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Getting Work Done with Eoin Byrne

George Grombacher May 4, 2023

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Getting Work Done with Eoin Byrne

LifeBlood: We talked about the difference between going to work and getting work done, the shift from the Great Resignation to return to work, how to ensure good communication during uncertain times, and how to think wisely about important decisions, with Eoin Byrne, Chief People Officer of Poppulo.    

Listen to learn why a four-day week once a month could be the right return-to-work strategy for your organization!

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Eoin Byrne

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Hey, what’s up? This is Georgie and the time is right welcome today’s guest strong, powerful. Oh and burn. Oh, when are you ready to do this? I am. Thanks for having me, George. All right, let’s go. What is the chief people officer with populo leading technology communications and workplace experience, software company helping companies to reimagine the purpose of the office. When excited to have you on tell us a little about your personal life’s more about your work, why you do what you do.

Eoin Byrne 0:32
Yeah, thank you, George. You might hear first of all, from my accent, that I am not native to the shores Irish. I yeah, I grew up in Ireland. My career has taken me to the United Kingdom to Germany, I worked with a very well known global German retailer called Lidl, my Mani years, started operations, and pivoted into more administrative functions and then eventually landed in human resources. So I guess before coming to the United States, a highlight for me was working in our global headquarters in Germany where I was globally responsible for employee engagement. And I set up the Diversity Equity and Inclusion belonging function over there. And it’s a huge organization, I mean, 520,000 people with that company, I ended up coming to Washington, DC, where the the US headquarters is based to set up the HR function and watched a headcount of 800 turn into 10,000. Before I decided, hey, it’s been 15 years. I gotta, I gotta, I gotta move, I gotta get out of my comfort zone. And a great opportunity came a popular one I had always been interested in, you know, even my undergraduate degree was in communications that I saw a huge interest in communication, engagement, and connection. So I live here in DC with my husband, no kids, no, no dogs, lots of travel, great lifestyle, pretty healthy. And, yeah, that’s me.

george grombacher 2:10
I appreciate that. So comfort zones, like, that’s probably probably an appropriate place for us to kind of get started, we were talking about the great resignation, which was a unique thing that seems to be over and obviously COVID. And now what’s returned to work, and maybe the term is employee empowerment, that may be coming to a close.

Eoin Byrne 2:32
Yes, it’s an interesting thing. If you think back over the last few years, what happened? Like it was wonderful and challenging as the chief HR officer of a retailer of a food retailer, and that was in a SAS technology company, to see employees really take a huge amount of influence and take a huge amount of control back and really vote with their feet and say, you know, what, I’m gonna make decisions about my employment based on my lifestyle, and based on what suits me, and I’m gonna do that, because the market is reflecting an opportunity for me to do that. And I’m going to work from home or wherever I want, I’m going to travel, I’m going to go to the beach. And yeah, that was both challenging. But also, you know, for me, personally, I was I was super intrigued to see how that would impact and super intrigued to see how that will, you know, show or how that might show up in different ways. When you think about productivity, when you think about, you know, connection. And really, if you were to ask me, you know, what is your area that you’re super interested in, or what is your single driver, and that is to create connection. And a lot of people I feel I’ve suffered a little bit when it comes to connection. And when it comes to like, you know, think about it. If you’re in Phoenix, Arizona, you’re working for a company here in Washington, DC and you you onboard your first day is we send you your device and you onboard online and try it yourself, you don’t have that opportunity to really make a buddy at the coffee machine. You don’t have the opportunity to get off your chair and go, Hey, I really don’t understand this part. Can you help me and show me? So there was there was, it was a really interesting time. But there was a lot of challenges as a result of that and a lot of a lot of things that I couldn’t view as completely positive. So now you see, almost universally organizations were recruiting, recruiting, recruiting recruiting to keep ahead of the attrition, which was just wild and then all of a sudden, literally, day tonight. It stopped. There was no more attrition knows of significance, especially very out today in technology, and the pivot was really towards reductions in force. Big reorganizations. And a huge push for people to come back to the office which, George, if he asked me, I haven’t seen so many great examples of how that should be done to great effect, because it’s not a great example to say, come in three days, I don’t care. Just Just be there three days. But there’s no meaning to that there isn’t There’s nothing. There’s nothing substantial behind that. So yeah, super interesting few few years.

george grombacher 5:23
Come in three days, it is. I’m always trying to search for wisdom. And I’m fascinated by by the term fiduciary and being responsible, you as Chief People Officer for an organization, I imagine are obviously responsible for the entity for the company, you’re responsible, should there be shareholders, and then you’re responsible to the people that that that you’re serving, so trying to make good decisions and find mutually beneficial solutions that drive all parties forward? That’s no small feat.

