Bias is the primary reason why, despite the diversity goals, the same type of candidate is still selected, leading to the same type of team composition and the same team thinking. Bias leads employees from underrepresented groups to feel disengaged and not being “really seen”. Bias leads to even the most personally committed leaders of diversity unwittingly and unintentionally excluding some members of the organization while including others.

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Is your birthday celebrated at work? If you’re close to your colleagues, you may be surprised with a card and gifts. Or, depending on your workplace culture, you may enjoy a birthday lunch where colleagues take their break to spend time with you. However, not all of us are so lucky. We get that not everyone likes to be made a fuss of on their birthday. But if you want to cultivate a strong culture and celebrate your team, here’s our guide on how to start great birthday traditions in the workplace.

1. Do your workplace birthday research

First of all, make sure to ask all employees their birthday preferences. Would they like their birthday acknowledged or celebrated, or not? People should be able to opt in or out. Just be sure to look for opportunities to celebrate those that opt out in other ways later on (e.g. give them praise after showing good work).

2. Be organised

Noone likes a last-minute run-around the office with the team birthday card. Besides, who can ever think of the right thing to write to someone on a card when put on the spot? Be sure to record all birthdays in one central place so no one (that wants to be celebrated) gets missed. Start a birthday thread in Slack (or whichever project management platform you use). Or go with a tried and true planner or notebook to record the dates so they’ll never be lost. (What do you know… we’ve got a few stationery recommendations up our sleeve here).

Too often the birthday calendar and celebrations get palmed off to the receptionist. But celebrating your team should be regarded as an important priority by leaders and management. If you want extra buy-in from team members, invite them to be ‘culture leaders’ and look for opportunities to get others onboard.

3. Use the workplace birthday to express gratitude

A company we know celebrates birthdays by gathering its team of a dozen staff members around a platter of treats. Then, they share their positive thoughts about the person whose birthday it is. While this idea might seem daunting, it’s great for boosting morale through expressing gratitude for others.

It can even be worked around the personalities and closeness of your team. For example, you can ask everybody to say one word that describes the birthday person (think ‘funny’, ‘creative’ or ‘hard-working’). Or, for more bonded teams, you can open it up to their favourite memories of working with that person (like a birthday card message on display!). If you’re going to try this method, it’s important to do it with sincerity. And remember – keep it positive!

4. Don’t hold back on workplace birthday decorations

What you’ll need: streamers, confetti and balloons. Enough of each to “over-decorate” the desk space of the office person (this looks best when you don’t spread the decorations outside of their personal work area). To do this, you’ll need the element of surprise, so stay back to decorate the evening before their birthday or do it early the morning of.

5. Think outside the box, boundaries and borders

If your team is working remote and is unable to celebrate together in person, don’t despair! Call everyone together for a birthday-themed trivia party online. There are plenty of apps that allow you to do this. Just have some trivia about the birthday person handy when you create the quiz.

Now this idea might be a HR-nightmare for some companies, but giving employees their birthday off work never disappoints! If this simply isn’t possible, do some advance planning to alleviate deadlines and stress for the birthday person on their day. Ask for volunteers to step in and assist them with their work projects. Free up space to allow the birthday person to take a long lunch break and/or leave early for the day.

Our favourite brand birthday campaigns 

We’ve seen a lot of well-known businesses take their creativity and love of birthdays to a larger scale and build marketing campaigns for their company and customers to enjoy. Here are some of our favourites to inspire you to think big.

  1. For Facebook’s 10th birthday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted about his plans for the company’s next decade, and personalised Look Back videos launched for Facebook users. Ahh, the memories.
  2. Remember the rolls of LifeSavers sweets? They celebrated their 100th birthday back in 2012 with giving codes on specially marked packs. Customers were encouraged to enter the codes to donate to a select nonprofit. Giving and fun!
  3. Imagine being an employee of Marmite and being given a limited edition gold jar for the company’s birthday! These jars were exclusive to employees until Marmite released Marmite Gold (with real, edible gold flecks) to the public on their 110th birthday some years later.

Whether you eagerly await your birthday each year or you’d rather let it slip by without a word, we hope this article has given you some ideas on how to think big, celebrate others and keep building that strong workplace culture. And if your birthday is right around the corner – Happy Birthday! We hope you have a fantastic day.


