WorkHuman 2018: A Recap

Apr 8, 2018

I'm still processing so much from this year's Workhuman event.

For those that may not know, WorkHuman is a conference currently in its fourth year of existence. It's sponsored by Globoforce, a company which focuses on helping firms deliver social reward and recognition initiatives through its software services. The aim of the conference is to promote human-centered workplaces. They do this through a number of ways, from insightful presentations to subject matter experts discussing the latest research in happiness, engagement, and other relevant subjects. 

They also invite people such as myself to serve as "Influencers." What that means is that I get paid to amplify the conference's message. I will clarify that they don't pay me to lie or misrepresent to my audience how I may feel about their product or conference. So my opinions on Globoforce and/or the WorkHuman conference are mine alone, and may not represent theirs or anyone else's. 

It's a role I've enjoyed ever since I've attended the first event. I genuinely believe in the conference's theme and mission. Every year the team at Globoforce put together a great event, and this year's, held in Austin, Texas was no different. 

After this past several days of conferencing I feel so full--of information, inspiration, and love

The information part's obvious. There were so many informative sessions and speakers throughout. I also have my notes to review and reflect on. And I can't wait to receive the presentations in a few weeks, hopefully.   

Inspiration was in abundance at this year's event. I was impressed that the WorkHuman team, when putting together the #metoo panel, had the wherewithal to have Tarana Burke there. 

"I center marginalized people. Always. And not at the expense of white people." ~ Tarana Burke 

As the originator of the #metoo movement, I felt that her presence was a signal that showed that WorkHuman understood the particular dynamics of this topic and addressed it appropriately. It would have been for too easy, for example, to have an all white panel discussing an issue that disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities. 

For all that the #metoo panel was about a deadly serious topic, the message was full of hope. Because of this, I decided to not do any social media during the panel. Although my role at the conference was to amplify its message through various social media channels, I thought it best to listen, without distractions, to what was being said. It was also important to me to have time to reflect on how this movement impacts me, both professionally and personally. How have I been a barrier to creating non-toxic environments? Have I spoken up enough? What can I do better? 

Overall, I was inspired by how brave the conference was, along with its participants. This was the first HR conference where the phrase, "toxic masculinity" and "patriarchy" was uttered by a presenter at any conference I had ever been to. I imagine that it may have made some people in the audience uncomfortable. But it's these uncomfortable conversations, conducted in an appropriate setting and context, that can help people find solutions to the enormous issues we all must face.  

"If your relationships are broken, then so are you. Even if you can run a marathon." ~ John Ryan, Global CEO of Healthy Place to Work 

Participants also discussed that, while profit and earnings were important, it needed to be in service to promoting healthy relationships with one's peers, business partners, and community. Or as Thursday's keynote speaker Simon Sinek put it, for organizations to succeed over the long-term it needs to have "a cause so just, that not only people believe they’re part of something bigger than themselves, that they would be willing to sacrifice in order to advance that cause.” 

A just cause, along with courageous leadership, trusting and vulnerable teams, a worthy adversary, and a flexible playbook, allows an organization to continue forward, regardless of gains or losses in the short-term. Without these five components, firms won't have the stamina or resources to continue the "infinite game," as Simon Sinek called it. Eventually, they'll drop out of the game, either by going bankrupt or being absorbed by another organization. 

In the context of the infinite game, I will admit to being concerned about the future of WorkHuman. I am concerned about how, as it's grown, it loses something intimate between the various participants in the event. It was something that I heard from several attendees this year. I also felt it in the form of frustration around breakout sessions consistently were filled to capacity, with no alternative way for attendees to gain access to the forums. Was this because they overestimated how large the crowds would be? If so, there are solutions to this. For example, I've been to other conferences where they have "overflow sections." These are spaces where additional space is set aside, usually with video monitors, for participants to be able to still view the event.

I also believe event organizers can do better work in supporting those with disabilities, from ensuring conference rooms are accessible, to having captions or interpreters available for presentations, to having more disabled speakers. I'm not an expert in this area, but a Google search on conference accessibility brings up a number of resources that appear useful. And I'm sure there are plenty of amazing disabled presenters that may be available.

In the beginning of this post I talked about feeling full of information and inspiration. Now love? I saw and felt a lot of that at the event. 

There were so many people that I ran into that I hadn't seen in a while. I also got to connect with folks in person for the first time. Sitting with random HR folks at lunch or at sessions, and having (mostly) non-work related conversations. 

There were folks that shared their own #metoo stories with me. And I shared my hopes and fears for my kids--POC, autistic, beautiful--that keep me up at night. 

We also talked about upcoming weddings, new job opportunities, and dozens of other things. We deepened our connections to each other. We honored each other's humanity. I tried to take selfies, and failed.

Now I'm home with my partner and kids. I have great memories, more connections, tons of photos (some of which you see here), and a heightened desire to be better--as a professional, a father and partner, and human being. 

Thank you WorkHuman for pulling off another successful event. It is my hope that, as it continues, that the conference will continue to focus on the humans at its center--from attendees, to customers, to its own staff--so that it remains a vital and needed forum.

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