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Human Connection in a Changing World of Work

Power of Ideas
Human Connection in a Changing World of Work

In today’s evolving employment market, a business’ culture is its principal competitive advantage.

How culture is developed can be exhaustively debated. However, one thing that most agree on is that once matured, culture can take years to adjust. Unless, perhaps, the world is faced with an unprecedented situation that completely challenges how businesses can and should operate.

COVID has, probably forever, altered how we get along with colleagues and contacts.

A forced diet of virtual connectivity made us put a real value on human connection. It further shifted personal and collective responsibility, heightened mutual respect, and forced us to look at things from a new perspective.

For many businesses, in some ways being apart physically made working relationships closer: We were in our colleagues’ homes, interrupted by pets, children, and deliveries, we talked about their family and friend situations, childcare challenges, and we thought more about their physical and mental health.

In a world transformed by the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to shape a new working culture.

Enforced working from home also showed skeptical business leaders that employees will do what it takes to get the job done, regardless of where or when they are working.

The result is a welcome refresh in the employer-employee relationship. Traditional command-control hierarchy has been replaced by a platform based on mutual respect, trust, and honesty.

Of course, this is a positive thing, but, as the world slowly (and hopefully) leaves pandemic restrictions behind, it requires a mindset shift. Employers, who may be keen to get staff back into the office, need to reflect that the people who demonstrated their commitment during a challenging time are not going to appreciate being told they need to be in an office from 9 to 5 every day of the week.

Indeed, the latest Work Trend Index published by Microsoft reports 53 percent of employees are more likely to prioritize health and well-being over work than before the pandemic, and 52 percent of Gen Z and Millennials are likely to consider changing employers this year. There’s a new “worth it” equation taking shape premised on what people want from work and what they’re willing to give in return.

Preferences and priorities will continue to evolve, but one element has certainly cemented in the minds of the current and future talent market: We no longer live in a binary world where if you’re in the office, you’re working and if you’re at home, you’re not. Business leaders need to therefore recognize that dictating where staff work five days a week is no longer appropriate when they have demonstrated their conscientiousness and trustworthiness over the last two years.

Rather than focusing on how to drive office attendance, we need to consider the more fundamental questions: How can colleagues feel connected, motivated, and inspired without necessarily all being together in one physical space all the time? How can employees be protected from stress and burnout when remote working makes it harder for them to switch off at the end of the day and more difficult for managers to spot when they might be struggling?

Instead of insisting on staff being together, tapping away on their keyboards, businesses should focus on bringing staff together for periods of more genuine and valuable connection.

With that said, where we connect is just as important as when. A commitment to best-in-class assets in quality locations, not just an open concept between four walls, will undoubtedly provide businesses with a differentiated advantage when building progressive cultures.

At its essence, human connection is about being seen, heard, and valued. It provides a sense of belonging, and it happens when people communicate openly and honestly, and when there is positive energy and trust. Digital platforms and physical events go some way in bringing people together, but more important than that is instilling a fundamental sense that they are part of an organization doing great things with underlying values worth attaching to.

In a world transformed by the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to shape a new working culture. We know the benefits, and we therefore owe it to our staff, our businesses, and ourselves to ensure we create an environment where people feel genuinely connected.