UPDATE 2020: Now, when social distancing has become the norm during the "shelter in place"
directive resulting from the Coronavirus Pandemic, we see how important it is to reduce workplace isolation. Let's layer on new research that reveals how vital it is to unite employees with a sense of shared purpose.
It turns out that just a single word makes a world of difference in employee engagement.
Just how pervasive has "work from home" become, now?
A law firm (Seyfarth) conducted a survey of 550 employers in March of 2020. As reported in SHRM
, that flash survey found that 67% of employers made provisions for employees to work from home who had not previously
. 36% of surveyed businesses asked all employees to work from home.
What are some of the effects of remote working?
A company (Ctrip) ran a trial of work from home. The business saved more than $1,000 per employee on reduced office space. But when that same company expanded the policy to all employees
, disruption resulted. The primary complaint cited was loneliness.
Studies (HP) have suggested that productivity does increase among home office workers, but there is a risk of reduced innovation that results from lost companionship. Remote work may stifle the spark of deeper social bonds, and that may hinder development of new processes and ideas that emerge from teamwork.
Google researched its most productive groups several years ago. The company found that the most important quality shared among their best producers was a sense of “psychological safety”
. Seeing and being part of a trusted group of people gave teammates confidence that they would not be shamed for speaking up. That feeling of suspended judgement is the empowerment that results from "belonging". Inability to see teammates and gauge their emotions can make it difficult to reproduce that safe feeling.
Is working together really that much more productive?
In her Harvard Business Review article “Managers Can Motivate Employees with One Word
,” Heidi Grant Halvorson reported on the findings of Stanford University researchers Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton.
They divided study participants into two groups: one was told they would be solving puzzles “together” in a team effort, the other was informed they would be working alone. All participants then worked by themselves, with the same information, but those with the reassurance of a team effort performed better.
Halvorson writes, “Participants in the 'psychologically together' category worked 48% longer, solved more problems correctly, and had better recall for what they had seen. They also said they felt less tired and depleted by the tasks.”
This is a core principal in the field of employee engagement. The need for belonging and a shared sense of purpose is known to be critical to connecting employees to the organization and to the work that they do every day. In fact, it is one of the four crucial elements that Blessing White has identified in their CASE model of engagement
- Community for a sense of belonging and purpose
- Authenticity as a basis for trust and inspiration
- Significance to recognize individuals’ contribution
- Excitement to constantly encourage — and raise the bar on — high performance
How does togetherness apply to the current "social distancing" situation?
Without belonging – or togetherness – there is a disconnect between the employee and the organization. And disconnects lead to lack of direction, reduced productivity, and unfocused effort – a dangerous amount of drag and friction when dealing with customers and clients.
Halvorson notes, “The feeling of working together has indeed been shown to predict greater motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation, that magical elixir of interest, enjoyment, and engagement that brings with it the very best performance.”
What's the lesson here?
In workplaces where many individuals work independently or even remotely, we must take the time to communicate internally that we really are all in it together.
We at Next Level have developed the engagement tools
. Now it is up to the managers and employees themselves to model that virtuous behavior, and to deliver that message frequently and consistently.
The explicit expression of “togetherness” provides the framework for the relationship between employee and organization to have meaning and purpose. Individually, we are part of a greater whole. And we’ll try harder and feel better about what we do, when we acknowledge that.
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