During your career as a manager, you may encounter sensitive situations with colleagues and employees. Often these problems don’t resolve themselves on their own and employees may be upset, confused and the list of potential situations you may face is endless.

When difficult situations arise it often falls to the manager to have the hard conversation with their direct report. No one told me this when I became a manager and I have had to teach myself this skill, apply knowledge gleaned from others, and consolidate what I have learnt on the job. It’s my hope that with this post I’ll leave you with tips you can use the next time you find yourself in a “what the heck do I do with this?” type of dilemma.

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As companies look to reduce their office footprints, what does the future of working from home look like?

We started the year with a resurgence of posts on LinkedIn about research findings that highlighted the benefits of individual offices over open-plan workspaces. Skipping forward to August, the language has shifted to some describing offices as a relic of the past.

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by surprise. The upheaval of our normal lives has meant that much of the business world has had to adapt at a blistering pace too.

The trend towards flexibility and remote working has continued to grow over the past 15 years with Europe and the US previously leading the way, but in the face of a global pandemic for those who were able to pivot to a virtual workforce, the if/how/when debate quickly evaporated in the face of ‘now’.

It’s clear that this trend is bad for commercial landlords, but there are many positive indicators that working from home can have a number of positive outcomes for employers and employees.

So how can companies, and employees, thrive in this new world of virtual work?

Are people productive working from home?

One of the traditional critiques of virtual work is that employees are slacking off, the alternate being that the ‘busy-ness’ visible in an office equals productiveness.

This pessimism could not be further from the truth, a finding which is not only good news for businesses but for employees too. The research overwhelmingly tells us that people are more productive working from home. In a recent study of 5,000 workers across five countries, workers felt less stressed and got more done than they could in an office environment.

Setting aside the recent experiences of those juggling homeschooling whilst also working from home, workers, in particular, reported increased levels of productivity resulting from no commute, with many also feeling happier because of the additional time they were able to spend with their families or on leisure pursuits.

I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of the OpenLearning office and my daughter’s school, but the shift to all team members working from home has resulted in productivity benefits such as: team members being more refreshed from not having to commute, a more conscious approach to meeting schedules and agendas to avoid teleconference fatigue, and efficiencies for the team members who pre COVID-19 were often out of the office at face-to-face meetings which required factoring in travel time.

Whilst being able to track and measure productivity within businesses is important, combined with culture and organisational theory grounding, the jury is in; when employees are given agency, freedom, and are empowered to do their best work, both their productivity and engagement soars. The change in location as to where that work occurs is secondary to the trust and support bestowed.

Virtual leadership & company culture

When we work from home, it’s true that we can lack the camaraderie of our peers and the presence of our leaders. For some, this is a relief, but in general, the question is whether it is a conducive working arrangement for building a strong and cohesive company culture?

It’s a known fact that when a leader is absent for extended periods, their team suffers, and so does company culture. Considering the full gamut of ‘readiness’ that businesses were in for their staff to move to a work from home model, it’s fair to say that virtual leadership and fostering the company culture requires some adaptations if the increased productivity is to be maintained in the medium to long-term.

For OpenLearning, our approach to leadership during COVID-19 is much akin to our approach to learning – one size does not (and should not) fit all. As such, different techniques have been tried and amended as needed for each team – from daily stand-ups for our Learning Services team who are working on a range of projects at the moment, more regular 1:1’s for our Partnerships team who are generally more social personalities, through to virtual ‘drop-in/coffee’ sessions with the CEO each Wednesday afternoon.

At a whole organisation level, structured monthly town halls have continued as usual, and cross team collaboration has been sustained via a range of tools and processes. Digging deeper though, sharing of common experiences with the team about what our ‘working from home’ reality is, insights into what is working for them, and being more conscientious about the frequency of communication flow or tweaks (or pivots) in strategy are important considerations in maintaining human connections, trust, and loyalty.

Working from home or living at work?

I’m aware of a number of organisations that have asked their employees for input on what a ‘return to office’ world would look like. In general, their findings have been that many would prefer working from home 2-3 days per week. So, if we know that productivity is up and many are up for it to continue longer-term, what’s the downside?