Eoin Byrne 6:03
That’s That’s true. And when it comes to then how do you do that? How do you solve for the requirement that I mean, I talk about connection, there is a requirement to be in person there is, but is to solve by just blindly saying come in three days, I don’t care which days like I mean, for me, that’s almost all so what we’re working at right now, me and my colleagues is about a policy that brings people in one day, well, sorry, one week in a month, right. And that week, is a real activity, the office is full of activities, enablement, sessions, you know, in person lunch, and learns, workshops. And it’s four days, every month that you need to be in the office. But there’s purpose or it’s just not just for random days, or three random days, if it’s three random days, I’m gonna go in and I’m probably maybe not going to see the people I need to see that I need support honored, that I need to learn with or rather need to solve with. Whereas this idea of which I like a lot more, as you know, let’s let’s not boil the ocean, let’s say four days, in a month, in a week, that really have purpose, the people have a sense of connection to the office to their colleagues that there’s atmosphere. And so I can come back and share with you how successful were on that. But I just haven’t seen so many great examples out there of balancing people’s you know, desire to work remotely and companies requirements for people to be in office spaces and and also also employees desire for connection.

george grombacher 7:47
This is the first time I’ve heard of a model like that. And it sounds really great. It really is. My initial response is that makes a ton of sense. How has it been received?

Speaker 2 8:00
We’re we it’s not in effect, yet. We are in our rollout phase, I have to say, we had recently myself on the CEO David Levin, we were in Cork Ireland for we’ve got a wonderful team of people. I don’t know if you know, cork, it’s a city in a southern most significant city in Ireland. And we had a part of our engagement involves co different ELC members, having open forums where we just talk, we call them pop voice sessions, they’ll pop as our moniker pop as our branding for our internal Council pop voice. So within that you’ve got like your, your survey, and then these listening sessions. We discussed it there for about 15 minutes. And I have to say there was unanimous feedback around the table that yes, that works. Because at least I know there will be people there, when I go in, I know I will get value from it. And I know I will have the support of you know, enablement colleagues, I know my executive will be there because they’ll plan their time around being in that space in that office for for that week. So so far, it’s been received extremely positively.

george grombacher 9:16
And if I appreciate how important community is and and, and connection and feeling like you’re part of it’s not just you and you’re not just sort of wandering around doing your thing, so disconnected from from other folks, and there’s so many different positive things around that. And it certainly does make sense that being in person for those four days, we know everybody’s going to be there and there’s going to be fun activities and impactful things to do and opportunities to collaborate is gonna be there. How do you how do you? I guess fill in the gaps. How do you say she ate? The other folks say we need to have people in the actual office. So how do you sort of bridge those two gaps?

Speaker 2 10:03
Well, I mean, the first point is, this concept will not override the people who do come to our office spaces in Denver, Boston, cork London every day right there that will still be accommodated. In terms of managing the impulse of individual people, leaders, we would, we would regulate that a little bit to say, Hey, you can’t determine that somebody needs to be in the office five days a week like that, we have some policy around that. But here’s the most important piece, it’s the most important resolve is deploy. Whenever you’re trying to bring people with you better, that’s people, leaders, or a workforce. And I heard somebody at a conference, actually the conference I was at, in Arizona, that I mentioned before we got off. Somebody made this phrase, it says somebody said this phrase, George, and it struck me and it was that the future is, you don’t go to the office, to do your work, you go to the office to get stuff done. And it just struck me because you know, you don’t need to go, I don’t need to go to the office to sit in a room on a screen in isolation. Right? Right, I need to go to the office to solve topics to find the colleague that I’m not connecting with, as well as I need to write to to get the training on something that I’m just I feel like I’m not as good at that as as I should be, or to build my resume. I, personally am an extrovert, I’m a really social person, I’m going to go to the office to build my network, I’m going to go to the office to get stuff done, I’m not going to go to the office to do my work. And that’s a very important part of the pie. And that’s an A very important underpinning, part of the concept, we’re building a popular

george grombacher 12:00
work versus getting things done. I think that that’s great,

Speaker 2 12:04
right? Because there’s a lot of work that you do that you got, you’re gonna go to the office, you’re gonna sit in your laptop.

george grombacher 12:12
There’s certain, I’m sure there’s certain kinds of industries that do require that people be there for longer or more, right. But I think that certainly doesn’t make sense. And obviously, for an organization to do this, it needs to start at the top and the owner, CEO leadership needs to buy into that. Do you see that? Are people open to the conversation? Does it really just depend?

Speaker 2 12:43
I think at this point in time, people are open to the conversation, and people are, I feel missing the connection piece. And I feel like a lot of especially the colleagues who are on boarded during the pandemic, a lot of those people haven’t met any of their colleagues, you know, and, you know, so that’s that that’s, that’s, that’s an important piece. And then of course, there’s a, there’s a challenge as well, in terms of moving forward in this space, because we opened up our recruitment, most companies in the United States open up their recruitment to a national recruitment basis. Sorry, national recruitment. From a geo perspective, right. And pulling that back is really difficult. But if you’ve, if you’ve decided, hey, I need more people in my office space, your recruitment strategy has to change because then you have to recruit within a commutable distance of your bases. So that’s what I found to be difficult. And I found to give people leaders that I work with including my executive colleagues that I’m like, hey, you know, watch out, I am not going to be recruiting nationally. And that has consequences of the talents I’m

Unknown Speaker 14:06
going to be putting in front of you. But you know, so you can fix for the future. But there is a sizable

Speaker 2 14:12
amount of people who live forever, right, Florida. We’re not in Florida, or you know, those people that it’s a damn bit of an investment to fly them in and business, travel them, to events and to meetings.

george grombacher 14:28
The pace of change talks about how things really change pretty quickly. And obviously, when COVID happened, we were forced to make changes and then great resignation, and now all of a sudden, things changed again. Is that exciting for you? Is that Matt? Again? It’s a little bit of both. How do you how do you think about big change like that?

