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What Hybrid Worker Preferences Reveal About the Future of Work

We don’t need research to tell us the future of work will be much different from pre-pandemic norms. But Covid isn’t the cause. Disruption was happening before 2020. The pandemic merely focused our attention and accelerated the rate of change. So, where is work headed next? It’s impossible to chart this course without considering hybrid worker preferences.

This is why my firm, NextMapping, recently conducted extensive research to explore factors that are redefining the workplace. The result is our 23 Trends For Future of Leadership 2023 Report, based on data from client surveys and online polls, combined with insights from McKinsey, Gartner, and the World Economic Forum.

Wellbeing Remains a Central Concern

Our analysis uncovered a single overarching theme — worker wellbeing. People want work that is flexible enough to fit into their lifestyle. In fact, they’re willing to make professional adjustments to address this priority. And because the market for talent remains competitive, employers need to make workforce wellbeing a priority, as well.

How does this translate into hybrid worker preferences? We see clear trends in how people want to work, where they want to work, and who they want to work for. There’s no doubt that hybrid work is here to stay! These data points make a compelling case:

  • 66% of workers worldwide prefer to participate in a hybrid workplace.
  • 26% of U.S. workers currently operate in some kind of hybrid mode.
  • 40% of workers say they’re more productive working remotely. However, 52% prefer hybrid work over a fully remote model.
  • People consider in-office work important for networking, team camaraderie, and enhanced relationships. They also think onsite work can improve training, learning, and knowledge sharing.
  • Remote work is perceived as helpful for including workers from various locations and completing projects or tasks with minimal interruption.

Hybrid Work is Not One-Size-Fits-All

There are multiple ways to define hybrid work, as these statistics suggest:

  • People want to structure their own hybrid schedules. Most would rather choose their in-office days, with 76% preferring to work in-office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays.
  • Workers want fewer meetings, and they want each meeting to be more effective. In fact, 66% say ineffective meetings reduce their overall productivity.
  • People prefer accessible leaders who are strong coaches. This is so important that 81% of workers say they quit a job to leave a “toxic” boss at some point in the past three years.
  • Workers want an employer that invests in their future. 55% note that their company provides learning roadmaps, growth opportunities, and succession plans.

Overall, our findings indicate that hybrid workplace success depends on leaders who are comfortable managing the unique and variable needs of people who are operating in multiple work modes. It requires flexible, agile leaders who can adapt to diverse personalities and work styles. These leaders need higher-order soft skills. I call them super crucial human skills.

How Leaders Can Support Hybrid Worker Preferences

To better understand how to lead more effectively in this new environment, let’s look closer at hybrid worker preferences:

1. More Scheduling Choice

Knowing workers want to choose the days they work on-site and offsite, leaders will benefit from conducting ongoing conversations with individual team members about scheduling that works best for them.

Some leaders have proximity bias. In other words, they want everyone to be in the office because it’s their preference. Proximity bias creates a barrier that keeps leaders from listening to employees and developing trusted relationships.

Some leaders have told me they don’t think people are working as hard when they work remotely. This, too, is a bias. Leaders can’t be effective if they base decisions on inaccurate performance data and make assumptions based on personal biases. 

2. Fewer and Better Meetings

I know several hybrid work leaders who have fallen into the trap of booking more meetings because they think this improves inclusion. But it’s time for everyone to re-evaluate meeting practices with a more discerning eye.

The rise of virtual meeting tools makes it easier to schedule more meetings. But less may be more. When does a topic or project truly deserve a meeting? Who really needs to attend? Could a modified approach lead to better results?

Ideally, every meeting has a “why” and a facilitator who is ready to make good use of participants’ time. Some creative thinking can help you build a more effective agenda and achieve useful outcomes.

For example, polling and survey tools (such as PollEverywhere and SurveyMonkey) can help you gather worker insights about subjects that require team input. This means you can sidestep some meetings intended to gather verbal input. In other cases, these tools can help you prepare an agenda that will make meetings more productive.

3. More Access to Leaders

Hybrid workers prefer accessible leaders who are great coaches with high emotional intelligence. This is an excellent opportunity for leaders who want to coach and inspire their teams more effectively. But leading with high emotional intelligence requires great skill.

The hybrid workplace has increased the need for leaders to adapt to a combination of in-office communication and virtual communication. In the past, we called these capabilities soft skills. But for success now and in the future, I think we should reframe these skills as “super crucial human” skills.

The ability to pivot and navigate uncertain waters, while also remaining open and caring is the most critical skill development challenge for leaders in 2023. 

4. Deeper Involvement in Future Plans

Lastly, workers prefer to know “what’s next” when it comes to their future. Organizations that offer a roadmap of growth opportunities, succession plans, and talent mobility enjoy higher workforce retention. These practices will become even more important, going forward.

Leaders can collaborate with their team members to help co-create a professional path that is flexible and fulfilling. When workers feel that their leaders care about their future and are invested in helping them succeed, it strengthens their commitment to their leaders, their work, and their organization.

This is Only One Leadership Priority

No doubt, hybrid workplaces will continue to shift and require everyone to adapt. But we see other important trends emerging this year, as well. For instance, automation will have an increasingly important role in helping people produce better-quality work. Also, leaders will benefit from shifting their perspective from “me” to “we.”

To learn more about all 23 trends we’re tracking for 2023 and beyond, watch our research summary video:

How Can You Build an International Workforce? Tips for Success

In the past, many employers dismissed the idea of building an international workforce. Those who could attract local talent considered it unnecessary. Others didn’t have the resources to support remote teams. No more. Why? The market for talent is vastly different today than when the pandemic began three years ago.

Welcome to a New World of Work

Even if you’ve only glanced at business news recently, you’ve seen the signs. Several rapidly changing trends are rewriting work-related behaviors, norms, and expectations in significant ways.

Employees are working from home in unprecedented numbers. And they’re quitting their jobs at higher rates, despite inflation and other economic warning signs. In fact, people are more mobile than ever, as they uproot themselves on a dime to work remotely from states or countries they find more attractive.

What’s more, these trends aren’t limited to a few isolated professional groups or locations. Now, you can see evidence of these changes in every corner of the world. So, what’s the key takeaway from all of this upheaval? In my opinion, it all points in one direction — to the rise of a truly international workforce.

Why Choose an International Workforce?

According to government statistics, roughly 75% of global purchasing power lies outside the United States. And across that global landscape, an international workforce has sprung up, filled with talented, driven people who are eager for employment.

Fortunately, many crucial technologies are now available to help employers find and hire an international workforce. For example, these tools are designed to assist with everything from identifying the right candidates and onboarding new hires to ensuring that payroll complies with regulations in an employee’s home country.

Employers with a modern, cloud-based HR technology ecosystem can integrate these tools into their existing tech stack with relatively little disruption. But whatever applications you choose should be based on a holistic talent strategy. In other words, you’ll want to develop a plan that considers all the issues and benefits associated with international expansion.

But for many organizations, the reasons for going global are compelling. Competition for qualified talent remains intense. And now that flexible work models are becoming a standard, the reasons for U.S. companies to go global are clear. It has never been easier to attract and retain the talent you need by expanding your geographical footprint. But employers who want to succeed should focus on these key steps…

How to Hire a Truly International Workforce

1. Uplevel Your Talent Acquisition Efforts

Many employers continue to act as if their sourcing efforts are still limited to a specific geography. But that’s no longer the case. Today’s qualified talent pool is global. So, if you make the most of this competitive opportunity, in no time you can expand your applicant pool.

The U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on exceptional workers with specialized knowledge and experience. Not even close. By limiting yourself to domestic workers, you also limit your company’s potential.

Obviously, a major advantage of global hiring is the ability to quickly fill high-priority roles. But there are other valuable benefits, as well.

For instance, if diversity is important to your organization, an international workforce opens the door to fresh perspectives. Embracing people with various points of view brings the kinds of insights that help businesses grow and thrive. In fact, diverse teams are 1.8 times more likely to be prepared for change and 1.7 times more likely to lead market innovation, according to Deloitte.

This also sends a powerful message to potential hires and customers about your commitment to diversity and inclusion. For example, having an internationally diverse workforce is a strong selling point for 67% of candidates looking for a new job.

2. Find Local Partners You Trust

Thus far, we’ve discussed one type of remote hiring — accepting applications for remote roles from people around the world. But there’s another type of remote hiring with massive implications. It’s when companies want to rapidly enter a new geographic market.

In the past, businesses breaking into a new country like Thailand might have acquired a Thai company to absorb its workforce. This can be slow, time-consuming, and costly. And it may even be a cultural mismatch.

Now, this process is no longer necessary. Today, through remote recruiting, businesses can simply hire the remote workers they need in Thailand, and work with them to implement a rollout in that country.

This raises a related question: How can you trust a remotely-hired partner to build your business in another part of the world? Ultimately, the answer is the same as it would be for a domestic candidate.

This means you’ll want to complete the same type of due diligence. Ask for references. Conduct multiple rounds of interviews. If possible, begin with a probationary trial period, so you can clarify each candidate’s skills and culture fit. Although hiring an international partner might seem like a bigger decision than hiring a domestic candidate, the same basic rules apply.

3. Leverage New Technology to Drive Global Growth

Certainly, global hiring isn’t simple. Setting up operations in a new work environment — with its own distinct customs and employment laws — requires specialized knowledge that isn’t readily available in most organizations.

What are the local laws around hiring and firing? What kinds of expectations do employees bring to their day-to-day work lives? What are the labor laws? How are things like cross-border compliance monitored? These are essential questions when hiring globally, and it’s imperative that businesses build their knowledge base so answers are available when they inevitably arise.

Fortunately, in recent years, many technology solutions have emerged to help businesses deal with issues like these. AI-powered platforms can readily streamline the process, integrating team members from across the globe while staying on top of compliance. In fact, platforms like these can transform the entire process, allowing companies to quickly expand into new markets and establish a local presence anywhere in the world.

Final Thoughts

At this point, the barriers to forming a truly international workforce are almost purely psychological. There is no shortage of skilled workers across the globe who are eager to make an impact at U.S.-based companies. And there is no shortage of technology-based solutions that can make it as easy to hire those workers as it is to hire someone down the street.

What corporate America does need is a psychological shift. Employers need to be willing to think beyond borders, get creative with hiring, and tap into the power that an international workforce can offer. The rewards are clear and abundant. All we need is the will.

How to Help Employees Step Up to Lateral Moves

When you think about your future within your organization, what do you envision? Do you anticipate moving up through the ranks into a managerial or executive position? Or if you’re a specialist, do you look forward to taking on successive roles with increased responsibility? What about lateral moves? Do they even cross your mind?

In my opinion, lateral moves get a bad rap. Naturally, when people consider how to advance their career within a company, they think first about promotions. Lateral moves tend to be discounted because they don’t signify a “step up.” But that’s an overly simplistic way to look at career paths.

Here’s the truth: Some people aren’t cut out to manage others. Some don’t dream of running a department or a business. This doesn’t mean they aren’t talented employees. Nor does it mean they should be stifled professionally.

On the contrary. The best way to support these employees is through opportunities to move across the organization, rather than encouraging them to take a step “up.” When strong employees move sideways, you can fill their vacated roles with other internal talent, recruit new hires or look into business process outsourcing services.

Why Lateral Moves Make Sense

There are multiple reasons to transform your corporate “ladder” into a “lattice” that supports lateral moves. For instance, with this approach you can expect to:

1. Invigorate Professional Development

When you recognize that talented employees aren’t suited for managerial roles, it’s important to find other ways to encourage continued growth. Carefully chosen lateral moves can further develop employee strengths, expand their skill sets, and help them contribute more fully to your organization’s goals.

2. Improve Workforce Engagement

One of the most critical reasons to support lateral moves is the fact that it boosts engagement. When people are encouraged to use their skills more fully, they feel more connected with their work. For example, imagine a promising member of the finance team shows interest in marketing.

A transfer to the marketing group can mean this employee will work harder and be happier. This is beneficial for the employee, personally and professionally. And improved productivity improves the company’s bottom line, as well.

3. Promote Cross-Functional Collaboration

Lateral moves can also improve communication between departments. Better communication can improve collaboration and remove cross-functional barriers that may have slowed innovation in the past. Plus, when employees share knowledge and expertise gained from other teams, that fresh perspective can help their new teams find better solutions to business challenges.

4. Increase Employee Retention

By enabling people to explore different roles through lateral moves, you create new reasons to keep top talent onboard. Ideally, all team members can find attractive opportunities in departments that align with their professional interests and goals. In the near-term, job satisfaction should increase. While over time, you can expect to see retention increase as costly turnover decreases.

2 Ways to Support Lateral Moves

Did you recently realize one of your team members would be happier or more effective working in a different department? There are a few ways you can prepare them for a smooth transition. For example:

1. Develop a Transition-Specific Training Plan

When employees first joined your company, a training plan probably answered their questions and helped them get accustomed to their role. Although a lateral mover is no longer new to the company, a team-specific training plan could help them step into their new responsibilities more quickly and easily.

A transitioning employee may feel intimidated by the possibility of working with a new team or other changes on the horizon. Partner with the other team’s leader to ensure a warm welcome. Share your insights about the employee with this leader, and encourage them to discuss the new team’s habits and cadence of work.

The sooner an individual understands the lay of the land in a new internal role, the sooner they can contribute and help move the team’s agenda forward. By developing strong training and actively taking a part in the move, you can help transitioning employees reach their potential as soon as possible.

2. Keep Your Door Open

You may have initially been surprised or hurt to hear that a team member would prefer to work in a different department. However, it’s best to support their lateral move. Often, an employee’s desire to transfer isn’t a negative reflection on their current manager’s performance. It may just mean they want to learn more about another part of the business or their career goals are leading them in a different direction.

