The Everywhere Workplace

The Everywhere Workplace – Prioritizing Employee Experience

Working remotely is something that many of us have experienced during the pandemic. If you look at your social media feeds, you will notice multiple surveys asking people what types of work arrangements they prefer. COVID-19 has changed the way we view work and the workplace. Now with so many people working remotely, we’re taking a closer look at the benefits and the challenges of The Everywhere Workplace.

Our Guest: Melissa Puls

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Melissa Puls, Senior Vice President, and CMO at Ivanti. She brings decades of experience with a strong track record of fueling growth through customer-centric approaches and integrated marketing strategies.  

Ivanti’s Everywhere Workplace survey reveals insights into the remote workforce. The Report was written using Ivanti expertise, independent third-party research, and global future of work experts to showcase the workplace evolution and how the pandemic has shaped the way organizations need to think about their workforce.

More than half of employees surveyed report working more hours outside of the office since going remote. Despite working more, they’re actually happier. Melissa states:

“The data says that only 13% of employees would like to permanently get back to an office. This was from the report we did around the Everywhere Workplace. We did just a survey with our own employees and found 1% of Ivanti’s employees say they want to go back to the office full time and 71% of employees would choose to work from anywhere over being promoted.”

The Power of Choice

Flexible work arrangements offer numerous benefits to both employers and employees including boosted productivity, improved morale, and competitive talent acquisition and retention strategies. Melissa:

“Employees are in control of their work environment, which I think is a really positive thing for us, as a community globally. The option of flexibility in the workforce has become an influential factor when employees are making a decision whether to stay with a company or not.”

 Melissa also states:

“The remote work has improved employees’ sentiments and increased productivity, but there were some concerns. We heard that 51% said the lack of interaction with their colleagues and in-person connections was a concern. Additionally, 28% said they’re not able to collaborate and communicate as effectively.”

The Future of Work

What will the Future of Work look like? This is a question we ask ourselves all the time. It’s hard to predict based on the massive amounts of change that have happened just in the last 24 months. Melissa confirms:

“I think companies have to change their fundamental mindset and methodology on talent. That includes not only the flexibility of the environment that they work in but also the technologies that we use to enable employee experience. Having technology that supports and secures all the environments an employee wants to work in will no longer be a differentiating factor, but the norm.”

I hope you found this recent episode of #WorkTrends informative and inspiring. To learn more about The Future of Work and the 2022 Everywhere Workplace Survey, download the report.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

Coaching Young Talent Through Remote Work Challenges

We all know that hiring young talent can bring a lot of positives to any organization. Younger workers are digital natives, they tend to have a great deal of energy, and their perspectives frequently provide a thoughtful counterpoint to “the way we’ve always done things.”

However, the cliche of younger workers being perfectly OK with staying glued to a screen all day long is unhelpful. This stereotype can unconsciously lull HR professionals into neglecting to address the downsides of too much time spent online. And this problem has become increasingly prominent in our new all-remote or hybrid workforce setting. After all, how are we supposed to interact with remote workers if they’re not connected to a screen of some sort?

The long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health will doubtless fill research papers for decades to come. We know for sure that the pandemic was particularly difficult to handle for college students who had only begun to move out into the world. Many were sent off-campus, often back to their childhood homes. Countless international students were suddenly sent back to their country of origin. The net effect was a deep sense of disorientation.

Pandemic restrictions are lifting worldwide. HR professionals need to remain sensitive to the more pronounced feelings of fear, isolation, and confusion that young talent are bringing to the workforce. When hiring recent grads for remote positions, the burden rests solidly with employers to ensure these younger workers do not get lost in the shuffle.

The Ups and Downs

The benefits of remote work scarcely need to be enumerated. During the pandemic, many of us found it beneficial to stay at home. The environment was relaxing, both physically and mentally. Stress levels went down. Knocking out projects while wearing sweats served as a calming influence.

However, remote work has some downsides. The single biggest loss, of course, is that of community and real-life relationships.

Offices are and perhaps always will be where professional types meet, greet, and bond. Good things happen when colleagues bump into each other in the hallways and breakroom. Things that don’t happen on a video conference call.

WFH status can leave young talent with a nagging “last to know” sensation.

This sense of isolation can be especially pronounced for workers attached to companies where most colleagues are working in-office. As a result, remote workers are often left off essential communications. Unfortunately, though unintentional, this is an all-too-common reality. Every remote employee has at least one story of logging into a video conference only to learn it was canceled, but nobody bothered to tell them.

Long-Term Effects of Remote Work on Young Talent

HR professionals must recognize that those who choose to work remotely may be at a significant disadvantage. For example, a remote worker might push themself to the breaking point to meet an important deadline, but would anyone notice? This is a serious downside that could carry with it implications for future raises, promotions, and perceived value.

The other obvious issue for remote young talent is the lack of easy access to more seasoned employees. Remote work lessen’s any ability to lean over to ask a quick question. When the remote worker isn’t well connected, simple questions may go unasked. As a result, coworkers can categorize employees as “a face on my laptop.” 

Turning the Tables

Like every other challenge, the key to young talent overcoming the downsides of remote work is to adopt simple counter-strategies and stick with them. Here are two to consider.

1. Push your remote workers and yourself outside comfort zones

Not everyone is an extrovert. Research from The Myers-Briggs Company reveals that nearly six out of every ten people prefer introversion to extroversion. Despite this, introverts owe it to themselves to adopt an “I’m getting out of my comfort zone” attitude when working remotely. Accept that everyone will need to push through initial reluctance. 

Katelyn Watson is the chief marketing officer at Nurx, a remote-first company that provides consumers with healthcare options delivered virtually. To ensure that no one gets “lost in the mix” at Nurx, Watson pays attention to everyone’s contributions during meetings and gatherings.

“As a leader of a global, 100% remote workforce, I want everyone to feel comfortable joining into discussions,” Watson explains. “ I empower team members to speak their thoughts when collaborating and always invite them for feedback, even when there is an awkward silence. No one should feel they have to be quiet or can’t veer from popular opinion. I stress that the more ideas we gather, the stronger our marketing will be. At Nurx, all marketing team members get an equal platform regardless of title or tenure.”

2. Embrace mentorship on both sides of the videoconference screen

Mentorship is a great way for HR professionals and remote workers to sharpen their relationship skills. Having one trustworthy person to talk to when a question arises can smooth out the bumps we invariably experience whenever we try something new. In many office settings, remote or hybrid work is new, so both parties should expect to not manage it well at first.

Do mentorships make that much of an impact? Serenity Gibbons, unit lead for the NAACP in Northern California, says they do. “A good mentor can help you achieve more in less time,” she notes. “ Plus, your mentor can serve as your cheerleader and maybe even advocate. For example, when a job is about to open, your mentor may recommend you or smooth the way for a different interoffice transition.”

Set up regular mentorship meetings. Have an agenda for each meeting to stay on track. Your agenda might include talking through some concerns you’re having. Or reviewing how you’ve applied your mentor’s suggestions since your last conversation. In time, you’ll have forged a solid bond with your mentor, even if you’ve never met face to face.

The Great Resignation

The Great Resignation – When Employees Woke Up

2021 turned out to be a year that introduced many new terms into the common vocabulary. One of the most popular terms – The Great Resignation.

  • Pandemic
  • Hybrid Work
  • Non-Fungible Token – and many more 

For the human resource professional, none turned out to be as life-changing as “The Great Resignation”, at least, on the professional front. 

Sure, for HR teams, the pandemic caused a lot of strife. Re-engineering of processes that support the hire to retire Lifecycle of employees, was the need of the hour. Supporting colleagues as the threatening environment led to mental health issues, was equally, if not more, important. Amidst all of this, however, what ended up taking precedence was hiring. Fueled by the aforementioned wave of resignations that corporates witnessed. But, why did The Great Resignation happen? 

Let’s try and understand this by recounting the sequence of events that occurred starting in early 2021.

The Great Resignation – Why?

When the pandemic initially started digging in deeply across the world leading to lockdowns (or curfews or variations, thereof), the expectation was that hiring would stall. That companies facing a business impact would control operational costs by laying off or redeploying their staff. Unsure about the way the economy would play out, most organizations tended to err on the side of caution. Consumers were, after all, expected to become conservative and cautious in their approach.

What happened, however, was quite unexpected. For the most part, consumers changed their behavior while making their purchases. The growing e-commerce world became the gateway to personal happiness in a much bigger way. Unable to visit farmer’s markets and malls, shoppers filled up their e-carts. Clicking away on their screens, keeping the economy going. Restricted from dining at their favorite hangouts, people ordered in, making full use of services like UberEats.

Unexpected Revenue Shifts

Other than in industries like travel and hospitality, executives in most other sectors were pleasantly surprised to see that the dive in revenues and profits was not as sharp as expected. In many cases including technology and healthcare, there was a rise! 

As swiftly as the revenue graphs had sloped downwards, they turned upwards and started reaching new highs! Further waves of the pandemic led to additional learning over the course of the following months. This experiential learning enabled policymakers to change their approach when it came to managing their economies.

At the start of the pandemic, many governments across the world had locked down their entire nations. In more recent times, the preferred approach has been to try and create containment zones whenever there seems to be a fresh outbreak of the virus. This new mechanism of fighting the spread of this disease is extremely beneficial for the world of business. It prevents a complete stop of the production cycle.

So, what has been the benefit of this new reality for our workforce?

The Destruction of Boundaries

For the first time ever in many industries, “human capital” is truly free from the shackles of the physical office space. The past twenty-odd months have shown us that work can continue seamlessly even when carried out remotely. All it needs to keep these running smoothly is an evolution in work practices.

Even in organizations that are in the manufacturing or product space, there are enough roles that can be played off-premises. An additional benefit is the “remote interview”. Candidates can be interviewed virtually (literally and figuratively) at the drop of a hat. No more juggling personal schedules or taking a leave of absence from the current job. Just thirty minutes sculpted out during the day.

The Rise of Digital

A huge reason for the world being able to come out largely unscathed (relative to what was anticipated at the start) is the fact that technology has advanced to a level where the element of distance has been negated. Exploding technologies have been brought into mainstream facilities like video conferencing, showcasing tech-enabled shifts in the way business work is now conducted.

The digital landscape also propelled learning across walls. Aspirational professionals, ranging from fresh graduates to experienced C-suite executives, used this opportunity to pick up new skills and dig deeper into chosen fields of work.

The Availability of Choice

One of the major (positive) side-effects of the pandemic has been the self-awareness that many have gained. This self-realization has encouraged many to decide the operating rules for themselves. From flexibility in terms of work location to flexibility in terms of work hours, workers are looking at customizing the kind of work commitments they make, much like the way they choose to personalize their Subway® sandwich. The talent-hungry corporate world had chosen to play ball – creating work models that suit varied types of individuals. With a shift from ‘pay-for-time’ to ‘pay-for-output’, employees balance their work and personal life, in a more controlled way, putting themselves in the driver’s seat.

Conclusion

In essence, 2021 can be clearly proclaimed to be the year when workers woke up and The Great Resignation started. Truth is that not all may have awakened out of choice. Some amongst us might have been jolted awake by the rude interruption of the dreaded virus, as they found themselves retrenched or having had to leave their work to take care of an ailing family member. But, the end result is the same. It seems, as we get further into 2022, that professionals are indeed awake and about enjoying their days in the sun! What a time to be working!

 

On-Camera Performances

Lights, Cameras, Action: The Tragedy of Meeting Drama

Think like a scientist: Do a test. Record your next video meeting of three or more people. Afterward, transcribe the recording. Then, with a printed copy of the transcript in hand, watch the recording. As you do, add notes to the transcript of who said each line. And—this is essential—note the non-verbal cues you observe. You will then have something very much like a screenplay.

Review that screenplay. See how each person (including you) assumes their roles and acts them out. Observe how people strive to comply with the social rules and rituals of in-person meetings plastered onto virtual work. Detect their attempts to adhere to scripts assigned long ago by those who write the rules:  leaders. Perceive how they strive to appear credible, confident, capable, reliable, trustworthy, engaged. Note how the outcome of their efforts falls short because they are visually boxed into tiny video frames and mostly on mute. You will begin to feel a little sad because what you observe is a tragedy unfolding.

