The challenges of onboarding in remote or hybrid workforces

Companies that have been able to recruit throughout the pandemic have faced significant challenges in onboarding new employees. The difficulties that have surfaced during this period raise important questions about how organizations onboard new talent and maintain internal culture when a large part of the workforce is working remotely.

How, for instance, will recruits fit in with their new team when it could be weeks or months before they meet them?

These are worthwhile questions because when post-pandemic recovery comes, remote working will continue in many organizations. Gartner’s research predicts 48% of employees will work remotely some of the time once the pandemic has ended. Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn told the BBC that the volume of job searches using the ‘Remote’ filter had increased by 60% from the end of last March.

Onboarding is more difficult when an organization’s workforce is working remotely for all or part of the time. A sense of not-fitting-in can quickly develop when interactions are solely online and the new employee feels as if they have been left to flounder without proper induction training or personal introductions. More experienced recruits will start to question whether they have made the right move.

It is also much easier for new recruits to resign when no feelings of loyalty or personal warmth have developed an organizational culture appears poor or remote

College-leavers and first-time entrants to the job market may also feel alienated and will need special attention to make them feel valued so companies do not hemorrhage the best young talent. In the legal sector, for example, trainee lawyers have always been able to learn in the office from senior colleagues, asking them quick questions and observing how they handle cases and clients.

The pandemic has restricted the access of young lawyers to this wealth of expertise and experience, resulting in many struggling to work from home. This will be true for many other professions as well.

It is also much easier for new recruits to resign when no feelings of loyalty or personal warmth have developed an organizational culture that appears poor or remote. This is where more active policies to include and engage with newly-appointed employees reduce the likelihood of early departure and avoid the disruption and extra costs of refilling a vacancy.

To a large extent, however, the rethinking of onboarding for remote workforces is already underway inside organizations that have embraced more advanced, cloud-based HR platforms.

What HR technology has brought are vastly better and simpler communication, more effective training programs, and reinvigorated employee support. In a remote or hybrid workforce, organizations with the right technology are more systematic about onboarding, but with no loss of personality.

HR departments can create checklists and workflows that streamline the onboarding process, ensuring no aspect is overlooked. Self-service will give the new employee a greater sense of autonomy even before they formally begin, enabling them to input their own details and access videos and training materials.

Younger employees, especially, are more attracted to video content. The overall effect is to iron out admin irritations that can alienate a new recruit sitting at home or in a sparsely-occupied workplace.

A platform that offers social media-type functionality makes it very easy for a recruit to see what is happening across the organisation both professionally and socially and to feel part of the culture. It facilitates introductions to managers and colleagues so that a new person is familiar with the ethos of the organisation before they start.

To make recruits feel truly comfortable and get up to speed with what the company requires of them, it should also be simple to schedule regular informal face-to-face interactions or check-ins with managers to discuss progress, personal goals and any concerns.

This is a straightforward and intuitive form of interaction, which HR platforms enable. Similarly, new employees should be able to join discussions with fellow team members quickly and easily, enjoying a sense of inclusion even though they may be at home and have yet to meet them in person.

Regular contact with managers and teams on a platform that is simple to use and full of relevant features embeds recruits far more quickly, substantially reducing the chances of them throwing in the towel early on.

Being able to access training modules, company guides, and updates within the same HR platform is also a major advantage for a new hire who might otherwise struggle to locate the right content in a company’s system. This removes the necessity to leave the platform to find what they need, including records of how they are progressing.

HR departments and line managers will undoubtedly face all kinds of onboarding challenges as the UK economy emerges from the pandemic and remote working continues. It will be organizations with access to more advanced platforms that make the greatest success of this new pattern of work, rapidly onboarding the ablest recruits, increasing retention, and maximizing organizational efficiency.

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Rethink organisational design to maximise benefits of hybrid work

As businesses become more comfortable with remote work settings and routines, both employees and organisations are recognising that many roles can be performed just as successfully, if not more so, in flexible environments.

Implementing a hybrid workforce model requires flexibility, adaptability and shared ownership between employers and employees. The elements of organisation design (OD) — structure, workflows and role design, and networks — help operationalise these attributes.

Organisations should focus their attention on four key areas to seize opportunities for hybrid work and optimise their approach.

Team design

Most companies deploy task-based organising principles, which groups members of the workforce together based on the type of work they are doing, such as marketing, finance or IT.

In an office setting, a task-based organising principle enables organisations to centralise skills and resources and make them accessible.

An outcome-based organising principle groups employees based on specific outcomes to be achieved, such as the roll-out of a certain product. Shifting to an outcome-based organising principle can increase the opportunities for hybrid work, including segments that may have seemed ineligible in the past, by empowering employees to design their collective working schedules around the completion of a particular project.

Employee workflows

When all employees are together in a physical workplace, businesses can insist on strict workflow approval processes knowing that an employee is able to walk over to a manager’s desk and get instant feedback and sign-off.

In a hybrid set-up, with employees working at different times and in different locations, processes and gatekeepers could slow decision making and stifle innovation.

To support hybrid work, companies should design systems that facilitate autonomy whilst maintaining quality control. Leaders can consider a host of new approaches, such as simplifying hierarchy chains, defining areas where workflows can be flexible, or reducing the direct reports to each manager.

Cultural values

Since the start of the pandemic, leaders have been concerned that long-term remote working would lead to a breakdown of company culture. However, the shift to a hybrid workforce is a chance to evaluate whether cultural priorities were truly supported in the first place. Our research shows that only 19% of leaders currently manage processes based on culture.

Business leaders should consider how current organisational structures can support or strengthen cultural values in the hybrid era. For example, if the company prioritises collaboration, increasing the diversity of tasks within specific roles can encourage cross-team partnerships. Similarly, if it prioritises innovation, rethinking workflow formalisation can empower creativity.

Learning and development

Leaders are also exploring how they can help employees maintain and develop key skills in a remote environment. A hybrid model expands, rather than hinders, opportunities for development by forcing organisations out of old approaches that heavily rely on co-location.

Organisations should look at how they can increase the visibility of virtual employee networks so that staff can be connected to the right people at the right time. In fact, ‘connector managers’ are particularly adept at this since they understand the availability of skills within the business and can make the appropriate connections at the right times.

Embrace the hybrid opportunity

During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have been largely successful in adapting existing roles for remote working and remaining operational during lockdowns. The hybrid workplace will require more fundamental changes but offers organisations the opportunity to rethink traditional organisational structures and redefine organisational priorities to lay a foundation for future success.


Three Ways To Ensure Your Crisis Management And Communication Plans Will Work

Even before Covid-19, companies and organizations were gambling with their futures and the health and lives of employees if they did not take steps to ensure their crisis plans would work when needed — assuming, of course, that they had plans in place.

According to a 2019 survey conducted by CS&A International and PR News, about 62 percent of companies had crisis plans, though it was uncertain how many updated them on a regular basis. Almost 60% of the middle and senior managers surveyed said they never conducted a crisis exercise or were not sure how often their companies held exercises.

The Next Crisis

What effect has the coronavirus crisis had in convincing companies to prepare for the next crisis — or how to survive this ongoing national public health emergency?

