Beyond Programs and Policies: Reimagining the Workplace of the Future

This isn’t how I imagined the workplace of the future would arrive. I thought it might be a slow and structured journey—not caused by a global pandemic that has forced us to become resilient, connect with colleagues from a distance, and figure out how to strike a new balance in meeting our shifting responsibilities at work and home.

Your employees are experiencing some very real struggles right now, and women have been especially impacted. In fact, a staggering 25% of women are now considering downshifting their careers or getting out of the workforce completely, according to McKinsey & Company’s recent Women in the Workplace study.

Some of your employees may resort to virtual Zoom backgrounds because they’re ashamed of their makeshift home office. Others might be struggling to care for loved ones or keep an eye on their kids while they work. Or they might resort to drugs or alcohol to deal with the stress of long work hours or the loneliness of limited social interactions.

The question is: What are you going to do to make it better?

I was so fortunate to deliver the following Week Two talk at RESOLVE Increments on Reimagining the Workplace of the Future.

Here are a few takeaways from the presentation. To watch my talk in full with an additional presentation from Dr. Lisa Penney on building resilience in yourself and your team, gain your exclusive access here.

Calendars don’t get to the root of the problem.

When we become aware of such a problem, it’s easy for us to try and jump into problem-solving mode. We’re often quick to say “Get some R and R” or “Mark it on your calendar and do what you need to do” without taking the time to get to the root of the issue.

Without truly listening, we may be missing the big picture that this person is in survival mode due to work and home stress and needs a lot more than a calendar adjustment to solve the root cause. The pressure for productivity coupled with anxiety around the economy, layoffs, and furloughs is not solved simply by calendaring techniques. And even if we do have a great calendar, I know people still struggle with the guilt of flexibility and taking the time that they need.

Policies don’t, either.

Over the past year, more HR professionals have downloaded sample remote work policies than ever before. But just like calendars, policies themselves don’t solve your employees’ problems.

What I challenge you to think about is: What if instead of writing a policy, we listened to our employees. There’s no easy fix, but the best fix we can have is true vulnerability and dialogue.

Take the time to pause.

When we’re in a one-on-one meeting—especially in today’s remote work environment—it’s easy to focus on our task list and neglect to ask how someone is doing. Pause and see what’s going on in their life. You might be surprised by what you hear.

Programs alone don’t do the trick.

Companies nationwide are rolling out or expanding all kinds of support programs like employee assistance programs (EAPs); telehealth; virtual counseling; and diversity, equity, and inclusion training. These programs are great—if someone is truly listening and connecting with employees. 

Despite the growth of these programs, few organizations have taken steps to adjust the norms and expectations that are contributing to employee burnout. In fact,

  • Less than ⅓ of organizations adjusted their performance review criteria to account for challenges created by the pandemic.
  • Only about 50% have updated employees on their plans for performance reviews or their productivity expectations during COVID-19.

Relational Trust means more now.

Through our work at the Performance Lab at First Person, we know that Relational Trust is one of ten key drivers of performance. And we know through our surveys and studies with many employee groups of different sizes and organizations that a culture that values caring relationships also wins at virtual work.

Employees want you to listen.

We don’t have a magic bullet, a grand model, or a three-step solution. But we do know that your employees crave an open dialogue.

According to a May 2020 study of 17,000 employees:

  • Two-thirds of people want to be listened to right now, and
  • Engagement can rise up to 90% when meaningful action is taken.

We can only control ourselves and our actions. We can’t change the pandemic, we can’t individually change the racial injustice in our country, or the economy. What we can do is take a single step in the right direction to listen to our employees to start to build trust and a bridge of understanding.

So, what now?

To watch Week Two of RESOLVE Increments, fill out the form below and gain exclusive access to the full replay and resources we shared throughout the session, including SHRM credits:

All eyes on equity.

Now that we’ve learned how to reimagine the workplace of the future, we’re shifting our focus. Next on RESOLVE Increments, we examined the timely and critical topic of building equity in the workplace. 

Get diversity and inclusion expert Angela Smith Jones’s recap on Going Beyond D&I to Build an Equitable Team.

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