Non-Credible On-Camera Performances

Inarguably, video meetings can be exhausting, as demonstrated by a Stanford labs study. Cognitive overload, eye fatigue, and lack of physical mobility erode workers’ energies. The good news: Employers can address these ubiquitous strains through adjustments in technology and scheduling. 

However, there is a far more challenging issue for Human Resources professionals. How do you ensure that organizational norms for virtual meetings promote employees’ abilities to perform credibly, confidently, capably, and reliably? Participants in my 2021 study poignantly raised this issue. They expressed how, despite tremendous investments of personal energy, their on-camera performances fail to meet expectations.

Consider this example:

“As an executive and salesperson, I am often ‘On Stage’ presenting some idea or explaining a product. That takes more energy via Zoom because the audience is not as engaged or interactive. In person, there is more give-and-take, even from a large audience. With Zoom, the interactions decrease in logarithmic proportion to the size of the audience. After four or five people get in a Zoom room, it gets really QUIET…. exactly the opposite of an in-person meeting. That silence is hard for me, and I feel I have to make up for it by ‘performing’ or ‘wearing a mask.’” 

Performing in such a way is risky business because people are highly sensitive to others’ facial expressions. Audiences easily perceive inauthentic on-camera performances. In turn, such inauthenticity erodes the psychological safety necessary for high performance virtual and hybrid work.

Uncertainty, Dread, and Drama

As actors on-screen, virtual workers are today’s improvisational actors. Such is congruent with Goffman’s 1959 theory of dramaturgy. Before the pandemic, workers came together in a well-known playscript entitled The Team Meeting. There, they knew how others expected the action would take place. They were familiar with expectations of their roles and the scripts they were to follow to create a pleasing performance. 

Now, they perform amid high uncertainty for far longer hours, in a far greater number of meetings, without the benefit of appropriate norms. As demonstrated in my study, they hunger for interaction with their fellow performers to co-create a compelling on-camera performance. However, their co-actors often feel “dread being on ‘display’ and looking and reacting perfect” and compelled to “act interested and focused the entire time.” Their interaction “doesn’t mimic in-person interactions, in which people look away from time to time.” And “the expectation of focusing on the screen 100 percent, which is not normal in regular human interaction” is untenable.

On-Camera Performances Must Be Heard and Believed

Like professional improv artists, those who perform in video meetings also need audience feedback. Verbal cues and body language indicate the effectiveness of their performance and can encourage them to believe that, yes, you are credible. But those giving on-camera performances in work video meetings don’t get enough feedback indicating that they are heard and believed due to thumbnail images, muted microphones, and some cameras being off altogether. According to my research, at best, they may get, “blink, blink, stare.”

Because they cannot hear listening noises or see heads nodding, they cannot discern whether what they say is received as intended or what the audience is thinking or feeling in response. As a study participant says, “Videos make it hard to read energy, and that is frustrating for me. I also feel drained because I can’t read body language or tell who is really engaged.” Uncertainty about their impression on their audience, whether they are giving a successful on-camera performance, presents a challenge to their context-specific identity. Am I credible? Am I valued? Do I belong here

Old Norms, New Culture, and Belonging

On the pre-COVID in-person meeting stage, there were (often) unwritten directions. These included tacit understandings about how to facilitate a meeting, what was permissible to say, when and how to speak up, and when to remain quiet. These directions were formed by what the dominant members of the group believed. Adhering to these prevailing group norms could help people create an impression consistent with their goals. They value me. I told them what they wanted to hear. That impression could help solidify their belonging as a competent social actor in those settings. But when someone in a nondominant subgroup spoke up, those in the dominant group were likely to give overly critical feedback based on stereotyped categorizations. The dominant group thereby thwarted the nondominant contributor’s goal of making an impression as a competent performer.

Now, Covid-19, massive global social unrest, and growing intolerance of racism in the U.S. workplace upend dominant group norms. The roles and scripts for leaders and other attendees in video meetings are less clear. Cultural uncertainty abounds. Workers are less willing to painstakingly comply with social norms to fulfill their role requirements and meet their context’s shifting political and social expectations. They now choose whether to sustain or challenge power relations.

As they make these choices, norms continue to evolve. How are leaders and other attendees to perform their roles together, collectively? Workers’ sense of belonging is at stake, as are their energies. As some feel that the power and control status they previously enjoyed in meetings is threatened, they may feel ungrounded. As others with less power (i.e., representatives of nondominant groups) attempt to contribute, they must typically work harder

Belonging and Inclusive Virtual Practices

Virtual workers who contributed to my 2021 research suggested practices human resources staff members and other leaders should adopt. These simple practices help promote greater inclusion and help relieve the unsustainable social-performance anxiety workers across the organizational hierarchy experience. They make video meetings more beneficial for the casts of millions who show up daily to do their best. They, thereby, enable organizations to reap greater rewards from diverse knowledge and talent. Here is what virtual workers say their leaders should do.

1. Invite those who are off camera to speak.

My research shows leaders make many negative assumptions about workers who are off camera: They are hiding, overly multi-tasking, not listening, disengaged. However, off-camera attendees say, “Some people seem to assume that if your camera is not on, you don’t care. It’s actually physically exhausting to stare at the screen meeting after meeting.” They say, “Visuals distract me from meaning/content, so having to look at the camera and people means I’m not getting as much content/meaning, so I turn my camera off.” They are “waiting to be called on.” So, ask them to chime in instead of assuming they are disengaged. I regularly do this and have not once found an attendee unresponsive. Indeed, the contributions they make are well-considered and solution-focused, perhaps because they are spending their energies thinking rather than acting. 

2. Tie the camera-use rule to the meeting purpose.

If camera use is necessary to achieve the intended meeting outcome, say so. If you can achieve the outcome without seeing faces, make on-camera performances optional. That way, those who enjoy seeing faces can see others who wish to display themselves, and those who find videos to be cognitively exhausting can be off camera. For this to work, you must adopt practice number one. Otherwise, you will thwart inclusion: Employees who have cameras on will become the de facto “in” group, and those who are off camera will be the “out” group.

3. Be a good “director.”

When filming, directors famously say “action,” “cut,” and “retake.” But before filming starts, rehearsals happen during which directors give guidance. They convey how the story is to unfold and how the actors must support one another when performing. A good meeting director gives that sort of guidance upfront, in an agenda. A good agenda provides the actors with the storyline:  Who will speak about what, when, and why. Provide an agenda in advance so that your actors can prepare. Include the names of those who will lead each “act” by discussing their topic. Give the estimated time they’ll do that so that they can prepare their lines. Above all, tell everyone the purpose of the meeting in advance, so they’ll know why the meeting and their performance in it matters.

Hyrbid Work Success

Setting Your Team Up for Hybrid Work Success

Today’s employees have strong feelings about hybrid work–positive ones that is. According to Microsoft’s 2021 work trend index, 73% of respondents across over 30,000 people in 31 countries desire more remote work options. 

But managers aren’t so rosy on the subject. Why are today’s leaders having such a hard time adapting? Lack of planning might be the culprit. According to McKinsey, 68% of Oregon organizations have no detailed plan in place for hybrid work.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The point of the hybrid work model is to satisfy employee’s desires for flexibility, manager’s desires for streamlined office management, and everyone’s desire to stay safe. Managers must meet these new challenges head on by crafting a detailed hybrid work plan that reduces their stress while setting their employees up for success.

Our Guest: Reid Hiatt, Tactic

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Reid Hiatt, CEO of Tactic, an innovative hybrid workplace solution bridging the gap between remote and office work. Reid has worked closely with a number of proactive companies ranging from small startups to global enterprises. Therefore, Reid has a unique perspective on how companies can create meaningful and effective workplaces in a hybrid work environment.

When asked how to keep teams productive in a new hybrid model, Ried had this to say:

“The key to making (them) productive is providing transparency into what’s going on at the office,” Reid says. “So that before making that commute…they understand what type of experience they’re going to get when they go there.”

Managing Employee Schedules Effectively in a Hybrid Work Model

For managers, the hybrid work model introduces new challenges, such as handling their employee’s in-office schedules. Reid stresses the importance of creating processes to address these challenges, and says there are new tools to help them do it:

It’s been really interesting over the past several months just to see how much innovation has happened in this area…making hybrid work not just possible, but the best way to work for most companies long term. This is a huge reason why we built Tactic.”

Reid explains that tools like Tactic take the guesswork out of the process. Ultimately, it gives people complete control over their hybrid office space experience. It also empowers companies to set capacity limits at the office and manage collaborative projects.

“I think there’s going to be continued innovation in this area, and it’s going to make the transition even more seamless in connecting people in a remote friendly work environment,” Reid says.

Bringing Employees Back Safely into the Hybrid Workplace

The pandemic is far from over, and as a result, companies are now tasked with balancing their need for occasional in-office collaboration with the burden of keeping their employees safe while doing it.

“Most of the companies that we work with typically will rely on local or federal governments to define what safe looks like,” Reid says. “OSHA is a huge resource for a lot of the companies that we work with in trying to identify how we can get people back into the office safely.”

Reid adds that a company must first understand the local or federal guidelines. Then, they can use any number of tools to outline what safety looks like for their organization.

The Future of the Workplace

Technology has always led the charge in the evolution of the workplace. Reid believes that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg:

“We’re already seeing it now with all of the video conferencing technology that’s continuing to be improved. I think that’s going to evolve very rapidly into virtual reality. I’ve had the opportunity to kind of play around a little bit with some of these virtual workplaces. And it’s honestly—really cool.”

I hope you enjoyed this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by Tactic. To learn more about creating a successful hybrid work environment, contact Reid Hiatt on LinkedIn

Immersive Remote Work

How to Make Virtual Meetings Immersive Without Video

For many of us, virtual meetings have become the lifeblood of remote working communication. COVID-19 has made face-to-face meetings the exception rather than the rule. But the recent surge of digital collaboration tools has made remote teamwork much easier to manage. 

However, the global switch from physical to digital has pushed us into new networking territory– complete with its own footprint of pros and cons. 

Virtual meetings make us more productive and efficient employees. But too much time on a shared screen can also contribute to anxiety, emotional exhaustion, and fatigue. 

In fact, 49% of employees report feeling a high degree of exhaustion after video calls. This state of exhaustion is dubbed “Zoom Fatigue,” and it’s affecting a large percentage of the working population. 

So, how can remote teams continue to collaborate productively without causing a backlog of exhaustion? 

Well, we can start by conducting virtual meetings without video. It might not work for every team, but trying new methods of virtual collaboration is key to finding one that works for yours. 

Video Versus Audio-Based Virtual Meetings

For most people, virtual meetings are somewhat synonymous with a video presence. And there’s a good reason why—video calls are the closest we can get to person-to-person communication. Seeing the faces and expressions of colleagues helps us to understand them better. And this contributes to more effective communication. 

However, at a time where stress and anxiety levels are reaching an all-time peak, shifting how we communicate is essential to resisting burnout. If switching the camera off allows us to feel more at ease, it may be in our best interest to do so.

That being said, both video and audio-based virtual meetings arrive with their own list of pros and cons. 

So, what are they? Let’s look at video first. 

Pros And Cons of Video-Based Virtual Meetings 

Video-based meetings are the standard expectation for digital collaboration in 2022. They enable us to view the expressions and mannerisms of colleagues, promoting trust and empathy. 90% of employees feel they can get their point across more clearly via video, and 35% say it makes them feel more included. 

The caveat with video-based virtual meetings is the toll it takes on mental and emotional health. Being on call throughout the day is exhausting, and it has a negative impact on productivity. 63% of employees say that they now attend more meetings over webcam than they did pre-pandemic. 

Self-identified introverts in particular struggle with this. 2-3 hours of their day is now funneled into forced social interaction. Even for extroverts, the pressure to perform socially can become immensely taxing over time. This, in turn, can contribute to burnout, which is not healthy for personal or professional growth. 

Pros And Cons of Audio-Based Virtual Meetings

In 2021, only a handful of virtual meetings were being conducted on an audio-only basis. This is partially due to the wide availability of high-functioning video collaboration tools. Notably, it’s buffered by the impressive productivity statistics that video boasts. 

However, audio-based virtual meetings could be the (not so) silent hero of remote working communication. Not only are the apps cheaper and more accessible for those without high-quality webcams, but they also liberate workers from the anxiety of social interaction. 

