By Ben Ingram, Head of Employee Experience at WONGDOODY, the human experience company powered by Infosys.
It’s December, and that time of year when business leaders reflect on the challenges and achievements of the past 12 months, and look ahead to what the coming year may have in store.
After two years of unprecedented change and disruption caused by the pandemic, the ways in which we all work have seen the greatest shake-up across industries. One thing’s for sure – the ‘new normal’ of hybrid working is here to stay, and so as we welcome in the New Year, it’s clear that the practice period is over.
Whilst the world may take longer to settle into this new normal, employees will be making decisions and business leaders will expect results. So what are the must-do’s for business leaders in 2022?
It’s the hottest word of post-pandemic planning, but what are employees really looking for and how can it work for your business?
Flexibility can have different meanings depending on who you are, the role you perform and the industry you work in. Whether hybrid, flexible, or fluid, businesses and employees alike need to consider what is right for them.
Hybrid allows for a mix of days in the office and at home, which often includes a set number of and / or specific days to be spent in the office, which can help with planning company events. This also ensures that teams, particularly junior members, get facetime with their peers and seniors.
Flexible is a spectrum ranging from allowing free choice over days in office through to free choice of hours. With this model it is helpful to define ways of working, including which types of interactions – such as briefings, workshops, or personal development sessions – should be done in person or via Zoom, and if the latter, when cameras should be switched on or off. It is also important to ensure that line managers and team leaders are trained in how to create and maintain company culture, due to the risk of individuals getting ‘lost’ if not present.
At the other end of the scale, fluid working allows for complete self-autonomy of teams and individuals, with the key being to have well-structured and understood ways of working. In theory, this model opens up the talent pool to anyone, anywhere, with a high dependency on collaboration tools.
It’s important to understand the value of each model for the business and the individuals before coming to a decision where the relationship is balanced. Be transparent about the decision making of your chosen model and involve teams in the creation of appropriate ways of working.
Manage Mental Load
One of the most concerning outcomes of 2021 was the emergence of ‘Zoom Fatigue’, with employees spending more hours than ever before in front of their screens looking not only at their teams or clients but at their own reflection in the bottom right corner – the results of which can be increased stress and anxiety levels. And all this without the physical transition between meetings to increase mobility and reduce close-up eye contact, coupled with a higher cognitive load of watching multiple people, notifications pinging and a growing awareness of self-image. Meanwhile, with many people working from home, the lack of commute and ‘end of day’ cut off point has led to the blurring of work and home life.
Helping employees manage their mental wellbeing and set appropriate barriers between personal life and work is key to their mental and physical health. Looking ahead, business leaders need to set clearly defined down/low-contact-times, ensuring line managers are all briefed to help maintain them. This could be during the hours over lunch, on Friday afternoons or impromptu days.
Other tactics might be to turn off self-view, reduce the screen size of the meeting, to have audio-only slots or to set the camera further back to give yourself space to move around.
Optimise Digital Experiences
Where a 10-minute admin job – such as booking annual leave or travel – used to be a quiet break from face-to-face meetings, it’s now yet another slot spent staring at a screen. Business leaders should treat employees like their customers and create experiences which enhance their life at work and reap the benefits.
For many of us, all our experiences at work (and at home) are now via a screen. Expectations around experiences continue to rise, while the pandemic has driven up consumption of leading experience design (think Amazon, Peloton and Netflix).
This isn’t just about efficient ways of working – people will assign blame to themselves if they’re not able to complete a process, even if the design of said process is to blame. This is something Don Norman describes in his book ‘Design of Everyday Things’ and the notion of self-serving bias when it comes to attributing blame to ourselves.
It’s not just about looks either. Albeit inclined to believe good-looking experiences must work well, known as The Aesthetic-Usability Effect, it must be functional at every level so as not to risk negatively impacting users.
Remember, employees are humans too. They are your first customers, so treat them as such.
Our departure from the office has, by most accounts, delivered the greatest of hits to company culture. New joiners and veterans alike feel more disconnected than ever before – it’s now down to ways of working and other channels to help build and drive positive company culture.
Firstly, many wrongly believed cultures would be maintained as we move into remote working with established teams who “already had a lot of digital interactions”. The challenge is further compounded when building new relationships remotely, as trust is founded on multiple small interactions with people. These digital social interactions aren’t normal for most of us – only really for those amongst the gaming and community boards or forums where people share a common interest.
Make no mistake. You can’t expect culture to ‘just happen with good people’ in the same way it may have done in the office. Take time to create meaningful reasons for people to connect socially and professionally. Don’t underestimate the need for well-structured digital social interactions (the Zoom quiz is long dead!), and explore and embrace new platforms like Unlock.
It’s fair to say that some organisations will never again have an in-person-only meeting. But don’t let remote guests become 2nd class citizens. Defining appropriate ways of working and leveraging technology can bring people together, no matter where they are.
The truth is, we are not designed or used to having professional interactions via digital mediums. Visual cues are as important in communication as verbal, with physical guests more likely to communicate more openly and connect more easily than those joining digitally.
But how can you best enable seamless and equally ‘phygital’ interactions?
Firstly, define what type of interactions should be all physical, hybrid and all digital. For example; Personal Development Meetings and Strategic Workshops should be physical due to the need to build relationships and the complexity of content. Creative Workshops and Sprint Planning should be hybrid to maximise involvement and leverage digital tools for the organisation of large quantities of content. While Standups and Briefings can be all-digital to optimise time spent and enable the easy sharing of varying types of material.
Secondly, ensure your tech is up to scratch. All too often settled for mediocre, conferencing equipment must be given the prevalence of physical meetings and must enable high-quality and reliable communication to have any chance of working.
Finally, implement standard ways of working. Set clear agendas and share ahead of meetings. Allocate meeting chairs to manage time and ensure all those present have an opportunity to speak. Ensure there’s only one speaker at a time, particularly between those attending in person. Utilise the ‘raise hand’ feature. Switch cameras on so that digital attendees remain present and turn the sound off unless speaking.
It’s clear that the coming year offers a host of opportunities for businesses, while at the same time presenting a whole new set of challenges, many of which did not exist just two years ago. For businesses looking to succeed in 2022, there’s no room for a piecemeal approach. This is sink or swim time, and those with a clear and defined strategy for how to approach the new ways of working will reap the benefits in years to come.