unfold as planned, we could all soon start inching back into the office in a more permanent way. But will we? Should we? Jhanvi Gudka spoke to Yessi Bello Perez, a journalist covering the future of work as editor at UNLEASH, about the HR lessons companies are learning from the pandemic.

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Offices are slowly beginning to reopen, but the big question on everyone’s lips is whether five days a week in the office will ever be the norm again. What are your thoughts?

I don’t foresee people being back in the office full-time — at least not by choice. I think work will become much more flexible and people-centric. Now employers have the daunting task of figuring out what “normal” looks like for people within their organisation — on an individual and team level.


Tech startup culture can often bring to mind beer, pizza, and beanbags. How is this changing, and what are the younger generation looking for in the workplace?

Employees are more empowered than ever before. Basing this on the conversations we’re having with HR practitioners — and employees themselves — people are looking beyond the traditional “perks”, and focusing on meaningful benefits. For example, a lot of organisations are looking at providing bespoke healthcare packages or unlimited paid time off, and some businesses, such as Spotify, are offering employees the opportunity to work from anywhere. We’ve conflated culture with perks for so long and in fact, the beer, the pizzas, and the beanbags are nothing but a mere distraction. People now want to fit work around their lives and not the other way around. They want their work to be meaningful; they want a sense of purpose and belonging.


How do you create an inclusive, values-led culture in the new hybrid working environment?

This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges HR teams everywhere will have to contend with. I think data will play a pivotal role in guiding these principles — and being able to hire from anywhere should inevitably widen the talent pool. However, in order to be successful, employers will need to think about what data they already have, how they can gain new insights, how they can measure them, and what success actually looks like.


From the companies you have spoken to, what have been the biggest learnings from a HR perspective over the pandemic?

I think there’s a newfound level of trust within organisations. Employers have realised that employees can be trusted to be productive outside of the office. I also think a lot of HR leaders realised working from home was a lot easier to implement than previously thought — but it’s clear that the tech stack HR departments went into the crisis with simply didn’t cut it. There’s now an urgent need to find technologies that integrate with each other and create a seamless user experience for employees, and to really make people the focus of the business.

The pandemic has woken many people up to the fact that HR is a crucial function within a business, and that its remit goes well beyond hiring and firing. As a result of the pandemic, HR is now a crucial business partner. It’s increasingly liaising with the C-suite, and it’s now tasked with everything from attracting talent through to change transformation, productivity, etc. The list goes on.


What are the top three things businesses should be thinking about right now to best support their people?

1. Investing in workplace technology that works for employees.

2. Ensuring remote workers don’t become second-class citizens.

3. Creating inclusive and safe office environments to welcome people back if and when it’s safe to do so.


Yessi can be found writing on the future of work at UNLEASH. Follow her on Twitter at @yessibelloperez.