Lewis is the founder of Bentley Lewis. He focuses on assignments in the insurance, banking and healthcare sectors, specialising in board level and senior management searches across all the major corporate functions. Lewis also has extensive experience moving teams, particularly underwriters and insurance brokers.
On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup talks to Lewis from Bentley Lewis about the relationship between remote work and corporate culture.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 23 minutes
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This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting live podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup (00:34):
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Lewis on from Bentley Lewis, and our topic today is the relationship between remote work and corporate culture.
It’s really fascinating topic for me because especially through the pandemic, before the pandemic, and now how we see culture. Because I think before the pandemic, if someone were to ask me unprompted what culture is, I’d have probably said the box, the headquarters, the office and all of that got destroyed immediately on a Tuesday in March of 2020. So Lewis, do us a favor and introduce yourself and Bentley Lewis, and then let’s jump into this wonderful topic.
Lewis Maleh (01:19):
I was going to say corporate culture pre-pandemic was like free snacks and the food on the table.
William Tincup (01:24):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Free lunch. Free lunch, got massages, going to go to the pub. Yeah, all that stuff.
Lewis Maleh (01:29):
Keep people in as much as possible. So yeah, for those who don’t know, I’m Lewis Maleh, I’m the founder and CEO of Bentley Lewis. And we’re a global boutique executive search firm. I’m based in London, and yeah, it’s been an interesting few years and culture’s been such a fascinating one, especially when people are working at home and leaders, and everyone’s forced. It’s just everything’s changed incredibly. And for us, as well, I mean we’ve gone fully remote just all cards on the table. We’re now a fully remote organization, whereas pre-COVID it was like everyone in London, 8:30 to 6:00 and suddenly, it’s changed. So it’s been really interesting.
William Tincup (02:18):
So if you were to define culture today for somebody, especially one of your clients and they’re struggling with culture, et cetera, how do you frame it up for them today? How do you describe for your customers, we can deal with you as well, but when you’re talking to people, how do you frame the discussion?
Lewis Maleh (02:40):
For me, culture’s a vibe, like a feeling you get about a place and it’s the way people treat each other, are people kind to each other? Are they helping each other? That’s really it for me. It’s the way people treat each other, and the relationship people have in a firm.
And I think that, for me, is the crux of it. It’s that vibe and feeling. And I think it also… It changes a lot. If you’re in a large firm, I think your experience and maybe the culture might be governed more closely by your line manager and your team. It could come up, obviously comes from the top as well. But I think in large firms, if you speak to people about their experiences, often it’s variable. So I think there’s that. And that’s it for me. That’s the real crux of it. And people dress up in different ways, but it’s that feeling, and the way people treat each other, they’re the two big things for me.
William Tincup (03:40):
So, how do you get feeling remotely? So I agree with you, it’s the golden rule, you treat people like you want to be treated, to check, got it. And maybe that should have always been culture, right? Maybe that always has been, and we just got distracted with everyone being in the office and the free lunches and all of that stuff, which is great. But maybe we were distracted from what was probably already there, is just treat people how you want to be treated, like done, check, that’s corporate culture.
Maybe there’s some nuances for certain businesses with certain values, et cetera. But I guess the struggle is okay if someone’s remote, I spell it non-knowledge workers remote, right? How do you do that? How do you create feeling over email, or Slack, or Zoom, or whatever the toolset is that you’re using at your company?
Lewis Maleh (04:42):
I think COVID, actually, which is the driver for this remote work has been wonderful because I think pre-COVID culture was used so much in… It was marketing, really. You’re not convinced, a lot of people weren’t really thinking too much about it. It was the free snacks and the [inaudible 00:05:04] table. We joke about it, but that was the thing. You’d see it on job descriptions all the time. Benefits, the free snacks, all of this kind of stuff. And a lot of it was geared to keep people in the office. It was geared to attract folks, but it was just like… Not many went deeper than that, I think. And there were a lot of examples where they might have done, but I think it was a lot of that.
When COVID came suddenly, people are forced to actually start to care about their employees. You had to be more thoughtful about it. You had to check in. People were suddenly in their kitchen, in their bedroom, and suddenly, it became a little bit more personal, and people started to ask. And then all of this loads more content around work-life balance and burnout. And there was a real uptake in all of that stuff. And I think people started to, dare I say it, care more about each other.
And I think that’s what I saw. I mean, from my experience, it was great. We’re fully remote, and it’s probably the best moment I’ve had running my firm in terms of the people and the culture and everyone getting on. And it’s just really nice. And everyone’s been caring and thoughtful to each other. They check in, and then to your point, they use different technologies to do that. Whether it’s video, a little quick like, “Hey, mate. How are you doing?” Or, “I saw on the video, I could see… Are you feeling okay?” And I’ve seen loads more of that.
And from the thousands of conversations I have on the frontline of recruiting, if there is a frontline of recruiting, it’s that. And I think for me, the proof of it was in this great resignation that people were talking about. But I think that was a great resignation from bad companies with bad cultures where people didn’t treat their employees very well. A lot of firms cut really deep, really early in COVID. They didn’t treat their folks well. And it was telling, and good companies with good cultures where people really cared about people, I don’t think had that issue.