So keep the door open. In the near term, this employee will need your support as well as the support of their new manager. Major career transitions often come with growing pains. Even if an employee has been with the company for several years, they may not understand much about their new role or the team dynamic. Reassuring this individual that you are available to answer any questions will ease their professional transition.

Final Thoughts

When helping employees with their careers, it’s important to assist those who are strong candidates for lateral moves, as well as those who are moving upward. This is a great opportunity to show employees you care about their professional development and trajectory, even if they aren’t aiming toward a traditional managerial position.

When conducting performance evaluations, think about which employees are well-positioned for this kind of transition. Talk with them about their interests and goals. And if they want to pursue a lateral move, follow these tips to support them.

Are You Ready to Lead Through Uncertainty?

Sponsored by HiBob

As 2023 begins, the world of work is bracing for a rough ride. For more than a year, inflation has gripped the economy. Previously unstoppable tech companies are reeling from recent layoffs. And other industries are tightening their belts, as a recession now seems unavoidable. What will it take to lead through uncertainty?

Strategies that helped organizations thrive under different circumstances are no longer relevant. But during lean times, how can you preserve what’s valuable and unique about your organization? This question is top-of-mind for leaders everywhere. So let’s get advice from someone who understands the factors driving today’s business climate:

Meet Our Guest:  Ronni Zehavi

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Ronni Zehavi, Co-Founder and CEO of modern HR platform provider, HiBob. After more than 25 years of experience in launching and leading successful technology companies, Ronni knows first-hand how to guide organizations through volatile, uncertain circumstances. Now he’s sharing his unique perspective and expertise to help others lead through uncertainty.

Managing Multiple Unknowns

Welcome, Ronni. Let’s dive right in. How can organizations navigate through uncertain times?

It’s a bit like driving a car. In 2021, driving fast may have been easier because the road was clear. But today it’s bumpy and cloudy. No one knows when it will end, so you need to slow down.

2023 is going to be challenging. First, read the map and then adjust your plan. How long is your runway? Do you have enough cash? Do you have enough funds to weather the coming storm?

Then look realistically at the environment. A slowdown will have an impact on your customers as well as your organization. Will you be able to generate the revenues you expect?

The Long Game

The economy will eventually bounce back. How can we prepare for that now?

It starts with your people. Invest in them. Make sure you can retain all of them. Or, if not all of them, focus on your most important people. Because you’ll want them to be with you when the tailwind comes.

And more than anything else, think positive. What goes down comes back up. So optimism is critical.

How to lead through uncertainty

JOIN US ON TWITTER!

What About Layoffs?

Is there a right way to reduce headcount? How can leaders avoid damaging their company culture?

Layoffs are only one option in a CEO’s toolbox when adjusting to a difficult environment. First, you may decide to slow down hiring. If a slow down isn’t enough, then you may need to freeze hiring or freeze salary increases, or both. And if needed, the next option could be salary cuts or layoffs. One or both.

But it is important to think about the people who stay as well as those who are laid off. Retention can be affected when those who remain are expected to do the job of two people or even more.

Communication and transparency are critical to preserve your culture.

Can Flexible Work Help?

Do you think economic changes will influence where we work? 

I don’t think so. I think hybrid work is here to stay. Flexibility was a nice-to-have perk a few years ago. But the pandemic proved that organizations can deal with it.

The ultimate combination is two or three days at the office or two or three days remote. It offers flexibility, but it keeps engagement and collaboration among people.

How to Support Hybrid Work

I like the idea of finding a balance between onsite and remote work. But how can leaders accomplish this? 

It’s a journey. It will take time until we get there as a standard. But flexibility is all about what we call internally, The Three T’s:  Trust. Transparency. Teamwork.

If your organization follows these values, it will help you create a flexible work culture.

 


For more insights from Ronni about how to lead through uncertainty, listen to this full podcast episode. And be sure to subscribe to the #WorkTrends Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

In addition, we invite you to join our live Twitter chat about this topic on Wednesday, January 25th at 1:30pmET/10:30amPT. Follow @TalentCulture for questions and be sure to add the #WorkTrends hashtag to your tweets, so others in the community can easily find your comments and interact with you!

Also, to continue this conversation on social media anytime, follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

WorkTech Tools: Your Quick Guide to Productivity in the New Year

When the pandemic suddenly forced millions of people to work remotely, employers weren’t sure what to do next. Because the transition was nearly instantaneous, this shift wasn’t easy. But eventually, many people adapted to remote work and learned how to operate effectively in virtual team settings.

Indeed, only 9 months after the Covid lockdown began, Upwork estimated that 42% of U.S. employees were still working from home, and nearly 70% of managers said work was progressing much more smoothly.

What helped individuals and organizations move forward efficiently through tough times? In part, successful teams turned to best-of-breed productivity tools.

Great WorkTech Tools Make a Difference

Now, nearly 3 years later, great worktech tools matter more than ever, as employers strive to offer people continued flexibility in how they get work done.

Effective managers have learned that some applications are especially useful at helping individuals and teams prioritize tasks, manage their time, collaborate, and explain important work concepts with job aids.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 5 worktech tools to help optimize individual and team performance and productivity, going forward.

5 Applications Worth Considering:

 

1. Slack: Communication and Collaboration

What worktech tools can help your teams improve productivity in 2023? Learn about Slack and more in this article

Source: Slack

Slack facilitates communication and collaboration among teams by consolidating messages, file sharing and chat activity in a central digital workspace. This lets people organize conversations by topic so they can avoid repetition and confusion while simultaneously conveying information to other group members. It also supports direct conversations with individuals and subsets within a group.

Because these conversations happen asynchronously, everyone can check updates and move discussions forward when it’s convenient for them. And with all related communication available in one place, individuals can easily revisit and refresh their understanding of tasks and stay up-to-date with the latest status. This leads to better team results.

Some of Slack’s IRC-style features include:

  • Personalized chat rooms (channels), for topics, private groups and direct messaging
  • Searchable content, including conversations, people, files and more
  • Emoji buttons to add flair and personality

Also, this tool is compatible with most applications that enable file and document sharing, which makes project workflow management and version control highly efficient.

Slack’s free plan lets users view and search their most recent 10,000 messages. Graduated paid plans give users the opportunity to add more functionality as their reach and requirements grow. 

2. Hubstaff: Time Tracking

What worktech tools should you consider for workforce productivity in 2023? Learn about Hubstaff

Source: Hubstaff

Hubstaff has operated as a virtual team for nearly 20 years. The company uses its own experience to design and deliver a workforce management software suite that helps businesses spend less time tracking workgroup activity and more time focusing on company growth and success.

This platform bundles time-tracking and proof-of-work functionality with project management, automated payroll management and more – all designed to streamline remote work management.

With its time-tracking software, Hubstaff can help dozens of team members work remotely. Despite being in different locations, employees can collaborate and coordinate effectively by leveraging these features:

  • Online timesheets
  • Time reporting
  • Randomized screenshots 
  • Mouse movement tracking to supervise team activity and engagement

Hubstaff is highly effective at helping remote leaders analyze team efficiency and encourage accountability. If you want to try before you buy, a 14-day free trial is available with limited features.

3. Trello: Project Management

What worktech tools can improve your productivity in 2023? Learn about Trello and other applications

Source: Trello

Next on our list of top productivity tools is Trello. This online list-making application is built on the Japanese-inspired Kanban (visual signal) model. Developed by a subsidiary of Atlassian, Trello is a highly adaptable project management tool.

Trello helps track project progress across multiple stages. It is useful in multiple contexts, from lesson planning, school bulletin boards and gaming to web design, real estate management and law office case administration.

With Tello, users can:

  • Create customized task boards featuring columns with various task status options (such as To Do, In Progress, Pending Approval, Done)
  • Set deadlines for each task
  • Move tasks between columns as they progress
  • Add multiple people to cards and use the message feature to communicate with the group simultaneously

Trello offers three business plans – standard, premium, and enterprise – as well as a free plan for individuals and small teams.

4. Evernote: Note-Taking

What worktech tools can improve your productivity in 2023? Learn about Evernote and other applications

Source: Evernote

Evernote is a popular note-taking application that helps team members easily organize and share notes. It lets users create, save and archive ideas and resources in a variety of formats, including audio, video and saved web content and reference links. Notes are archived as virtual notebooks that users can label, annotate, search, edit and export.

With Evernote, people can also:

  • Sync notes across various devices so they’re available to multiple team members, simultaneously
  • Read digital media in a way that looks and feels just like physical documents
  • Integrate group note management with workflows in email and team productivity apps such as Slack, Salesforce and Microsoft Teams

Evernote offers free usage with limited monthly features, and paid plans with expanded storage capacity and enhanced features.

5. RescueTime: Reduce Work Distractions

What worktech tools can improve your productivity in 2023? Learn about RescueTime and other applications

Source: RescueTime

Last but not least is RescueTime, an application built by remote workers for remote workers. RescueTime is designed to help minimize distractions so people can focus on work and improve individual and team productivity. It does this by recording your digital device usage and time spent engaging with various applications and websites.

The company’s mission is to support better work-life balance by helping people:

  • Continuously track their time on websites and apps, so they’re more aware of how they use their time and can adjust their habits for greater efficiency
  • Minimize wasted time by encouraging successful productivity strategies

This app lets users manually modify its default settings to fit individual goals and preferences. A free 30-day trial is available, while the paid version helps users:

  • Set goals 
  • Activate “Focus Time” (block distracting alerts, applications and websites)
  • Record offline events

Which WorkTech Tools are Right for Your Team?

The number of productivity tools has exploded in recent years. Certainly, they can help team members work more effectively together. But too many tools – or the wrong ones – can be counterproductive. Pointless or unpopular tools can actually discourage people, disrupt workflows and decrease output.

So, before adding to your worktech stack, always research and test your selections. Start by asking your team for recommendations. They’re close to the action, so they’re likely to have good ideas. Plus, if you implement solutions recommended by team members, they’re more likely to adopt them and encourage others to do so.

Also, be sure to think about the best way to roll out new tools. Avoid overwhelming people with too many options all at once. Instead, prioritize and introduce tools over time, so everyone can learn about them and integrate them into their workflow. This also gives you time to determine the impact of each incremental step forward.

No matter what, keep driving toward improvement. Eventually, you’ll see more people working more collaboratively and effectively while meeting more deadlines. And ideally, wherever your people are located, they will feel more engaged, efficient and comfortable contributing to your organization’s success.

Flexibility: Key to Employee Retention in 2023

As 2022 comes to a close, several work trends are clearly visible on the horizon. Here’s one employers can’t afford to ignore — an alarming number of employees are still leaving their jobs. For all the talk about “the Great Resignation” being behind us, turnover continues to shape the world of work. And it doesn’t seem to be fading.

What’s the culprit here? In my opinion, too many employers continue to discount the need for flexibility in all its forms. Not sure if this should be a priority for you? Then consider some big-picture statistics:

  • recent Workhuman survey focused on workforce behavior and sentiment estimates that 36% of employees plan to leave their jobs in 2023.
  • Gartner predicts that steep 20% turnover rates will continue for the foreseeable future, with as many as 65% of employees still reevaluating their career paths.

These findings are hard to ignore. But rather than drilling down on disengaged workers and why they’re looking for greener pastures, I’d like to flip the script. Instead, let’s talk about people who want to remain in place. What can we learn from them?

Why Some People Stay

What is keeping people onboard? No doubt, some are hunkering down in reaction to growing economic uncertainty. But despite recent layoff news, many organizations are still hiring qualified talent. So why aren’t more people jumping ship?

Here’s why I think flexibility is the key. It is one of the most important factors keeping satisfied people connected with their employers and committed to doing their best work. In fact, as a motivational force, flexibility is second only to salary — ranking even higher than a positive work culture.

That’s powerful stuff. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s look closer.

Making a Business Case for Flexibility

If you’re mapping your HR goals for 2023, keep this caveat in mind: From a business perspective, flexibility may be losing some of its sheen. Organizations are facing the prospect of another year trying to juggle remote and hybrid workforce models. And after years of struggling to get it right, some companies may not be willing to invest as much time and effort to make it work.

Other business factors are causing leaders to push for a return to the office. After all, money talks. And the cost of office space doesn’t drop by 50% if only half of your workforce is filling the space. Also, we hear more executives emphasizing what suffers when people work from a distance — social bonds, career growth, collaboration and innovation.

But if you’re contemplating a full-scale return to office, perhaps you should think twice. Here’s why. I’m reminded of a 2021 #WorkTrends podcast conversation about flexibility with work-life expert and business consultant, Suzanne Brown.

Did Suzanne know something the rest of us weren’t ready to take seriously when she said this?

“People will stick around now. But as soon as the economy starts to strengthen, if you haven’t already built flexibility into your culture, you’ll start to lose people quickly.”

Circumstances may have shifted since that discussion, but Suzanne’s advice still holds true.

Flexibility Isn’t Just Skin Deep

When the conversation turned to imagining what flexible work could look like on the other side of the pandemic, I recall Suzanne saying:

Flexibility is more than just taking an afternoon off once in a while. Flexibility is how you treat employees in the long-term.

So true. The pandemic underscored what employers already knew (but may not have been willing to fully support at that time). But the fact remains, people want and deserve flexibility, even when the pandemic isn’t a concern.

With this in mind, what can employers do to build flexibility into their organization’s DNA? The challenge is to match the right conditions to choices that make sense for your workforce. Flexibility is both an informal and a formal state of work. And every organization is unique.

The possibilities are diverse: job sharing, split-shifts, permanent remote work, four-day work weeks, cross-functional talent mobility programs, project-based talent sharing, freelancing pools, part-time arrangements and more.