Reduced eye contact, decreased cognitive load, and lack of viewing one’s own face makes audio-based collaboration much easier to process. Cutting down on the visual sensory element can allow us to focus better and preserve more energy for productivity. 

Bearing all that in mind, the reality is that audio-based virtual meetings are less familiar to us than their video alternative. For that reason, knowing how to conduct one in a way that is still immersive and productive can be a challenge. 

How To Conduct Productive and Effective Audio Meetings

Despite the benefits that come with audio meetings, conducting them in an efficient way requires a different set of tactics than their video counterpart. Because there are no visual aids, whoever is conducting the audio meeting needs to put emphasis on vocal communication. 

Being clear, concise, and continuously open about meeting progression is paramount to running a successful audio-based virtual meeting. Here are some more helpful tips:

1. Eliminate distractions. 

Because there will be no visual element for team members to focus on, all other distractions must be eliminated. If you’re trying to conduct an audio meeting in a loud or chaotic environment, extracting information from it will be very difficult for listeners. 

Aim to conduct your meeting from a quiet and undisturbed room, and encourage your team members to do the same. 

2. Have an agenda. 

It can be easy to lose track of where you’re going in a meeting without a proper agenda. Creating a list of key points to focus on will help both you and your listeners concentrate better. Make sure to have a clear objective for the meeting so that others can follow you towards it. 

Adding this type of structure to your audio-based virtual meeting will encourage focus and motivation from beginning to end. 

3. Track and summarize progress. 

If you’re tackling a particularly complex topic, regularly reflecting on what’s said is crucial. It will help attendees to better grasp what you are saying. Breaking down the meeting into distinct sections will encourage comprehension and provide others with an easy way to track the flow of conversation.

You want those partaking in the meeting to maintain a constant grasp of what you are saying, and tracking progress is one way to do that. 

4. Set a time limit (and stick to it). 

Nobody likes a never-ending virtual meeting. In fact, sessions that last longer than the stipulated time frame are considered by many to be the worst quality a meeting can have. Let’s avoid that. 

Holding attendees captive for longer than they bargained for will only cause them to lose interest. Setting a time limit beforehand and sticking to it displays respect for the attendee’s time. Additionally, it makes the whole process less stressful for everyone. 

5. Don’t stray off topic.

While we’re discussing respect for attendee’s time, remember not to waste theirs by talking about unrelated topics. The energetic bandwidth for virtual meetings is strained enough. But rambling on about irrelevant matters will only make it worse. 

When conducting a meeting without video, staying on topic will allow attendees to remain immersed in what you are saying. 

6. Invest in a quality microphone. 

Because your voice will be the sole form of communication, it needs to be heard loud and clear. Think of it like a branded logo. It needs to make an impact and people need to immediately take note of your message. Investing in a good quality microphone will allow others to understand what you are saying without question. Plus, it will help to avoid miscommunications. 

There are plenty of affordable microphones designed for this exact purpose. Owning one will only add value to your future meetings—both audio-based or otherwise. 

7. Allow time for questions.   

It’s always a good idea to leave space towards the end of a virtual meeting for questions. It prevents misunderstandings and provides attendees with the space to voice their queries one at a time. Without a designated time for questions, a meeting can quickly turn chaotic. 

Chaos is the last thing you want for an audio-based virtual meeting. Structure and orderliness are where purely vocal meetings thrive. 

8. Stay professional. 

Casual meetings have their time and place, but professionalism is important when it comes to mandatory group meetings. Chances are the people attending your meeting are already battling fatigue. So, keeping things straightforward is in everyone’s best interest. 

Staying professional, calm, and to the point is the best way to conduct an immersive and engaging audio-based virtual meeting. 

Is Audio Conferencing the Way Forward? 

The answer to this question greatly depends on the nature of your team. Clearly, there are pros and cons to both video and audio-based virtual meetings. The best one for your team is largely dependent on their personal and professional needs. 

For example, the success rates of joint video conferences are much higher for large teams of people. Audio, on the other hand, has proven very effective for small groups. This is due to the fact that audio-only meetings can become chaotic when too many people (and voices) are present. 

Furthermore, audio-based virtual meetings have proven to be less exhaustive for remote employees. And they can contribute to better mental health. Having the option to unplug from video communication helps us feel less anxious and more in control of our workdays. 

Ultimately, it is important to remember that each remote team comprises unique individuals that require different things for productivity. 

Summary

Since 2020, virtual meeting platforms and workplace collaboration tools have received a huge increase in attention. They’ve changed the way we work and the way we communicate in so many ways. Right now, many research projects are being conducted on the nature of their effects on our mental, emotional, social, and motivational health. 

Remote working culture is here to stay. The platforms that sustain it must adapt to meet our personal and professional needs. 

Nobody should have to commit to a culture that depletes their energetic resources—even for the sake of productivity. Burnout is a real threat to the working population of today, and any methods for lightening the load should not be taken lightly.

telecommuting policy

Creating a Successful Telecommuting Policy Post-Pandemic

A survey from Pew Research Center found that the vast majority of remote staffers think working from home is somewhat or very easy. In that study, four out of five respondents said they have no problem fulfilling their job requirements from home, and nearly as many said they feel comfortable with their workspaces. In short, they don’t mind working away from the office—at least part of the time.

Many employers see the advantages of telecommuting, like saving on office space and seeing an increase in worker satisfaction. Despite this awareness, many struggle to put a telecommuting policy into action. According to CNBC, companies with teleworkers are scrambling to build their cultures in this new way of working while figuring out how to keep people engaged when they’re not physically around each other.

One thing is clear: Telework isn’t going anywhere. It has increased by 173 percent since 2005, and it has exploded because of the pandemic. As a result, employers must craft new (or update previous) telecommuting policies.

Designing a Telecommuting Plan

Telecommuting can’t successfully exist without a clearly defined policy in place. This is true whether you’re allowing employees to work from home, work remotely, or embrace a hybrid work model that merges the two.

What’s the difference? Working from home means working from a residence, whereas remote work happens wherever a worker might be—in a car, a coffee shop, or the reception room of a doctor’s office.

Unless you specifically expect employees to only work out of their homes, you’ll want your telecommuting policy to cover all the bases. It should take into account every possible working scenario.

For example, you may have some remote or work-from-home employees who occasionally come into the office. When they do, they’ll need a place to work and maybe even permission to be on-site for the day. Therefore, it’s key to take a holistic approach to your telecommuting policy.

Here are a few other guidelines to follow when crafting your telecommuting plan:

1. Be specific about things you’d take for granted with office workers.

There’s a big difference between managing someone who clocks in at the office five days a week and someone who logs on from somewhere else. You can see the former; you have to trust that the latter is doing what they say they are.

However, you can still effectively oversee your reports by mapping out expectations. Are telecommuters free to make their own schedules? Or do you expect them to be available during specific business hours? Figure out how to monitor this process in a way that doesn’t seem heavy-handed without leaving you short-staffed.

You should also explain the protocol for telecommuting employees to “leave” their desks for extended periods. Should they block off their “unavailable” times on their calendars? Check in with supervisors? Talk with current teleworkers to see what would feel normal for them while eliminating any confusion for the team. Providing detailed and comprehensive expectations will ensure everyone knows how to operate under the hybrid work model.

2. Ensure employees have the proper equipment.

Never assume that your telecommuters have the necessary equipment at home. Talk to them about what technology they have and what they still need. Some organizations allow employees to buy devices or furnishings; other companies purchase the same setup for everyone who will be working from home or remotely.

You can’t expect employees to use their personal laptops or printers for work assignments, either. This would put your company’s data at risk. Talk with your IT manager about the safest ways to enable telecommuting while still protecting your company information. Relay any liability information to telecommuters to make sure they understand their responsibilities in being smart stewards of company information.

3. Construct a communication plan.

Employees working outside the office can find themselves out of the loop, which can lead to bad feelings, miscommunication, and customer problems. Your role is to foster transparency across your organization—regardless of where your workers might be.

One method of communicating with everyone is through a centralized platform, such as Slack. Just note that it shouldn’t be your only way to keep people apprised of what’s happening.

Add communication workflows and suggestions into your telecommuting policy. This step will give team leaders examples to follow so they don’t inadvertently alienate remote employees.

4. Set up a system to gather continuous feedback.

Your telecommuting policy should include ways for employees to talk about their experiences. Don’t wait to send out a survey once a year. Offer workers a feedback system so they can voice any telecommuting concerns—or brilliant solutions.

As you receive incoming suggestions and notifications, take them seriously. Listen to what’s happening on the ground and remain flexible. Your company’s willingness to make changes will show employees that you value their opinions and understand that this is a process rather than a destination.

Stay alert for any signs that your telecommuters might be struggling with their physical or mental health. It’s tough to notice that someone is having trouble dealing with change when they aren’t in the office.

How people work has changed tremendously over the past two years. If your internal policies haven’t caught up, it’s time that they evolve. Open a document and start planning. It’s never too late to create a streamlined and successful telecommuting policy.

hybrid work

Hybrid Work: Transform Your Workplace with Security and Collaboration

The future of work is hybrid–with over 50 percent of people saying they’d prefer to work from home at least three days per week. But many workplaces don’t have the tools in place to make the transition to this new working style.

To implement hybrid work successfully, organizations need streamlined communication and security for safe collaboration and inclusive communication. By selecting the right tech tools and organizational strategies, hybrid work can be a boon for productivity, employee engagement, and even DEI.

Our Guest: Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s Executive VP and General Manager of Security and Collaboration

On the latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Jeetu Patel, Executive VP and General Manager of Security and Collaboration at Cisco. He leads business strategy and development and also owns P&L responsibility for this multibillion-dollar portfolio. Utilizing his product design and development expertise and innate market understanding, he creates high-growth Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses. His team creates and designs meaningfully differentiated products that diverge in the way they’re conceived, built, priced, packaged, and sold.

To successfully achieve these things, Jeetu stays open-minded and flexible, especially when it comes to hybrid work. In order to ensure that experiences are great for employees, he says organizations need to understand that people typically work better in a “mixed-mode.”

“The future of work will be hybrid. Sometimes people will work from the office, other times, from home. In this ‘mixed-mode’ reality, it is going to be harder than when everyone worked in the office. And the reason for that is there’s more of an opportunity for people to feel left out,” Jeetu says.

To prevent feelings of exclusion, organizations must implement tech solutions for collaboration. At Cisco, they provide various options for remote workers to participate in company goings-on. For instance, they allow people to engage in asynchronous communication, sending stand-alone video messages to contribute ideas. They also use things like Webex and Thrive to make sure everyone is up to date on what’s happening.

“You’ve gotta have the right tools and technology to collaborate in a frictionless manner,” Jeetu says. “You need world-class connectivity and delightful software experiences that can allow you to collaborate, be secure, and not have to worry about someone hacking into your system.”

How Hybrid Work Can Strengthen DEI Efforts

Part of creating a frictionless hybrid work system is focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Jeetu explains that DEI should be prioritized in hybrid work scenarios because it’s the right thing to do.

“No one should feel left out because of their race, gender, ethnicity, geography, language preference, or personality type,” Jeetu says. “Those things shouldn’t make people feel like they don’t have the opportunity to participate.” 

Hybrid work empowers organizations to focus on DEI because it gives global access to talent. Opportunity is unevenly distributed all over the planet, explains Jeetu, while human potential is not. So hybrid work can help make positive changes in the workforce regarding issues of equality.

“Hybrid work allows people of all types to feel that they have a level playing field,” Jeetu says. “People shouldn’t have to feel like they have to choose between where they want to live and having access to a career opportunity. They should be able to do both.” 

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by Cisco. You can learn more about integrating hybrid work into your organization by connecting with Jeetu Patel on LinkedIn.

Also, on Wednesday, October 20, 2021, from 1:30-2:00 pm ET, don’t miss our #WorkTrends Twitter chat with Cisco (@Cisco).

During this live chat, our global “world of work” community will discuss how companies can develop an intelligent workplace, how collaboration tools empower the hybrid work model, and more. Be sure to follow @TalentCulture on Twitter for all the questions and add #WorkTrends to your tweets so others can see your opinions and ideas!

coworking spaces

How Coworking Spaces Are Changing The Future Of Work

There is a lot of buzz in the business world about coworking spaces because of their quick rise to fame. The first official coworking space was opened in 2005, and now an estimated 35.000 are spread worldwide. These spaces are widely popular for their unique designs that usually consist of wide-open office plans accompanied by various other rooms where people from different work fields can work and relax.