With increased flexibility and the fact that most businesses had to pivot quickly in order to continue operating, the challenge is for companies to help employees in establishing healthy boundaries and techniques for separating work from home in order to avoid burnout.

With recent news that Google and Facebook have updated their communication to employees that they will be able to choose to continue working from home until mid-2021, leaders will need to play an increasingly important role in ensuring that the team knows that being ‘always on’ isn’t a good thing, sick leave isn’t only reserved for when you are too sick to commute to a commercial office, and that taking annual leave shouldn’t just be saved for a date in the future for when travel is an option.

Embrace the new normal

A recent observation is that virtual meetings no longer open with the discussion about how many weeks it’s been since each organisation moved to a work from home policy, symbolising the ‘new normal’ taking effect.

With the trend towards remotely based teams longer-term and slimmed down office spaces accelerated by the pandemic, by embracing increased productivity and promoting greater flexibility, companies can build an even stronger culture than before.

Whilst we may not be catching up in a physical office kitchen or breakout space anytime soon, thankfully with the help of collaboration and connectivity tools available today, many companies are engaging in a genuine dialogue with their employees about what the ‘new normal’ should be.

About the author of ‘How can we thrive working from home?’
Cherie Diaz is the Managing Director of Australian operations at OpenLearning Limited (ASX:OLL). Cherie has over 15 years’ experience within education, including roles as the Head of Education Delivery at the Australian Institute of Company Directors And Director of Customer Success at Scentia, where she led the operational teams of four colleges. Cherie is the recipient of multiple individual and business awards for service excellence by the Customer Service Institute of Australia.



Change is the six-letter word that makes most of us cringe.

Ask anyone how they feel about change, and most people will tell you it’s not their favourite thing to experience in life. That’s because change can be incredibly difficult and more than a little stressful—especially when change occurs in the workplace.

Below are four strategies you can implement before, during and after the next change episode in your workplace to ensure your team stays positive, optimistic, and both mentally and emotionally resilient.

 

Inclusion

It’s amazing how many companies and organisations roll out new changes without ever informing their employees beforehand.

This can lead to confusion, anger, and distrust among employees. People don’t like unexpected losses, and they certainly don’t like to feel as if they’ve lost control.

Wherever it’s possible, it’s absolutely vital for leaders to let their employees ‘in’ on the change that’s soon to take place.

An easy way to accomplish this is to invite them into planning meetings so that they feel they have ownership of the change from the start.

 

Security

Sometimes, change can be an extensive process. It can last for weeks, months, or even years.

This is a very fragile time for employees because they’re still learning ‘the ropes’ of the change, as well as what to expect at each and every turn. This can often lead to anxiety in some team members, who may feel as if they’re experiencing a loss of certainty and security.

To combat this, it’s important to provide them with a new sense of safety.

How?

Set easy-to-understand timetables that serve as roadmaps for the change and go over new processes in-depth, answering any and all questions employees may have. This will reinstate their feeling of security and allow them to trust the change on a higher level.

 

Community

As social creatures, we depend on others for support constantly. We want to feel as if we belong.

In too many cases, employee morale has reached an all-time low during change because people no longer feel connected to each other.

As a leader, you can ensure this doesn’t happen by regularly investing in team building activities for your staff.

When you build a solid foundation through such activities, you ensure that your employees can thrive and build healthy workplace relationships with one another—a great tool to lean on during change.

 

Development

In the wake of a change, some employees may feel left behind because of new tasks that are mismatched with their current skillset.

When people don’t feel they have the skills to perform a job well, it can lead to stress, anxiety, and frustration, which eventually results in low morale and poor performance.

Fortunately, this is easily remedied.

Keep your employees sharp and on top of their game by continuously providing training, education, mentorship and support during and after times of transition.

When you invest in your employees’ skillset and talents, you not only make your team stronger but you also equip an individual with the confidence to perform a job well and the dedication to contribute their best work to the team moving forward.

 

When you employ the four strategies above, you’ll create a work environment that feels not just positive but cohesive as well.

The more people feel as if they’ve been heard, guided, supported, and developed, the more they’ll feel capable of facing the changes that your company faces, making for a stronger, more adaptive, and happier team.