But the trick is to offer a mix of options that are relevant and meaningful for your people, while also supporting your organization’s values, culture and goals. If you’re serious about finding the best choices, you’ll involve your people in defining the options and being accountable for their success.

Clarifying the Rules

Flexibility deserves to be more than a random whim or a moving target. Employees and employers alike need to agree on guidelines. Indeed, your team’s ability to perform well in any combination of flexible roles demands a workable game plan.

Because employees see flexibility as the sign of a great work culture, it’s important to get their buy-in. Begin with a renewed reality check. Take the time now to ask employees and managers what kind of flexible options they believe would work best, going forward. (Anonymous surveys and feedback tools are terrific at helping you manage this process and interpret findings.)

Keep in mind that individual circumstances, career objectives and personal preferences change over time. What works for someone today may no longer fit in a year or two. People don’t want to be trapped in a work structure that no longer serves them. What will your process be for people who want to rethink their choices and modify their work model?

Here’s the clincher for employers. You need to demonstrate respect for people’s wishes. Respect and recognition are intimately connected with employee satisfaction, productivity and commitment.

That means leaders must be willing to do more than listen. It’s essential to take appropriate action in response to input. And it’s even more important to repeat this process, over and over again. When you demonstrate an ongoing commitment to building your flexible agenda around collaborative conversations, how can employees resist?

We’ll see what happens soon enough. The pandemic no longer has a grip on our every move, but the Great Resignation is still happening. No one knows for sure what will unfold next. But whatever challenges lie ahead, you can’t go wrong by staying in touch, staying open and staying flexible.

It could just be what convinces more of your people to stay.

Using OKR Methods To Lift Business Performance

As 2022 draws to a close, most organizations are deeply involved in planning, budgeting and forecasting for the coming year. To complete this rigorous process, leaders often invest significant time, attention and energy for weeks or even months. Yet research says more than 90% of those strategies will never be executed. How can you develop an operational plan you’ll actually use?

Today’s uncertain economic environment is prompting leaders to seek out more flexible, reliable planning tools. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. For decades, some organizations have relied on highly effective, affordable practices and tools based on Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

Understanding OKRs

The OKR framework is favored by fast-growing tech giants like Google, LinkedIn, and Spotify, as well as start-ups that hope to follow in their footsteps.

OKRs are a way of setting strategic goals, first at the company level. Then departments, teams and individuals align their goals with the organization in a systematic way. But this framework is much more than a simple goal format. It comes with multiple step-by-step execution best practices.

For example, consider the “check-in” step, which is usually conducted on a weekly basis. This lightweight update process keeps everyone on your team focused, informed and on-track throughout an OKR cycle. Regular check-ins also help leaders avoid becoming consumed in reactive firefighting, which is often why strategies never see daylight.

Specialized software can help make steps like check-ins faster and easier to manage. For example, with OKR tools like ZOKRI, the check-in process takes only minutes to complete.

Unlocking The Full Benefits of OKR

OKR Snakes and Ladders - Best Practices and Mistakes to AvoidThe OKR process seems simple enough. However, making the most of OKRs requires nuance. Understanding how to navigate these nuances can help you quickly move from an OKR novice to a highly skilled OKR-driven organization.

Some important nuances are outlined below and are illustrated in this OKR “Snakes and Ladders” infographic:

7 OKR Ladders (Top Tips)

To help you succeed at OKRs, here are 7 top tips from organizations that have relied on them for years to drive performance and growth:

  • Use OKR as a focal point for debating issues and opportunities that, if solved, can move the needle. You could also consider them a blueprint for team “therapy” that creates engagement and excitement.
  • Identify meaningful, measurable outcomes (“key results”) to be sure you define success effectively. Discourage vanity metrics and “to-do list” outcomes.
  • Use KPIs to measure business-as-usual performance. Reserve OKRs for more valuable performance metrics, focused on strategic initiatives.
  • Establish aspirational goals selectively to improve focus and unlock innovative ways of thinking. OKRs let you set stretch goals without creating unnecessary stress among stakeholders.
  • Keep in mind that OKRs do not have to follow your organization chart. For example, they can be used effectively with cross-functional team initiatives.
  • Use operational processes built into OKRs to ensure that information is flowing as needed and your organization develops an executional rhythm.
  • Leverage retrospectives at the end of OKR cycles by creating positive shared learning experiences that inform future plans.

7 OKR Snakes (Pitfalls)

Perhaps the greatest strength of the OKR framework is its popularity. The biggest obstacles and mistakes have already been solved many times before, so common issues like these are easy to spot and avoid:

  • Sometimes, executive teams are not prepared to lead by example. Instead, they expect others to set and update goals, but they don’t manage their own. You don’t want to be one of these leaders.
  • Goals assigned to you aren’t as effective as goals you help create. To unlock stronger performance gains, get more people involved in the process. Discover together what needs improvement and support others in achieving their goals.
  • Similarly, avoid developing team OKRs in a silo. Team OKRs are much more powerful when they’re the product of cross-team discussions.
  • Too many team or individual OKRs dilute your focus. Instead, set fewer goals, each with high potential business impact.
  • Don’t treat OKR steps as optional actions. Without mandatory check-ins, you lose a single point-of-truth and people stop taking reports and updates seriously.
  • When the risks and consequences of not achieving OKRs are perceived as high you might be tempted to low-ball, but that can undermine the process. Grading OKRs and retrospectives helps you avoid this issue.
  • Setting and forgetting OKRs opens the door for business-as-usual firefighting to take over your agenda. Clearly, this jeopardizes overall performance outcomes. It’s important to commit to the OKR cycle and not skip updates or OKR meetings.

Summary

OKR is a proven goal setting framework. It can help you structure, share and execute organizational strategy, while making it easy for individuals and teams to support those goals.

Businesses that rely on OKRs typically are high-performers with traditional organization charts and cross-functional teams. But as everyone works toward aligned goals, people are more likely to identify and solve problems. And they learn from each other faster than those without OKRs.

Adopting OKRs is more than adopting a new goal format. It means you’re embracing a new way of talking about challenges and opportunities, and tracking progress towards goals and learning from experience. The know-how and tools to implement OKRs are within reach – even for organizations with a limited budget and management resources.

The Serious Value of Humor at Work

I’m a fan of fun work environments. So of course, I’m also a fan of humor at work.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should all pretend to be stand-up comedians. And I’m not talking about snide remarks, disrespectful jokes, or pranks at someone else’s expense. Work is serious business. But does it really need to be so very, deeply serious all the time? I don’t think so.

A touch of humor is a natural way to engage people and lighten the mood. For instance, who doesn’t enjoy taking a moment to bond with a colleague over a funny meme?

In my opinion, sharing a chuckle or a smile with someone keeps us connected at a very human level. And fortunately, I don’t have to look far to find an expert who agrees with me! So join me for this #WorkTrends podcast episode, as I take a look closer at the special power of humor at work:

Meet Our Guest:  David Horning

Today, I’m comparing notes with David Horning, a professional comedian who took the leap from making people laugh on stage to becoming a business consultant. Now he helps others learn how to use positive psychology, communication skills, and humor to manage difficult work situations and enhance organizational culture.

Humor vs. Comedy

First, let’s talk about the word humor. What is it exactly and how is it different from comedy?

Well, humor and creativity are similar in many ways. Humor is a pattern disruptor.

Basically, it is an internal process that lets us be okay with holding two competing thoughts at the same time. Humor allows us to connect those dots in new ways. It connects different ideas. And it also connects similar ideas in new ways.

So basically it disrupts preconditioned thought patterns and introduces new possibilities. Think of it as the crack in the door that allows us to see beyond a circumstance, a challenge, adversity, or even trauma of some sort.

Why Workplace Humor Matters

Do you think humor is playing a more important role in work culture?

Oh definitely. It’s catching on, and with good reason.

Studies show that CEOs prefer employees with a sense of humor. In fact, if you display your sense of humor at work, you’re perceived as being more intelligent, more likable, and CEOs think you’re doing a better job.

Not only that, but employees prefer bosses who don’t take themselves so seriously.

What If You’re Not Funny?

Some people just don’t have a funny bone in their body. What do you tell them when it comes to humor as a vital skill?

Actually, you don’t have to be funny. That’s the great thing about incorporating humor into the workplace. You can appreciate it in others.

Celebrate people who are bringing sunshine into the office – people who are surrounded by laughter – your more creative thinkers.

You can be the most analytical person in the world, but anybody can develop an appreciation for humor, for laughter, for comedy. We all have that capability. All you really need is to give yourself permission to think outside of the box, to think beyond the strict labels we tend to give things.

How Leaders Can Support a Culture of Humor at Work

What advice do you have for a manager who’s unsure about supporting humor at work? 

First, if you’re nervous about it, don’t overwhelm yourself. But keep in mind that when humor is used in the workplace, it should be consistent with your organization’s values.

For example, if respect is one of your values and a joke you’re about to tell isn’t respectful, pump the brakes. Using those shared values as your baseline is a great place to start.

 


For more excellent advice from David about how to tap into the power of humor at work, listen to this full episode. Also, be sure to subscribe to the #WorkTrends Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. And to continue this conversation on social media, follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Workforce Engagement is Sinking. How Can You Turn the Tide?

Have you noticed that workforce engagement and motivation are slipping? You’re not the only one. In April, Gallup confirmed that U.S. workforce engagement declined from a high of 36% in 2020 to 34% in 2021.

2022 hasn’t been any better. This year, only 32% of full-time and part-time employees told Gallup they’re engaged, while 17% say they are actively disengaged.

What’s happening here? Why is work engagement declining? And what can you do to prevent burnout and unnecessary resignations on your team?

Why Is Engagement In a Slump?

Every business is different. However, there are some common trends we can point to as we search for underlying reasons for decreased engagement.

Burnout, high turnover, and poor communication are among the most prevalent causes. And these problems only get worse when good employees stop caring. That’s because new team members tend to look to high-achieving colleagues for advice, motivation, and guidance.

Let’s look closer at each of these factors:

1. Burnout

While burnout can be linked to chronic hustle culture, return-to-office concerns also are playing a role. After many people were forced to work from home in 2020, they’ve grown accustomed to choosing where and when they work. Now, when called back to the office, many want to hold on to remote or hybrid work models and flexible schedules. Who can blame them?

When employees feel they’re losing a sense of choice over their work, or they recognize an imbalance in work/life responsibilities, they’re more likely to disengage or “quiet quit.” No wonder this phenomenon has been gaining traction during the past year.

2. Turnover

All this dissatisfaction naturally leads to higher employee turnover, which (no surprise) also influences engagement.

On one hand, welcoming a new coworker or manager can be exciting. However, the learning curve that comes with getting a new team member up to speed can create a work imbalance for veteran employees, even if it’s just for a short time.

This imbalance can create feelings of resentment, especially when engagement is already suffering for other reasons. As a result, more people could decide to leave. And if you don’t pay close attention, this can spiral into a very costly vicious cycle.

3. Poor Communication

When organizations try to accommodate hybrid, remote, or flexible work, it can be hard to communicate effectively. Virtual meetings provide more flexibility and enable a sense of work-life balance that many employees now prefer.

But if instant messaging or online video calls are your team’s only form of communication, this isn’t a sustainable way to work. If you don’t use these tools wisely, it puts effective collaboration and productivity at risk. For strong results, you need a plan.

How to Lift Workforce Engagement

Current engagement numbers don’t look good, but that doesn’t mean HR and business managers are powerless. Some U.S. companies have been able to increase workforce engagement despite difficult circumstances. Here are four solutions that can help you improve:

1. Create a Game Plan for Remote or Hybrid Work

Not all companies are able to offer remote, hybrid, or flexible scheduling opportunities. If yours does, then make sure you develop and execute a supportive strategy, so everyone in these roles can succeed.

As previously mentioned, flexible work opportunities are likely to create confusion among employees if work processes and expectations aren’t communicated clearly or executed thoughtfully. Core workplace principles like accessibility, transparency, and inclusion are especially important.

Talk with your managers and colleagues to get their input about remote work practices they recommend for your organization. For example, you may find that using apps like Slack, Teams, or Monday to conduct brief daily online meetings will add a layer of accountability.

2. Encourage Employees to Take Time Off

42% of U.S. employees say they haven’t taken a vacation in the past year. That’s a huge percentage. Working too long without a break will only make stress and burnout worse.

Encourage your staff to take their allotted PTO by creating a culture that supports taking time to rest and recharge. If you are on the leadership team, set an example. Take your time off and try not to respond to work messages outside of working hours.

3. Invest in the Right Tools

Another important way to prevent burnout is by investing in the right tools for your staff. Note that this isn’t just about technology. It may mean you’ll need to purchase new software or update existing technology. But it can also mean outsourcing specific activities to a specialized services provider.

Start by identifying the bottlenecks in your team’s workflows. Then consider any solutions that can reduce or remove redundant or unnecessary tasks. Think in terms of cost-effective ways to automate and streamline work activities.

4. Strive to be Approachable and Transparent

In a healthy workplace culture, communication moves freely to and from all corners of the organization. It’s not just about a top-down flow, but bottom-up, and side-to-side as well.

If employees aren’t comfortable voicing their opinions, feelings, and suggestions, they’re more likely to burn out. To lift engagement, commit to creating an open work environment that welcomes feedback and ideas at all levels.

This is less about formal initiatives and more about consistent behavior among leaders and managers. It’s about showing up every day, listening, and being responsive.

Final Thoughts

Many factors are contributing to the recent decline in workforce engagement. Although the solution may seem complex and out of reach, try some of these recommendations. I think you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes in the way employees view your company and their work.

