How Can Business Maintain Connection and Culture in a World of Remote Work?Feb 24, 2022
A Chapter from my upcoming book “Profit with Presence: The 12 Pillars of Mindful Leadership”
The Corona Virus Pandemic has spawned the “Great Resignation” currently occurring with millions of employees leaving their positions, means that remote work accelerated by the pandemic Is here to stay. A majority of employers, in fact 74% plan to keep at least some of their workers remote permanently. And for employers unwilling to allow remote work, evidence from the Great Resignation says that employees will leave those companies for companies that do allow remote work or to go out on their own. There is no doubt there will be costs to business from remote work, but the cost to business that don’t find ways to work with employees remotely may be higher.
Many leaders believe that working from home is not working. I have often said “people working from home are working about one half the time.” In the Pandemic, remote work increased from 30% to roughly 90% working remotely at least part time and over 80% of those surveyed in the U.S. said they wanted to continue to work from home at least part time after Covid-19. Interestingly, over 70% of managers have reported being just as satisfied, or more satisfied by remote work performance as they were when everyone was in the office.
When you combine this result with “The Great Resignation” experienced during the Pandemic, one thing is clear: Remote Work is here to stay because workers are demanding it, and because employers are in dire need of workers. The main questions are why do most employers fear remote work; and how do we employ remote work strategies that make the most out of the situation? To be clear, it’s not that companies believe that remote work is a panacea because it’s not. It’s just a fact of business survival post pandemic.
A recent survey or over one half million respondents, conducted by Seth Mattison and David Allison, offered if we know what employees value, we can influence their behavior. These researchers found 3 major themes were important to employees: relationships, security, and acknowledgement. On the employer’s side, back to the question: how to we maintain connection and culture in a world of remote work?
Think about it: employers save money when employees “successfully” work from home as a reduction of overhead. So why don’t all employers embrace remote work? The main reason is a lack of trust and reluctance to lose control over the employees day. Despite many employees working successfully at home, they all don’t successfully work from home, and employers are reluctant to remove their thumb from employees every movement while employees are insisting on more independence and trust. The logic falls down when organizational leaders assume all workers can’t be trusted because some workers preform less well than others when working remotely, because some workers out preforming others is the same situation we find in the office. The difference is that “command and control” can be used in an office setting but is impossible to utilize in a remote work setting. Command and control leaders are the ones destine to do the worst in a world of remote work. Who will do the best?
Some companies, like Jumpstart, have reported improved company culture since the gravitation to remote work. David Patcher of Jumpstart wrote Remote Leadership in 2021 and identified three pillars of great remote organizations: reflective leadership; coaching mindset and culture, and peer learning.
Reflective leaders are self-aware and focused on acting mindfully. Mindfulness frees these leaders from being the source of all knowledge and courage and helps them – and their employees – find peace, confidence, and compassion. A coaching mindset flips command and control to a training and trust culture. A coach is like a mirror that helps you find the answers within yourself and rarely, if ever, tells you what to do. Importantly, a coach cares about those they are coaching as people who have important considerations in addition to their job, rather than being all about “getting the job done at all costs”. Employees find a coach to be empowering and someone they can trust. Lastly, peer learning is about creating deeper conversations between people across the organization who may never meet, where they can share personal experiences, and create trust.
The simple truth is that remote work exposes underlying motivations of either command and control to achieve “my agenda”; or reflective leaders coaching and leading peer learning to honor the employees agenda while still retaining necessary corporate outcomes. It’s obvious the company has to remain profitable to stay in business, however, successful companies in a world of remote work have profitability as one metric, and growth of stakeholders such as employees as other important metrics. Can you imagine telling a successful and important employee that it may be best for them to take another opportunity? When you can say yes to this question you will begin to be worthy of an employee’s trust. Importantly, trust is a two-way street and if employers want to be able to trust employees than employees need to be able to trust employers.
If your motivations are all about you and your success, you most likely won’t do well in a world of remote work. You cannot fake caring about someone, it has to be real to survive the smell test. The good news is that truly caring about people, everyone, is also a key to happiness. Remote work may be forcing us to be mindful and happy in order for it to succeed.
“ I’ll share how you can build a high-performing organization based on deeper relationships, a sense of community, self-acceptance, courageous questioning, and mutual accountability. A place where you won’t need to have all the answers so you can ask better questions. You won’t teach; you’ll share. You won’t give orders; you’ll bring out the best in others while trusting them to guide themselves, each other, and sometimes you.”
Sound familiar? Successful remote work organizations need to be mindful. Mindful leadership is more important in a world of remote work, in fact mindful leadership may be the only way it works for many organizations that depend on culture, creativity, and trust. Transactional companies may survive in the old-world style, however, companies that depend and thrive culture and creativity will need to transform to survive.