Caroline Sapriel is managing partner of CS&A International, the risk, crisis, and business continuity management firm that conducted the survey with PR News. She believes that awareness about crisis preparedness has increased with Covid-19.


Sapriel said that those who were not ready for a crisis before may not be any more committed to being prepared now if they are impacted economically and struggling financially. “It’s the age old question of whether an organization sees crisis preparedness as an investment or as a cost…those who survive without or with little preparation are likely to continue to think it’s good enough and be complacent,” she said.


Have contingency plans for different crisis scenarios
Test the plans by holding drills and exercises
Revise the plans to reflect lessons learned from the practice sessions
Here’s how three organizations are doing just that.

A Plan For Every Crisis

Project Hope knows all about crisis situations. According to its website, “From the Bahamas to Sierra Leone, Project HOPE teams are at work around the world, responding to crises, helping people overcome diseases, and empowering health workers with the training and tools they need to save more lives.”

When it comes to responding to a crisis, the global health and humanitarian organization does not take any chances — it has a different crisis plan for different scenarios. “We have templates for natural disasters, for [the] passing of colleagues, for kidnapping, etc. For responding to a humanitarian crisis, we have what we refer to as SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures),” said Rabih Torbay, president and CEO.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Rather than assume their plans will work, Project HOPE conducts drills and exercises to put them to the test. “…We have conducted a drill regarding kidnapping and crisis communications, as well as a 3-day humanitarian crisis response drill on our campus in partnership with Johns Hopkins and Humanitarian U that included many students,” Torbay said.

After every exercise Project HOPE applies what they learned to strengthen and improve their plans. He noted that, “Every time we do one of those exercises, we adjust the plan a bit based on what worked and didn’t work. What we learned is that those plans are good tools, but they are not the solution. They help remind you of what you should and should not do, based on best practices and experience. However, there are no two situations that are the same, and therefore, [there is] no perfect plan.”

Insuring Their Own Success

USAA is a financial services company whose 35,000 employees serve almost 13 million members of the US armed forces, veterans, and their families.

To test their plans and make sure personnel are ready to respond to various crises, USAA conducts annual tabletop, full-scale, and virtual exercises at their San Antonio, Texas headquarters and regional offices around the country. The crisis scenarios range from full-scale active shooter situations and anthrax attacks to the loss of data centers and fires at company facilities, according to Christian Bove, lead communications director for USAA.

In addition to planning and running their own drills, in July the company took part in Cyber Storm 2020 that was conducted by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The three-day exercise brought together more than 1,000 participants from the public and private sectors to role play in a simulated response to a national cyber crisis that impacted the country’s infrastructure.

Bove said the exercise was an opportunity to cross-train with crisis management professionals from across the financial services industry and government agencies. “Anytime USAA has the ability to participate in crisis management exercises with other agencies and organizations, and we are able to learn best practices from each other, it benefits the industry and our members as a whole,” said Mickie Williams, assistant vice president of enterprise business continuation at USAA.

For companies and organizations that don’t have the expertise or internal resources to test their crisis management and communication plans, there are others they can turn to for assistance. One of them is The Social Simulator, Inc., which holds 150 exercises for clients around the world every year, according to company president Steph Gray.

In October 2019 The Social Simulator helped conduct a two-day drill for the City of Redmond, Washington. Participants included about 30 public information officers (PIOs) from government agencies in Redmond, Washington state, and Canada. The exercise sought to determine how the communication professionals would respond to a category 9.0 earthquake (AKA “The Big One”) that could hit the Pacific Northwest.

The drill, which utilized the company’s proprietary Social Simulator platform, placed special emphasis on effectively handling misinformation on social media and providing safety messages to local communities in the event of a natural disaster, Gray said. Teams posted messages, information, and updates about the earthquake on mock Twitter and Facebook pages and websites and monitored authentic-looking news feeds.

The exercise posed several challenges for the PIOs, including:

How quickly and how well could they use social media to communicate with key audiences in the aftermath of the faux natural disaster?
How would they share information, warnings, and messages with various government agencies?
Who would take the lead to ensure information and updates were posted quickly on social media platforms?
How would they work with journalists and news organizations in such a pressure-filled situation?
After the exercise, Gray said Redmond revised their public information process, made changes to their crisis management plan, and updated a memorandum of understanding with local government jurisdictions on how their PIOs would cooperate in the event of a major incident.

Learning from how others have prepared for a crisis is one thing. Applying those lessons is quite another. What steps have you taken — or should be taking — to protect your organization from the next disaster or emergency? Are those steps enough? Or will they be too little and too late?

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Prioritize people in times of crisis: An interview with the CEO

Mike Henry’s induction into the role of CEO at BHP has been a baptism by fire. When he took on the top leadership position of the world’s largest diversified-resources company, in early 2020, the Canadian transplant in Melbourne found himself almost immediately facing the impacts of one of Australia’s most catastrophic bushfires on record. And then COVID-19 hit. “It has certainly been a different start than what I was anticipating,” he said.

While he has managed to keep operations running and his workforce of 72,000 safe and healthy, Henry said that BHP’s resilience during the pandemic is built on a foundation of strong relationships fostered over the years: “This includes employees, but also communities, business partners, and traditional owner groups, who have come together to keep the business running.” It’s also by prioritizing the cultivation of win–win relationships that Henry believes BHP will thrive in an ascendant “Asian century.” China, Japan, South Korea, and India represent BHP’s key markets in the continent, and Asia as a whole accounts for more than 80 percent of the company’s sales.

In June, Henry spoke with McKinsey’s Stephan Görner to reflect on his first six months leading BHP through crises, sharing how social value and strong relationships have helped bolster the company’s resilience. He also provides his views on what it will take for businesses to be successful in Asia, where he sees free trade as a continuing driver for economic progress and opportunity.

Mike Henry: Six months is still short, and I’m sure there are going to be a ton of insights yet to come, particularly because we’re still in the midst of this crisis. While COVID-19 has been a crisis unlike any, it’s not specific to BHP. And, in some respects, that creates greater freedom to lead, because you’re not under intense scrutiny. On the other hand, it’s been very pervasive. COVID-19 has touched every single person, every part of BHP, and every part of our supply chain, creating a high degree of uncertainty.

Four things have stood out. First is the importance of prioritizing people. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, there’s a premium on getting out, demonstrating empathy, and engaging with people to understand what their concerns are. Second would be the importance of creating clarity on what matters most. From a leadership perspective, giving some sense of certainty and hope is important to navigate this crisis. Third is the need to be responsive and fluid to the dynamics of an evolving crisis. Ultimately, you can’t lead from the center, because the crisis has impacted every part of the company differently depending on region or group. And the final one is the importance of gaining perspective. Early on in a crisis, it can be easy to get tunnel vision and to focus on managing what’s in front of your nose. But the earlier that you can find a means of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture, and pushing out the time horizon of that perspective, the better. That will allow you to sense what’s coming and get ready for what’s around the corner.

The Quarterly: How has becoming CEO during a time of crisis—whether it’s bushfires or global pandemics—informed your leadership style?

From a leadership perspective, giving some sense of certainty and hope is important to navigate this crisis.