And so, my favorite question in an interview nowadays when someone’s getting interviewed and they’re like, “What questions should I ask?” It’s like, ask someone how they treated their employees over COVID, or how do they treat their folks. Were they quick to get rid of them and cut them like a lot of these tech firms are doing now? Or did they try and think about how they could keep them, and what can they do?
William Tincup (07:43):
So empathy is something that I’m keying in on, is something I saw as well at the beginning of COVID. Every call you’d start, “How are you doing? How’s your family? Is anybody sick?” First 15 minutes of a call would literally be nothing about business. And that lasted for a long time. I was worried probably late in ’21, early in ’22, are we going to lose that? I haven’t seen as much regression with my own interactions with people in my own company that we still… Their empathy is still pretty heavy.
And I think some of that work-life integration of seeing, again on Zoom calls, seeing cats, and kids, and all of that stuff, I think that there’s not as… Both empathy is dripping all over everything. But also, the work-life integration is we’re getting more and more comfortable with seeing that and not separating the two, which we’ll see how both of them play out over the next couple of years. Will we have more empathy, and will we be okay with just people on Zoom calls in t-shirts and cats running around? Is that okay pre-COVID, I don’t know about your environment. But there are a lot of people here in the States, it would’ve been buttoned up. It would’ve been like kids aren’t coming in the room. There’s carefully curated content. And now, I mean, if COVID thankfully bursts through all that and just said, “Yeah, you have a life, you have kids.” There’s somebody mowing the lawn. Okay, that’s just life like, “Okay.”
Lewis Maleh (09:34):
Yeah. I think it’s funny, two and a half years in now if we just step out of it and look down at where we’re at and you’ll see, I see… Obviously, we’ve got Twitter, Goldman Sachs and stuff, some high-profile firms that are like, “No, no, come in five days a week.” So that’s interesting. And so, the work-from-home or remote work culture, because that is a culture. It says something about you as a firm. If you are happy for people to work remote, you’re giving them your trust off the bat and then measuring their output or is it about time in the office? Firms are still landing, I think, on what works best for them. And I think I’ve arrived at the fact that there’s no one-size-fits-all on remote work. And some firms want people in, some people want to come in, some people want to work at home.
And I think just on top of all of that, if you are able to choose or doing a job which enables you to work from home, then be really thankful. Because there’s a lot of folks that have to go in and drive a taxi, or go in and work in a hospital then, and stuff like that. So I think be thankful for your ability to work at home if you can. And then I think more people have started to care more. There’s always been this thing of… I don’t know, it’s an unsaid rule, but well, the rule was like, don’t speak about religion, politics, things like that in the workplace. And when people are always a bit guarded, some people will open up, some people won’t. They like to keep their professional and personal life separate, and they were forced to open up over COVID, which I think is a really nice thing because you can make friends with people you work with.
William Tincup (11:33):
Yeah. So with the return to office, because we’re talking about remote, but we’re also talking about hybrid, so many people using different models of three days in the office, every other Tuesday, whatever. It’s pretty much different everywhere you go. And then you’ve got some people on the end of the spectrum of return to office, everyone’s going to be in the office period, hard stop. How do you think all of that, I mean hybrid, in particular, remote being a spoke of hybrid, but how do you feel like that’s going to suss out as it relates to culture, especially from a recruiting perspective?
Lewis Maleh (12:13):
Yeah, well, so just quickly on hybrid, there’s a joke in the City of London, they’re called the twats. And so the twats go in on a Tuesday, Wednesday, and a Thursday. And the motherfuckers stay at home on a Monday, and a Friday. So that’s-
William Tincup (12:33):
That works. That translates really, really well here. And you know what? Irony of irony is, I was talking to a guy at some of this company here in the States and they do Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays. And what he was saying is he enjoys it. He didn’t enjoy the commute, but he enjoys knowing that people are going to be there and it’s going to be… Everyone can count on. It’s not chaos. Mondays and Fridays, people are going to work, but they’re going to work in their ways that they need to, whatever. And no one’s going to protest over a longer weekend too.
Lewis Maleh (13:11):
Yeah. I mean, he wants to come in Monday and Friday. But that’s how it’s panning out a bit. Hybrid’s an interesting one because it’s not a perfect scenario if you’re at home and your team’s in, or if you’re not even in the same country, your team’s in, it’s difficult to get things right, I think. You need to really work hard to make sure people are feeling included, I think.
If it’s hybrid in the same city, so like a lot of firms in London, let’s say some of the banks and insurance companies, I speak to the CEOs, and they’re saying they’ve arrived at a three day a week and they’re trying to organize for their teams to come in on the same day and they call it an anchor day. So their team has an anchor day or two a week, so they’ve got to come in then. So they get to meet each other, and work together, and sit together, and stuff like that. And that’s how it’s panning out.
