I’ll never forget the chill that went down my spine when I read the 2020 email from my manager instructing me and my peers to work from home until further notice. “This is real,” I thought to myself. Like so many others, little did I realize the profound and unimaginable ways COVID-19 was about to change our lives.
As we approach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, what better occasion to hear from two thought leaders as they explore four key trends driving the future of work. Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread Research joined Chris French, Workhuman®’s executive vice president, customer strategy, to outline a more modern approach to workplace management – one that highlights the strategies visionary HR and business leaders must embrace to create a human-centered, high-performing work culture. Here, we sum up the four trends discussed in the webinar.
Trend 1: Employees continue to feel the strain.
“We’re not talking about employees feeling strained like they were in March of 2020,” observed Chris. “This is the cumulative strain – both in life and at work.”
In Chris’s view, blurring the line between work and personal life has intensified the strain that employees are feeling, and this has been a big driver of the Great Resignation. He cited research showing the sheer volume of people – four in ten – who plan to look for work in the next 12 months. Just as daunting, the cost of such an exodus is enormous. “When we talk to senior HR executives, this is the thing that’s on top of their mind, their biggest worry,” he noted. “It’s a huge cost. It’s a huge productivity cost.”
Stacia shared her research comparing manager behavior before the pandemic and today. She noted that in 2020, “managers were really rising to the occasion. They were enabling more individual autonomy. They were open to more information. They were removing barriers to getting work done.”
But now, manager behaviors are reverting to the old form. At the onset of the pandemic, “it felt like everyone was in it together and managers were adjusting their behaviors. But then, as people get tired, as managers get tired, their behaviors are slipping back.”
In concert with this trend, openness to hybrid-friendly management approaches has also declined. This concerns her because, “we went from focusing on the outcome of work, and now people are again focusing more on the hours I’m in my seat.” And with that comes a lowering of trust and connection.
“How can we recreate some of that connection that we had before?” she asked. “How can we recreate some of that trust? One of the ways is through recognition. When we give people positive feedback, that starts to build trust. And I think that is a real opportunity.”
“That’s what recognition does,” added Chris. “It says, ‘I see you. I see the work that you’re doing. It’s making an impact.’”
Trend 2: The future of work is hybrid, agile, and interdependent.
“Hybrid is a lot more than just the physical space,” observed Chris. “It’s pushing control down in the organization. It’s allowing teams to collaborate and actually do things and operate in a way that is totally different than a historic ‘command-and-control’ mindset.”
Stacia introduced research findings showing that employees have much better clarity of their performance now than before the pandemic. When it comes to employees understanding what they should be working on, what they need to do to succeed, and receiving data-based insights on how they are doing, the news is good – especially important as hybrid becomes more the norm.
More good news: Managers and direct reports are talking more than in the pre-pandemic days of 2019. According to Stacia, there has been a dramatic increase in weekly and daily check-ins, and an even greater frequency of weekly and monthly “structured formal conversations.” “I think this is a reflection of the hybrid or remote work environment that we’re in, where we are having more conversations,” observed Stacia.
For Chris, performance development is as much about a mindset as it is frequency. “It’s micromanagement if a manager calls to check in every day and says, ‘Are you getting your work done?’” he observed. “The point of frequent check-ins is that it’s forward-looking, rather than backward-looking. It’s more about having priorities changed. What are we looking at? What do you need to be successful? How are you doing?”
“The benefit of regular check-ins has to be for the employee,” he noted. “If it’s not, then it doesn’t work.”
Trend 3: Organizations must embrace an intentional focus on culture.
“Even if you had the greatest culture on earth, there’s been a decay over the last two years,” said Chris. “And the point is, you have to be intentional about finding ways for people to make connections. And not all those connections have to be work-related.”
“Performance management is a touchstone of culture because it impacts every person in the organization,” noted Stacia. She shared a slide illustrating that those organizations that have done an intentional redesign in the last few years have higher levels of engaged employees and are better at identifying developmental opportunities. “We see that these organizations tend to perform better as well,” she noted. “So intentional design is the key here.”
As Chris sees it, intentional culture building has to involve the crowd. “It can’t be just for managers,” he pointed out. “It has to be people giving to people.” He believes organizations must be more intentional about creating a community – including events outside the workplace, such as marriages, graduations, new babies, and first homes.
“When we talk about intentional culture, what we’re talking about is understanding that we can’t let any opportunity for human connection slip away, because it’s not going to just happen by itself,” he observed. “We have to be intentional about building those cultural moments.”
Trend 4: Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) will grow as differentiators for recruiting and retention.
Stacia believes the notion of intentionality extends to DE&I initiatives. “Everyone knows DE&I is important,” she noted. “But this needs to be pursued intentionally. I once heard someone say that if you’re not intentionally including, you’re excluding. And I think that is certainly true with culture.”
In Chris’s view, DE&I is a business imperative. “This isn’t a ‘nice to have.’ If you’re not intentionally doing [DE&I initiatives] now, then the ‘greener pasture’ that people are looking for is not going to be your organization.”
“There’s lots of data that shows the business case for DE&I,” added Stacia. “But I think the culture case is equally important.”
“It’s about noticing someone,” observed Chris. “This is intentionally creating opportunities to include people in the discussion, in the celebrations, in their own performance, in their own growth.”
The exploration of the fourth trend concluded with an insightful comment from Tisha, one of the program’s attendees. As Stacia paraphrased: “It is everyone’s responsibility to be focused on creating that inclusion, to inviting diverse perspectives, to making sure everyone has access to equal opportunities and that they feel like they belong.
“It’s not just the chief diversity officer and immediate team. It’s not just the person of color or the woman in the room. It’s everyone.”
About the AuthorMore Content by Aaron Kinne