Mike Henry: One thing I’ve paid a lot of attention to is context-specific leadership, or recognizing that the leadership for one set of circumstances may not be the most effective for another. Again, perspective is critical. When I talk about getting perspective, it means getting out and engaging with people—both employees and external parties—and hearing what other companies are seeing, as well as the concerns they have. With this perspective, we can make better decisions to steer through the crisis in a more confident and deliberate fashion.

I’ve also realized that I can’t be the chief problem solver for BHP. This [COVID-19] problem is so big, so complex, and so dynamic that it requires everybody to be engaged. My role is not so much to solve specific problems but to provide context, perspective, and clarity on what matters—while getting support in place and then getting out of the way. Through doing that, I can give people what they need to make decisions in the field at any given moment. Thankfully, we’ve got highly capable people and a good culture. They’ve made good decisions that have allowed us to steer a steady ship through what have been some choppy waters.


Mike Henry: We were well-positioned coming into this, because some great people in our procurement and supply teams are always assessing it, including the suppliers to our suppliers. We also have been studying our critical pinch points—where we might want to have a little more stock, for instance.

I want to call out our suppliers who have pulled out all the stops to ensure that they could continue to supply to BHP, even when they were in the depths of their own COVID-19 crises. This is a testament to the strong relationships we have in place, and our focus on social value. One of the things that we did right at the start of the COVID-19 crisis was to support our small, local, and indigenous suppliers by reducing payment terms from 30 days or more down to seven days. We knew that they would be hurting because of the pandemic, and we could play a role in supporting them. People remember things like that. When they’ve seen that we’re there for them in their time of need, they’ll be there for us in our time of need. And that’s what we’ve seen. They’ve invested greater effort to ensure that they can continue to support BHP and keep the commitments they’ve made to us.

The Quarterly: Do you think businesses should play a more active role in solving social problems?

Mike Henry: This is important to us, and also to our stakeholders, including investors. What people used to view as “social license” has evolved into “social value.” That’s analogous to the journey that companies and society have been on in terms of safety. Safety and operational performance were once seen as opposing forces; if you prioritized one, you had to sacrifice the other. Now, people have, well and truly, moved on from that, and everyone understands that these are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have great operational and financial performance without having good safety.

We see the same thing with social value. First and foremost, social value is a way of being and a way of running the business. Of course, we have specific initiatives around social value, but it is also embedded in all of the decisions that we make and in the day-to-day way that leaders in BHP lead. There isn’t some unit that handles all social-value activities; this is a line accountability, supported by functional experts. From mine plans to safety decisions to procurement, we’re thinking about how our employees, communities, business partners, and so on are benefitting. Through doing that, we can lift what is already a substantial contribution to our stakeholders further without eroding short-term financial or operational performance. And over time, you build greater value and greater returns for shareholders.

I’ve realized that I can’t be the chief problem solver for BHP. This [COVID-19] problem is so big, so complex, and so dynamic that it requires everybody to be engaged.

An increasing number of our shareholders understand this; in fact, if we weren’t focused on social value today, we’d have a pretty rough ride with them. They understand that BHP is making investments over decades and that it is critical that we’re seen to be creating value for a broad group of stakeholders: employees, communities, business partners, host governments, and so on.

The Quarterly: Can you give some examples where social value has driven decision making?

Mike Henry: We’ve been investing for quite some time now in securing the ability to move to fully desalinated water in Chile. When we first embarked on that, it wasn’t clear that this was going to become an absolute necessity, and, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what the external views were of that move. It took a degree of foresight, and definitely involved dollars and investment. But now, standing where we are today, the decision looks prescient.

Each part of the business has its own social-value plan, and there will be a degree to which they prioritize some of their activities for their local circumstances. Then they will have a regional plan around social value, and then we have group-level priorities around social value. The way we define these priorities is by assessing two dimensions: first is the degree of relevance to the business, and second is our ability to have impact. This steers us in the direction of defining which issues we want to show leadership on.

Take indigenous affairs as an example. There’s clearly a high relevance to the business; there’s a codependency between ourselves and traditional owner groups. We rely on each other to create prosperity for both parties, and we also know we can have an impact in that space through the way that we engage—the agreements we form together and the opportunities that are generated for indigenous empowerment.

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Reimagining the postpandemic workforce

As the pandemic begins to ease, many companies are planning a new combination of remote and on-site working, a hybrid virtual model in which some employees are on premises, while others work from home. The new model promises greater access to talent, increased productivity for individuals and small teams, lower costs, more individual flexibility, and improved employee experiences.

While these potential benefits are substantial, history shows that mixing virtual and on-site working might be a lot harder than it looks—despite its success during the pandemic. Consider how Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer ended that company’s remote-working experiment in 2013, observing that the company needed to become “one Yahoo!” again, or how HP Inc. did the same that year. Specific reasons may have varied. But in each case, the downsides of remote working at scale came to outweigh the positives.

These downsides arise from the organizational norms that underpin culture and performance—ways of working, as well as standards of behavior and interaction—that help create a common culture, generate social cohesion, and build shared trust. To lose sight of them during a significant shift to virtual-working arrangements is to risk an erosion over the long term of the very trust, cohesion, and shared culture that often helps remote working and virtual collaboration to be effective in the short term.

It also risks letting two organizational cultures emerge, dominated by the in-person workers and managers who continue to benefit from the positive elements of co-location and in-person collaboration, while culture and social cohesion for the virtual workforce languish. When this occurs, remote workers can soon feel isolated, disenfranchised, and unhappy, the victims of unintentional behavior in an organization that failed to build a coherent model of, and capabilities for, virtual and in-person work. The sense of belonging, common purpose, and shared identity that inspires all of us to do our best work gets lost. Organizational performance deteriorates accordingly.

Now is the time, as you reimagine the postpandemic organization, to pay careful attention to the effect of your choices on organizational norms and culture. Focus on the ties that bind your people together. Pay heed to core aspects of your own leadership and that of your broader group of leaders and managers. Your opportunity is to fashion the hybrid virtual model that best fits your company, and let it give birth to a new shared culture for all your employees that provides stability, social cohesion, identity, and belonging, whether your employees are working remotely, on premises, or in some combination of both.

Avoiding the pitfalls of remote working requires thinking carefully about leadership and management in a hybrid virtual world. Interactions between leaders and teams provide an essential locus for creating the social cohesion and the unified hybrid virtual culture that organizations need in the next normal.

