The missing ingredient in remote work

Work desk

The debate on the future of work rages on (you can read about my vision for it here). This fall, many companies announced they would start bringing people back in the office. With a fourth wave of the pandemic underway, many of those same companies have deferred their plans indefinitely, making remote work here to stay.

For those of us toiling away in our bedrooms and basements, we’ve had plenty of time to contemplate what’s missing in remote work.

The prevailing wisdom is what’s missing from remote work is the four C’s: collIaboration, connection, communication and culture. While all of these things have suffered a decline to varying degress, they are not missing from remote work. We’ve still managed to collaborate, communicate and stay connected with work colleagues.

No, the key ingredient missing in remote work is energy.

There is an undeniable energy in being around and working with people. When you meet or bump into people at the office or work together in person, you feel the energy level in the room rise. Ideas are born, connections are made. Energy fuels creativity, learning, innovation and propels action. We are driven to take action and succeed, which drives a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

It has been said for introverts, this pandemic has been a blessing. It has allowed them to work quietly on their own, focus on their passions and be happy. But for extroverts who rely on the energy of others to give them strength, and help them be the best version of themselves, the pandemic has been crippling.

The problem is introverts and extroverts alike need to be re-energized from time to time, and most remote workers are running on dangerously low batteries.

This week’s #HappyAct is to assess your energy level and needs. How are you doing? Share an idea on how to fill the void so we can all recharge.

Our emotional connection to work

Last week, I listened to an interesting webinar about our emotional connection to work, facilitated by Dr. Laura Hamill from Limeade.

For many of us, our relationship with work has been put to the test this past year. Some workers have grown closer to their employer, building a stronger relationship based on trust, some have struggled with feelings of separation, while others are considering breaking up with their employer.

While intuitively, we’ve always known we have an emotional connection to work, the pandemic has been a coming of age for our relationship with work. It has caused many people to reflect on what they want from their job, where they want to work, and how work contributes to their overall wellbeing.

Dr. Hamill talked about the factors that affect our wellbeing. There are some factors we have little control over: our genetics, underlying health conditions, personality, and socioeconomic status. The factors we have more control over include our mindset, habits and behaviours, social supports and relationships, and the organizational supports companies put in place for their employees.

While many companies stepped up during COVID to provide supports for employees coping with the stressors of the pandemic, Dr. Hamill maintains tools and programs are not enough. In order for us to be happy at work and have a positive sense of wellbeing, we need to feel like we belong, valued, productive and contribute to the organization’s success.

For this reason, culture, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion and employee wellbeing are inextricably linked.

As we reimagine the future of work, it will be imperative to put employee wellbeing at the forefront. If we don’t, we could be in for a nasty break up.

Graphic source: Limeade, 2021

The future of work

future of work sign

There is a raging debate going on about the future of work. Companies are considering whether to continue to let employees work remotely, return to the office or adopt some form of hybrid model when the worst of the pandemic is over.

As I said last week, we’ve learned much in the past year. But I fear that as a society, we will let a precious opportunity slip through our fingertips: the opportunity to finally redefine our relationship with work, to seek a greater work-life balance and truly imagine a brighter future, one where we don’t just spend our days making a living, but living our best lives.

Here is my vision for the future of work.

First, employees would be able to choose how many hours they want to work a week. Imagine if you could say to your employer, I want to work 24 hours a week, 30, or 32 hours a week so I can pursue my passion, whether it’s painting, writing, running a side business, or volunteering.

Employees would have more flexibility to choose when they work. 6 a.m. to noon? No problem. I was reading one study where 15% of workers said they’d prefer to work in the evenings or at night so they could do things outside during the day. Depending on the role, why not? It could also help with child care challenges for working families.

We need to discover how to bring joy and fun back into our work world. The reality for many office workers is their day consists of never-ending emails and meetings, distractions and interruptions that is making us unhappy at work. When you feel like your day consists of putting out fires and you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, it’s disheartening. Even before the pandemic, people were habitually checking email 74 times a day and switching tasks every 10 minutes. 

There are many, innovative solutions to making work fulfilling again.

Let’s start by hiring more people. I believe too many companies are running too lean. There are simply not enough people to do the work. If some people opt for shorter work weeks, there could be the opportunity to hire people and distribute work a bit more equitably to help ease stress and workloads.

We also need to be smarter about how we spend our time during the workday. Companies could establish designated meeting times, and work times to help people concentrate and accomplish meaningful work, without disruption.

Several years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The company experienced a 65 percent increase in productivity but also reported employees experienced an increase in work satisfaction. They discovered the most important factor in daily joy and motivation was a sense of progress.

We’ve also learned working from home this past year the importance of human connection. We miss our colleagues dearly.

The future of work needs to include being together again, but not dictated by arbitrary policies. Being able to collaborate, have fun together, celebrate successes are all great examples of when it will make sense to bring employees together in person. Training is another thing we’ve learned is a much more richer experience in person than remote learning.

Good workplaces will develop a do good culture. Providing opportunities for employees to get involved in their communities, and volunteer for worthy causes will add a new layer of purpose to work. Some companies already offer up to five days a year for employees to volunteer for local charities.

The future of work also includes more vacation. There will be a pent-up demand for travel when borders open up. North Americans could learn from other countries like the UK where residents get 28 days of vacation a year, France 25, and Germany and Australia, with 20 days.   

Finally, companies need to adopt the ner way of business. Ner is the business philosophy where the most important aspect is people and leaders only need to create an environment where people can excel. Companies have no hierarchy, just self-managing teams. Ner companies donate 3% of their profits and 2% of employee time to contribute to social projects and top salaries can’t be more than 2.5X higher the lowest salary. The ner philosophy creates more human, meaningful and entrepreneurial workplaces. And it works. Watch this video to learn more about ner.

Yes, we have a unique opportunity before us: to reimagine the future of work. Companies that are short-sighted will focus on one aspect: place.

Companies that are progressive and visionary will focus on outcomes and a new, more human philosophy towards work.

Who would you rather work for?