With COVID infection rates getting lower as vaccination rates get higher, people are gathering and working together again freely. Statistics show that in 2021 the number of people occupying coworking spaces in the United States is close to a million.

The future of work seems uncertain because of the many changes brought into the workplace due to the pandemic. However, one thing we can predict is that coworking spaces will play a big part in the future of work, as these spaces can offer a lot of benefits to employees everywhere.

The Opportunity to Connect With Others

There’s a saying: “Experience is the best teacher.” While this can be true, learning from the experience of others can be equally fruitful. Our ability as humans to connect with others and collaborate with them is a big reason for our success as a species.

According to a study, for workers to bond, they must interact in a place that offers them the opportunity to be in close proximity to each other regardless of the differences in career fields. Coworking spaces provide their members with such proximity through areas specifically designed for socializing. Imagine a lounge area where professionals from different fields can sit, drink coffee, and discuss their latest projects with one another. The atmosphere enables members to connect with each other without having to organize special events for networking.

Therefore, coworking spaces represent the future of work because, in addition to the basic business infrastructure, they offer their members the opportunity for social interaction, work collaboration, and networking. Workers in coworking spaces can connect with other professionals, businesses, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. Through this connection, they trade information with each other, as well as create relationships with mutual benefits where everyone learns from the mistakes and successes of others.

Productivity

Another reason why coworking spaces are shaping the future of work is their effect on the workers’ productivity. According to research by the companies Deskmag and Deskwanted, 74 percent of their employees were more productive in coworking spaces.

Office employees spend a lot of time inside the building they work in, and numerous studies have demonstrated that environment plays a big role in determining work performance and productivity.

The average coworking space is designed with the members’ comfort in mind. The organizers of the space pay close attention to the seating, lighting, temperature, air quality, and noise conditions. This ensures that their members have what they need to feel motivated and work.

Creativity

Creativity in the workplace is essential for problem-solving, being more open-minded, and adding unique perspectives. Coworking spaces offer these things and boost workers’ creativity.

For one thing, coworking spaces provide a stimulating atmosphere through unique room designs, colors, and natural light. Inside some of these rooms, there are whiteboards and markers, which make them perfect spots for brainstorming. The diverse community that can frequent these spaces also contributes to creativity through sharing different ideas and knowledge.

Greater Flexibility

Coworking spaces offer their members great flexibility in regards to place and time. According to a study, the flexibility given to workers in regards to the choice of workspace and schedule is very important for well-being.

To begin, employees are offered flexibility through the design of the space. Workers have access to different working stations depending on what they need. They can work by themselves in private areas with other people around in the open offices. They can hold meetings in their designated rooms, as well as relax and socialize in the special lounges.

Also, these spaces offer flexibility for people’s schedules. Generally, workers can set their own hours and work when they feel most motivated.

Success

Last but not least, coworking spaces help individuals and businesses succeed. From the beginning, they ensure that workers have everything they need—including office supplies, space, and flexibility. When members join coworking spaces, they do not need to worry about creating a proper physical working environment. They can focus all their energy on doing their jobs, as the rest is provided to them.

Coworking spaces have a lot of potential to be part of the future of work. Through these spaces, freelancers, employees, and business owners are promoting collaboration by working together, sharing knowledge, and supporting one another. The many benefits coworking spaces provide have rightfully earned them a place in the future of work.

pay remote workers

Is It Fair that Corporations Pay Remote Workers Less?

I recently read a story that gave me pause. And then I looked around and unearthed more. Remote employees may have their salaries cut simply because of where they work. Hmmm.

After all we have learned about remote working from the pandemic, I hope that organizations are inspired by the findings. Many leaders who have trust issues and fear around a remote workforce were forced to try something new. And, overall, remote working took off!

However, a new trend may be arising with corporate giants like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn that seems ridiculous. They are finding ways to pay remote workers LESS than those who come into the office.

Thought leader Jill Christensen states: “Every organization must decide how they will manage post-pandemic salaries. Will you pay the same regardless of where employees live or cut pay based on the employee’s geographic location? Only you know what’s right for your firm, but I advise that you think long and hard about the true cost of slashing pay. You may end up losing much more than what you save in payroll dollars. Employees may disengage, costing you productivity, retention, quality defects, creativity, sick days, and customer satisfaction. Is it really worth it?”

According to The Remote Work Pay Cut Class War, “Reuters reported that one employee, working from a county outside of Seattle, would see a 10% pay cut if they chose to work remotely, and someone would get a cut as high as 25% if they lived in Lake Tahoe. Specifically, those who choose to work remotely but live near the office wouldn’t see a pay cut, despite not going into the office.”

Is it fair?

With the excuse of “cost of living,” this decision will be justifiable to many. However, is this truly fair to pay remote workers less? The article explains: “This may make sense for a local business selling to locals, but it doesn’t make sense if someone is doing work on the computer – and it doesn’t make sense when you’re deciding to pay someone less money to do exactly the same work.”

Is this move all part of a bigger picture about deeming some employees worth more than others arbitrarily? We all know that it’s more expensive in San Francisco than in Houston. But when it’s the SAME job, does it matter?

“If you pay people working remotely the same amount of money as they’d make in the Bay, you likely can’t justify the lower salaries you likely pay in Detroit, or Chapel Hill, or Pittsburgh,” added Zitron.

In the world of work, we have taken giant strides toward fairness, flexibility, and freedom. This seems like a giant step backward. Do you deserve more pay just for parking in the lot at the expensive headquarters? (It’s argued in the comments of Zitron’s article that companies like Google have sunk so much money into their campuses that they are seeking justification for filling them up again.)

The new class

It’s also being defined as creating a new class system–defining team members as “in the office” or “remote.”

“They are deliberately creating a class system within their companies, both in the division of who is and who is not in the office and who makes the most money and one has to wonder if elder Googler Urs Hölzle will take a 25%+ pay cut now that he lives in New Zealand,” adds author Ed Zitron.

The back-and-forth rationale of this topic can be quite thought-provoking. However, it still just doesn’t seem fair to me. And what about the sustainable nature of non-commuting? Saving gas, energy, and precious time are often hailed as “wins.”

Suddenly those are forgotten benefits because someone decided they want bodies in seats again. Hmmm.

We are not past pay inequality.

Pay inequality has long been a hot topic. Very recent research indicates that it still needs to be top of mind. I obviously can’t address pay inequality all in one go, but it’s important to look at the big picture.

According to the Pew Research Center, “In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers. Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 42 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2020.”

An article posted by SHRM states, “PayScale analyzed differences in earnings between white men and men of color using data from a sample of 1.8 million employees surveyed between January 2017 and February 2019.”

“On average, black men earned 87 cents for every dollar a white man earned. Hispanic workers had the next largest gap, earning 91 cents for every dollar earned by white men. On the other side of the earnings spectrum, Asian men typically earned $1.15 for every dollar earned by a white male worker.”

“Cost of living”

I found a very informational piece by NoHQ on how to pay remote workers, which explained some critical economic factors that play a role in remote workers being paid less. One was Compensating Differentials.

“’Compensating differentials’ is a term in labor economics that refers to the relation of wage rates and the tolerance of undesirable conditions of a job. For example, some countries or cities are naturally more desirable (or undesirable) than others–due to weather conditions, real estate prices, local culture and diversity, and infrastructure.

“The likeability of an area will impact a worker’s pay tolerance to live there. When it comes to remote working, compensating differentials may have less influence on wage rates, as remote workers can move wherever they like. Exceptions apply when remote workers can only move within a certain geographical zone in order to work remotely.”

They also pointed out that while it may be cost-effective to adjust salaries, it could appear discriminatory and unjust. This can result in poor employee morale and weaker loyalty–something to watch out for!

Key takeaways

It’s a significant challenge to measure the “cost of living.” Yes, there are governmental and research resources, but it’s very personal and ever-changing. Have you seen the real estate spikes in places like the Denver metro and Miami? I wonder if everyone there is getting a pay raise. Hmmm.

I genuinely hope enormous, powerful companies set the right precedent. They should pay remote workers equally because other companies will use them as an example. It is inevitable.

 

hybrid workforce variations

3 Hybrid Workforce Variations: Choosing the One That’s Right for You

Many use hybrid as an umbrella term to indicate a mix of remote and in-office employees. They also use the term blended employees. These are employees who work in-office some of the time and remotely the rest of the time. This group of employees is distinct from those who work full-time in the office and those who are full-time remote. (Note: Full-time remote employees sometimes meet with other employees for team retreats or other special events during the year. But they do not go into the office to do their usual work for any meaningful amount of time.)

There are three hybrid workforce variations to consider as an employer. Each variation has advantages and challenges.

General Challenges with Blended or Remote Employees

There are two general challenges with any of the hybrid workforce variations that are important to address, including:

  • Biases | Remote employees are likely to be disadvantaged by being “out of sight” more frequently. It requires more work to create trust and belonging with and among remote workers. Leaders who are in-person may inadvertently give more attention and perks to employees they see in person. Meanwhile, remote employees may be less likely to speak up or question decisions.
  • Equity | Employees who work remotely more of the time may be in less equitable work situations than their in-office counterparts. Their Internet service may be relatively slow and their workstations may cause pain or discomfort. Additionally, their immediate working environments may be more distracting (e.g., noise, light, temperature), and they probably won’t have access to free office supplies (e.g., printers, a dedicated work phone, etc.).

Here are examples of three hybrid workforce variations.

Hybrid 1: Full-Time Mix

One of the hybrid workforce variations is a mix of employees being either full-time in-office or full-time remote. This variation requires enough office space for all full-time employees.

  • Advantages:
    • It’s easy to know where each employee is on a given day or week.
    • Working groups/teams can develop communication and collaboration patterns for this stable configuration.
    • You need less office space when some employees are remote.
  • Challenges:
    • Communication | To the extent that working groups contain both types of employees—or remote only employees—clear and concise communication is critical. You want attendees to be able to pull out the important points of communication quickly and easily. Social time and hard conversations should definitely happen over video.
    • Collaboration | If everyone who is collaborating on a given project is in the office, there aren’t any special hybrid challenges. However, when collaboration happens among individuals who are not co-located, care should be taken to implement best practices for that situation: Use the appropriate communication channels or apps (e.g., collaborative real-time whiteboards that live in the cloud, Slack channels, polls for voting). Trust among team members is important and needs to be built and maintained. Respectful behavior is even more critical.
    • Biases | All of the general challenges above are true with this variation. In-office employees may develop deeper bonds. Thus, they may unintentionally marginalize remote employees.

Hybrid 2: Come Together

Another hybrid variation is when employees spend some time in-office and sometimes remotely. Also, they do so in a concerted way at regular intervals, so that every working group is in-office together and remote together. Everyone in the group is a blended employee. For instance, a given working group may be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays and work remotely the other days of the week. (Or one week in the office each month, etc.)

  • Advantages:
    • Organizations require less office space when different working groups use the office on different days.
    • All working group members experience similar working conditions at the same time. So the problem of remote workers becoming disadvantaged isn’t an issue.
    • In-office time can focus on collaboration, team-building, trust-building and engagement. Remote time can be for focused individual work.
  • Challenges:
    • Communication | Best practices for communication hold. When working group members are remote, it’s particularly important.
    • Collaboration | Time in office should be for work best done collaboratively or using resources that are in office.
    • Bias | In-office time helps create and deepen belonging and trust (when the culture and the leaders promote those qualities). In turn when employees are remote they are more likely to give colleagues the benefit of the doubt. Because all working group members have the same in-person/remote schedule, differential treatment based on in-office status is non-existent.

Hybrid 3: Employee Flex Plan

Finally, sometimes employees are blended, full-time in an office, and/or full-time remote. For some hybrid workforce variations such as this one, you can set times when everyone—or most everyone—is expected to be in office, such as collaborating on projects.