Cutting the ties that bind
If you happen to believe that remote work is no threat to social ties, consider the experience of, a company that provides an open-source platform for app development. Several years ago, Skygear was looking to accommodate several new hires by shifting to a hybrid remote-work model for their 40-plus-person team. The company soon abandoned the idea. Team members who didn’t come to the office missed out on chances to strengthen their social ties through ad hoc team meals and discussions around interesting new tech launches. The wine and coffee tastings that built cohesion and trust had been lost. Similarly, GoNoodle employees found themselves at Zoom happy hour longing for the freshly remodeled offices they had left behind at lockdown. “We had this killer sound system,” one employee, an extrovert who yearns for time with her colleagues, told the New York Times. “You know—we’re drinking coffee, or maybe, ‘Hey, want to take a walk?’ I miss that.”1 Successful workplace cultures rely on these kinds of social interactions. That’s something Yahoo!’s Mayer recognized in 2013 when she said, “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together,” having the “interactions and experiences that are only possible” face-to-face, such as “hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”2
Or consider how quickly two cultures emerged recently in one of the business units of a company we know. Within this business unit, one smaller group was widely distributed in Cape Town, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Paris, and other big cities. The larger group was concentrated in Chicago, with a shared office in the downtown area. When a new global leader arrived just prior to the pandemic, the leader based herself in Chicago and quickly bonded with the in-person group that worked alongside her in the office. As the pandemic began, but before everyone was sent home to work remotely, the new leader abruptly centralized operations into a crisis nerve center made up of everyone in the on-site group. The new arrangement persisted as remote working began. Meanwhile, the smaller group, which had already been remote working in other cities, quickly lost visibility into, and participation in, the new workflows and resources that had been centralized among the on-site group, even though that on-site group was now working virtually too. Newly created and highly sought-after assignments (which were part of the business unit’s crisis response) went to members of the formerly on-site group, while those in the distributed group found many of their areas of responsibility reduced or taken away entirely. Within a matter of months, key employees in the smaller, distributed group were unhappy and underperforming.

The new global leader, in her understandable rush to address the crisis, had failed to create a level playing field and instead (perhaps unintentionally) favored one set of employees over the other. For us, it was stunning to observe how quickly, in the right circumstances, everything could go wrong. Avoiding these pitfalls requires thinking carefully about leadership and management in a hybrid virtual world, and about how smaller teams respond to new arrangements for work. Interactions between leaders and teams provide an essential locus for creating the social cohesion and the unified hybrid virtual culture that organizations need in the next normal.

Choose your model
Addressing working norms, and their effect on culture and performance, requires making a basic decision: Which part of the hybrid virtual continuum (exhibit) is right for your organization? The decision rests on the factors for which you’re optimizing. Is it real-estate cost? Employee productivity? Access to talent? The employee experience? All of these are worthy goals, but in practice it can be difficult to optimize one without considering its effect on the others. Ultimately, you’re left with a difficult problem to solve—one with a number of simultaneous factors and that defies simple formulas.


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That said, we can make general points that apply across the board. These observations, which keep a careful eye on the organizational norms and ways of working that inform culture and performance, address two primary factors: the type of work your employees tend to do and the physical spaces you need to support that work.

First let’s eliminate the extremes. We’d recommend a fully virtual model to very few companies, and those that choose this model would likely operate in specific industries such as outsourced call centers, customer service, contact telesales, publishing, PR, marketing, research and information services, IT, and software development, and under specific circumstances. Be cautious if you think better access to talent or lower real-estate cost—which the all-virtual model would seem to optimize—outweigh all other considerations. On the other hand, few companies would be better off choosing an entirely on-premises model, given that at least some of their workers need flexibility because of work–life or health constraints. That leaves most companies somewhere in the middle, with a hybrid mix of remote and on-site working.

The physical spaces needed for work—or not
Being in the middle means sorting out the percentage of your employees who are working remotely and how often they are doing so. Let’s say 80 percent of your employees work remotely but do so only one day per week. In the four days they are on premises, they are likely getting all the social interaction and connection needed for collaboration, serendipitous idea generation, innovation, and social cohesiveness. In this case, you might be fine with the partially remote, large headquarters (HQ) model in the exhibit.

If, instead, a third of your employees are working remotely but doing so 90 percent of the time, the challenges to social cohesion are more pronounced. The one-third of your workforce will miss out on social interaction with the two-thirds working on-premises—and the cohesion, coherence, and cultural belonging that comes with it. One solution would be to bring those remote workers into the office more frequently, in which case multiple hubs, or multiple microhubs (as seen in the exhibit), might be the better choice. Not only is it easier to travel to regional hubs than to a central HQ, at least for employees who don’t happen to live near that HQ, but more dispersed hubs make the in-person culture less monolithic. Moreover, microhubs can often be energizing, fun, and innovative places in which to collaborate and connect with colleagues, which further benefits organizational culture.

Productivity and speed
Now let’s begin to factor in other priorities, such as employee productivity. Here the question becomes less straightforward, and the answer will be unique to your circumstances. When tackling the question, be sure to go beyond the impulse to monitor inputs and activity as a proxy for productivity. Metrics focused on inputs or volume of activity have always been a poor substitute for the true productivity that boosts outcomes and results, no matter how soothing it might be to look at the company parking lot to see all the employees who have arrived early in the day, and all those who are leaving late. Applied to a hybrid model, counting inputs might leave you grasping at the number of hours that employees are spending in front of their computers and logged into your servers. Yet the small teams that are the lifeblood of today’s organizational success thrive with empowering, less-controlling management styles. Better to define the outcomes you expect from your small teams rather than the specific activities or the time spent on them.

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In addition to giving teams clear objectives, and both the accountability and autonomy for delivering them, leaders need to guide, inspire, and enable small teams, helping them overcome bureaucratic challenges that bog them down, such as organizational silos and resource inertia—all while helping to direct teams to the best opportunities, arming them with the right expertise, and giving them the tools they need to move fast. Once teams and individuals understand what they are responsible for delivering, in terms of results, leaders should focus on monitoring the outcome-based measurements. When leaders focus on outcomes and outputs, virtual workers deliver higher-quality work.

In this regard, you can take comfort in Netflix (which at the time of this writing is the 32nd largest company in the world by market capitalization), which thrives without limiting paid time off or specifying how much “face time” workers must spend in the office. Netflix measures productivity by outcomes, not inputs—and you should do the same.

No matter which model you choose for hybrid virtual work, your essential task will be to carefully manage the organizational norms that matter most when adopting any of these models. Let’s dive more deeply into those now.

Managing the transition
Organizations thrive through a sense of belonging and shared purpose that can easily get lost when two cultures emerge. When this happens, our experience—and the experience at HP, IBM, and Yahoo!—is that the in-person culture comes to dominate, disenfranchising those who are working remotely. The difficulty arises through a thousand small occurrences: when teams mishandle conference calls such that remote workers feel overlooked, and when collaborators use on-site white boards rather than online collaboration tools such as Miro. But culture can split apart in bigger ways too, as when the pattern of promotions favors on-site employees or when on-premises workers get the more highly sought-after assignments.

Some things simply become more difficult when you are working remotely. Among them are acculturating new joiners; learning via hands-on coaching and apprenticeship; undertaking ambiguous, complex, and collaborative innovations; and fostering the creative collisions through which new ideas can emerge. Addressing these boils down to leadership and management styles, and how those styles and approaches support small teams. Team experience is a critical driver of hybrid virtual culture—and managers and team leaders have an outsize impact on their teams’ experiences.

Managers and leaders
As a rule, the more geographically dispersed the team, the less effective the leadership becomes. Moreover, leaders who were effective in primarily on-site working arrangements may not necessarily prove so in a hybrid virtual approach. Many leaders will now need to “show up” differently when they are interacting with some employees face-to-face and others virtually. By defining and embracing new behaviors that are observable to all, and by deliberately making space for virtual employees to engage in informal interactions, leaders can facilitate social cohesion and trust-building in their teams.