More often than not, people want to do their jobs. But when little things like lack of information, inefficient technology, mundane tasks, lack of support, and strict schedules pile up, it’s only a matter of time before people start to disengage.

Be the boss that steps in and reignites the passion that got your employees to apply in the first place. If you keep at it, engagement is sure to follow.

Photo: Kevin Bhagat

Remote Work Leadership: What Matters Now

In 2020, our most popular blog post discussed how leaders could move forward when Covid abruptly forced many of us to work from home. I remember writing that piece, wondering which remote work leadership practices would make the biggest impact during those uncertain, turbulent, anxiety-filled days.

At that time, it was impossible to fathom what was happening, let alone how to respond. There were no experts, benchmarks, or guidebooks to point the way forward. I couldn’t predict the future any better than anyone else. Still, my message seemed to strike a chord with our community.

Fortunately, necessity is the mother of invention. And resourceful leaders persevered, relying on trial and error to navigate through those early quarantine days.

Covid CliffsNotes

Nearly three years later, we’ve all learned more about remote work than anyone could have imagined. In fact, we’ve adapted so well that many people want to keep working remotelyat least partially.

With this in mind, I decided to revisit my “early Covid” advice to see how much of it still holds true. So here’s a fresh look at 4 key points that seem just as relevant today as we continue to define new ways of working:

Remote Work Leadership Lessons From Covid

1. Be Tactful (Always a Wise Choice)

Exceptional times call for exceptional tact. I noted it then and it’s still unequivocally true. Times may not be as exceptional as they were in March 2020, but we now know that what we once considered “normal” will never return. In fact, the sudden and scary pivot to remote work turned out to be much more effective than we thought.

What changed for the worse? Among other things, stress continues to rise, inflation has risen to record levels, the economy has suffered, and employees have been resigning in droves. In this unstable environment, everyone benefits from tactful, considerate guidance.

In 2020, I encouraged leaders to give people a break when minor mishaps occur, like being late to a meeting. It seems people are now better at coping with small annoyances. (How often have you said in online meetings, “You’re on mute…” without reaching a breaking point?)

However, stress is real. It continues to mount, as mental health issues increasingly challenge many members of the workforce. My advice going forward? Remember to pair diplomacy with a healthy dose of empathy.

2. Provide Plenty of Training (But Wait, There’s More)

Training is critical. The more training we provide, the more confident and capable remote and hybrid work teams will be. Strong leaders are strong learners. And they believe in coaching and developing others. Remote work leaders that invested to help their teams learn, adjust, and grow are now operating at an advantage.

We didn’t know how well people would embrace distributed work practices and tools. But leaders with faith in their team’s ability to adapt now have another advantage: optimism and support that spread throughout their organizations. It’s easy now to see the value of doubling down on learning. But in those bleak early days, this kind of commitment was truly visionary.

The lesson here? Whatever challenges you face, make sure your people have the knowledge and skills they need to come up to speed with a minimum of friction. The sooner they can work effectively, the sooner they’ll become engaged.

But this isn’t just about ensuring that people complete a course. Smart remote work leadership combines skill development training with nudges, status checks, resources, roadmaps, measurable goals, social performance support, and open recognition.

That’s the win. Why? Because no one learns well in a vacuum.

3. Seek Frequent Feedback (Never Enough)

No doubt about it, regular input and reality checks are vital. In 2020, I was concerned that distance could widen the gap between a leader’s view of work culture and an employee’s reality. Physical proximity makes it relatively easy to close that gap, but remote work requires intentional communication.

I suggested reaching out formally to ask employees about their experience and learn what kind of resources they need to feel comfortable, supported, and productive.

Did leaders actually send feedback requests and surveys to their remote teams? Perhaps some did. But then, we became obsessed with isolation and disconnection. Soon, employee engagement took a hit and leaders started watching some of their best employees walk out the virtual door as The Great Resignation gained steam.  

What went wrong? Perhaps remote work leadership didn’t act fast enough. More likely, these managers have become just as exhausted as employees — but they’ve been overlooked. The truth is, no one is immune. In fact, recent U.S. and U.K. research found that 98% of HR practitioners and leaders are burnt out! 

4. Stay Connected (More Than Ever)

This leads to a final lesson — remote work leadership means staying connected with managers, employees, and teams. Full disclosure:  The TalentCulture crew has worked remotely since Day One. Our vision is a virtual “super team,” leveraging digital tools and processes to manage business functions and grow a thriving digital community.

I’ve always admired other leaders who take it upon themselves to reach out and be present via multiple channels. And the power of that approach became apparent throughout the worst of the pandemic.

We saw remote work leaders who stayed involved, engaged, and accessible, giving their teams a sense of alignment and empowerment. I’ve taken notes and found that their toolkits include quick video chats, daily messages, virtual town halls, and short/sweet messages.

Leaders who adhere to an open-door policy — even in virtual settings — are even more important now. Why? This behavior fosters a culture of inclusion and belonging. If you want to bring your workforce together (and trust me, you do), you’ll focus on this lesson. The more digital touchpoints you develop, the more likely you’ll reach everyone in a way that resonates, and the more “present” you’ll be for them.

Leadership Takes Heart (and Strong Nerves)

A final note:  We’re not yet on the other side of the pandemic, but we’ve learned a lot. And we know the world of work will never be the same.

I’m reminded of how far we’ve come when I recall my 2020 comment:

Peace of mind is as hard to come by as n95 masks.”

Thank goodness we aren’t dealing with a mask shortage anymore! Nevertheless, we still see high levels of stress, anxiety, and disengagement at work. And this is likely to continue for a long time to come.

Here’s where great management qualities count. Empathetic, engaged, resourceful, in-touch remote work leadership makes all the difference. It says your organization truly cares about supporting employees while getting the job done. And that’s essential, because the buck always stops at the corner office — whether it’s at corporate headquarters or at your dining room table.

People Science: A Fix for Broken Employee Engagement?

For years, organizations have invested heavily in programs designed to improve employee engagement and work performance. But despite good intentions, too many of these endeavors have fallen short. Now, some are turning to people science and coaching as a solution. Is this the answer?

What exactly is people science? How does it work hand-in-hand with coaching to drive better outcomes? And what should HR and business leaders do to implement a successful strategy?

I invite you to join me as I discuss this topic in-depth with an expert in people science on this #WorkTrends podcast episode.

Meet Our Guest:  Kevin Campbell

Today, I’m excited to welcome Kevin Campbell, a people scientist and executive strengths coach who specializes in leveraging workforce analytics with the art of leadership to help organizations strengthen work teams and improve their employee experience. Over the years, Kevin has worked with some of the most prestigious firms in workforce strategy, including Culture Amp, Deloitte, Gallup, and now Qualtrics.

Essential People Science Skills

Being an employee experience scientist sounds exciting, Kevin. But what exactly do you do?

To be effective, it requires expertise in multiple disciplines. Think of a Venn diagram with three intersecting circles.

One is people analytics, another is organizational psychology, and the other is applied practice. An employee experience scientist sits in the intersection of those three areas.

Understanding Employee Engagement

As a people scientist, what does the term “employee engagement” mean to you?

It’s important to talk about what it is not, as well as what it is.

It’s not a survey. Often, we lose sight of the fact that engagement is actually an emotional and psychological state. A survey is just a tool that helps us measure that state.

Engagement really starts with emotional commitment. I emphasize the emotional aspect because it’s about the desire to stay with an organization and help fulfill its objectives — not because you’re obligated or you feel forced to do it, but because you want to.

Pinpointing Engagement Issues

What is the most critical challenge you’re seeing right now?

Most organizations overemphasize understanding and underemphasize improvement in action.

For example, according to 2021 data, nearly 90% of companies measure engagement or have some type of employee feedback program, but only 7% of employees say their company acts on feedback in a highly effective way.

We haven’t updated that research yet, but I’m guessing it probably hasn’t improved much.

Bridging The Gap

How can employers address this problem? 

It’s important to recognize that the engagement survey or data isn’t the end. It’s really just the beginning.

To improve, you’ll want to translate results into actions that can have outsized impact on the your company culture. And the key is to use simple coaching skills.

 


For more great advice from Kevin about the art and science behind how to develop and sustain a great employee experience, listen to this full episode.

Also, be sure to subscribe to the #WorkTrends Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. And to continue this conversation on social media, follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

7 Employee Appreciation Ideas People Love

Content Impact Award - TalentCulture 2022

Employee appreciation is naturally top-of-mind for employers during the holiday season. But employees actually prefer recognition throughout the year. In fact, according to a HubSpot survey, 39% of employees don’t feel appreciated, and nearly 7 in 10 think better recognition would boost their performance.

So, what can you do to help your workforce feel more deeply appreciated?

Some organizations rely on standard, old-school methods like plaques. But a more personalized approach is far more effective. A thoughtful token of appreciation is worth much more than its monetary value, alone. It tells people they matter. And that kind of message lasts long after it is received.

Here are some meaningful ways to show your team members just how grateful you are for their contributions.

7 Ways to Elevate Employee Appreciation

1. Give Hard Workers a Break

When you recognize employees for an extraordinary effort on a project or success in achieving an important business goal, don’t just say thank you. Reward them with some well-deserved time off.

In going above and beyond, employees often put in extra hours working on weekends, at night, or in the wee hours of the morning. Along the way, they’re likely to lose precious sleep or family time. By letting them redeem some of that time you can help them relax and recharge after an intense work effort. Even one day away can make an impact.

Providing time off is easy. And if you toss in a bonus gift card or cash for these employees to spend on activities they enjoy, that break is likely to be especially memorable.

2. Spotlight Your Stars on Social Media

Want people on your team to feel like stars? Showcase top performers on social media for the world to see. Share photos or video clips of them on your organization’s accounts and express your gratitude for their unique contributions in an uplifting caption.

Invite your leaders and others to congratulate featured individuals in the comment section. Your “stars” will love the attention as it spreads across social media for others to see. These interactions also increase visibility for your business in all the right ways.

This kind of public recognition is personalized, community-minded, and compelling. Above all, it can boost an employee’s pride, confidence, and morale in ways that private recognition can’t touch. 

3. Create Customized Rewards

Are you thinking of giving top performers a framed certificate, a trophy, or maybe a cash reward? Instead, why not appeal to their particular interests? How do they spend their free time? What hobbies or passion projects matter most to them?

For example, do you have fitness freaks on your team? Reward them with a gym membership, a network pass, or a subsidy.

Maybe some of your people are into group activities. Why not share experiential rewards with them? For instance, you could arrange an outing at a local bowling, bocce, or Topgolf venue.

Or for those who love outdoor adventures like hiking, fly fishing, or river rafting, you could go all out and book a fun vacation package like this: White Water Rafting Montana.

Imagine how thrilled people will be with rewards that fit their interests. Whatever your budget, this is a highly effective way to keep employees motivated and reinforce your relationship with them.

4. Treat Your Team to a Tasty Meal

Everyone loves to eat. And there are endless ways to show employee appreciation with the gift of free food. You could send each employee a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Or to celebrate as a team, why not organize a surprise lunch out?

If your people work remotely, you can arrange to have a meal delivered to everyone’s door at the same time on the same day. Contact a restaurant each employee loves and order their favorite menu item. Or send a gift card to everyone in advance. This is an easy, cost-effective way to bring people together for a casual meetup. And don’t forget to send a heartfelt thank you note to each recipient, as icing on the cake.

5. Celebrate Everyday Efforts

To build and sustain a thriving workforce, look for ways to celebrate individuals and teams on a frequent basis. Ask for your workforce to be your eyes and ears to nominate people who deserve recognition for everyday accomplishments, little wins, and hard work, as well as big achievements. And encourage everyone in your organization to celebrate others, as well.

Genuine, ongoing praise is a powerful employee feedback tactic that drives engagement and job satisfaction. It also models the kind of spirit you want to see at the core of your culture.

Also, don’t forget opportunities to celebrate birthdays and other personal milestones. Let your employees know these aren’t just “checklist” items, but heartfelt gestures. You’ll see them smiling more often and sharing appreciation with peers.

6. Highlight Employee Excellence in Internal Newsletters

Internal newsletters and intranets are great for informational updates, but they’re just as powerful for employee appreciation. It pays to think creatively about how you can acknowledge your best performers through these channels.

You could dedicate a regular column in one of these vehicles to highlight stories about the hard work and accomplishments of top performers. These stories are an excellent way to boost morale and inspire top talent to remain engaged and keep aiming high.

7. Make The Most of Anniversaries

Some organizations treat anniversaries as just another day. But wouldn’t it be great to work for a company that celebrates every year of your employment as an important milestone?

The average employee turnover rate remains 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels. In this tough talent market, why would any employer let an anniversary go to waste?

Each year matters in the life of an employee. Whether they’re new to your organization or they’ve been on board for a long time, every member of your team deserves a celebration dedicated to their service. This kind of recognition can take many forms. But whatever you do, be sure to sincerely acknowledge people for their loyalty and their role in helping your organization advance its mission.

Final Thoughts

Great companies embrace employee appreciation as a crucial way to boost motivation, minimize turnover, and set their organization apart from competitors. Appreciating employees doesn’t need to be difficult, but it should be timely, sincere, and relevant.

Even if your budget is limited, there are endless ways to acknowledge people while reinforcing your organization’s goals, values, and culture. Why not think outside the box and show your appreciation in a truly unique way? All it takes is your commitment, consistency, and some thoughtful planning.

Why Great Leaders Express Gratitude at Work

As social beings, many of our relationships are based on reciprocity. At work, we’re often involved in transactional behavior, where we expect to receive at least as much value as we give. But our deepest relationships are usually driven by higher motives like gratitude. A thankful mindset benefits our relationships with others, even if we don’t expect anything in return. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to express gratitude at work.