  • Advantages
    • This variation provides more flexibility to employees, hopefully minimizing attrition and making hiring easier.
    • The schedule provides working groups and organizations predictability. It also gives them the ability to make maximal use of their in-office space. There may be some opportunities to take advantage of co-location, but the people who need to collaborate on a given day may not necessarily be in the office at the same time.
    • To the extent that all or most employees come into the office at least some of the time, a sense of culture, trust, and engagement can develop. However, this doesn’t necessarily include teammates who may be on a different in-person schedule.
    • Blended employees may welcome more flexibility and control over their commuting schedules.
  • Challenges
    • Communication | Although there is a predictable pattern to who is in the office on a given day, the pattern differs for each employee. Therefore, it can be hard to track in-office employees day-to-day. In turn, this doesn’t capitalize on many of the return-to-office advantages. Because working groups may not be co-located together, communicate clearly and concisely. Best practices for communication hold.
    • Collaboration | This variation does not help in-office collaboration unless relevant employees are co-located at the same time. Thus, best practices for collaborating with mixed co-located/remote groups hold.
    • Biases | Those who spend more time in-office develop deeper connections and trust and may be more likely to receive high-status assignments compared to remote workers.
WFH burnout

Image by Fizkes

WFH Burnout and Zoom Fatigue: Much More Complex Than We Think

Have you or your employees been feeling WFH burnout and Zoom fatigue these past months? It’s too common, despite the supposed convenience of working from home and using videoconferences to meet.

Due to the computer-based nature of their work, the large majority of HR professionals have been in the privileged position of working from home throughout the pandemic. Yet, despite the safety benefits of doing so, burnout has been an increasingly problematic issue — the result: lower retention rates, morale, engagement, and a decrease in quality decision-making.

Still, most appreciate the benefits of working from home. Most employees, in fact, have stated a preference to work remotely more than half the time or even permanently even after the pandemic. And most employers support their employees’ desire and have integrated remote working at some level into their post-pandemic operations. They find that employees working from home improves productivity and also allows companies to downsize office space, saving serious money. Yet to do so requires addressing work-from-home burnout.

Fix the Problem (Don’t Treat the Symptoms)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of efforts to address WFH burnout try to treat the symptoms without addressing the root causes. The problem stems from companies failing to adapt internally to the impact of COVID and the post-COVID recovery.

The vast majority had to make an abrupt shift to their employees working remotely. Everyone was in emergency mode and adapted their existing ways of interacting in “office culture” to remote work. That’s fine for an emergency, perhaps a month or two. But COVID is not a short-term emergency. Instead, it is a major, long-term disruptor.

Companies need to recognize that the fundamental root cause of WFH burnout stems from organizations adapting their existing ways of interacting in “office culture” to remote work. To address this problem requires a strategic re-evaluation of their internal structure, culture, and norms. They must plan for a much more virtual environment for the foreseeable future.

Using office-style culture to conduct virtual work is simply forcing a square peg into a round hole. You can do it if you push hard enough, but you’ll break off the corners. In this case, those “corners” are the social and emotional glue that bonds your employees to company culture. As was proven over the last several months, that peg will do in an emergency. But in the long run, those misused pegs will eventually start to crumble – just like your company culture.

So the first step toward fixing WFH burnout and Zoom Fatigue is to deal with the real problems. Twelve problems, to be exact.

The 12 Problems Leading to Work-From-Home Burnout and Zoom Fatigue

Combining expertise in emotional and social intelligence with research on the specific problems of working from home during COVID, I’ve untangled these two concepts into a series of factors:

1. Lack of meaning and purpose.

The vast majority of us don’t realize we aren’t simply experiencing work-from-home burnout. Instead, we’re deprived of the basic human needs of fulfillment, meaning and purpose that we get from work and our colleagues. After all, we tie much of our sense of self and identity, narratives, and sense of meaning-making to our work. That’s all severely disrupted by shifting to remote work.

2. A failure to meet our need for connection.

Our work community offers a key source of connection for many of us. Work-from-home cuts us off from much of our ability to connect effectively to our colleagues as human beings, rather than little squares on a screen. This lack of connection leaves many feeling out of touch, perhaps even isolated.

3. Little opportunity to build trust.

In an office setting, there is ample opportunity to build trust through informal interactions. This building of trust doesn’t happen naturally in virtual environments. Data shows teams that start off virtual work together substantially better after meeting in person. By contrast, teams that shift from in-person settings to virtual ones gradually lose that sense of shared humanity and trust.

4. Absence of mentorship and informal professional development.

A critical part of on-the-job learning stems from informal mentoring by senior colleagues. It also comes from the observational professional development you get from seeing how your colleagues do their jobs. Losing these opportunities for mentorship and moments of observation has proven incredibly challenging, especially for less-experienced employees.

5. Confusing “Zoom fatigue” with more significant human issues.

The “fatigue” people feel is a real experience, but it’s not about Zoom itself — or any other video conferencing software. The big challenge stems from our intuitive expectations about virtual meetings bringing us energy through connecting to people. However, those meetings fail to meet our basic need for connection; our emotions just don’t process videoconference meetings as truly connecting us on a human-to-human gut level.

6. Mis-managed “live” replacement therapies.

Getting back to our “square-peg-round-hole” analogy, many companies try to replace the social and emotional connection with Zoom happy hours and similar activities. While well-intended, these attempts to transpose in-person bonding events into virtual formats largely fail. Humans intuitively have elevated expectations about the quality of the interaction during meetings, so we end up disappointed and frustrated when our emotional (not to mention physical) needs haven’t been met.

7. Shortage of experience with virtual technology tools.

Many members of our workforce, especially in older generations – the non-digital natives, were never trained to best use virtual collaboration tools. Slack, Asana, and Zoom were new experiences for them. In addition to lowered productivity, this challenge results in frustrating experiences for those asked to communicate and collaborate virtually — many for the first time in their careers.

8. Shortage of skills in effective virtual communication.

Within many companies, especially where four generations are present in the workforce, it’s notoriously hard to communicate effectively even in person. Effective communication becomes much more difficult when in-office teams become virtual teams. A primary challenge in this area: Reliance on the written word, which makes it difficult to assess tone, intent, and even meaning.

9. Scarcity of clues provided by non-verbal communication.

Working virtually, we too often miss the casual interactions so vital to effective collaboration and teamwork. Specifically, body language and voice tone are essential to noticing brewing people and team problems. Unfortunately, virtual communication tools provide us fewer opportunities to detect such issues. Making it even worse for many teams: The growing trend to turn cameras off during virtual meetings.

10. Lowered standards of accountability.

In in-office environments, leaders and peers can easily walk around the office, visually observing what’s going on and checking in with their direct reports and colleagues on their projects. When working virtually,  ignoring an email is much easier than someone stopping you in the hallway or standing in the doorway to your office. Many leaders and organizations have not yet found a way to replace real-time accountability with a version effective in remote work situations.

11. Poor work-from-home environments.

Some employees have access to quiet spaces and stable internet connections; they are quite proud of their home-office sanctuary, devices, bandwidth, etc.  Others, though, struggle with this critical aspect of virtual work. For them, the changes brought about by the pandemic — including overhauling workspaces at home — have taken significant time and resources. Some are still not 100 percent ready.

12. Poor work/life boundaries.

Ineffective separation of work and life stems from both employer and employee actions. In a recent survey at TalentCulture, almost half of respondents said their boss expects them to be available “at any time.” For their part, employees have shown a lack of willingness to set mutually acceptable boundaries.  In the long term, these failures cause lowered productivity, increased errors, and eventual WFH burnout.

WFH Burnout and Zoom Fatigue: A Solvable Problem

Work-from-home burnout and Zoom fatigue are much more complex than we think. As business leaders and employers needing to take on this challenge, we must reframe our company cultures and implement a wholesale strategic shift in operations. We must deliberately move from the “work from home emergency mode” to accepting remote work as the new long-term normal.

And we must provide our employees all the resources, training, and reskilling necessary for people — and our companies — to thrive within that new normal.

 

keep remote teams connected

Image by 8nero

Pandemic Phase II: How to Keep Remote Teams Connected and Focused

About one year ago, organizations learned they could no longer work from a single physical location due to logistical or health restrictions caused by COVID-19. So, like your company, they started using technology to keep remote teams connected.

According to a FlexJobs survey, 95% of respondents reported they feel more productive while working from home. Many have discovered that remote work provides increased job satisfaction, flexibility, and enhanced productivity. However, it also brings challenges that can jeopardize company objectives, team performance, and employee relationships.

As we approach the second phase of the pandemic, let’s discuss why we should continue to adopt remote working. Let’s also talk about the challenges of managing a remote team and the solutions to those challenges.

Reasons to Continue to Embrace Remote Working

Even as the impact of the COVID-19 crisis appears to be waning, there are three clear reasons to embrace remote working in Phase II of the pandemic:

Increased Health and Safety

Even as vaccination roll-outs continue, remote working allows your employees to maintain social distance, keeping everyone safer. According to MMC, 90% of employees still worry about how the virus can affect them and their families financially and, of course, from a health perspective.

Higher Productivity and Efficiency

According to Owllabs, 91% of remote workers reported they’d experienced a better work-life balance which increased their focus and productivity levels.

Reduced Costs on Resources and Infrastructure

Virtual work saves resources because the rental and utility costs are close to non-existent. You can attract freelancers from a global talent pool without hiring locally and paying higher rates for the same skill sets.

On average, remote workers save $11,000 annually to a company with more than 500 employees.

Keeping Remote Work Teams Connected: The Challenges

At face value, remote work sounds great. But how do you keep your remote teams engaged, connected, and focused while working from different time zones and physical locations? Here are a few challenges — and solutions — that will help you keep your remote teams connected and productive.

Challenge No. 1: Keeping the Team Connected

A team that isn’t connected faces a lack of socialization, conversation, and discussion. That long-term lack of employee interaction leads to a decline in team spirit and a disruption of productivity and effectiveness.

Promoting informal socializing and interactions addresses the challenge of keeping the team connected. Even as you consider moving employees back to the office, organize regular team meetings through platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet to keep your team updated and on the same page. Create an informal social media group or channel for general conversations. For instance, you may create a Whatsapp group where team members can share their daily activities or hobbies to get to know each other on a deeper level.

Encourage your team to discuss their hobbies and engage in informal conversations. Organize quiz nights or happy hour sessions to get relaxed and interact through engaging activities. After all, even as lockdowns are relaxed, it’s important not to lose the balance between formal and non-work-related meetings.

Challenge No. 2: Poor Communication

Remote work features communication through online platforms. As we learned during Phase I of the pandemic, poor communication leads to employee dissatisfaction, poor project delivery, and internal conflicts. The leading causes of poor communication among global remote teams are cultural and time zone differences.

Remote work lacks the aspects achievable with in-person work communication settings, so it’s essential to:

  • Set virtual communication guidelines: To enhance communication efficiency, establish virtual communication guidelines for formal meetings. Follow a specific meeting agenda, and delegate a meeting host who organizes the meeting and keeps the flow uninterrupted.
  • Create specific working hours: Specify a block of time when everyone should be online despite their geographical locations. These group working hours allow employees to collaborate, plan and execute work no matter their time zone differences.
  • Set a time limit for response: Determine the time it will take for a remote employee to respond to an email, telephone call, or text message. It ensures that no request remains unattended for long, making processes go smoothly — project management platforms such as Asana or Trello support effective communication on projects involving different departments.
  • Desist from colloquialism: If remote team members live in distant geographical locations that feature different cultural qualities, avoid slang references and sensitive topics in official channels.
  • Instant messaging: Tools like Slack or Google Hangouts will keep communication uninterrupted and in a specific flow.
  • File-sharing: Enable the storing of team files on the cloud, which helps your employees collaborate better.

Challenge #3: Reduced Focus and Productivity

Also, as learned over the past year, distractions characterize remote working, which reduces a team’s focus and productivity. After all, even after almost 12 months, employees working from home may still feel they are not really at work due to their familiar — and familial — surroundings at home.

  • Set clear targets: Always start a new work week with specific targets and milestones. Discuss the established goals for the week with team members and ensure everyone understands their role. With precise goal setting, your team will have a higher chance of avoiding distractions and achieving their goals.
  • Conduct frequent reviews: Maintain frequent communication with your team and keep checking in on their progress. Find out which obstacles hinder your team’s performance. Such regular interaction will motivate your remote workers to engage with their tasks.
  • Provide productivity tools and technology: Productivity tools will help your virtual team focus on work and avoid distractions. Such tools include noise reduction software, website blockers, timers, and white noise generators.
  • Encourage dedicated workspace: Having a dedicated office increases productivity while decreasing the number of distractions. Suggest employees remove unnecessary items from the office space that might cause them to drift away from what should be their primary focus.