More inspirational. There’s a reason why military commanders tour the troops rather than send emails from headquarters—hierarchical leadership thrives in person. Tom Peters used to call the in-person approach “management by walking around”: “Looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand, laughing with them when in their physical presence creates a very different kind of bond than can be achieved [virtually].”3
But when the workforce is hybrid virtual, leaders need to rely less on hierarchical and more on inspirational forms of leadership. The dispersed employees working remotely require new leadership behaviors to compensate for the reduced socioemotional cues characteristic of digital channels.

Cultivate informal interactions. Have you ever run into a colleague in the hallway and, by doing so, learned something you didn’t know? Informal interactions and unplanned encounters foster the unexpected cross-pollination of ideas—the exchange of tacit knowledge—that are essential to healthy, innovative organizations. Informal interactions provide a starting point for collegial relationships in which people collaborate on areas of shared interest, thereby bridging organizational silos and strengthening social networks and shared trust within your company.

Informal interactions, which occur more naturally among co-located employees, don’t come about as easily in a virtual environment. Leaders need new approaches to creating them as people work both remotely and on-site. One approach is to leave a part of the meeting agenda free, as a time for employees to discuss any topic. Leaders can also establish an open-door policy and hold virtual “fireside chats,” without any structured content at all, to create a forum for less formal interactions. The goal is for employees, those working remotely and in-person, to feel like they have access to leaders and to the kind of informal interactions that happen on the way to the company cafeteria.

Many leaders will now need to “show up” differently when they are interacting with some employees face-to-face and others virtually. By defining and embracing new behaviors that are observable to all, and by deliberately making space for virtual employees to engage in informal interactions—leaders can facilitate social cohesion and trust-building in their teams.

Further approaches include virtual coffee rooms and social events, as well as virtual conferences in which group and private chat rooms and sessions complement plenary presentations. In between time, make sure you and all your team members are sending text messages to one another and that you are texting your team regularly for informal check-ins. These norms cultivate the habit of connecting informally.

Role model the right stance. It might seem obvious, but research shows that leaders consistently fail to recognize how their actions affect and will be interpreted by others.4 Consider the location from which you choose to work. If you want to signal that you tolerate virtual work, come into the office every day and join meetings in-person with those who happen to be in the building. This will result in a cultural belief that the HQ or physical offices are the real centers of gravity, and that face time is what’s important.

Come into the office every day, though, and your remote-working employees may soon feel that their choice to work virtually leaves them fewer career opportunities, and that their capabilities and contributions are secondary. By working from home (or a non-office location) a couple days a week, leaders signal that people don’t need to be in the office to be productive or to get ahead. In a hybrid virtual world, seemingly trivial leadership decisions can have outsize effect on the rest of the organization.

Don’t rely solely on virtual interactions. By the same token, despite big technological advancements over the years, nothing can entirely replace face-to-face interactions. Why? In part because so much of communication is nonverbal (even if it’s not the 93 percent that some would assert), but also because so much communication involves equivocal, potentially contentious, or difficult-to-convey subject matter. Face-to-face interactions create significantly more opportunities for rich, informal interactions, emotional connection, and emergent “creative collision” that can be the lifeblood of trust, collaboration, innovation, and culture.

Media richness theory helps us understand the need to match the “richness” of the message with the capabilities of the medium. You wouldn’t let your nephew know of the death of his father by fax, for instance—you would do it in person, if at all possible, and, failing that, by the next richest medium, probably video call. Some communication simply proceeds better face-to-face, and it is up to the leader to match the mode of communication to the equivocality of the message they are delivering.

Reimagining the post-pandemic organization
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In other cases, asynchronous communication—such as email and text—are sufficient, and even better, because it allows time for individuals to process information and compose responses after some reflection and thought. However, when developing trust (especially early on in a relationship) or discussing sensitive work-related issues, such as promotions, pay, and performance, face-to-face is preferred, followed by videoconferencing, which, compared with audio, improves the ability for participants to show understanding, anticipate responses, provide nonverbal information, enhance verbal descriptions, manage pauses, and express attitudes. However, compared with face-to-face interaction, it can be difficult in video interactions to notice peripheral cues, control the floor, have side conversations, and point to or manipulate real-world objects.

Whatever the exact mix of communication you choose in a given moment, you will want to convene everyone in person at least one or two times a year, even if the work a particular team is doing can technically be done entirely virtually. In person is where trust-based relationships develop and deepen, and where serendipitous conversations and connections can occur.

Track your informal networks. Corporate organizations consist of multiple, overlapping, and intersecting social networks. As these informal networks widen and deepen, they mobilize talent and knowledge across the enterprise, facilitating and informing cultural cohesiveness while helping to support cross-silo collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Because the hybrid virtual model reduces face-to-face interaction and the serendipitous encounters that occur between people with weak ties, social networks can lose their strength. To counter that risk, leaders should map and monitor the informal networks in their organization with semiannual refreshes of social-network maps. Approaches include identifying the functions or activities where connectivity seems most relevant and then mapping relationships within those priority areas—and then tracking the changes in those relationships over time. Options for obtaining the necessary information include tracking email, observing employees, using existing data (such as time cards and project charge codes), and administering short (five- to 20-minute) questionnaires. It is likely that leaders will need to intervene and create connections between groups that do not naturally interact or that now interact less frequently as a result of the hybrid virtual model.

Hybrid virtual teams
Leadership is crucial, but in the hybrid virtual model, teams (and networks of teams) also need to adopt new norms and change the way they work if they are to maintain—and improve—productivity, collaboration, and innovation. This means gathering information, devising solutions, putting new approaches into practice, and refining outcomes—and doing it all fast. The difficulty rises when the team is part virtual and part on-site. What follows are specific areas on which to focus.

Create ‘safe’ spaces to learn from mistakes and voice requests
Psychological safety matters in the workplace, obviously, and in a hybrid virtual model it requires more attention. First, because a feeling of safety can be harder to create with some people working on-site and others working remotely. And, second, because it’s often less obvious when safety erodes. Safety arises as organizations purposefully create a culture in which employees feel comfortable making mistakes, speaking up, and generating innovative ideas. Safety also requires helping employees feel supported when they request flexible operating approaches to accommodate personal needs.

Mind the time-zone gaps
The experience of a hybrid virtual team in the same time zone varies significantly from a hybrid virtual team with members in multiple time zones. Among other ills, unmanaged time-zone differences make sequencing workflows more difficult. When people work in different time zones, the default tends toward asynchronous communications (email) and a loss of real-time connectivity. Equally dysfunctional is asking or expecting team members to wake up early or stay up late for team meetings. It can work for a short period of time, but in the medium and longer run it reduces the cohesion that develops through real-time collaboration. (It also forces some team members to work when they’re tired and not at their best.) Moreover, if there is a smaller subgroup on the team in, say, Asia, while the rest are in North America, a two-culture problem can emerge, with the virtual group feeling lesser than. Better to simply build teams with at least four hours of overlap during the traditional workday to ensure time for collaboration.