I think there’s a whole host of people that wouldn’t say this online because they’d probably get canceled, but there’s loads of folks that want it. They want people in five days a week, Elon Musk style. So it’s not cool to say, but there are a lot of people that do want that, and they feel that people are more productive in the office and they’re still in that mindset of, “I want to see folks.” And maybe they dress up as the water cooler moments and more creativity, et cetera, et cetera. I mean, I’m not on that side of the argument personally, but there’s an awful lot of folks that are. And so, you are seeing some firms that they want people in four or five days, like Twitter, they’re asking for people to come in.
William Tincup (15:00):
I found it fascinating because I’ve seen the argument, I’ve heard more of the argument of soft skills that you come to the office so that you can learn soft skills. I can’t even say it with a straight face, but I have heard this argument from CEOs that this is the bit. We’re going to work on soft skills because you can’t get soft skills over Zoom. That’s the argument. Again, I don’t believe a word of that.
Lewis Maleh (15:36):
I don’t. Look, I love face-to-face, don’t get me wrong. I get so much energy from meeting people, and I flew my team over to London last week. We met in person for the first time, some folks meeting each other, but it felt great. Then we use Google Meet and we’ve built some great friendships and working relationships over video. The in-person thing added to it, so I think it was great. It was really, really great to do.
So I think both is definitely important. But on the recruiting side, which if you ask me, I think there was… I’m going to get the numbers slightly wrong, but LinkedIn did their big conference a couple of weeks ago, I think-
William Tincup (16:18):
Yeah. Talent Connect.
Lewis Maleh (16:20):
… and one… Yeah, that’s it, Talent Connect. And I think one of the stats I heard from there was there’s an awful lot, more than 50%, I can’t remember exact numbers, of people searching for jobs on LinkedIn are looking for remote or hybrid jobs. So if you’re looking to attract talent and keep your talent, still people are wanting flexibility or maybe just to be treated like adults rather than people in the kindergarten.
William Tincup (16:52):
So with culture being redefined, one of the things I’m wondering, want to get your take on is generations and stylistically, we talked about Elon Musk and he’s really easy to pick on for a lot of reasons, but I wonder if some of this is either gender-based or generational. Are they trying to bring back a culture in the way that they saw it in 2019? And this is just very, very myopic like, “Okay, this is how culture was. We had this little blip in the map called the pandemic, now let’s get back to culture.” Or they don’t believe for whatever reason, they don’t believe that they can get to the productivity by not seeing people. What’s the struggle with redefining culture?
Lewis Maleh (17:50):
I spoke to a lot of leaders over COVID that really struggled with managing a remote team. They hadn’t done it before. I know this varies from firm to firm, and some people were managing global teams way before the Pandemic, but the whole host of folks didn’t, and it’s difficult. These people hadn’t done it before. They were struggling at home and I think a lot of people aren’t convinced that it’s the best way forward and they were more effective doing it before having people in. And I don’t know, it gives them comfort. I don’t know, they’re at their desk and they must be working and it’s just, I don’t know, maybe easier for them, but there’s no game back only forward.
And the productivity thing… I mean, there’s so much stuff out there saying that pupil are more productive at home. I don’t know. I mean, some people are, some people don’t. I think the biggest thing for me is there is no one-size-fits-all. I had a great friend of mine join our firm, and we’ve got no office, we’re global. And he said after six months, he said, “Lewis, I really need an office. I want to…” He just wanted to make friends and go for a beer and see them every day and go in five days. And I was like, “Mate, absolutely. No worries.” So there is no one-size-fits-all. And there are a lot of people that want the office life and a lot of younger folks… Hey, people meet their partners and go-
William Tincup (19:31):
Lewis Maleh (19:31):
… girlfriends and-
William Tincup (19:33):
This is the old and social network, right? You’d go to work, you’d meet everybody’s friends, you’d go out to the pub, go to a ballgame, whatever the bit was. And this was your kind of a new set of peers and friends and hard to do that over Zoom or harder, but they still do it.
Lewis Maleh (19:53):
My friend is in Canada, and I’ve got someone in New York and I’m in London, and I’ve got someone in Mumbai, all over the place and I was like, “I’d love to have a beer with you tonight.” It’s a six-hour flight. So a lot of people, they want an office. And I spoke to a girl the other days in London, and we were just talking about recruiting and stuff and she wants an office and if she was to move jobs, she’s in recruiting. She’s like, “I’d want to join a firm with an office so I could go in.”
So I’m mindful of the fact that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go into an office and having an office. So I think there’s that, it’s interesting. People aren’t always more productive at home and some people do want to go into an office and they want to have a beer with someone, and they’ll get energy from it and maybe they’ll be more happy doing that than working at home.
William Tincup (20:48):
Brother, this has been absolutely wonderful. Love talking to you. So we will pick our next topic and we’ll just keep rolling. I love talking with you. Thank you so much for your time today.
Lewis Maleh (20:59):
Pleasure. I’ll get you on mine next time.
William Tincup (21:01):
Lewis Maleh (21:01):
It’s been great fun.
William Tincup (21:02):
Thanks again, Lewis.
Lewis Maleh (21:03):
I [inaudible 00:21:03] if you want a football.
William Tincup (21:05):
Have a wonderful day, and thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast, until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.
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