Challenge #4: Lack of Accountability

For most of 2020 and early in 2021, a lack of accountability (and self-discipline) has been a significant hindrance to managing a virtual team well. After all, despite what we’ve learned, when a team member works remotely, it can be difficult to tell if they are working or engaged in other interests or meeting other pandemic-related responsibilities like distance learning.

Encourage the Pomodoro technique to help employees focus on a single task for 25 minutes and take short breaks to handle other commitments afterward. For those still prone to digital distraction, monitoring and time tracking tools can bridge the accountability gaps for remote employees. A great way to decrease the number of distractions? Install an application blocker on company-provided assets that disable accessing specific apps or websites that distract from productive work.

Bonus tip: Introduce accountability partners that work together on the same tasks, and report to each other about the progress. Healthy competition can do wonders for productivity and self-discipline.

Communication Still Makes or Breaks a Remote Working Environment

Remote work enhances employees’ satisfaction, achieves higher productivity, reduces costs, and helps employers access the best talent. But remote work also comes with challenges. Knowing how to address them will enhance your ability to keep remote teams connected and improve your organization’s performance.

As we enter Phase II of the pandemic and start to move toward recovery, a focus on improving communication channels throughout the company is a must.

 

remote employee training

Photo by Fizkes

Remote Employee Training: 5 Steps to Creating Effective Microlearning Content

Keeping employees engaged in training is no easy task. This is especially true when asked to design remote employee training, where WFH distractions are almost unavoidable.

You can host day-long virtual meetings and give them PDFs to go through, but how much of that information will they actually retain? Chances are, hardly anything. That’s because this mode of training is not engaging enough. Employees start treating it as a check-the-box exercise, resulting in a waste of company time and money.

Microlearning can help you address those challenges.

This method involves delivering short and focused training content at regular intervals. It aims to train employees in short bursts, which retains their attention, guarantees more engagement, and increases learning ROI. The fact that microlearning makes the transfer of learning 17% more efficient and creates a 50% increase in engagement proves that microlearning is here to stay.

Let’s look at how you can create effective microlearning content for your remote employees in five simple steps.

Step 1: Determine the Learning Objective

Look at microlearning content as building blocks. While each block has its purpose, they all collectively point towards one single objective. Similarly, every microlearning content piece needs to be created with the training’s learning objective in mind.

Think about what you want your remote employees to achieve from the program. To help that thought process, consider using Bloom’s Taxonomy — a practical method of creating effective learning objectives that establishes six learning goals:

  • Remember | Recall facts and basic concepts
  • Understand | Explain ideas or concepts
  • Apply | Apply knowledge in new situations
  • Analyze | Compare ideas and draw connections
  • Evaluate | Form opinions and justify decisions
  • Create | Propose new thought processes and ideas

You can implement this while planning your employee training program in which each level delivers a specific learning outcome.

In short, start with knowing where you want to go and then work backward.

Step 2: Plan the Training Material

Now that you know what you want to achieve, the next step is to plan and organize your training content. In other words, so they meet the learning objectives, think about what information you need to provide to employees.

To start, create a course outline that details out the information you plan to include while ensuring it flows in a logical manner. Next, speak to subject matter experts and gather all the information you need to train your employees.

Step 3: Break Content into Smaller Chunks

At this stage, you’re sitting on truckloads of data, research, and information.

What’s important now is breaking down that information into action-based, smaller chunks. Not only does this prevent information overload, but it also helps learners consume information at their own pace and retain it for longer periods.

Make sure each of the bite-sized content pieces has a single takeaway focused on one learning objective. After all, you can always share links to additional articles and research for those who want to know more about any one concept.

Elearning Industry has a useful tip for creating microlearning content. It states, “Avoid throwing a whole novel at them. Ideally, each module should stick to around five to seven minutes, so being precise in what you want your employees to know is important.”

Step 4: Choose Your Formats Wisely

Microlearning is not only about creating bite-sized content, it’s also about diversifying your content delivery formats.

Review every granular piece of content and assess the most appropriate content format for delivery. For instance, if you want to explain a process, a process infographic might be the best choice. On the other hand, explainer videos might be a better choice for explaining a concept.

Here are the different types of microlearning formats you can include:

The idea is to use a mix of interesting formats that help you deliver the bite-sized training content in the best possible manner that retains your employees’ attention and keeps them engaged. For instance, here’s an example of an infographic that explains the different diversity and inclusion terms. As you’ll see, this learning format succinctly presents the essential information.

 

DEI infographic

Source: Venngage

Step 5: Create Context

The end goal of training programs is to get employees to implement what they learn in their day-to-day work. To achieve that and help employees transfer their learnings, it’s essential to create context in the content you create.

Employees need to know why the training material is relevant to them and how they can apply it in their work. Doing this also piques learner interest, helps them derive meaning from the training, and boosts performance.

You can create context by including the following tactics:

  • Create branching scenarios
  • Provide real-life examples
  • Use role-playing scenarios
  • Provide case studies

Incorporate Microlearning in Your Remote Employee Training

Declining attention spans is one of the biggest challenges learning and development professionals face.

The good news is that incorporating microlearning in remote employee training will help you overcome that and create a meaningful training experience that engages — and truly enriches — employees.

 

remote human resources

Remote Human Resources Strategies for 2021 (And Beyond)

2020 was a year of job losses and significant changes for human resources and hiring teams. While the pandemic will eventually come to an end, many of the changes we’ve seen will stick around — perhaps permanently. So maybe it is time to take a look at your remote human resources strategies?

One of the biggest changes was the swift and complete adoption of remote work. Many businesses that had been resistant to this growing trend faced no choice starting last March. This mandatory, multi-month pilot program has been eye-opening in many positive ways.

Because of this, we can expect remote work — and remote HR — to be a long-term shift. What are some strategies you can use to excel? Here are some ideas.

Excel at Remote Hiring

The first step is to become comfortable with the technology needed for remote hiring. This includes fine-tuning automated resume review software so that you get the applicants you really want. You can also take advantage of pre-interview questionnaires and email references to qualify your candidates further.

When you’re ready for an interview, it’s time for video! Because you can see the candidate and read their body language, video-based interviews are better than telephone options. This technology, which enables you to see how the candidate prepares and reacts in a higher-pressure situation, can help you ensure a better cultural fit along with hiring for the right skills.

As you incorporate video interviews in your hiring process, find ways to keep the process streamlined and give personal attention to top candidates to win them away from competitors. For example, keep the interview short, impactful, and positive.

Embrace the Positive Impact of Remote Work

Many companies have determined that remote work is more cost-effective and sustainable than they imagined. There are fewer late employees, more flexibility, and increased employee satisfaction.

There are also cost-savings for companies. Maintaining fewer desks can mean smaller office spaces and less overhead. Remote work can also lead to increased productivity and a focus on results over time-in-office.

Most of all, remote work allows for increased diversity. People who have health issues and struggle to commute to work daily no longer feel excluded from the talent pool. The fact that people are working from home means they can create the accommodations they need to be successful and overall have a better work environment.

Focus on Employee Engagement

One of the biggest challenges of remote work is keeping employees engaged. While many people enjoy not having to drive to work, others miss the camaraderie of being in an office. Regardless of which side of this fence your employees stand, HR and management must figure out how to actively engage staff.

Start by encouraging each manager to find out what their teams actually want and need. Too often, team-building goes wrong because managers base the effort on someone else’s idea about what matters. In every instance, the team should guide the engagement process.

Leaders should also meet regularly with individual employees. These one-on-one meetings often help minimize any concerns about being forgotten or overlooked for promotions.

There are also virtual team building games you can leverage if they are a fit for your teams and company culture. Many people enjoy the break provided by a virtual scavenger hunt or digital board game – or any chance to do something fun. Do you and your employees a favor, though: Make sure the activities chosen don’t come across as corny or forced.

Support Career Development

As your dispersed team continues to function off-site, be sure to emphasize career training and development to your employees.

The remote work era an excellent opportunity to take advantage of technology and computer-based training. Because companies can tailor these efforts to each individual’s pace and preferences, many companies were already using these methods before the pandemic. Many more companies now offer employees online access to personal and professional growth opportunities such as learning programs provided by LinkedIn or SkillSoft.

Of course, leaders need to be aware of — and support — their individual team members’ career goals. When people believe their career goals are understood and supported, they are far more likely to be engaged and productive.

Balance In-Office and Remote Teams

Many companies are already managing a combination of in-office and remote workers. One way to make sure this works well is to treat everyone – regardless of their work location – fairly. For example, decision-makers shouldn’t prefer in-office workers for promotions or projects. Similarly, remote employees shouldn’t be the only people given flexibility.

Your leadership team must decide how they will recognize and reward the efforts of all team members. And the leaders themselves must serve as advocates for those people doing good work from home.

Of course, companies can adapt recognition and rewards programs to serve blended workforces well. Moving toward a focus on results rather than time-at-desk, for example, can be a great way to make promotions and raises equitable. When you balance your teams, you give everyone an equal opportunity to excel.

Remote Human Resources: Are You Ready for 2021?

Many leaders and companies continue to struggle with the adjustment to a remote work or blended environment – so you are not alone. One at a time, leverage these remote human resources strategies — and make your adjustment to a long-term remote-based or blended workforce better for your company, and better for your employees.

Here’s to a successful 2021 — and beyond!

 

DEI Efforts

Photo by Fauxels

How the Remote Work Era Impacts Your 2021 DEI Efforts

How will the remote work era impact your 2021 DEI efforts? How will you keep the promises made around diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Before remote work became so prevalent, it was possible to keep real-world events and conversations out of the workplace. Now that’s not only impossible; it’s also increasingly inadvisable. Events in your employees’ personal lives undoubtedly affect the workplace—not only on a personal performance level, but also on a company culture level. Add in ongoing issues of racial inequality and police brutality and the expectation is clear…

Companies must increase DEI efforts in 2021.

Whether employees are having discussions about racism or simply the challenges of living through the pandemic, personal conversations happen – and will continue to happen with increasing frequency. To make sure companies handle these conversations in a productive, positive manner, it’s essential to consider developing a DEI strategy alongside their corporate strategy. The inevitable result is culture-improving programs that promote and champion the business benefits and value of a diverse workforce.

The time is now to tangibly make good on the promises companies have made over the years to increase their focus on DEI.

Here are some actions I expect companies will begin to take in 2021 to fulfill these promises.

Revamp Hiring Practices

One of the first places companies will analyze to improve DEI in their workforce is their talent pool. But merely wanting to hire more diverse team members doesn’t mean you’ll receive diverse applicants.

To increase the diversity of their talent pools, companies will revisit their hiring practices. Providing training programs and resources for hiring teams and reviewing job descriptions to remove non-inclusive terminology and unnecessary requirements is a start. So is expanding from a primarily referral-based recruitment pipeline to a pipeline full of diverse recruiting events and job boards across the country. These are examples of the steps companies will take to be more accessible and welcoming to a diverse array of candidates.

After successful remote work experiments in 2020, I expect we’ll see many companies expand the number of remote roles available, enabling them to drastically expand their talent pool. Of course, the organizational culture will also need to evolve in order to retain a more diverse workforce.

Actively Provide Ongoing DEI Resources 

Instead of having one-off discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion in response to separate incidences, workplaces will begin making DEI discussions a part of their regular culture. For some, this will mean creating support and learning groups that provide safe spaces to talk about issues. The support methods might include facilitated discussions, anti-racist books, podcasts, articles, videos, and other materials.

Companies will also begin to create dedicated DEI teams to lead the strategy and implementation of all DEI initiatives. These dedicated teams will focus on diversity training, affinity groups, recruitment, promotion, external partnerships, supplier diversity, and more.

Deliberately Become Anti-racist Organizations

Even with a diverse workforce, a company can still have a racist culture. To prevent this, companies must create and enforce actionable anti-racist policies and practices. To show this is a high priority, a temporary shift in focus away from short-term revenue goals may be necessary.

From required training and programs addressing implicit bias, microaggressions, and more to dedicated employee taskforces, this step will require strategic engagement from leadership to get it right – and enact change from the top-down. Companies should also consider implementing Crossroad Ministry’s diversity training. This program provides detailed steps to help your company move from a monocultural organization to an anti-racist, multicultural organization.