Research shows that people who practice workplace gratitude help foster more compassion and consideration among their colleagues. For example, the University of Central Florida recently conducted a study among employees from various professions, asking them to journal about work gratitude for 10 days.

This simple act led participants to demonstrate more respect, politeness, and self-discipline. And this is only one of many studies underscoring the power of thankfulness. Bottom line ⁠— if you want to improve your company culture, it’s wise to focus on gratitude.

How Workplace Gratitude Works

Practicing gratitude at work is easy. It’s about recognizing good things that happen throughout the course of a given day. You can focus on an employee’s notable achievement, a coworker’s warm response to a challenging customer, or the arrival of a new coffee machine in the break room. The possibilities are endless.

Here are three types of work gratitude that directly influence employee experience:

1. Episodic Gratitude

This is tied to specific positive events you’ve encountered. For instance, you may be offered a new assignment you’ve been eyeing for a while. Or colleagues may jump in to help you meet a tight deadline. Or your employer gives you time off to deal with a serious illness in your family.

There is a strong correlation between expressions of gratitude in specific situations and positive organizational behavior. In other words, by practicing episodic gratitude over time, you can form a healthy habit that benefits you and your colleagues, alike. And ultimately, it can elevate your company culture as well.

2. Persistent Gratitude

When you consistently tend to feel thankful in a particular context, that is persistent gratitude. People with persistent gratitude are more likely to notice the good in other people’s actions and be thankful for them.

For instance, say your colleague fixes some basic errors in a document you’ve drafted so you don’t have to spend more time revising it. Some people may expect this as a normal part of a colleague’s job. But if you embrace persistent gratitude, you’ll be thankful for that effort to improve your document.

So, why is persistent gratitude important at work? When people feel good about what they do for a living, it leads to better overall well-being. Persistent gratitude leads to positive work-related emotions like enthusiasm and happiness. It also helps form stronger relationships, which in turn can strengthen your organizational culture.

3. Collective Gratitude

This is a feeling of thankfulness that stretches across an organization. It means you have a culture where people openly appreciate each other. With collective gratitude, employees feel free to express gratitude to colleagues, superiors, and clients.

A work environment where you’re appreciated and your efforts are celebrated sounds like a dream. As mentioned previously, persistent gratitude nurtures happiness and stronger relationships, so imagine what this ethic can accomplish when organizations fully embrace it. That’s why highly effective leaders foster a sense of collective gratitude.

Building a Culture of Gratitude

How can you help employees feel valued, recognized, and appreciated at work? Here are some proven ways you can encourage more gratitude throughout your organization:

  • Respect employees and colleagues by consistently seeking their input and listening to their ideas.
  • Take time to celebrate individual and team successes.
  • Believe that even a simple verbal or written “thank you” can go a long way.
  • Tell people exactly how they make a difference to you and others, so they believe your comments are genuine.
  • Don’t hold back. Share positive feedback whenever you see an opportunity.
  • Ask people how you can help them grow or rise to a new work challenge.
  • Be available to help when others are struggling through difficult times.
  • Hold periodic recognition ceremonies where employees nominate colleagues for awards like custom trophies, personalized keepsakes, or other customized items that strike a meaningful chord.
  • Publicly thank those who’ve helped you at work so people will be encouraged to offer assistance to others, as well.
  • Reward your team with fun group events that can also strengthen bonds. For example, you could host informal offsite trips, game nights, picnics, happy hours, and team lunches.

The Many Benefits of Gratitude at Work

When you express gratitude as a natural habit, you’ll begin to notice that it improves your attitude about work. And eventually, that genuine sense of gratitude will spread to others around you and benefit your culture in multiple ways. For example, in organizations where gratitude is a priority you’ll find:

  • Less job stress and more satisfaction
  • Better coworker relationships and friendships
  • A happier, more collaborative atmosphere
  • Heightened morale
  • Better employee self-esteem, mental health, and confidence
  • More energy and enthusiasm
  • And even improved physical health

A spirit of genuine appreciation can fill work environments with positivity. And when employees feel good about their work experience, a better customer experience and increased sales are likely to follow. It’s an all-around win-win.

Final Thoughts

Leaders typically don’t express gratitude as often as employees wish they would. But if you’re a leader, it’s your responsibility to keep your workforce engaged, connected, and optimistic. Consistently acknowledging others can showcase your professionalism, improve your business relationships, help you stand out as a true team player, and lift your workplace culture.

It may not cost anything to be outwardly appreciative, but developing a habit of thankfulness can make a massive difference. You have nothing to lose. So why not give it a try?

10 Ways to Drive Employee Engagement With Team Problem-Solving

Are you looking for proven ways to drive employee engagement? Many organizations find that collaboration is a highly effective strategy. For instance, consider these 10 team-centered methods recommended by business leaders:

  1. Use the SCRUM Framework for Project Management
  2. Involve Action Focus Groups to Improve Employee Engagement
  3. Empower Employees to Take Ownership of Work Issues
  4. Give Employees a Voice in Problem Solving
  5. Create a Strength-Based Team Culture Using Assessment Tools
  6. Leverage Diversity and Mastermind for Problem-Solving
  7. Take a Bottom-up Approach
  8. Use OKRs to Drive Teamwork and Engagement
  9. Engage Employees in Weekly Virtual Team-Building Activities
  10. Personalize Engagement Drivers to Employee Groups

Why are these engagement ideas so powerful? Learn more from the descriptions below…

1) Use the SCRUM Framework for Project Management

The SCRUM framework encourages team members to work together to solve problems and complete tasks. This helps foster a sense of teamwork and engagement. It also gives team members a say in a project’s direction and execution, so they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. Plus, each phase of the project is transparent to everyone on the team, so everyone on the team remains aware, focused and motivated.

Omer Usanmaz, CEO of Qooper Mentoring & Learning Software

2) Involve “Action Focus Groups” to Improve Employee Engagement

We conducted an engagement survey with results that identified six individual areas for improvement. Instead of using managers to do this, we asked for employee volunteers to create a response to the challenges identified in the survey. Each Action Focus Group (AFG) included 10 members who met 3-5 times to identify and recommend a solution for the company to implement. Then, each AFG presented its improvement plan to the senior leadership team, which in turn, provided feedback. After each group adjusted its plan, we implemented the final recommendations.

With this AFG approach, employees became actively involved in solving key problems. In addition, this process gave participants an opportunity to build connections outside their primary business areas.

Deborah Norris, Senior HR Manager at Amentum

3) Empower Employees to Take Ownership of Work Issues

We drive employee engagement with team problem-solving by encouraging employees to identify and solve problems affecting their work. We have found that employees are happier, more engaged and more productive when they can take ownership of issues that impact their work. 

We achieve this by providing space for employees to voice their concerns about issues and encouraging teams to come together and solve problems (sometimes with incentives), instead of relying only on managers or supervisors. 

Debee Gold, Owner & Clinical Director of Gold Counseling & Wellness

4) Give Employees a Voice in Problem Solving

Too many organizations identify problems, and then leadership dictates solutions in a vacuum. But at 104 West, we recently held an all-company meeting, where administration and staff broke out into groups, identified roadblocks to growth, proposed solutions, and then came together to share thoughts. Now, we’re implementing plans based on those ideas, and every person in the organization has a role in thisa role they helped determine.

This process helped us drive employee engagement at all levels, empowering people to be solution-seekers and showcase their problem-solving and leadership abilities.

Joan Wyly, Vice President of 104 Degrees West Partners

5) Create a Strength-Based Team Culture Using Assessment Tools

Using assessment tools like Gallup StrengthsFinder, team members can understand how to create a more strength-based approach to teamwork and problem-solving. Additionally, regular “skip level” sessions allow for bottom-up feedback that helps build a more robust work culture. Also, personalized recognition leads to a more positive employee experience.

Together, these practices can produce a psychologically safe environment where teams thrive.

Rapti Khurana, VP of Talent Engagement & Development at the National Football League

6) Leverage Diversity and Mastermind for Problem Solving

When problems need to be solved, team members tend to find a solution by relying on their individual experience and determination. That can lead to excessive time scratching heads and spinning wheels, without making much progress. However, when people come together to leverage the power of cognitive diversity, an equally diverse array of potential solutions becomes more readily available.

A mastermind-style problem-solving conversation brings together members of disparate teams that are traditionally siloed. Coming together in this way to work toward a common goal can positively impact everything from engagement and retention to trust and productivity!

Erich Kurschat, Owner of Harmony Insights LLC

7) Take a Bottom-up Approach

I’m a big proponent of the bottom-up approach to team problem-solving, based on the teachings of Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa. We involve our front-line employees in group problem-solving, as well as our managers. Front-line employees are given the authority to act autonomously within specific guidelines.

This approach is practical because those closest to a problem often know the most about it and are in the best position to devise solution strategies. Empowering workers at all levels of our organization to participate in problem-solving drives employee engagement.

Dean Kaplan, President of The Kaplan Group

8) Use OKRs to Drive Teamwork and Engagement

For our team at Compt, goal setting and management have been driving forces in employee engagement and group problem-solving. We set objectives and key results (OKRs) as a company, and each department has its own OKRs that support overall company goals. In addition, each employee’s personal goals are tied to that employee’s department goals.

We host monthly company-wide “retro” meetings to share how each team is performing in a measured and data-driven way. Everything we do is quantified, which promotes accountability and cross-department teamwork to achieve overarching goals. This ensures that we are all constantly moving in the same direction toward the same outcomes. And because each individual’s actions impact the company’s success, we feel compelled to be more engaged and create a workplace that benefits us all.

Amy Spurling, CEO, and Founder of Compt

9) Engage Employees in Weekly Virtual Team-Building Activities

One way we combat engagement issues is through weekly virtual team-building activities. Each session is planned and hosted via Zoom by a different group of employees. This way, our workforce enjoys programming variety, while each group has a vested interest in the success of the activity they host. For example, activities have ranged from virtual quiz nights to elaborate online escape room challenges.

These team-building activities have been a resounding success. They’ve provided employees with memorable shared experiences and have helped build bonds between colleagues, ultimately leading to increased workplace collaboration.

Clare Jones, Marketing Manager at OfficeSpaceAU

10) Personalize Engagement Drivers to Employee Groups

The best employee engagement strategy is to ride the drivers. Each organization, of course, will have different drivers. For example, meaningful work, career growth, empowerment, belonging, recognition, leadership, and fulfilling work relationships. 

Choose a segment of your employee population. Then implement a strategic theme strategy across your drivers that is personalized to the group but high-profile enough that successes will be seen and heard throughout the organization. Ride the drivers, measure, rinse and repeat.

Marcus Holmes, HR Operations General Manager at City of Detroit

 


EDITOR’S NOTE: These ideas on how to drive employee engagement were submitted via Terkel. Terkel is a knowledge platform that shares community-driven content based on expert insights. To see questions and get published, sign up at terkel.io.

Want to Fuel Agility? Understand Employee Skills

Sponsored by: Empath

In today’s world of work— agility matters — and how we enable our own employees to meet our company goals, is vital. This isn’t possible without a mechanism to understand the held skill & experiences among our own contributors. In today’s world, seeking talent externally could be considered an outdated and ineffective response to fulfilling talent needs. 

The future of work demands that we explore the weaknesses of this strategy.

Our Guest: Carlos Gutierrez

On the latest Worktrends podcast, I spoke with Carlos Gutierrez, the co-founder, and CEO of Empath, a SaaS technology platform that uses machine learning to transform the way talent is managed and grown internally. Previously, he served as chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategic advisory firm. Carlos spent nearly 30 years with Kellogg, a global manufacturer of well-known food brands.

Let’s open the conversation about the relationship between agility and skills. First, there is no doubt that organizations need to embrace agility. However, if a foundational strategy isn’t in place to respond to rapidly changing internal and external environments, achieving agility will remain elusive.

Agility Requires a Different Mindset

The thing about agility is that it’s sort of the opposite of the way companies used to run where you develop a plan and you stick to the plan. Agile, an agile methodology or agility, is just the opposite. You don’t stick to a plan because you know that your environment will be changing very rapidly. And what we can do is change departments, change teams, move around, redeploy people and do that very quickly if you have a skills inventory of all your employees. So you can do an agile methodology even quicker than it would if you weren’t able to measure skills.

Powering Agility & Upskilling

As the saying goes: Information is power. To manage & deploy the skills to carry out vital initiatives, organizations must know what skills are actually present and those that are missing:

…So you need to have the information of the employee skills, proficiency levels, and the skills required to go to other jobs. And that’s where you get the gap that you need to fill, the upskilling gap. And we do that for every employee in a company.

A Solution: An AI-Powered Internal Skill Library

Capturing existing skills within your organization is critical. People evolve much more quickly than their resumes — and so do the roles they hold. A more sensitive, dynamic mechanism to capture this is required. Applying cutting-edge technology simply makes sense. Moreover, companies that fail to take people skills into consideration when projecting future business needs will inevitably fall short. 

Companies can create more accurate plans if they understand the skills they seek could already exist internally.

…What we tell companies and what companies have found who use skills, who have accurate skills inventories, that the person they’re looking for is already inside the company. They just don’t know it because they don’t have visibility into, say, 20,000 people.

The Wave of the Future: Machine Learning to Establish Skills

Resumes simply aren’t enough to help organizations understand skills and become agile. The language is much more complex than we realize. We need to be less subjective and listen with more powerful tools.

…I hear sometimes about, well, are you going to have machine learning and AI determine the skills of a person or infer? I can assure you that we will be more accurate in companies in this business than the subjectivity of human nature. So our algorithm, our machine learning algorithm captures signals…The machine can infer what the skills are. It’s actually a very complex technology, but you will never notice it. It’s like picking up a phone and calling, you don’t know what’s behind the call.

