Even before the pandemic, 85% of employees were not engaged at work according to Gallup. “This global engagement pattern provides evidence that how performance is managed, and specifically how people are being developed, is misfiring.” Over the past year, the physical distance required by remote work may continue to deteriorate engagement.
The move to remote working has created longer working hours and less division between home life and work life. It also provides us with an excellent chance to reconsider the design of work in a hybrid world.
One aspect of the changes we make is illustrated by Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic. He is a proponent of asynchronous communication, “getting back to people when it suits us rather than in real time. That’s because when we’re able to move away from hyper-responsiveness, we create cultures built around batched and written communication. This helps knowledge workers cultivate more time on deep, meaningful work.”
According to HBR, most companies are applying what they know about office work to remote work, which includes non-stop email, messaging, and back-to-back meetings and calls. Instead, they recommend placing a value of focused work time and outcomes over responsiveness. Addressing messages and emails in batches, and when possible, use written communication instead of meetings or calls.
One example from the article is from the Office of Strategic Services during World War 2. The manual includes recommendations that are just as applicable today.
- Insist on doing everything through channels — never permit shortcuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
- When possible, refer all matters to committees for further study and consideration. Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five people.
- Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
Too much emphasis on processes can have an adverse impact on productivity and morale. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos illustrated this in his 1997 shareholder letter, “Type 1 decisions are high stakes, costly, and irreversible. Type 2 decisions are low cost and reversible. Most decisions are Type 2 decisions, and should be made quickly, but when we treat almost all decisions as Type 1 decisions, our cadence grinds to a halt.”
It’s important to empower employees to make what Bezos calls Type 2 decisions on their own. This may require companies to scale back processes so that they both enable innovation and account for risk. This may reduce the number of steps to get a project done or eliminate some meetings or reports.
This also requires rethinking learning and development initiatives. Continuing professional education doesn’t help employees excel in their roles today. Provide opportunities for employees to learn skills that matter to them, whether they are directly related to their current role.
One area we are particularly fond of is values alignment. Be sure you understand your mission and culture and hire people who are aligned with it. Data from Deloitte backs this idea, purpose-led companies have a 40% higher level of employee retention.
It’s also important to align the strengths of employees. Author Tom Rath notes, “If you focus on people’s weaknesses, they lose confidence.” Gallup supports strength alignment, finding that employees are, “six-times more likely to be engaged at work when we play to our strengths, and three times more likely to report an excellent quality of life.”
If you’d like more information on how to create a high-performance culture so you can attract, hire, retain, and develop the best talent while also creating a competitive advantage, send us a note.