Address DEI in their Products and Services

No workplace can be anti-racist if it doesn’t also extend its DEI efforts to the products and services it provides. Companies truly committed to undertaking DEI strategy will thoroughly assess how they plan and craft their products and services. Along the way, they must note DEI-related gaps and oversights that could help their offerings appeal to their target markets.

I’m Chief Inclusion Officer of an education technology company that serves more than 10 million students and educators. In my role, this aspect of inclusion is especially important to me. One of my primary duties is to ensure our products foster an inclusive and supportive learning environment for students of all races and backgrounds. While it’s an ongoing process, I’m proud to say we’re making a difference in students’ lives. We’re also helping our educator partners create an equitable learning experience for all of their students.

2020 brought about many challenges – and we’re all happy it’s over. But it also helped usher in some positive changes. I expect 2021 will begin to see those transformations more fully realized in the area of DEI. And I look forward to seeing the long-lasting changes companies implement as they become more inclusive, equitable workplaces.

executive onboarding

Photo from Welcomia

Executive Onboarding During the Pandemic: Both Pitfall and Opportunity

Talent managers, human resources practitioners, and executive coaches continue to perfect work-from-home and make it the new norm. As they do, they find a hidden pitfall in their work becoming more evident each day. We’re talking about executive onboarding – specifically, for those new team members C-Suite and just below.

So how, in a remote world of work, does the new team member get to know their new colleagues?

Let’s say you just started that new position in the (now virtual) executive suite. You are looking to become part of the team quickly. Chances are you have already thought about how you are going to talk to your direct reports. You have a sense of how to communicate and collaborate, of course. To help matters, your new boss and you have already figured out how you will interact. As some of our clients initially thought, there is a general sense of feeling good about their new situation. And yet, the piece that is missing is an important one.

The fact is we miss the opportunity to connect in person – especially as the new addition. And we haven’t yet learned how to get to know our peers in the organization while working remotely.

Executive Onboarding: A Challenge Even in “Normal” Times

As is the case when working in-person at an office, remote teams and group leaders tend to become siloed. After all, when working alone, it is easy to become narrowly focused on our own departments. Although a natural occurrence, this makes it difficult for the new chief marketing officer, for example, to know much about what the chief financial officer is doing.

Scheduling video calls with equals is not typically on executives’ wavelengths. But in today’s world of work, it should be – it must be. Because when the left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing, problems result. Company efficiencies and productivity suffer. As we coach our clients: You are not just joining the team you will run, you are joining your boss’ team. Neglecting to invest in the development of relationships with team members and leaders at your level, in your situation, creates a leadership dysfunction that is not good for the company – any company.

Developing Relationships in a Virtual World

The key to a successful onboarding process and the development of one-on-one relationships is active listening. In the new work-from-home landscape – where the watercooler conversation, spur of the moment “let’s grab a coffee,” and unannounced pop-in are absent – how does one develop those relationships? Where are the opportunities for active listening? It is not through only one’s direct reports, nor is it solely from your boss – a key source of learning comes from peers.

Your peers will likely have various levels of experience and institutional knowledge about the company. That experience and well-earned knowledge will likely become essential resources for your own team’s success at some point. After all, the Chief Procurement Officer will likely need to rely upon the Chief Supply Chain Officer, and vice-versa, to succeed. Not only will they know the business, but they will also know your people. And developing those relationships, over time, is an integral part of being a good executive.

So how does a new executive team member develop those relationships while working from home? Here are three suggestions:

Develop a Comprehensive Communication Plan

Along with your hiring manager, develop a detailed onboarding plan that ensures you will communicate with all stakeholders. This is especially important for connecting with new peers, an oft-forgotten cohort. It is natural to devise a plan to configure best practices for your new boss and those reporting to you. But developing those relationships with your equals is critical to your success because these people will help you navigate the workplace culture from your same vantage point.

Plan for Spontaneous Connection

Leaders at every level must find a substitute for the unplanned office drop-in to say hello. Those interactions are typically low-stress and ultimately derive high returns when it comes to relationship-building. For WFH, we suggest keeping a pad near your computer to write down a reminder of what you might say when you virtually drop in. That means preparing what you want to say in that short text and quick call—no need to schedule a videoconference to relay that “job well done” encouragement.

Schedule Virtual Happy Hours

Carve out some valuable end-of-the-day time for an after-hours virtual coffee or cocktail with your new team and with your peers. New leaders should accomplish this task through one-on-one meetings or in small groups. Be sure to develop these relationships in a more casual setting because everyone a more relaxed environment will encourage team building and team bonding.

Connecting with one’s peers within the organization should happen regularly for established leadership teams, regardless of work circumstances. When it comes to onboarding in a remote work situation, we encourage our clients to intentionally reach out to their new colleagues via video call or telephone call. Not to accommodate formal meetings, but just to say hello. This aspect of virtual executive onboarding will also help understand the company culture and, just as importantly, what you can anticipate others will expect of you.

How Will You Improve Executive Onboarding?

Deliberately making that introduction, sharing enough personal information to form a bond, and offering your help to new colleagues will surprise some new coworkers and fellow leaders.

Those actions will also make an excellent first impression and go a long way toward easing the transition into that new position—all while working from home.

 

2021 HR challenges

Photo by Wirestock

2021 HR Challenges: How to Connect, Recognize and Support Employees

We’re all ready to say goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021. But even though a new calendar year has started, some of our HR challenges are likely to stay with us into the new year. Those challenges include how to best support employees not just in 2021 but in the years ahead.

The reality is that employees are tired and stressed; many are on the verge of employee burnout. HR and People professionals are feeling it too. In a recent survey of 751 HR leaders, 71% agree that 2020 has been the most stressful year of their careers.

Even as we move forward and look toward a better 2021, one of the biggest HR challenges remains: How can organizations best connect, recognize, and support their people as they lead them through this ever-changing, unpredictable environment?

A Focus on Digital Transformation

The data from the survey mentioned above shows just how important this question is to most organizations. Specifically, professionals elaborated on the biggest HR challenges ahead:

HR Challenge

When HR leaders have the tools they need at their fingertips, they have more time to focus on strategic initiatives; they spend less time dealing with administrative burdens. With a customized employee engagement platform, HR leaders can do more with less and make a more significant impact company-wide.

This is a win-win for their people, too. After all, these platforms provide a centralized place for employees to find vital company updates and help them stay connected to their colleagues. And they ensure stability in their sometimes unstable environments.

Making the shift to digital and modernizing your toolkit will set your business up for success in 2021. In a short time, digital solutions will leave you better equipped to face whatever challenges may come next.

Fostering Deeper Connections

mission mondaysUnsurprisingly, as many move into the tenth month of temporary remote work, people feel less connected. During these uncertain times and long periods of isolation, reinforcing your company’s mission, purpose, and values are even more critical.

With a dedicated employee communications tool, you can foster a sense of belonging and unity by sharing updates from various teams or leaders that your people need to hear from. For example, here at Reward Gateway, our CEO Doug Butler posts a weekly blog called “Mission Mondays.” Our people can comment on and react to that post, which helps build connections, boost visibility, and create a sense of community.

These updates are available on any device, at any time. That way, people can read them on their own schedules, whether that’s before their morning coffee, during a work break, or after the kids go to bed.

Keeping Workplace Culture Alive

Boosting morale for remote workers has always been important. And it’s no surprise leaders and co-workers must show appreciation for the hard work of employees. This is especially true now as employees may not be getting in-person contact with their colleagues or manager. Digital tools are also helping organizations improve workplace culture and reward and recognition programs across dispersed team members and support employees.

With an employee reward and recognition platform, HR leaders can spotlight all the excellent work happening across the company – even when others don’t get to see it every day. As shown below, available real-time analytics help HR teams know which departments are sending the most recognition. They also know which ones could use some extra appreciation, which helps boost collaboration and creates a culture of gratitude – even while working remotely.

analytics flow

 

The need to combat employee burnout and stress isn’t going away overnight. In 2021 and beyond, we’ll need to find better ways to connect dispersed employees. An improved reward and recognition program isn’t going to happen organically. But with the right tools, leaders can better face the HR challenges ahead. Specifically, they can connect, recognize, and support their people to set their organizations up for success in 2021.

 

To learn more about how Reward Gateway can help you future-proof your organization, get in touch today.

 

top 5 posts

Photo by Anikasalsera

A Quick Look Back: TalentCulture’s Top 5 Posts of 2020

It’s that time of year again. Time to look back on TalentCulture’s Top 5 posts of 2020!

Not surprisingly, many of our most-read posts of 2020 were influenced by the pandemic that dominated the world of work. Also not surprising: Our community came through with insightful, actionable posts just as relevant today as the day they were published.

Take a look (or a second look) at each of these posts. Then put this solid advice to work at your organization!

5) Job Descriptions: How to Eliminate the Hidden Bias Within

We start this countdown with recruiting insights from Cyndy Trivella – Managing Partner here at TalentCulture. Cyndy took a bold look at how the typical job description adds bias to the corporate hiring process. As Cyndy so eloquently says, “Job descriptions are indicative of systemic injustice that impacts the lives and careers of women, the disabled, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and specific religions or nationalities.” Read Cyndy’s post, and learn how your company can better meet your diversity goals by changing how you write job descriptions.

4) How to Establish a COVID-19 Safety Policy

The fourth most-read post of 2020  provides powerful insight into COVID-19 safety policies. And not just how to establish those policies, but how to use them to build trust among employees. Courtney Mudd, Director of Human Resources at Influence and Co., doesn’t stop there, though. She goes to great lengths to show us how full transparency is the key to creating supportive, safe work environments for employees.

3) After COVID-19: Improving Your Employee Wellness Program

In the third most popular post of last year, Antonio Barraza of Innovative Employee Solutions looked into the future to give us some much-needed insight into improving our post-pandemic employee wellness programs. From the accessibility of fitness classes to flexible office hours, Antonio covered many of today’s hot topics. More importantly, he suggests many improvements to wellness programs many companies should consider now.

2) Five Industries Poised to Thrive Post-Pandemic

In our second-most-read post of 2020, Daglar Cizmeci – CEO at Red Carpet Capital Limited – offered a close look at the five industries that were sure to thrive once the pandemic was over. The post originally appeared during the first major spike of the COVID-19 crisis. Today, we see several of these industries already doing well, including healthcare, collaboration technology, and organizations focused on remote learning.

1) Remote Work During Coronavirus: Leadership Matters

And in the top post of 2020, our own Meghan M. Biro – Founder of TalentCulture – contributed this inspiring post on the impact of leadership during the Coronavirus crisis. Her words could not have been more prophetic: “…if you approach remote leadership with a real commitment to staying human and staying present, this is just the beginning. And when this is all over, and it will be, your whole organization will be in a far better position to meet the future of work head-on.” Yes, leadership – today more than ever before – matters.

2020’s Top 5 Posts

These top 5 posts of 2020, and so many more on TalentCulture, are social proof that not all of 2020 was bad. As always, we’re incredibly grateful to our community members for sharing the insights that helped us get through a challenging year. And, of course, we must thank you, the readers, for once again making TalentCulture a go-to resource in the world of work!

Here’s to making 2021 the best year ever, together.

 

2021 work trends

Photo by VivilWeb

Futurecasting: 7 World of Work Trends We’ll See in 2021

Futurecasting is sometimes akin to looking into the sky and trying to connect the stars. As we look ahead to the future this time, though, we know the direction we’re going. We know where the prominent work trends are taking us.

The pressures and complexities of 2020 and the pandemic forced an awakening. The innovation developed, creativity demonstrated, and momentum generated since that global reckoning has been so strong, there’s no turning around now; we’ll never go back to the way it was. So the tools and strategies we’ve leaned on throughout the pandemic will continue to redefine how we work in 2021.

With that in mind, here are seven key work trends that will continue to make their mark this coming year…

1. Remote Working

As an option, a necessity, a perk, and an official policy, remote working is here to stay. It’s a classic example of “if you build it, they will come.” And the many employees (and their managers) who have now experienced the ability to function remotely and now know the advantages remote work brings won’t want to go back.

As companies scale back on real estate spends (sorry realtors), remote working is a way to maintain a large workforce on a tighter budget. So we’ll see countless organizations following the path of big tech firms who have pledged to keep their employees remote for the time being — if, of course, they can accomplish the job and responsibilities without the need for a shared physical workspace. Once again, big tech is leading the way and disrupting the status quo. Only this time, it’s not transformative leadership creating the change; it’s the technology itself.