Keep teams together, when possible, and hone the art of team kickoffs
Established teams, those that have been working together for longer periods of time, are more productive than newer teams that are still forming and storming. The productivity they enjoy arises from clear norms and trust-based relationships—not to mention familiarity with workflows and routines. That said, new blood often energizes a team.

In an entirely on-premises model, chances are you would swap people in and out of your small teams more frequently. The pace at which you do so will likely decline in a hybrid virtual model, in which working norms and team cohesion are more at risk. But don’t take it to an extreme. Teams need members with the appropriate expertise and backgrounds, and the right mix of those tends to evolve over time.

Meanwhile, pay close attention to team kickoffs as you add new people to teams or stand up new ones. Kickoffs should include an opportunity to align the overall goals of the team with those of team members while clarifying personal working preferences.

Keeping track
Once you have your transition to a hybrid virtual model underway, how will you know if it’s working, and whether you maintained or enhanced your organization’s performance culture? Did your access to talent increase, and are you attracting and inspiring top talent? Are you developing and deploying strong leaders? To what extent are all your employees engaged in driving performance and innovation, gathering insights, and sharing knowledge?

The right metrics will depend on your goals, of course. Be wary of trying to achieve across all parameters, though. McKinsey research shows that winning performance cultures emerge from carefully selecting the right combinations of practices (or “recipes”) that, when applied together, create superior organizational performance. Tracking results against these combinations of practices can help indicate, over time, if you’ve managed to keep your unified performance culture intact in the transition to a new hybrid virtual model.

We’ll close by saying you don’t have to make all the decisions about your hybrid virtual model up front and in advance. See what happens. See where your best talent emerges. If you end up finding, say, 30 (or 300) employees clustered around Jakarta, and other groups in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, ask them what might help them feel a socially supported sense of belonging. To the extent that in-person interactions are important—as we guess they will be—perhaps consider a microhub in one of those cities, if you don’t have one already.

Approached in the right way, the new hybrid model can help you make the most of talent wherever it resides, while lowering costs and making your organization’s performance culture even stronger than before.

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How Your Leadership Team Might Be Setting A Terrible Example

In the everyday intensity of leading an organization, teams at the top can lose sight of the signals they send, and whether or not the example they’re setting is one they’d actually want followed. The team at the top of an part of any organization (enterprise, function, region, business unit) has disproportionate levels of influence over those it leads. People further down in the organization look to their leaders for cues on what’s acceptable (and what isn’t) and the team’s behaviors – both good and bad – will be emulated. Having your actions play out publicly as if on a jumbotron, is a huge responsibility, but unfortunately too many teams don’t take this responsibility as seriously as they should. The consequences can be farther reaching than most leadership teams realize.

Irritated business team arguing
When teams fail to resolve conflict, rivalry spreadsGETTY
At their best, leadership teams synchronize their organizations into cohesive powerhouses. At their worst, they set an example that some of the worst habits will be tolerated – and perhaps even rewarded. A leadership team that intentionally shifts a bad practice to a productive one stand to inordinately improve performance for the entire organization. One research study vividly sharpens the contrast: 96% of high performing leadership teams are seen as producing high quality results for their organizations in contrast to low performing leadership teams, only 44% of which are seen as yielding quality results. If a leadership team’s behaviors are impairing their organization’s performance more than half the time, fixing them should be a matter of utmost urgency. In my 35 years of organizational consulting with leadership teams, these are three behaviors I’ve seen have the most negative influence over organizations. Here’s my advice for how to fix them.

Narrow scattered focus. It’s astounding how badly most leadership teams use their time together. They set meeting agendas haphazardly, often only days beforehand. Their conversations veer off topic, often into minutia. They leave issues needing resolution unaddressed. The study noted above shows that among high performing leadership teams, 93% are able to prioritize the most important issues and 96% focus on the right issues. By contrast, in low performing leadership teams, only 62% prioritize well and only 53% are seen as focused on the right issues. The implications for an organization whose leadership team is poorly focused can’t be overstated: wasted resources, wasted effort, and widespread confusion become the norm.

Today In: Leadership
In one technology services company I worked with, the Eastern U.S. division was known for under-performing against revenue plans in comparison to its Central and Western division counterparts. A closer look revealed that the leadership team had changed sales promotions every week, while the norm was monthly changes in the other divisions. Its leadership team was scheduled to meet bi-weekly, but averaged every six weeks. And those meetings typically lasted about 45 minutes before the leader had to step out for an urgent call or crisis. The division was so scattered that one interviewee said, “We never know what’s really important. So whatever someone screams at me about in any given day, that’s the priority.”

If a video camera captured your leadership team in action for a full day, how would you feel about having that video used as training for the rest of the o
Bringing AI To The Masses: The Key To Enable An Intelligent Enterprise
Effective leadership teams have clearly defined charters. They narrowly focus on the most strategic priorities and don’t detour from them. They stick to well-articulated decision-making processes. And they intentionally transfer their disciplined focus down through the organization.

Reconcile unhealthy rivalry. Competition among leadership teams isn’t unusual. After all, leaders that made the cut had to distinguish themselves among their peers to get the “big jobs.” But a team of excessively individualistic leaders vying for resources, status, influence, and most often, their boss’s job, can fracture the organization beneath them. One CEO I briefly worked with loved to foster competition among his team. He would intentionally set conflicting goals among team members, and while he believed this would lead to the best ideas prevailing, it actually led to vicious backstabbing and information hoarding.

Unhealthy competition erodes trust. If team members distrust the motivations and unspoken agendas of teammates, they will act with self-protection, even self-interest, to avoid risking personal failure. And when things don’t go as hoped, people point at one another in blame rather than healthy accountability. It is nearly impossible to make and execute critical decisions when team members don’t trust one another – and it’s equally difficult to ask the rest of the organization to carry out those decisions if everyone knows they were made by people who aren’t aligned.

In one organization diagnostic we performed, an interviewee in the manufacturing division of the company defiantly boasted of his counterpart in the supply chain division, “I haven’t talked to him in over five years, and if I never do before I retire, that’ll be fine by me.” The history of this feud stemmed from a nasty rivalry between the two department heads. And it had implications on both divisions’ performance. Customer complaints about late and incorrect orders had risen steadily over the years since the feud began. The newly appointed CEO, learning of the fragmentation between the two departments called both leaders into his office. He listened to both sides of the story, each of which had some merit, and then he told them, “You’ve got one month to clean this up and get these two departments humming in synch without a glitch. Or you’re both fired.”

Leadership teams must operate as a unified force. Shared goals must be accompanied by shared accountability. In the RHR study, high performing leadership teams were five times more likely to hold members accountable for shared goals than their low performing counterparts. Rivalry should be saved for external competition.

Replace collusion with honesty. When conflict and information are mishandled among a leadership team, the rest of the organization follows suit. The RHR study showed that 87% of high performing leadership teams handled conflict effectively and were transparent and open with information; 82% of high performing teams exchanged constructive feedback with each other. Whereas only 44% of low performing leadership teams handled conflict effectively and 52% exchanged feedback and were transparent with information. The difference in performance is profound. Among the high performing teams, employee engagement averaged 87% while among lower performing leadership teams, it dropped to 45%.