There a many implications and all employees that were successful in the office will not be successful working remotely. Some employees that are not as successful working remotely may agree to come back to the office where supervision can be provided, and some will either find other work on their own or need to be let go. Workers who truly perform well remotely need to be compensated more as the overhead cost to employ them is reduced, and you should consider compensating them for home office space and possibly investing in that space or supporting their We-Work space etc. This may seem absurd to some employers, but when you look at the bottom line, employees that need less supervision and consume less overhead truly deserve more compensation. If you don’t provide it, someone else will in a competitive industry.
It’s also important to consider what type of employees prefer to work from home. A key group is introverts who find less distractions at home, and more energy when they are on their own. Ironically, this is also a group that may need social interaction from work to balance their solitary life styles. Extroverts are more likely to prefer the office where they get needed social interaction. A truly blended model may be called for in many instances, sometime in the office, sometime remote, with lots of peer learning opportunities to bring employees together in meaningful ways.
I am currently involved with several companies struggling in the remote work transition that have decided to provide mindfulness as a peer learning opportunity, and we are offering anchoring events in person and interim mindfulness training online. A key feature of this training is to foster the employees getting to know each other and their employers, who are part of the training. Its key to have top managers and the CEO in the training for it to be a genuine offering. The simple truth is it’s the top brass that needs the training the most as they are the ones who most need to change for the organization to transform and survive.
CEO’s and managers need to do more and be more in a world of remote work. They need to connect with employees in a real and regular way, to replace the environment of the office where that type of interaction was both less needed and easier to implement. CEO’s and managers need to have a system to stay in flow, not only with outside stakeholders, but to stay in flow with employees working remotely on a regular basis. How else can you know when someone is struggling or dissatisfied? The is no substitute for truly caring, and no intuition without regular and effective communication.
Culture describes how we do business and what’s important to this company in addition to making money. There are a lot of possibilities and different cultures, but the theme of this book is mindfulness and mindfulness is a culture. In fact, mindfulness is a “sticky” culture, meaning it’s not just when the employees walk through the door or log in on their home computer, mindfulness is a way of being that permeates through the entire life of an employee. Employees who are already mindful will be averse to employers who are not mindful. Once the match is made between mindful employers, and mindful employees its very solid or “sticky”.
Employees know they valued at work; and work is promoting mindfulness which is making their home life better too. Employers know it’s not that easy to find mindful employees that fit a specific job description, and are careful to hang on to them. Additionally, both mindful employers and mindful employees have tools that make the relationship work, such as fostering relationships by giving and keeping their word, and by listening. Employer and employee purposes are aligned through mindfulness, so the corporate vision and mission should be consistent with the employees. Through nonjudgment both listen to the other, and generally give the benefit of the doubt when uncertainty arises. Both understand the importance of gratitude, generosity, and service. Employers will give the time off needed, and financial support to influence important outcomes. Employees will show up, take action, and serve.
Unfortunately, this situation is not that easy to find and takes some time to create and foster, beginning with you. Possibly fortunately for the employer, once the mindful relationship is formed, it’s not easy for the employee to replace by simply answering an ad for a higher paying job. There are limits, employees will leave for dramatically increased pay, but reluctantly. Employers know that it’s not easy to find a cultural fit, so will work hard to keep mindful employees rather than just filling the spot with a body or nice resume.
Additionally, mindfulness is virtual. You don’t need to be in physical proximity to be mindful of each other. A leader who is more aware knows to reach out and connect regularly with employees, giving acknowledgement where due. A deep relationship is formed between employers and employees through mindfulness. Mindfulness creates a relational versus a transactional connection. Once mindfulness is adopted in the company vision, start each internal meeting with a brief centering exercise focusing on the breath. You will be amazed at how much better, and more efficient these meetings go.
Mindfulness is a culture. Mindfulness is a “sicky” culture, and can be of great assistance to maintaining connection, and culture the world of remote work.
I wrote a book, Profit with Presence: The 12 Pillars of Mindful Leadership, which goes in to further detail about this topic and more.
Although the world is currently abuzz with the term “mindfulness,” some believe mindfulness is a fringe activity to be practiced before or after the workday, if at all. Too few business professionals take the time needed to be present and aware throughout the workday, which is counterproductive. Mindfulness is not only a path to personal success, but a sound business strategy.
My hope is to change the world through infusing mindfulness into business -- and it starts with each of us individually. Together, we can create a future where mindfulness is deeply embedded in our work culture, leading to greater well-being, productivity, and meaningful success for all.
- Dr Eric Holsapple
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