2. New Hires, New Experiences

For new hires (and particularly for Generation Z), that traditional rite of passage of joining a workplace and learning a whole new set of behavioral and social norms isn’t going to be as prevalent. This wholly digital generation has already changed the way we experience technology. Now, they’ll help us usher in a whole new way to enter the workplace. Soon, we’ll come to know this new wave of hires as the “remote generation” (or “hybrid generation”).

The brand-new job experience will not have the same impact as it did past generations. We don’t yet know how younger hires will feel about the value of that experience or workplace culture. But we will — and soon. The difference here: The 2021 work culture will be digital in nature. So the experience will not be as sharp a contrast as going from the classroom to the world of work.

3. Video Conferencing

Video conferencing has become the de facto way we meet. It has become so ubiquitous in the workplace that “to Zoom” is now a verb.

Zoom may have been the frontrunner. But there are plenty of existing competitors and new visual collaboration platforms that will help how we work together evolve. After all, this is a very hot aspect of HR technology and will undoubtedly continue to be one of the most dominant work trends.  So I predict increasing capabilities to communicate just as effectively over mobile as we once did face-to-face. I also see better ways to archive and transcribe our video-based conversations and more ways to extend the work done via videoconference to teams and stakeholders.

4. Upskilling

In 2021, we will see a big shift from hiring being the primary driver of increasing an organization’s capabilities to upskilling existing talent. Organizations that had to tighten their hiring budgets after sustained buffeting from 2020 and the pandemic will shift resources into training and development. Those that did just fine despite economic turbulence — in industries that actually grew during 2020 — will be adding a robust reskilling and upskilling program to their HR strategy.

The bottom line for everyone is that institutional knowledge is critical for maintaining continuity and weathering a crisis. Upskilling existing employees will become known as a smart way to hold onto that intelligence while evolving skills to meet new challenges. Upskilling will become a business imperative.

5. Mental Health

Without question, our mental health has become an enormous issue. A recent report by Monster revealed a whopping 69% of employees working from home experience severe burnout. It’s not that working from home is particularly hard on everyone by itself. But the rush to remote without an underlying culture and infrastructure — and without an end-game being defined — has caused some stress.

Because one of the key triggers of burnout is mistreatment by supervisors and managers, we’re learning about the importance of setting boundaries and doing frequent check-ins. Many of us are also making sure our people have access to the mental health benefits they need. To help us continue this critical work trend, we’ll soon see even more apps that help with emotional and mental well-being (such as a meditation app and a mindfulness training tool). And we’ll see more forward-thinking companies providing these practical and widely-available tools as part of their overall well-being programs.

6. Inclusive Cultures

Diversity is critical to every aspect of the workplace — and organizations need to do better. So we’ll see a lot more leaders focusing on how to improve a sense of belonging in their organizations, as well as some authentic soul-searching as we dive into legacies such as systemic racism.

Our timing couldn’t be better. Currently, 70% of job seekers in a survey by the Manifest say they consider a company’s commitment to diversity when evaluating them as a prospective employer. But diversity in terms of hiring and promotions is only one part of the equation. Companies must pay attention to their work cultures, gauge how truly inclusive they are now, and then work to close the gap between what is and what should be. This is perhaps the mother of all work trends and will play a critical role next year. Because in 2021, organizations are not going to be able to get away with a performative statement or symbolic gestures. If you truly believe in equality — if you genuinely believe black lives matter, for example — you’re going to have to show it.

7. Empathetic People Management

Let me add a few words to the phrase above: “empathetic people management… for the right reasons.”

The pre-pandemic talent crunch triggered many reflective moments around how to better conduct HR and talent management. The goal for many companies is to be perceived as a better employer brand and to successfully engage and retain your people. That’s all well and good. But we’re not in a talent crunch right now.

Yet between February and October 2020, some 2.2 million women in the U.S. left their jobs. Overwhelmed, undersupported, and stressed out, many women — particularly working mothers — reached a tipping point and gave up. That’s an incredible talent drain. When they come back to work, they’re going to look for companies that set up the structures that truly support their people through empathetic people management for all the right reasons.

Looking Ahead to 2021

2020’s silver lining is that we’d been stubbornly dancing around what was truly important in the workplace — and to the workforce. We were forced to reckon with real-time discoveries in an authentic way. So we now know exactly what lies between us and where we want to go. We’ll bring that wisdom, and these work trends, to 2021.

This welcome knowledge, together with knowing we have better tools and a clearer vision of what must come next than we’ve ever had before, brings me to my final bit of futurecasting…

2021 will be the year HR once again finds its soul. 

In 2021 and beyond, we will take better care of our people — and each other.

 

company culture

Photo by Cateyeperspective

The Remote Era: 6 Ways to Cultivate a Strong Company Culture

In the remote era, where face-to-face meetings aren’t routinely possible, how do you cultivate a strong company culture?

Before the global health crisis hit, our experiential travel company, Moniker, planned creative corporate retreats, off-sites, and incentive trips for clients worldwide. Think ‘Amazing Race’ using tuk-tuks in Thailand or sailing on the Amalfi Coast. Or maybe hosting a game of ‘Survivor’ on the beaches of a Caribbean resort. Things changed rather quickly when global travel restrictions started piling up back in April. Soon, all (literally, all) of our clients began to cancel one-by-one until what initially looked like a banner year of sales and growth for our company became one chilling glare at a giant zero for the rest of 2020. 

The Eureka Moment: Company Culture 

As the old saying goes…

Out of crisis comes clarity.

As the situation unfolded, we realized what we were to our clients beforehand wasn’t a travel company. Instead, we were a one-stop-shop for them to outsource culture-building experience(s). We were co-architects of their company culture. As companies moved into a remote-work setup, engagement became more of a challenge. So, clients would lean on us to boost morale. We would help them maintain strong engagement and keep their teamwork and company culture strong in a remote world. 

We decided to create a limited series of nine virtual concepts over six months, from scratch. With no prior experience, no existing product, and quite frankly no idea of how to do it, we crossed over the $100,000 sales milestone in a short span of three months. Now, after seven months, we have just crossed the $1 million mark. Along the way, we’ve learned several things both large and small companies can do to engage employees, jump-start team (re)building, and cultivate strong team cultures in the new remote-work era:  

1) Shared Team Experiences

It could be as simple as introducing a company-wide, at-home fitness challenge. Perhaps rewarding employees or teams when they meet critical deadlines or hit work milestones works in your company. Or maybe facilitating a bi-weekly virtual ‘Coffee Chat’ so the group can discuss a book or movie everyone has watched. An optional after-hours ‘Cooking Club,’ where people can learn new recipes and techniques from colleagues with different culinary backgrounds, was quite well-received.

Whatever you choose, finding new ways to get people participating in something outside of work helps foster a strong sense of camaraderie. Don’t be afraid to get partners and children involved either. After all, involving employees’ families creates a more personal connection to their colleagues and positively impacts team morale.

2) WFH Swag 

Gone are the days of getting dressed up for work or attending meetings with company-branded stationery. The reality is that most of us in the work-from-home setup have embraced a much more casual approach to work attire and have carved out a little niche in our homes as our new office space. We’ve also gotten wise to “below-the-screen” (vs. “on-camera”) wardrobe, where comfort is king. 

Consider getting everyone some premium-quality, company-branded jogger sweatpants, Or maybe comfy indoor shoes, or a ‘go-to’ work top for team meetings and client-facing calls (a black crewneck sweater with your logo works well). Not only is this swag practical, but you’re also taking some of the thought out of what to wear to “work” each morning. 

3) Non-Traditional Rewards

Just as appreciated as physical items and gifts, non-tangible rewards are another great way to let employees know they are valued. Acknowledge hard work or major milestone achievements with a day off for everyone. Or give teams some flexibility with the option of starting later one day or shutting down the laptop early on Fridays around the upcoming holiday season.

It’s also important to acknowledge that working from home comes with its own set of challenges. The reality is, even after several months of experience, some remote workers struggle to separate their work lives from their personal lives. Show you understand this problem by encouraging them to take a vacation (even if it is just a staycation). Then respect that time by leaving them alone during their PTO. 

4) Ask for More Frequent Feedback and Encourage Input

For companies used to providing employee feedback in person, change your approach by engaging employees more frequently. Also, adapt the conversation to a remote-first situation.

Consider introducing quarterly or even monthly “Pulse Checks,” asking about their opinions on work performance or the business and asking for insight into their mental, financial, and physical wellness. Please encourage them to share their thoughts on how they are adapting to the new setup. Ask if there is anything that would help improve their situation (a second screen perhaps?). Finally, solicit ideas on how to improve morale. Most importantly, be upfront and sincere about your willingness to incorporate their input into implementing changes going forward.

5) Virtual Team-Building Activities

In addition to the shared experiences mentioned above, consider hosting monthly or bi-weekly virtual team-building events. During these events, be sure to mix up teams of employees who don’t often work together. Also,  introduce a few games to lighten the mood and break up the cycle of daily work. 

There are thousands of options out there – a simple Google search will turn up everything from pub quizzes to escape rooms. At-home scavenger hunts and improv comedy classes are popular. Are you feeling more adventurous? NASA-inspired lunar disaster scenarios and virtual murder mysteries can bring teams closer together, even when far apart.

6) Show Appreciation

Unfortunately, we underappreciate the simple gesture of a personal thank-you — a powerful motivator and culture-building tool. According to a Glassdoor survey on workplace retention, 81% of employees work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work. That is a staggering number for what can be as easy as a personal note of sincere thanks or shout-outs during a team meeting.  

Sure, mass messages are an effective means of communicating. But they don’t necessarily come off as thoughtful when used to show appreciation. Instead, opt for a personal phone call or draft individualized messages in Slack or e-mail. In the process, show you’re paying attention by point out the specific contributions made by the employee. This gesture often leads to significantly higher productivity and engagement down the road. 

As we adapt to the remote-work era, these are several ways companies can show appreciation and boost morale. For more ideas on building strong cultures in a virtual world, check out Moniker’s blog here.

 

Work From Home

Photo: Chris Montgomery

#WorkTrends: Navigating the Obstacles of Remote Work

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss an episode.

Working from home has been a learning experience for many of us. Maria Orozova and Scott Thomas, co-founders of MODintelechy, joined me on #WorkTrends to share their perspective on how to navigate the many obstacles of WFH, from kids to focus to time management — and how to reap the benefits of remote work. 

Maria and Scott are veterans of working from home — their strategies have proven invaluable for their hectic days. And full disclosure: they not only work together, they share a family and a home as well. They’ve learned to stagger work hours so they can spell each other on the day-to-day. And instead of video calls all the time, they decided it depends on the client. What a relief to balance “strategic video versus no video time on Zoom calls,” said Maria. Scott swears by “simple stuff,” like taking a quick swim or walk to stay sane. I can relate.

Of course it’s not just about the leaders and managers. It’s about employees. One way this power couple keeps their employees engaged and balanced now is by “really being conscious” of how and when to show their human side. They know when to keep the camera off, and they stay present for people. Maria talked about the importance of giving people “some grace” for the mundane disruptions that can occur with WFH. After all, we agreed, this isn’t just bringing our whole selves to work. It’s bringing work to our whole lives.

Embrace it, they said. “Sharing your own vulnerability first kind of gives people the task or permission to share,” said Scott. When the Zoom fatigue is real, take the pressure off by just picking up the phone. Is there a bright side to all this? I asked them. Absolutely, they said: WFH enables us to gain new focus and clarity into how we work, and how we can work better together.

We covered so much ground in this discussion, and I encourage you to have a listen for yourself. And feel free to weigh in on Twitter or on LinkedIn with your feedback. (Just make sure to add the #WorkTrends hashtag so others in the TalentCulture community can follow along.)

 Twitter Chat Questions
Q1: How can brands create and drive a positive remote work culture? #WorkTrends
Q2: How can brands help remote workers adjust and be productive? #WorkTrends
Q3: What tactics can remote workers use to maintain their mental well-being?#WorkTrends

Find Maria Orozova on Linkedin and Twitter

Find Scott Thomas on Linkedin and Twitter

(Editor’s note: In August we’ll be announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)