Speaking negatively behind one another’s backs, withholding honest perspectives, or pocket vetoing decisions after they are made should be unacceptable. Leadership teams should have written norms that they won’t engage in these behaviors and they should share those norms with the rest of the organization, asking them to hold them accountable for adhering to them. I’ve seen the best leadership teams handcraft these behavioral norms themselves, publish them to the rest of the organization, and regularly assess performance against them. In my experience, when you know the organization is watching how well you adhere to your own rules, you think twice before breaking them.

If a video camera captured your leadership team in action for a full day, how would you feel about having that video used as training for the rest of the organization? Being on a leadership team should be viewed as a privilege. And along with that privilege comes a responsibility to behave in ways you would be proud to have the rest of the organization emulate.

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Gen Z expects coaching from bosses, early promotions

Dive Brief:
Generation Z has big expectations about pay, promotions and diversity, but its members still worry about measuring up, making decisions and not being able to repay their student loans, an InsideOut Development survey found. Gen Zers, who are typically between 18 to 23 years old and born between 1996 and 2010, are projected to make up one-quarter of the workforce by 2020. This means they’re also projected to be the fastest growing generation in the workforce by 2020, InsideOut noted.
Of the 1,000 18- to 23-year-olds surveyed, 75% said they want a boss who coaches employees, and others value a boss who can communicate the company’s vision, give frequent feedback and manage workers with consistency. Three-quarters of respondents also believe they should be promoted after one year in their first position; 40% think they’ll earn more than $100,000 a year at the peak of their career; and 80% think they’ll need a bachelor’s degree to get their dream job. However, only 30% of respondents think they’ll be able to repay their student loans, the survey said.
According to InsideOut, Gen Z is the most racially diverse generation, and 72% think racial equality is the most important issue today. Compared to only 26% of Baby Boomers, 49% of Gen Z respondents said employers can do more to promote inclusion in the workplace.

Dive Insight:
Gen Z’s expectations for the workplace are somewhat aligned with employers’ goals for the future. Though a majority of Gen Zers think the skills required of them in today’s workplace are different than those required by past generations, they’re willing to learn professional skills to earn more money and would undergo training to get a promotion, a recent LinkedIn study found. For employers, upskilling remains a challenge as they strive to keep up with the effects of digital disruption in their industries and source the right talent despite the skills gap, and willing participation from the workforce can help HR actualize this goal.

Training Gen Zers using tools that reflect their consumer tech experiences may help HR in its upskilling efforts. Talent professionals may also need to be wary of inadvertent age discrimination in their recruiting as this cohort enters the labor market. While, many employers have already committed to improving diversity and inclusion in their workplaces, those hoping to recruit Gen Z talent should make diversity a top priority, based on InsideOut’s findings.

HR might also commit to connecting with Gen Z frequently to provide support. “They’re looking for you to be highly engaged,” said Jim Link, CHRO of Randstad, at a conference in 2017. “They want you to listen to their ideas and opinions. Forty-six percent of them want you to be giving them feedback regularly.”


How to Attract and Retain Digital Talent

Jo Deal, LogMeIn’s Chief Human Resources Officer, shares the best practices to attract top digital talent and explains why creating a frictionless work environment, built around your employees, is the key to winning in today’s highly competitive market.

With a competitive labor market and more pressure than ever to win the ongoing war for talent, attracting employees requires new thinking. Companies are fighting over skilled workers, trying to catch their attention with what some consider “table stakes” perks like office baristas and free spin classes. However, perks are not a substitute for creating a strong culture, one with good open communication channels, a focus on employee engagement and clear alignment of job to business outcome. I am a coffee junkie so having a coffee bar in our office is one of my favorite treats, but cold brew alone cannot create a great place to work. Creating a frictionless work environment, built around your talent, so that your employees feel supported, motivated and engaged on a day-to-day basis, that is the key to winning in this market.

Showcasing your culture to candidates is a big part of successful recruiting, making sure they can see inside the walls to what life@yourcompany is really like. Finding smart ways to highlight your brand with authentic insights, stories straight from the mouths of other employees all delivered through easily digestible bites on mobile apps and impactful career sites. Successful recruiters focus on the candidate experience from the very first interaction and treat the journey like a customer lifecycle, thinking carefully about the connection points along the way. Getting this part right can make all the difference in catching the interest of an in-demand highly skilled candidate who has multiple job options available to them.

Hiring is just the beginning. Employees’ alternative career choices don’t cease to exist the minute they take a new job. With such a favorable market, people can consider quitting a new job within a few months and moving onto a new one with none of the judgment or consequences you might have expected even just a few years ago. It is a dangerous move to assume your team is settled and happy once they are on board. A leader once told me “you need to re-recruit your best employees every day” and he was right. Retaining talent has to be front of mind for every manager if you want to meet your business goals; engagement = productivity = greater corporate success.

If the goal is a productive engaged employee who feels valued and rewarded, there are many talent programs that need to be in place to ensure that can happen, from reward and benefit programs, recognition platforms and engagement surveys and pulse tools. Additionally, leadership and strong employee communications both have a big role to play in setting out strategy and linking teams and individuals’ work to the bigger picture, so each of us can understand what we are expected to do and how it fits into the overall picture of company success.

These are all critical, complex pieces of the engagement puzzle, and most HR leaders I know spend a lot of time thinking about these. I am a fan of focusing on the big rocks, one or two things that can really have an impact. However, I think the secret sauce may include spending a little time thinking about the multitude of little distractions that get in the way of everyday life and everyday work and put friction into the workplace. How to go about taking those little problems off the table?

Consider these interesting points from a recent Guardian Workplace benefits Study:

2 in 3 employers are now more digital than paper-based in managing their benefits and HR programs
3 in 5 millennials wish it were easier to learn about and access their workplace benefits
42% of millennials and 26% of baby boomers use artificial intelligence, such as their Alexa or Google Home device to ask benefits or health-related questions.

Now consider the fact that we are operating in a time when employees have smart devices accessible to them all the time, with recommendation engines that suggest what to shop for, and apps like Siri that help provide answers to day to day questions. There is an abundance of technology that makes for a personalized and easier experience in multiple aspects of life.

Why wouldn’t employees look for the same personalized, digital, easy experience at work?

The tech companies I have worked at have been investing in making life easier for a while now, starting with the little things – dry cleaning drop off at work, on-site dental cleaning or eye exams, even on-site bike repair services, and car refueling. Reducing the time we need to spend on personal tasks naturally frees up more time to put into work or hobbies or family.

It is time to up that investment and think about digital solutions within the workplace to make work life easier, not only creating more time but also a more enjoyable, easier work environment.

We began at LogMeIn with streamlining IT support services. We’ve all had that moment when our computer won’t cooperate and of course, it always comes at an inconvenient time, 5 minutes before a presentation is due or in the evening when there is nobody around to help. Putting a ticket into the helpdesk is fine but doesn’t guarantee a quick fix. This sort of frustration affects how employees feel about their company and feed into dissatisfaction. With slow support response time being one of the top end-user pain points (60% of users say the help desk interaction took too long and frequently didn’t solve the problem), companies need to invest in self-service tools. Time is a precious commodity in all of our lives and real-time, tailored answers that we can search out for ourselves can alleviate the frustration that comes from time wasted.