I hope you found this episode of #WorkTrends helpful. I know that I found the discussion fascinating.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Also, for more great conversations, be sure to follow #WorkTrends on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram!

Why Employee Engagement is Upside Down

impact award
Leaders and managers frequently refer to the famous Albert Einstein quote when something in their organizations isn’t working after repeated efforts. I wonder what Einstein would say about employee engagement?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

For two decades, the benchmark of benchmarks for employee engagement is Gallup, a world-class research organization. In the past 10 years, the percentage of engaged employees in Gallup’s research has fluctuated. From a low of 30% to a high of 36%.

Much ado was made about the uptick in engagement over the past decade before the pandemic reversed the direction of the numbers.

I’m pretty sure Einstein would agree with my old boss at Cisco. Former CEO John Chambers, who famously described missed expectations at Cisco as:

I never get hard work confused with results.

Moving up just six percentage points over a decade. From such a low number to begin with, is indeed a lot of “hard work” and little enduring results.

The Decline of Engaged Employees

The most recent 2022 Gallup numbers show the percent of employees engaged is down.  U.S. companies are down 32%. It was 30% in 2002 and 2012.

I’m not sure how many billions of dollars were spent on employee engagement measurement and programs during this time, but it is clear from this data it was not a productive investment.

The inertia reflected in the engagement data reflects what I’ve heard over the past three years talking to hundreds of HR leaders about what works and what doesn’t in employee engagement.

Most of the feedback is best paraphrased as:

We are not learning anything new from our employee engagement data.

Competition vs Collaboration

I’ve been lucky to work with hundreds of companies and their leadership teams. Especially after I wrote The Collaboration Imperative, which shared the best practices used at Cisco in its transition from a culture based on internal competition to one based on internal collaboration.

From these listening sessions, I’ve come to believe that certain ideas exist in organizational thinking in the absence of hard evidence. I don’t know how these ideas got started. I just know the ideas are entrenched.

For example – the way leaders and managers think about employee engagement today. It reminds me of the way organizations think about career planning. That it is the responsibility of the employee, despite overwhelming evidence indicating a different reality.

If it is true that employees are responsible for their own careers, why is “my manager” the most cited reason when an employee leaves a company?

Employee Engagement is Upside Down

I want to eat my own dog food by starting with evidence. I’ve spent the pandemic sponsoring a large, real-world research study on what makes an employee want to stay at a company. I wanted to know what it would take to get an employee to recommend where they work.

Our primary research and the large collection of company data captured in the second phase of our research confirm we’ve been measuring the wrong things in employee engagement.

In fact, employee engagement is upside down, according to our research.

Instead of measuring how engaged employees are, we should be measuring how engaged leaders and managers are.

In statistical terms, our evidence-based model demonstrated a strong, positive linear relationship between the degree to which leaders and managers engage employees and the willingness of employees to recommend where they work. In other words, the more engaged leaders and managers are in creating organizational culture with their teams, the greater the likelihood of an employee recommending the employer. Our research conclusions have a 95% confidence interval.

The Impact Leaders Have on Employee Engagement

Just like career planning. It’s time to embrace the fact that leaders and managers are the reasons why people fall in love with a company and its culture — or not. Leaders create the global cultural values of an organization; managers implement those values locally.

Company values are based on human behavior, not a poster on the wall. Values-based behaviors start with role-modeling them as leaders and managers. How can we expect employees to be engaged if their management team isn’t?

If we’re going to innovate in how we think about employee engagement, I want to call upon Einstein again for help.

Einstein was famous for thought experiments.

Here’s one. Management guru Peter Drucker said you can only manage what you measure. What if leaders and managers were accountable for engagement?

What would happen to employee engagement?

Recruiting Challenges for Fast Growing Startups and How to Overcome Them

Sponsored by: RocketReach

Recruiting challenges face every organization — one that is particularly daunting for smaller companies and fast-growing startups. As agility is often a make-or-break for these organizations, sourcing high-quality candidates quickly is vital.  

Yet, connecting with the right candidates with the right skill sets, at the right time is often elusive.  

Recruiters have the very difficult task of finding these candidates, while simultaneously verifying that they possess the right skills to fulfill the role and its responsibilities. Ensuring this is often key to an organization’s ability to grow, develop and scale. 

A less than “good fit” hire — can disrupt workflow, damage an organization’s work culture, and waste valuable resources.

Our Guest:  Julia Kimmel

On this latest episode of #WorkTrends, I spoke with Julia Kimmel from RocketReach. For her entire career, Julia has embraced the fast-paced and multi-faceted environment of the startup world. Managing people and processes and helping companies and teams grow across organizations. Since last year, she has overseen the growth of RocketReach from 15 people to over 100. And sorry, no, she’s not related to Jimmy Kimmel. 

Let’s talk about recruiting work-from-home talent for fast-growing startups, the challenges, and how to overcome them.

Startups need to work hard to avoid costly mistakes. Julia:

…it’s hard for startups to plan far in advance. Things change constantly. And if you asked anyone planning to scale a startup and asked them what you could plan for even a year in advance, it’s tough to make those types of decisions. Often I think one of the things that startups have a tough time with is that there isn’t a great hiring strategy, and a lot of startups hire way too quickly.

Overcoming Recruitment Challenges

It’s no mystery why sourcing top talent is an obstacle for many businesses. There is a ton of competition, and getting to know a candidate is a skill of its own. In job interviews, you want candidates who are passionate about curiosity, creative problem solving, and communication. But the true key to finding talented people? Putting in the work.

I think ultimately no one wants to hear it, but it really comes down to sourcing. It’s how you initially get strategic about where you’re looking for people. What are the cues that are constantly going off for the recruiting team to go after certain areas of the market or certain industries? Certain companies are an easy one, but I think you really need to fine-tune and get your team into a place where they feel empowered about sourcing.

Startups vs. Large Companies

There are obvious perks of working for a large, established brand. Many people are drawn to work for large companies because they feel more secure regarding hiring freezes or layoffs. While working at a big brand has its perks, startups can offer more autonomy and hands-on experience.

…one of the things that really stands out to me is that startups really can dig into more and actually market a little bit more – at large companies, you typically work on a very small piece of a project, and your work sometimes goes unnoticed. It’s unclear if what you’re doing is really making a difference, and many people at those companies are doing exactly the same role as you. I think small companies need to sell how much ownership and impact people get to have on the business.

The Future of Startups and Talent

From an HR perspective, will startups and young companies gain a hiring advantage over large companies in the next decade?

Large companies come with a lot of policies, protocols, and regulations. The world is changing, and people want to have more flexibility. I think startups will be popular because there is just a ton of flexibility. If the startup is running the right way, you get to structure your schedule, your day, and your work in a way that makes sense for you. There’s a lot more autonomy, and people are looking for ways to grow, learn, and be challenged. A smaller company can provide this easier than a large company.

I hope you found this episode of #WorkTrends helpful. To learn more about recruiting based on data, visit https://rocketreach.co/

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!

Why Empathy is the New Brand of Leadership

Sponsored by: Dell Technologies

When it comes to the people who work for your company, is there anything more important than understanding them and their needs? For leaders, this means seeing things from their perspective. We call this Empathetic Leadership. 

Empathetic leaders can create a space where employees feel heard, valued, and understood – and when employees feel like this, guess what happens? They’re more engaged and productive at work, making them more committed to their work and your organization. 

A recent Dell Technologies Study found that creating an empathetic culture helps companies succeed in today’s do-anything-from-anywhere economy. Leaders need to put people front and center and equip them with the right technology to innovate.

Our Guest: Jennifer Saavedra

On our latest #WorkTrends Podcast, I spoke with Jennifer Saavedra, Chief Human Resources Officer at Dell Technologies. She leads the company’s Global Human Resources and Facilities through the dynamic lens of culture and, most importantly, people. She has a doctorate in Industrial and Organizational Behavior from Tulane University. Jennifer has also served on the executive boards for many of Dell Technologies’ employee resource groups and is currently the executive sponsor for the Black Networking Alliance. 

Her work helps us understand the psychology of human behavior so that individuals and organizations alike can be their best. 

Jennifer says the last two years have redefined work:

One of the things at Dell Technologies that we’re really focused on is defining work as an outcome, not as a specific time and place. We know that employees value freedom and flexibility, and it’s really about helping everybody make an impact.” She says, “not every individual has the same way they work or the same needs. And we have a history of doing this. At Dell, we’ve been doing this for over ten years.

Flexibility is Key

Everybody wants to know what the “new normal” will look like. After two years of the global pandemic, Jennifer says Dell polled their team members on the company’s practice of hybrid work. A notable 86% of their team members said they feel Dell is leading the way. The current world of work is an opportunity to make things more inclusive.

It’s a great equalizer. We have learned a lot about how to be inclusive and make things more accessible to people. And keeping an eye on the partnership between human resources, the business needs, our team members, facilities, and IT, I think these are things that give us a lot of hope and a lot of promise.

What the Data Says

Success is a goal shared by all, from employees to executive leadership. Employees need their companies to be there and support them. While the future of work develops and takes form, it needs to be understood that agility will play a key factor. As new ideas and possibilities for work come to light, they should be carefully considered. An astounding 91% of Dell’s team members reported that they could easily adapt to the work preferences of others, whether it’s timezone, means of communication, or other.

As other companies are thinking about building their strategy, it’s really important to look at the business needs. How does the work need to get done, and how can you consider personal choice? I think you need to assess roles. Some roles need to be done in certain locations or co-located. Once you know that, you can then support your team members by understanding what works best for them.

I hope you found this episode of #WorkTrends helpful and inspirational. Learn more about leadership and putting people front and center with Dell’s Breakthrough Study.

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!

How to Help Managers Lead Gen Z Employees

The Great Resignation has highlighted the importance of employee retention, but do you know which employees you need to engage the most? What should managers do? Gen Z employees are leading the mass workforce exodus. According to a study conducted by Adobe, about 59% of them aren’t satisfied with their jobs and want to switch employers in 2022. In other words, most of your young employees are probably eager to quit.

The onus is on you to keep them engaged. However, it can be tough to understand and meet the demands, actions, and needs of the newest entrants to the workforce. Generation Z team members are redefining success and challenging workplace norms, including paid time off and emoji usage. Unsurprisingly, their willingness to push back is irritating to managers who aren’t used to such boldness. Yet it’s up to those managers to initiate the necessary changes during this transitional time.

Management Skills That Improve Gen Z Retention

To be sure, I’m not defending every Gen Z worker’s choice. At the same time, I would like to remind you that this type of generational struggle isn’t new. Millennials rocked the boat vigorously with their “every day’s a casual day” attitude. Now, Millennials are the ones in charge — and they’re encountering the same struggles they caused their managers way back when.

Your role is to help your managers be the best possible bosses to their Gen Z employees. Equip them with the tools and training they need to successfully guide the next generation of workers. It’s not reasonable to blame managers for failing to retain young talent if you haven’t given them any assistance.

How Can you Mentor Your Managers?

Strive to boost their acumen in the following areas:

1. Empathy: Look beyond the employee to discover their story.

You might expect your Millennial managers to get along with Gen Z workers because they were young once, too. But guess what? We are tunnel-visioned creatures who tend to embellish and exaggerate our memories. This kills our ability to empathize.

To counter this, remember what Mr. Rogers taught people: “You can learn to love anyone if you just listen to their story.” Your managers might never fully understand their Gen Z team members, but they can learn to empathize by hearing them out.

Will Gen Zers be willing to share their stories? You might be surprised. According to the Springtide Research Institute, many young individuals want strong, supportive mentors. They are looking for bosses who care about their lives beyond work. If your managers can forge bonds with Gen Z employees, you can avoid massive turnover.

2. Civility: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

I had an experience with a former contractor who felt like she’d been wronged. That was fine. I was ready to handle her concerns with professionalism. Unfortunately, she was completely uncivil in all communication.

People often assume that the only way they can get what they want from someone is by powering up. “Let me get mad, and then I’ll see results!” While anger can produce limited results, it’s not an emotion you want guiding your managers. This is particularly true when they’re interacting with Gen Zers. How they communicate will largely influence their outcomes.

Train your managers to assume the best of the person they might be at odds with. By working together, they have a better chance of solving the problem and establishing mutual respect. There are enough bosses on the planet whose outbursts are legendary. Equip your management team with the tools and education they need to talk to Gen Z workers respectfully and thoughtfully.

3. Stewardship: Help them help you.

Do you still use the term “our people” when referring to employees? Stop. Your employees don’t belong to you. Your business is just a pitstop along their journey. You can pay Gen Z workers a handsome salary, and they’ll still quit if you cease to treat them as individuals. Rather, encourage managers to recognize individuals’ contributions.

Promote stewardship by helping Gen Zers get what they want. When they’re successful, they’ll want to help you be successful. Focus on enabling Gen Z workers to achieve their goals. Have managers find out what each employee wants to do in the next five years, and then see how your organization can assist.

Gen Z employees appreciate this type of guidance. A report from Bellevue University shows that Gen Z places communication high on the list of appealing boss attributes. Additionally, a Randstad and Millennial Branding study reveals that Gen Z workers crave constant feedback. So steward them by having managers provide regular assessments.

Finally

Every new generation makes waves when its members enter the workforce. Rather than swimming against the tide, you can surf smoothly by helping your managers better manage Gen Z employees.

The Urgency Epidemic – Prioritization & Productivity

When was the last time you were placed in a situation at work where the sense of urgency to complete a project was overwhelming due to unreasonable timing and expectations? Yesterday? The day before that? This scenario is way too common in today’s workplace. In this episode, we will be discussing a common phenomenon that businesses across all industries are struggling with currently — the urgency epidemic.