Speaker 2 14:54
It’s a great question and I I guess I, my mind goes two ways. So sorry, I’m really not going to give you a great answer. My microphone goes two ways, because change happened, like getting in getting in on a call, or in my preferences in a room with people to solve for, like, how do we protect our workforce and protect our company. And, you know, you know, that kind of crisis management. So I love doing that. But I can say, part of my soul of being a chief people officer, being a chief HR officer, still does suffer from the days of the pandemic, where we were handling a workforce that didn’t have the option to sit home, we were sending them into stores to meet the general public every day that never stopped. And we were dealing with situations where there was mass regulations in different states, different cities, like I mean, in the state of Pennsylvania, regulations changed all the way down to the county to the city. And we have to have the correct information to support our workforce in the Adelphia. We also have to have an up to date, correct information for our colleagues working in Atlanta, and organizing that and solving for that wasn’t fun, it was a real challenge, because you have the responsibility. And you’re seeing the numbers of how many people in your workforce that are getting COVID every day. And you know, at the start of that situation, my previous job we had we had colleagues in hospital, we have colleagues to, you know, unfortunately, we’re pretty ill. And so it wasn’t just a regulatory thing. It was a people thing. And we knew what to do the best of enforcing those regulations, even though they were completely different everywhere. So, you know, like I said that George, my mind goes to places like that kind of problem solving crisis mode, I’m okay with, but the pandemic was next level stuff. And I guess that’s kind of that is in the psyche of people in my position, that, you know, what is next that piece of like, is there? What’s on the horizon? Am I Am I set up correctly? Do I have my crisis comms? And do I have my crisis management, my health and safety function, my internal compass, which in our day, is that oh, properly? You know, and I doubt that would be where I would encourage any of the people that are in similar positions to me to really take stock now. And know that you have all of that infrastructure within your organization setup.

george grombacher 17:43
Especially fascinating. We’re going to start to probably see, I don’t know, are there a lot of use cases where people can say, hey, we’ve been super successful, like, for example, your 40 a week that that you’re implementing, you’re going to be implementing? At some point in the future, you’ll be able to point to and say, Hey, this worked awesome, or turns out, not not, not quite. So dealing with that ambiguity. And from an employee standpoint, I, you know, there’s probably some folks that really like being at home and some folks that really like going into the office, and so kind of a hybrid. So it strikes me that we’re going to be going through sort of growing pains for for a little while, but the necessity of having your communication as strong as possible throughout that is probably going to be a big difference maker.

Speaker 2 18:34
Absolutely, absolutely. And whenever you you mentioned the, you know, we use cases or examples of how that works. Well, I definitely think at our organization, we were not so not so heavily impacted but impacted by what happened at Silicon Valley Bank. And because our organization were very well set up from a crisis management point of view, and from a crisis, comms internal comms point of view, we were really able to bring our employees and our customers with us on a journey. The communication was excellent. The reaction from our finance team, from our executive team, to make sure everybody you know, not just to make sure that we made the changes we needed to make to navigate our way but also to communicate around that to calm everybody down. So that when you say use case that just springs to mind, you know, that this this uncertainty that you mentioned that that is absolutely something that I feel organizations need to sell for, but they need to sell for it now before whatever comes next.

george grombacher 19:49
Because something will come next. Oh, and

Speaker 2 19:54
something will come next for sure, George. I just really, really I’m hopeful that It’s not gonna be as consequential as what we’ve seen in the last year’s.

george grombacher 20:04
Amen. Baldwin, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you and tell us who should be engaging with Populum?

Eoin Byrne 20:14
Yeah, thank you, George is our website. And what we do is we provide organizations the opportunity to achieve more in harmony, creating that connection between everybody. So we, we solve for connecting people with great comms different platforms, with digital signage with email newsletter, with feeds to intranet, mobile app, all of these wonderful solutions, not just for employees, but also for customers. You’ll see on our website, some of our current customers are massively impressive. What I’d like to call out is there is an incredible group of people ready to have conversations about the topics we’ve discussed about crisis comms about setting up internal comms infrastructure, who have use cases who have massive amounts of creative examples of how things come together, and really, really in depth knowledge of these things. So not only if it comes to nothing, and then we don’t become partners, fine. But I would say encourage, have that call, check out the website. And yeah, thanks for the opportunity. Excellent.

george grombacher 21:30
Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, showing your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to That’s P O P P And check out all the great resources, educate yourself on the different use cases and make sure that your communications infrastructure is where it needs to be to handle whatever it is that comes next big or small. Oh, and thanks again.

Eoin Byrne 21:57
Thank you, George.

george grombacher 21:58
And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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