Your Action Plan for the Next Era of the Human Workplace

August 4, 2022 Sarah Mulcahy

At Workhuman Live® Online, we offered five content tracks tackling HR’s most pressing issues. The result is more than 30 sessions of on-demand content featuring workplace experts from around the world.

We’ll be posting action plans for each of the five content tracks:

Use these action plans to assess and tweak your HR strategy and better position your organization for the future of work.

First on the list is “The Next Era of the Human Workplace.” Below are five key actions based on this track, designed to help you build resilient, high-performing teams that thrive in the hybrid workplace and beyond.

1. Set up the right conditions for employees to thrive whether in office, hybrid, or remote.

Every company will find the right rhythm when it comes to where and how work gets done. As Tsedal Neeley, professor at Harvard Business School, argued, “Provided certain conditions are met, remote work actually increases productivity … People love flextime, the ability to cut up the day in a way that fits your world.”

But before you draw a line in the sand on work environment, make sure you have the right conditions in place. According to Tsedal, one of the most important facets of work culture, especially in a hybrid world, is trust. “We can’t see and micromanage the way we used to … We actually need to let go and trust others.”

trusting curve

She outlined two types of trust that are critical in a work environment:

  • Swift trust: This is about whether your colleagues have the basic core competencies to collaborate. Typically, swift trust is given right away.
  • Emotional trust: Here is where “heart-related” trust comes in. Emotional trust is grounded in a belief that others care about us, and is “much more difficult to achieve in a virtual environment.”

Tsedal shared two tips for building more emotional trust. The first is through self-disclosure. Encourage people to share personal interests and experiences from outside the workplace (having a digital solution like Life Events® could help). The second is through empathy. “Put yourself in the shoes of others, and through your words and your actions you reflect that back to people,” said Tsedal.

2. Establish ground rules around digital tools.

I’m probably not the only one who had never used Zoom before March 2020. As we all scrambled to stay connected throughout the pandemic, many of us latched onto digital tools without much thought. Now that many companies are in the process of transitioning to a post-COVID workplace, it’s worthwhile to take a step back and think about the best ways to leverage these tools.

Here Tsedal shared five conundrums around digital tools helpful to HR, IT, or any team working a remote or hybrid world:

  • Mutual knowledge problem: This is the idea that because we’re not in the same location, we do not have the same context. This can cause miscommunication and misalignment.
  • Social presence: When using a digital tool, we either want to achieve intimacy – meaning personal closeness in others – or immediacy, to convey a sense of urgency.
  • Rich vs. lean media: Depending on the task at hand, you may need rich media (like video, which conveys nonverbal cues and context) or lean media (like e-mail, which doesn’t convey emotion or place).
  • Synchronous vs. asynchronous technology: Or live vs. non-live.
  • Preference: People from different geographies and cultures have unique preferences when it comes to how they use digital tools. This is especially important for global organizations.

3. Spend time on team design.

Your manager and immediate team members have a dramatic influence on your experience at work. But how can you achieve the ideal group dynamic? Tsedal referenced research from late sociologist Richard Hackman, called the 60-30-10 rule.

Essentially, 60% of a team’s success is related to group composition. Some questions to ask:

  • Do we have the right cognitive diversity?
  • Do we have the right ethnic diversity?
  • Do we have the right mix of personality types (introverts and extroverts)?

The next 30% of your team’s success factor is around how you launch and re-launch your team and establish shared norms. Does everyone in the group understand your shared purpose and goals? Here’s where a continuous performance management system could help keep everyone on the same page as priorities evolve and shift. Also, how do you recognize one another? “This idea of peer-to-peer recognition, for example, is really powerful, but we need to explicitly bake it into your group,” said Tsedal.

The final 10% of your team’s success comes from actually collaborating together on projects. So the majority (90%) of your team’s success comes from hiring the right people and setting up systems and processes that keep everyone aligned.

4. Build transparency into your communications and people practices.

Whenever there is ambiguity or uncertainty, it’s human nature to want to fill in those gaps with stories. That’s why transparency and communication from HR is so critical.

Charise Le, CHRO at Schneider Electric, shared one way to improve transparency is through direct access to executive leadership. During the pandemic, Schneider Electric initiated regular sessions with CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire to connect with employees. “Leaders play a role to connect their teams … Regular check-ins, timely, honest care, these are a couple of things we learned and how we keep our teams connected.”

Another way Schneider Electric is building transparency is through Telemarket, an AI-driven platform that matches internal talent to opportunities across the organization. “This includes project, jobs, and also mentorship,” said Charise.

Finally, Schneider Electric is leveraging its social recognition platform with Workhuman to build a recognition culture from the ground up. “Our recognition culture continues to improve, and we have seen expensive use of the program as managers, particularly during COVID, have seen employees going beyond the call of duty to support the organization.”

5. Cater to the whole human.

Sesil Pir, head of employee experience at Takeda Pharmaceutical, has conducted extensive research on the Fortune 500 companies who have survived and thrived since the year 2000. “We asked them if they would allow us to study their behavior so we could understand what had led to their sustainable growth,” she said.

Two attributes rose to the surface in this research. One is adaptability. This refers to “an organization’s ability to adjust, evolved their processes, their systems their practices.” The other attribute is resilience, “which refers to an organization’s capability to expand, to learn new mindsets, new behaviors to bounce back from adversity.”

But what also stood out were these companies’ engagement scores. They reported 40% less burnout, 106% more energy, 74% less stress. Sesil argued the reason these companies were able to achieve these high scores is because they were “offering wholistic human experiences to their people.” They focused not only on challenging work, but also on “people’s spirituality, their emotional and their physical well-being.” This finding aligns with our own research on how a human workplace can impact the bottom line.

Sesil also shared how these organizations exhibit a high degree of care. “This is the degree of affection or compassion people feel and express towards one another, and it can come in the form of eye contact, a smile, or just simply by being present,” she said.

A caring culture infuses the workplace with positivity, and people feel their well-being and emotional connection improve as a result.

Future of Work