Our Guest:  Brandon Smith

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Brandon Smith, an expert in leadership communication and a curer of workplace dysfunction. Brandon is a sought-after executive coach, TEDx speaker, author, and award-winning business school instructor. He has been featured in the Wall Street CNN, and many other publications for his expertise. His book, The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time, helps readers master urgency, so they can more effectively lead others.

The most precious resource in the work world today isn’t money, it’s time. When everything at work is “always urgent all the time,” it can create, in Brandon’s words “a Petri dish for anxiety.” If employees and managers aren’t careful, it can lead to a decline in the overall efficiency and quality of work over time. Due to the continued disruption of the pandemic and current inflation, time management has become even more of a critical challenge for companies and organizations of all types. 

As Brandon states:

“So overall, if I had to put my stake in the ground and say, ‘What’s my purpose in life?’ It is to eliminate all workplace dysfunction everywhere forever. That’s my purpose. So I’m gainfully employed with plenty of job security. The reason why I wrote this book was because this was one of those many flavors of workplace dysfunction that everyone I was talking to was feeling. It didn’t matter if they were working. They were just dealing with this sense of hot sauce being poured on everything. Hot sauce is the analogy I use for urgency. And so I wanted to try and write a book that would be at least somewhat of a help, somewhat of a cure for that particular dysfunction.”.

When Does a Sense of Urgency Become A Problem?

Most managers use urgency as a motivator. Teams can collectively and quickly align toward a common goal in order to reach a business benchmark within a short timeline. But if urgency becomes the daily standard, this can lead to an environment of workplace chaos. This can result in serious missteps or worse. Brandon states:

A little bit of urgency is a good thing, we need urgency. Urgency motivates us. So urgency can motivate us just like hot sauce. A little bit of urgency, a little bit of hot sauce gives focus, gives flavor, creates priority. It’s a good thing. But just like hot sauce, if there’s too much urgency, I mean if everything that comes out of the kitchen is doused in hot sauce, the appetizer and the salad and the entree and the brownie, we’re going to be curled up in a ball wanting relief. We won’t taste anything. So a little bit of it using the right doses and the right times is a really healthy thing for us. It keeps us moving forward. But too much does the exact opposite effect, overwhelms us, confuses us, and that can lead to burnout.”

The Urgency Trap

What worked in the past for companies and organizations may no longer apply when it comes to keeping teams motivated and effective. Cultivating a sense of urgency as a motivational tool is something most managers and team leaders have been taught they are supposed to do. As Brandon states:

“Leaders are taught really early on, yeah, if we need people to change, we’ve got to start with urgency. And there is so many organizations right now needing to go through transformations, whether it’s technology transformations or whatever it happens to be. And so what leaders are doing is running around making everything urgent and then patting themselves on their back, going back to their office, closing the door, and saying, ‘I did a great job today.’ And all they did was just create confusion and chaos because they didn’t prioritize the urgency. They just said, ‘It’s all urgent right now, go.”

Escaping the Urgency

So how do managers and business leaders prioritize projects so that everything isn’t urgent all the time? Brandon explains:

Limit what you can make urgent at a time. My recommendation is no more than five. The best teams, the best departments, the best organizations are executing off of three to five priorities. So use urgency on those things. Use hot sauce on those things, but let everything else just be relief from the heat.”

As companies and organizations are pushed to evolve in order to move forward, how will work itself change, and more importantly, how will that affect the way we prioritize projects for a more productive and focused work culture? Brandon gives us his forecast:

“The future of work is going to be a really exciting time. When I look at my crystal ball, I see it’s going to be an exciting time and place where more of our personal lives are going to be factored into the equation. There’s going to be more flexibility and I’m sure this is nothing different than what you’ve been hearing before from others. But I will say that there’s going to be a lot more burden on us to set and keep our boundaries because there’s going to be no clear breaks between work and home life.”

I hope you found this recent episode of #WorkTrends informative and inspiring. To learn more about improving time and project management at work, contact Brandon Smith on LinkedIn.

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!

How To Find Your Leadership DNA

What is your leadership DNA? It is your authentic self. The concept of authentic leadership is often bantered about. In my experience of working with leaders from the best of the best global companies, the most impactful definition is being the leader you were designed to be. How do you do that? Find your leadership DNA.

There is no one characteristic of a great leader. There are actually millions. The best characteristics for you are already hard-wired in you.  You just need to identify, build and leverage your strengths, passions and experiences to be that kind of leader you were designed to be.

Why is being an authentic leader so powerful?

People gravitate to authentic leaders. However, so many people want to copy an admired leader. This is unlikely to work for you for your brain is not hard-wired for this style. It may, in fact, focus you on your weaknesses. 

It takes great effort to fix a weakness. Instead, take that effort and focus it on further developing your strengths. Leverage the way your brain is hard-wired.

We are uniquely created. Each of us possesses a unique set of gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses, emotions and passions. Whether it is handed down to us though our parent’s genes, taught to us as we are raised from childhood to adults, or bestowed upon us from a higher power; we are who we are. There is a reason why we act, think and feel the way we do. Who we are is hard-wired into our brains.

In “A User’s Guide to the Brain,” Dr. John Ratey writes: 

“The brain is not a neatly organized system. It is often compared to an overgrown jungle of 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons…The neurons form an interconnected tangle with 100 trillion, constantly changing, connections. The connections guide our bodies and behaviors, even as every thought and action we take physically, modifies their patterns. Our neurons are constantly competing to make connections and these connections are what make us who we are.”

If you want to be average, focus on fixing your weaknesses.

When I was a child, I was poor in math. My parents did what most Asian parents would do: they got me a math tutor. Every night with my tutor I went through hell. After three months of working hard, night after night of feeling stupid, I was able to take my math skills from poor up to… slightly above poor. 

Then I got into the business world. The end of the year performance appraisal surfaced that I was weak in my analytical planning. So, week after week, month after month I worked on it. I was able to get my analytical skills up to average.  

What am I becoming? Average.

Now, there is nothing wrong with average. If you want to be average, this is a good approach. However, many of us want to be exceptional at something. If you want to be distinctive, an authentic leader, you need to identify your strengths and leverage them by focusing on developing them even further. If your organization provides a training budget for you, sign up for training courses to enhance your strengths. 

McKinsey’s study on centered leadership shows: 

“Of all the dimensions of centered leadership, meaning has a significant impact on satisfaction with both work and life; indeed, its contribution to general life satisfaction is five times more powerful than that of any other dimension.”

Leverage not only your strengths, but also your passions. These combined with your experiences are a powerful combination. 

How to find your leadership DNA?

1. Identify your strengths and passions.

There are many tools out there that can help you find them. Here are a few to check out:

2. Drill down for specificity.

Whatever tool you use, it’s important to drill down to more specifically determine the who, what, where and when for each. This brings more clarity and breaks things down into bite-size, actionable pieces.

3. Take action, now!

In his book “Smartcuts”, Shane Snow writes about the power of the “Big Mo” (momentum). Momentum is key! 

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile has found that the answer is simply progress. A sense of forward motion. Regardless of how small. Amabile found that minor victories at work were nearly as psychologically powerful as major breakthroughs. And momentum isn’t just a powerful ingredient of success. It’s also a powerful predictor of success.

Small steps add up! Use the power of compounding. One step forward brings you joy, especially if that step allows you to work on the things you are good at or love doing. One step forward gives you a sense of accomplishment and a positive feeling that you are getting closer to your goal of authenticity.

Get on the path of being an authentic leader, more of who you already are by taking action now, and moving down that path.

Image by Fotogestoeber

How to Communicate Organizational Change to Dispersed Teams

You are a remote employee and a member of a dispersed team. And this is how your employer chooses to communicate organizational change while working from home…

“Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. 

And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.”

Leaves you bewildered and angry, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what the employees of Yahoo! felt when they received this from the then HR head, Jackie Reses, in 2013. 

This is a classic example of poor organizational change communication. 

Call it the fear of the unknown or the resistance to move out of comfort zones; the truth is almost no one likes change. As a leader, the first thing you should focus on is having a proper change management communication strategy.

The right communication tactics will help you get and keep your team onboard while reducing resistance and easing the transition.

Let’s take a look at how you can effectively communicate organizational change to your remote employees.

Create a Communication Plan

project communication plan

Don’t make the leadership mistake of reducing organizational change communication to a one-page memo or a 30-minute Zoom call.

There’s more to it than just making your employees aware of the change. It also involves selling them the idea and getting them invested in the initiative.

The first step is to develop a communication plan (see the example to the right) that addresses:

  • What is the key message?
  • Where will the communication come from?
  • Which channels will you use to communicate?
  • How will you deal with resistance or objections?
  • What is the frequency of communication?

Creating a communication plan ensures stakeholder alignment and helps you approach this crucial process in a more structured way.

Define the Vision

Implementing company-wide change is never easy and it gets all the more challenging when dealing with a distributed workforce. To be successful, you need to effectively communicate the change vision and the outcome it will have.

The idea is to motivate your employees, get their buy-in, and help them understand the reason behind the change.

Business and management consultant John Kotter has an interesting piece of advice for creating a powerful vision for change. 

He says, “A great change vision is something that is easy for people to understand. It can be written usually in a half-page, communicated in 60 seconds, is both intellectually solid but has emotional appeal, and it’s something that can be understood by the broad range of people that are ultimately going to have to change.”

Answer the WIIFM Question

Be it customer, employee, or stakeholder communication, it helps to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and answer the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) question. 

The same logic applies while communicating organizational change. To get consensus and support, explain how the change will benefit your employees. 

Don’t resort to buzzwords and generic statements such as “This is for the betterment of the company” and the like. Make it meaningful. Tell your employee how the change is better for them and the company.

What if you don’t have immediate tangible benefits to offer, you ask? Be transparent about it but assure them that you’re looking into it. Your employees will be skeptical, but you would rather be honest with them than keep them in the dark.

Use Visual Aids

Organizational change happens over time. It demands constant communication, reiterations, and check-ins. 

Instead of conducting a one-off virtual town hall and forgetting about it, use visual communication to support organizational change.

Not only do visual aids help you communicate complex information, but they also make it more memorable. Employees don’t have to struggle to locate (or remember) the information when leaders and communicators present useful visual aids. 

Here are some visuals you can create to make the internal communication ‘stick’:

  • Describe a change in the organizational hierarchy with a pyramid chart
  • Procedural checklist for the change managers 
  • Roadmap or timeline to chalk out the change plan
  • Strategy infographic to introduce the new strategy to employees
  • Posters and job aids to reiterate the change initiative

And here’s an infographic used by the U.S. Government’s National Institutes of Health. It addresses frequently asked questions and shares information in a visually appealing way:

infographic example

Source

Make Way for Two-way Communication

It’s important to acknowledge that, more often than not, your employees will be anxious, confused, and worried about the change. This is why you must make way for dialogue and address their concerns to ease the tension. 

As you’re working remotely, you can host regular video conference “office hours” calls, Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions, and encourage managers to schedule one-on-ones with their team members. It’s a crucial time, and your employees need to feel heard.

Microsoft did this incredibly well when CEO Satya Nadella took charge in 2014. They hosted a two-way conversation between all the employees and C-suite executives on Yammer, their team chat tool. In this monthly communication, a portion of the meeting was devoted to Q&As where employees would ask questions to the senior leaders.

Taking this critical communication step helped build a commitment to the new company culture — and helped the leadership team instill trust with employees.

How to Communicate Organizational Change: The Takeaway

Change is inevitable, but a lot depends on how you communicate that change. 

These five tactics will help you communicate organizational change to your remote employees while reducing friction and keeping them invested in the initiative. 

 

Image by Sarah Pflug

5 Remote Work Productivity Tools You Didn’t Know About (But Should)

The COVID-19 pandemic severely wounded the traditional workplace, causing an even greater need for productivity tools. Even when the pandemic recedes, the workplace will not go back to what it used to be. Employers have a huge task to create an environment where your employees are happy and productive. Undoubtedly, recovery and renewal will require significant innovation. Thankfully, much of that innovation–in the form of remote work productivity tools–already exists.

There are many already known tools out there; each promise to change the world of work. But what about those not mentioned as much in leadership and HR circles? No worries! Here we have a list of some of the productivity tools that you might not have heard about–but you should.

10to8 Meeting Scheduling Software

Scheduling activities and meetings with either employees and clients/customers contribute to improved output. That’s why the first on our list is 10to8 Meeting Scheduling Software! When it comes to arranging meetings, daily standups, or weekly team meetings, this is the right tool for you.

In cases where a team is spread worldwide, the time zones are not a problem for 10to8. But the ability to integrate other existing calendars I have created in Google, Outlook, or Exchange is what I like the most about this tool. When you want to talk to your colleagues, you don’t have to ask them when they are free. Instead, you can check whether they are available at a specific time in their booking calendars. Another welcome feature is the hardworking reminders, making it nearly impossible to miss a meeting.

Communifire by Axero

Enhancing communication not only improves the productivity of your employees but the credibility of your company. A well-streamlined communication system helps decrease unmet expectations, reduce stress, and boost morale. An intranet, a centralized portal that ties together communication and enables people to send files so employees are all on the same page, is a must-have communication tool for remote-based businesses. Most users can tailor intranet software to meet your organization’s unique requirements while promoting transparency and eliminating communication bottlenecks.

Communifire by Axero is one of the most easy-to-understand intranet software choices around. Each department within your company is provided separate sections for supplying and updating communications; however, Communifire allows sharing information between all groups. Each team can add articles, blogs, wikis, photos, videos, and everything else relevant to work for teams. What I found especially useful with Communifire is the many options for customization–an essential element of any intranet platform.

Mattermost

The chances are that many of your employees will continue to work from home well after the COVID-19 crisis is behind us–which means group messaging tools will remain important to work teams. Mattermost promotes collaboration among your employees, enabling work to get done efficiently and effectively with a short turnaround time. In many ways, Mattermost replaces internal emails and substitutes messages in an inbox with a more agile and tool.

This digital space helps teammates communicate with each other, share ideas, comment, or give feedback as if it were happening in person. It offers threaded discussions and supports more than a couple of different languages, making it very useful for global teams–and a worthwhile competitor to the more well-known Slack. Like Slack, Mattermost’s freemium pricing plans for small teams feature unlimited message history and integrations.

Celoxis

A year-plus into the pandemic, companies are still looking for a way to collaborate effectively with others on project-based tasks through productivity tools. To fill this void, the tool we recommend most often is the all-in-one platform Celoxis.

This software provides updates to all relevant users about anything related to a specific project. Through timely prompts, it also urges users to complete their tasks on time. Celoxis has a range of useful project management functionalities, such as allowing project mapping via Gantt charts. With its project planning and project tracking feature, it offers automatic scheduling, multiple resources per task. Celoxis is very easy to use and affordable, making it a perfect choice for businesses still struggling to find just-the-right remote PM platform.

Scoro

Because of more flexible working conditions, many remote workers find themselves struggling to stay focused. They just aren’t getting enough work done–and we can’t blame it all on Netflix. Maybe it is time to employ time and work management software like Scoro.

Industries like advertising, consulting, and information technology are just some of the sectors drawn to Scoro. Time management and work automation, collaboration, scheduling, quoting, sales support, and billing are just some of the features Scoro offers. The platform even provides a project management component, like Celoxis. The control hub from which users obtain customer account information, key performance data, and calendar events are one of the main benefits of using this comprehensive platform in your arsenal of productivity tools.

Invest in Remote Work Productivity Tools

The longer the pandemic lingers, enabling higher productivity among employees is increasingly necessary. Introducing these tools to your employees will help them stay focused and engaged–and will undoubtedly help your business achieve its goals. Yes, there is a learning curve associated with any new technology. And, yes, the benefits of utilizing these tools may not be immediate. But, your investment in these platforms–and your people–will pay off in the long run.

 

Image by Adnan Ahmad Ali

Workplace 3.0: Say Goodbye to The Lines Between “Work” and “Life”

Welcome to Workplace 3.0…

How our workspaces have transitioned! There was a time not so long ago when most of us led dual lives – the personal and the professional. In many cases, we built our professional life to support our personal life; one that encapsulated everything but work – our family, our relationships, and our self.

The physical workspace, of course, was where our official work got done. We lived our personal life outside of that office building; to a large extent, it centered around our home. There was a fine territorial line between the two – and only the closest of our colleagues crossed over. For the majority, interaction with colleagues happened either in the meeting rooms that dotted our hallways. Occasionally, that interaction occurred during after-hour happy hours in neighborhood pubs.

The Pandemic Blurred Many Lines

One challenging year changed all of that.

In 2020, as the pandemic engulfed us from Canberra to Chicago, we were forced to move indoors. To keep the wheels of our economies moving and to maintain livelihoods, we turned to technology. And in many ways, technology rescued us. Video conferencing, while already around for over a couple of decades, got the kind of boost a start-up founder can only dream of – when they have time to dream. Buoyed by a freemium model that hooked both individuals and corporates alike, one of the beneficiaries was Zoom, which saw a whopping 326% increase in revenue.

This single most transformational piece of technology ensured that communication flowed seamlessly, even when we weren’t in the office. Between managers and team members. Between suppliers and buyers. And between clients and organizations. Zoom kept the communications line open between anyone and everyone who needed to interact. Constrained by the lack of personal connection that benefits from physical proximity, this was the next best thing. Everyone lapped it up. No doubt, this contributes to the observation that “Time spent in meetings has more than doubled globally” as presented in March 2021 in the Work Trends research by Microsoft.

Video Conferencing Destroyed Those Lines

Unconsciously, perhaps, video conferencing also enabled another dimension of communication. It didn’t blur the lines between the workplace and home. Zoom obliterated those lines.

Suddenly, we welcomed our colleagues, customers, stakeholders and others in the work ecosystem right into our homes. And depending on how much real estate you possessed, they entered your living room, study, garage or even, your bedroom! Now, your office colleagues were privy to your preferred color schemes, taste in furniture, and whether you had one or two rescue dogs for company.

Given this transition happened suddenly, and self (or business) preservation was the primary objective at the time, most of us didn’t put too much thought into the invitation (or was it an invasion?) of our personal lives. We did what we had to do at that moment. We went along with the flow. Now, although we may not be able to reverse that powerful flow, it is interesting to take a look at the long-term implications of the fusion of our professional and personal lives – and the potential impact of Workplace 3.0.

Acceptance of yet another “new normal”

Clichéd as it may be, the fact is that humanity can quickly get accustomed to new ways of working. After working in small offices in smaller buildings early in their careers, people of a certain age graduated to Workplace 2.0 in open-spaced campuses modeled after the large factories of the Industrial Age. We accepted traveling on the Tube to reach these work centers. We accepted long hours away from home to do our work.

Similarly, we’ll embrace this newest change as well. Many of us already have. After all, your colleagues have already been visitors to your home – albeit virtually. So the line between professional and personal has already been crossed. That cat people see jumping on your desk during a Zoom meeting is already out of the bag!

“Reclaiming my line”

Along the way, most Video Meeting platforms added functionality that inserted virtual backgrounds or allowed you to blur your natural background (“Let the laundry lie on the bed, Steve!”). Clunky initially, this feature has now been juiced up by artificial intelligence (AI). For some, this feature allows us to draw a curtain between professional and personal; it enables the creation of a virtual personal space even during professional meetings.

A bonus of this AI-driven virtual reality: Depending on what one is trying to convey, you can choose to be on a beach in the Bahamas in one meeting and amidst the stars the next. (Note: the rescue dogs would prefer a run on the beach.)

More transparency at work

Our makeshift workspaces, differentiated from our personal spaces even though they physically occupy the same space, silently encouraged one aspect of Workplace 2.0: We are to bring only our professional selves to work. The rest of us must stay outside the office doors – or at least outside camera range. Such an environment, quite naturally, encourages workers to live dual lives. We wear a sports jacket on the top and gym shorts on the bottom. In Workplace 2.0, irrespective of what was ailing us, we should put up a smiling face and pretend all is well at work. Now, with the camera now peeping right into our comfort zone, the trend is to be more transparent. To live and display ourselves –  as we are.

Of course, this new level of transparency comes with the hope that our colleagues, bosses and customers will accept us as we are – including the small children who sneak into the room during meetings.

A greater understanding of others

The true benefit of any shift in workplace modalities, and the introduction of any technology that helps us thrive in Workplace 3.0, is becoming more humane – even as we work. By enabling people to connect and relate when social distancing has been the need of the hour, one could say Zoom and similar platforms have done their part. Video conferencing has brought us closer together, even when safety protocols forced us apart. But, there is more.

As we see a young mother breastfeed her young one, even as she reviews the quarterly numbers, we see the human element in action. As we see a not-ready-for-primetime spouse enter the room only to realize the camera is on, we open our minds and hearts to others in a way that we’ve never done before. When we create mini work zones in different parts of our house, to ensure our partner and kids can also work efficiently, we take ‘sharing’ – physical and emotional – to another level. And throughout all the challenges, we gain a greater understanding of ourselves, and each other.

Workplace 3.0: Work, Changed Forever

In essence, one must acknowledge that the way and where we work has changed forever. In Workplace 3.0, we can hope that the blurring of the lines between our personal spaces and our workspaces will continue to bring us closer – to make us more human. And that humanity will foster further collaboration and co-operation at work – that we will be more accepting of each other, which will encourage more diversity at work.

And when all this happens, it will be the single most positive outcome of an otherwise extremely painful pandemic.

I, for one, welcome the lack of lines in Workplace 3.0. And I will be watching how this plays out.

 

Image from Atstock Productions

DEI Efforts that Matter: How to Drive Real Change in Your Organization

COVID-19 inevitably uprooted the way our society works. Due to the pandemic, organizations have uncovered cracks in their foundations that shed light on long-standing social justice and equality issues. At many businesses, DEI efforts are now igniting discussions designed to drive real change.

After the events of the last year or so, corporate leaders – including HR professionals – are now prioritizing these initiatives in innovative ways. Those leaders are determined to build stronger foundations among what seems like crumbling – and unhealthy – precedent. However, this transformation sits in contrast to the alarming number of organizations that remain stagnant in an era screaming for change.

Corporate America Steps Up

Many major corporations are acting fast. For example, Netflix created the “Netflix Fund for Creative Equity.” This fund dedicates $100 million over the next five years to support organizations that connect underrepresented communities with jobs in the television and film industries. These efforts are much appreciated – and much needed. After all, according to Gartner, only 40% of employees believe their supervisors foster a workplace that is equitable and inclusive.

This chasm between workers seeking an environment with meaningful DE&I policies and leaders crafting and adopting such procedures underscores why organizations must make these changes. In particular, data shows:

  • Companies hire lack employees into entry-level roles, but representation figures sharply decline in upper management and senior positions.
  • In 2019, white men comprised 63% of C-level jobs while women of color only accounted for 4%.
  • Hispanic individuals are forecasted to represent one out of every two new workers entering the workforce by 2025. However, the Economic Policy Institute reported that they were “least likely to be able to work from home and most likely to have lost their job during the COVID-19 recession.”

The importance of DE&I in the workplace is simple: we must create fair, safe environments for all workers, from recruitment to retention.

As HR professionals, we are responsible for the well-being of our employees and the organization overall. This means, more than any other industry, HR is in the best possible position to enact real change.

DEI Efforts that Matter: Where to Start

Be realistic about the planning and execution of your DE&I efforts.

Integrating DE&I procedures won’t occur within a few hours or even a couple of weeks. After all, real change involves thoughtful, careful planning that will benefit your organization’s health and longevity. Notably, policies created without meaningful purpose can cause confusion and disarray within a company. In the end, those policies are not likely to be successfully applied in your office.

Another major factor in the planning and implementation of DEI efforts is the expansion of different voices at the table. When an organization has an abundance of experience, backgrounds and perspectives amid the development stages, it ensures a greater scope of representation and more thoughtful, creative solutions. Aside from providing a rich, inclusive corporate culture, a benefit of including many different perspectives is to ensure that a company does not overlook challenges one group faces versus another. Without understanding these individual hardships from the onset, your DE&I programming will not be as effective as it could be.

Lululemon, an athletic apparel company, is a strong example of this as it made many commitments to its DE&I efforts in 2020. In particular, one focused on increasing diverse representation among its employees. A vital element of this effort: Enabling an employee-led dialogue between underrepresented members and the senior leadership team.

Invest in the Day-to-Day

Workplace DE&I policies are ineffective if companies don’t invest in change focused on their employees’ day-to-day lives. While the bigger picture sets the stage for the overarching framework, you must delve into your colleagues’ daily routine. By understanding their “day in the life,” you will learn how your DE&I initiatives impact them. And you’ll come to know what improvements you must still make.

This engaging approach is imperative as the daily realities of the office – and the behaviors of those people in the office –  should mirror the overall DE&I vision. When you invoke this strategy, the workplace will reflect – on micro and macro levels – the results of successful DE&I efforts.

Examine Every Stage of the Employment Cycle

Companies should also ensure they implement their DE&I vision and strategy at each stage of the employment process. To aid in this effort, below are questions to consider when interviewing applicants. Also included: questions that enable connection with new, current and former employees.

  • Applicants: Who do you want to target during recruitment? How can your company scout prospective employees in a more inclusive manner?
  • New employees: During a team member’s onboarding, how will you educate them on DE&I policies and corporate culture? What level of education on the subject is currently in place, and – if need be – how could that be improved?
  • Current employees: Have you implemented diversity within your teams and projects to produce results that account for varying perspectives? Are opportunities for advancement fairly reachable to all employees? During interactive internal meetings and annual reviews, what questions will highlight issues or perceptions that may arise and affect your colleagues?
  • Former employees: During the exit interview process, how is your team handling the identification of trends and implementing professional actions?

Track Your Impact

To understand a plan’s efficacy, you must measure and report improvement and progress along the way. This part of the process is imperative. After all, if companies do not track their development, they will not be aware of areas that are working – and others that may need further support.

In addition to setting out a plan to track your goals, create an easily accessible dashboard that reports progress against the company vision. And based on the data gathered and reported, frequently analyze ways the organization can advance and modify your DE&I strategy.

Listen and Learn

There is no perfectly written handbook that explains the exact way your office should prepare and plan its DE&I policies. However, there is one constant: You must listen to your employees throughout the process.

Ignoring feedback from your colleagues will hamper your organization’s DEI efforts and, eventually, its path to success. As you check your progress throughout the year, make sure you establish a channel to receive a consistent cadence of feedback. For example, use survey tools and focus groups to better grasp how your employees perceive the company’s efforts and measure results. This crucial data will also help you pivot, if needed, and identify different ways the company can improve.

Don’t Stand Still, Evolve

Our society continues to experience profound change. So it is essential to revise and reshape the workplace appropriately – and in real-time.

As a workforce, we will continue to receive and provide education on how we can mold corporate practices to be more inclusive and available for many employees in the future. As a profession that thrives on those we serve perceiving us as understanding, we must continue to hear what others have to say. To quickly make changes that positively impact every employee, we must remain agile.

This is how we ensure our DEI efforts matter. This is you drive real change – in your organization and throughout society.