For years we have witnessed a growing trend as organizations created spaces that helped to pull people together and maximize their collective productivity. Open offices with a wide variety of spaces – collaboration zones, high-tech meeting rooms, cafes and lounges that create “a more relaxed and energetic environment that contrasts with the conventional approaches organizations favored in the past,” as Steelcase describes.
Collaboration is critical to an organization’s success, and the workplace must support these modern ways of working, so this is not a bad thing. But we’ve also recognized that by focusing on open spaces and hyper-collaboration, individual needs are sometimes overlooked. Different people work in different ways, and therefore need to be able to choose the environments where they can thrive. This is true all the time, and yet is magnified today as many people feel like they’ve given up a few freedoms to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
WHEN EMPLOYEES HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO WORK FROM HOME, HOW CAN ORGANIZATIONS ENSURE THAT TEAM MEMBERS STAY CONNECTED AND ENGAGED FOR THEIR OWN WELL-BEING, AND FOR THE ORGANIZATION’S?
On the flip side, while some companies are struggling with health-related restrictions that are keeping people at home, others are finding their team members are actually quite productive – happy to have the opportunity to work in their own ways, in their own spaces. So, after enjoying an abundance of work-life balance, what happens to engagement as people start to return to the workplace?
THE ANSWERS LIE WITHIN LEADERSHIP.
In a previous blog post we suggested that engagement relies on feelings of trust, comfort, autonomy and choice – qualities that are intentionally nurtured by organizations’ leaders and implemented through clear and consistent practices. This has never been more critical.
Leaders at all levels – CEOs, department leaders, and team leaders all need to keep people connected and engaged no matter where they sit. While so many are working remotely, technology and virtual collaboration tools make it relatively easy to host daily team touch-bases, conversations with colleagues and clients, even virtual office happy hours. And while being physically disconnected might heighten feelings of isolation and uncertainty, virtual connections from personal (read: comfortable) spaces can also contribute to creating a safe zone where people feel more at ease talking about their challenges and fears, and welcoming input and assistance. Two-way communication is one of the factors contributing to high levels of engagement, according to Gallup. It demonstrates that leaders care enough to connect – to share accurate information and to receive honest feedback. And these connections help leaders shift their role from boss to coach and strengthen relationships, keeping people motivated to work together toward their common goals.
BALANCE AND CHOICE REMAIN CRITICAL.
While teams are distributed in remote locations, members must be encouraged to stay connected but also to disconnect – to set limits to the ways work and life intersect. Vacations might have been canceled by travel restrictions, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t take time off. Many people are at home with children or with older family members that need care and attention, too, so flexibility is also important as typical 9-5 routines might be difficult to maintain. At every level, this is an opportunity to reprioritize both personally and professionally and to focus on the people, the activities and the things that provide the greatest satisfaction and fulfillment – to cut out the unproductive clutter.
EVEN AT HOME, WORKSPACES MUST SUPPORT THE WORK, AND THE PEOPLE WHO DO IT.
Working from home has created opportunities for many to work in their own ways, but it’s also elevated the need for organizations to provide team members with the tools they need to be effective and productive, and to reinforce the overall company culture and brand that they’ve worked so hard to establish. dancker’s senior EVP and general manager, Kevin Klier, recently wrote in Workplaces Magazine that “working remotely is here to stay” so company leaders need to make sure distributed team members are all kept on the same page.
Standard operating procedures need to be defined, or redefined, to account for new ways of working. The prevalence of virtual meetings, for example, suggests that team members need to be encouraged to turn on their webcams, every time. As Kevin Klier explains, audio-only conference calls make it impossible for participants to read visual cues and facial expressions, and eliminate eye-to-eye contact and the ability to get a read on each other’s intentions. Even with video conferences, there are limitations to the way information can be shared. While both PC- and mobile-based devices offer tools for virtual meetings, users typically have to choose whether to view the faces of the meeting participants, or any documents being shared. But with large-scale collaboration devices remote teams can interact directly with content and enable team members to share a whiteboard or view documents while continuing to see other participants on the call.
For these connections to be strongest, even at home physical space has to be set up to support and enhance the technology. Acoustics, and camera and microphone placements are essential to consider. Furnishings and spaces that encourage movement and a range of postures are also desirable, particularly to keep people energized and engaged during longer video conferences, or while focused on long stretches of individual work. As periods of working from home are lengthened, organizations should consider providing not only the technology but also the furnishings that make it (and the people using it) more effective.
RETURNING TO THE OFFICE WILL REQUIRE REENGAGING PEOPLE.
dancker’s president and CEO, Steve Lang, recently participated in a webinar with Marc Emmer from Optimize. As Steve and Marc discussed, it will take some convincing to help people feel comfortable leaving their homes and coming back to their offices (not to mention all of the public spaces they must traverse in between their homes and offices). Even those who are most eager to get back to the workplace are experiencing elevated emotions about today’s uncertainties. So, with emotions in play, the principles of psychology rooted in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs offer inspiration for the kinds of efforts organizational leaders should focus on. Steve Lang recently wrote that “today’s COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us back down to the base of the pyramid – to people’s needs for health, safety and security.” In their webinar, he and Marc Emmer discussed ways to translate these principles into workplace strategies:
Restore: At the foundation of the pyramid, leaders must prepare teams and facilities to meet new standards and protocols. Once again communication in both words and actions is critical to assure team members that their health and safety is the primary concern.
Return: When people are comfortable that the base has been established, organizations can create spaces that are safe for employees and customers to return to. These will no doubt be spaces that are modified in order to address the new standards, and to address the new ways in which people have grown accustomed to working apart. Balance and choice come into play again here.
Recover: With new standards in place, and people back in shared workspaces where they feel a sense of control, leaders can start to plan for transformational changes – new normals that bring the organization back to the top of the pyramid, where the focus is returned to fulfillment and self-actualization. The base of the pyramid can never be ignored, but when it’s strong, it supports upward movement.
ENGAGEMENT STARTS WITH OPEN COMMUNICATION AND PARTICIPATION.
When emotions and stress are elevated, communicating about short- and long-term plans with honesty and transparency is critical. And to be most effective, employees and clients should be included in the planning process. Leaders should ask for input and feedback. Engaging people along the way helps them feel like their opinions are valid, and their participation is valued. And when people are engaged, they’ll be more motivated to be part of the solutions and the recovery – the long-term success of the organization they’re part of.
Need help preparing your workplace for when employees can return to the office? We’ll help you develop the solutions to ensure your employees stay engaged when they return.