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[PODCAST] Being brave and taking leaps of faith more often

Data Stories: Leaders at Work is a weekly podcast brought to you by Audiense. Hosted by Rahul Jerome, founder of, the series captures personal anecdotes and career highlights from some of the most talented and brightest minds in the research and insights industry.

On the fifteenth episode of the Data Stories: Leaders at Work podcast, we sit down with Toby Kheng, Account Director at Media Zoo. Passionate about digital communities, Toby is dedicated to ensuring that his clients have a place in the future of work and that they are ready to adapt to any change. Toby’s career started in media, but he eventually moved into the corporate world after learning that he had a passion for understanding what the future of work is going to look like.

Toby starts us off by talking about how he always wanted to be a radio DJ, which is why he pursued a degree in media production at the University of Lincoln. Ironically, he wrote his dissertation on podcasting media—all the way back in 2006, before podcasting became as popular as it is today.

At the same time, he pursued a career in cookery because he had always been passionate about cooking and it felt it would be a good opportunity to attain the lifestyle he wanted. He was thankful for the time he spent in the hospitality industry, but he left the scene after a few years since it didn’t afford him the social life he really wanted, with your nights and weekends being pretty much completely eaten up working in a kitchen. Toby credits this time for developing in him a desire to work in the community with others.

When your vision of the future comes true

Back when Toby was writing about podcasts, they were essentially just pared-down versions of the radio. His hypothesis at the time was that podcasts would eventually take the place of radio for their ease of use and their ability to generate increasingly specific content. I think Toby’s vision of the future has come true. Another central feature of the podcasting boom is that it allows for more user-generated content, which Toby also assumed would happen.

While working at Dixons, Toby met a huge range of people while attending training workshops up and down the country. The idea of crafting and understanding something for an audience, he says, sparked something in him. He realized he wanted to work in digital transformation with a primary influence on training up staff. He was able to develop a role like this at O2 (Telefonica UK). He says that it was so insightful to work with these kinds of people.

Crafting a meaningful experience for every employee

Primarily, he was looking at employee learning. But what’s really clear to him now is that the entire employee experience is “too nuanced to be split up into all these different buckets.” The same way a marketing department looks at user or customer experience, the HR functions of the future need to focus on employee experience, and to do this “in a silo,” Toby says, is not the right way to do it. By the time he got to Freeformers, he’d found people who were similarly passionate about what the future of work is going to look like. And this is ultimately how he came to know that his place was in understanding and designing employee experience.

It’s more than just learning, then, Toby says. This kind of work is about shifting mindsets and behaviors through a campaign of content and emotive filmmaking to affect real change in the employee experience.

The collaborative tools (like Slack and Microsoft Teams) of this age have ultimately kept businesses alive, and will likely be what collaborative work will be like in the future. Toby also speaks to a specific recruiter at Dixons, Christine Knox, who gave him an opportunity based on his attitude and personality instead of his skill. He believes that most of the functional skills can be learned and that it’s more important to have the right people with the right outlook on your teams. Ticking the box doesn’t always solve the problem. Like I say, you build a happier workplace by attracting the right people.

The future growth of esports suggests that it’s going to be a hell of a career move going forward, but it still is misunderstood. There are so many digital ways to make a living these days, and the world needs to figure out how to accommodate that intergenerational marketplace before it gets here. “Learning may not always be the answer—but the goal is to always understand employees more than we do now. The point is to craft a meaningful experience for every employee.” Toby will be fulfilled if he can affect that change across a large swath of digital workers going forward. His advice to the young business-minded is to always be curious and willing to experiment to solve problems. “Don’t go to the usual places to find the answers to problems, because they may not be there.”

The full version of the podcast with Toby Kheng can be listened here: