A year ago, our world of work was turned upside down when, almost overnight, people went from working in an office to working from home, accompanied by a shift to all things digital at a much faster pace than what many people thought possible.
As a result of the uncertainty and emotional strain that individuals have been working under, many teams are now experiencing a lack of connection, breakdown in trust and increased levels of fatigue. These were some of the insights shared by participants in the Talenttalks Business Continuity through Human Continuity webinar facilitated by organisational culture and employee experience expert Brad Shorkend on 8 April 2021.
At the heart of any business lies its people. Employee experience, leadership intention and impact are just a few of the themes that business leaders should be thinking about as we transition from remote working to fully-fledged flexible working models.
“The next level of changes we will see in the workplace will add further complexity for leaders, with many asking how should we lead in this new and different world. But perhaps the better question to ask is which of our old world leadership styles we are relying on do not work,’ says Shorkend.
“Building an exceptional employee experience starts with making sure that our teams are being motivated and inspired. The sum of everything in the work environment shapes how employees feel and whether they are being switched on and grown, or switched off and depleted,” says Shorkend.
“When experiences leave individuals feeling depleted, it also leads to a breakdown in trust, which in turn affects work flexibility and the willingness with which people participate and innovate. Teams with high levels of trust create spaces where people feel safe to think, express, experiment, make mistakes, learn and grow, knowing they always have support.”
“For many teams, the lack of connection they are feeling also speaks to a loss in the sense of sharing and participation that comes from the informal experiences people have in the office,” explains Shorkend. “These moments of connection and sharing are important contributors in building trust in teams, especially when you have new team members who can quickly feel isolated when working online.”
With the boundaries between work and home life becoming increasingly blurred, organisations need to find new ways to help employees and leaders manage the emotional burden and fatigue that is setting in.
“A big part of the conversation in addressing fatigue and feelings of overwhelm is about leadership. We need to shift from managing performance in terms of input, hours spent in the office or online, to outcomes. To do this, leaders need to create clarity and be specific about what is required and expected from their teams in terms of outcomes and impact.”
A lack of clarity around deliverables results in managers taking on more work than they need to. With clear communication on deliverables, leaders empower their reports to be more effective at leading their teams.
In the current environment where teams are managing high degrees of uncertainty, Shorkend recommends that leaders focus on meaningful communication that clarifies the impact and deliverables they require as well as building connection in their teams as a priority.
“The important thing, however, is to remember is that there are no neutral moments. Every time you engage another human being, in the work or home environment, you are creating an experience that either switches them on and grows them or switches them off and depletes them.”
Practical tips for creating connection in your team
“For many teams, the lack of connection they are feeling also speaks to a loss in the sense of sharing and participation that comes from the informal experiences people have in the office. These moments of connection and sharing are important contributors in building trust in teams,” explains Shorkend.
Here are a few examples of practical steps you can take to create a sense of personal connection in your team:
- Maintain a check-in routine that focuses on personal connection. Engage in active listening and focus on asking questions that show care and empathy for others.
- Make time for regular online team lunches to create an informal space for people to connect casually.
- Spend a few minutes at the start of a meeting to do mindfulness or breathing exercises as a team.
- Schedule walking meetings in a safe outdoor area.
- Those who miss the sounds and conversation of the open-plan office, connect to your team members via Zoom or MS Teams and work online as if you are in the office together.