Self-service applications are a great first step, but purpose-built employee self-service tools can be a game changer, making it easier for employees to get the right first time answers. This is not just applicable to IT support, where we launched a chatbot 24/7 support service. We then took the premise and applied it within HR. How could we best help provide answers to frequently asked questions, whether related to benefits or company holiday schedules or policy information? Much of our HR information is traditionally stored across apps, documents, and websites and designing a layout that works for 3500 different employees in 15 countries who all search and pose questions in different ways inevitably means multiple employees’ searches will result in frustration. We decided to use AI to redefine what service looks like, creating a frictionless experience for our employees and resulting in quicker, more accurate answers and ultimately more satisfaction.

By reimagining the employee experience and focusing on the little points of friction, we built up a collection of little solutions that amount to a significant “big rock” improvement in how we manage all our tasks at work and aim to provide a friction-free, supportive and engaging place to work.

These tips represent a shift toward a truly employee-centric support system that will ultimately help you attract and retain digital talent by changing your workforce’s day-to-day life for the better. Putting employees at the core of any business is not just about perks or talking the talk – it’s about prioritizing the employee experience and making work life easier. What you do with that freed up time is up to you, though I highly suggest grabbing a latte and a chat with your colleagues.


New employee engagement tools replacing annual surveys

Mission Health System devoted time and effort to create a positive workplace for its more than 12,000 employees. The western North Carolina-based healthcare provider increased employee perks, added recognition programs, operated a booming employee wellness program and invested in employee engagement tools, namely a 100-question annual survey.

Despite these efforts, engagement survey scores remained flat, while frustration with the engagement efforts increased. The numbers caught the attention of the organization’s top leaders, who started asking hard questions about their engagement programs.

“Why are we dumping money into these big programs that are showing no results in the way that people actually feel about coming to work?” said Nancy Critcher-White, director of team member engagement at Mission Health. “What are we measuring and how are we measuring it and are we measuring the right thing?”

High employee engagement is a top strategic priority for Mission Health, Critcher-White said. It can result in “an environment where everyone can be their best, [which] leads to excellent healthcare.”

Mission Health ends use of annual engagement survey
After an investigation into alternative employee engagement tools, Mission Health decided to end the use of its annual survey. The healthcare provider switched to shorter, more frequent pulse surveys delivered at least once a quarter, giving managers the ability to more quickly identify and address management issues.

Mission Health elected to use tools such as StandOut from The Marcus Buckingham Company Inc., a performance talent management firm acquired last year by ADP.

While pulse surveys helped, the key to improving engagement at Mission Health was facilitating regular communication between employees and their managers. The company did this using a check-in application. Each week, employees used the tool to share their weekly progress, concerns and upcoming efforts.

A check-in tool is a two-way communication vehicle, Critcher-White said. If team members don’t receive meaningful attention from their leaders about near-term issues, they won’t feel engaged.

Amy Leschke-Kahle, vice president of performance acceleration at Marcus Buckingham, made a similar point when she said that measuring engagement itself doesn’t increase engagement.

“Just because you measure something doesn’t mean you move it,” she said. The check-in process, which encourages frequent conversations, is what increases engagement.

Annual engagement survey in steady decline
Mission Health made the move to a pulse employee engagement survey in 2015, which was a bold move at that time. When it made the switch, 90% of all organizations were still using annual engagement surveys, according to Gartner.

But Gartner expects those numbers to steadily decline. In 2019, the consultancy predicts only about 74% of organizations will still be using large engagement survey approaches, which, for most, is an annual or biannual survey. By 2020, that number is expected to drop to 63%.

Mission Health now has enough experience with its new approach to know that it works. Engagement scores have increased, and the new system has led to a “multiple point decrease in our first-year turnover,” Critcher-White said.

Mission Health is not alone in looking for new tools. The reason large annual survey use is declining is because they are “time-consuming and slow,” said Brian Kropp, group vice president of Gartner’s HR practice. It can take three to six months to prepare a survey, collect the data, analyze it and disseminate it. Plus, annual surveys are backward-looking.

“You get a snapshot of what the world used to look like, which is really easy to explain away because you can say, ‘well that was six months ago,'” Kropp said.

Pulse surveys may be the top competitor to annual engagement surveys, but they are far from the only alternative. The market for employee engagement tools is seeing a variety of technologies that can glean engagement independent of surveys, Kropp said.

These are analytical tools that look for engagement clues in employee behavior. They may include the use of social media monitoring to check for employee dissatisfaction and building monitor systems that track when people arrive and leave (see sidebar).


Want Your People To Work Inspired? Be An Un-Leader

For many people, work is just a job. A way to pay the bills. A trudge to the next weekend. A no-fun way to mark days off the calendar. After all, they seem to think, that’s why it’s called “work.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. Seriously. It really is possible to create an atmosphere where people are not merely “satisfied” with their employment, they are energized and even inspired.

That’s what you find at Kronos Incorporated, a global provider of workforce management cloud solutions. Every day, Kronos serves more than 40 million people across 35,000 organizations in more than 100 countries. Among its many distinctions, the company’s best practices have been recognized as one of Glassdoor’s 100 Best Places to Work.

The vigilantly managed Kronos culture produces enviable performance as measured by recruitment, retention, customer satisfaction, innovation, and overall performance.

None of this came without a few bumps along the road. The journey is chronicled by CEO Aron Ain in WorkInspired: How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work.

Ain talked with me about the principles and practices that have made his company a showcase of employee engagement.

Rodger Dean Duncan: Early in your tenure as CEO, your company had decent employee engagement scores but was having trouble attracting and retaining the best people. How did that wake-up call affect your focus as a leader?

Aron Ain: When I became Kronos CEO in 2005, our engagement scores were about on par with other global technology companies. We were average, middle of the pack. But who wants to be average? Other companies were winning those “best company to work for” awards—so why couldn’t we? I knew building a workplace where employees felt fully engaged, inspired, and supported would allow us to create better products and deliver better services for our customers. That would lead to great business outcomes.

Our journey gained momentum in 2010 with the hiring of a seasoned, quantitative-minded executive to head up human resources. We partnered by codifying our culture, branding it, enhancing our benefits, and taking many other steps discussed in my book. I also focused with new vigor on my own leadership behaviors, modeling values that mattered to employees—like transparency, trust, and humility. The results and progress to date are considerable, as reflected in our high engagement scores—yet we are by no means perfect. We continue to work hard on improving our culture and enhancing our attractiveness as an employer.

Duncan: A lot of C-suite executives talk about organizational culture. What does culture mean to you and what do you see as a leader’s role in reinforcing cultural norms implied in an organization’s values?

Ain: Creating an inspiring place to work is not something a CEO should delegate—and I don’t. Our corporate culture starts with me. We’ve branded our culture WorkInspiredand define it around three core competencies: character, competence, and collaboration. These competencies correspond to a number of specific behaviors we want employees—or Kronites, as we call each other—to adopt in their daily work. The more Kronites exhibit these behaviors, the more we can inspire innovation and the better we can serve our customers. It’s no coincidence that at the same time our global employee engagement scores increased our revenue nearly tripled.

Leaders at all levels play a critical role in reinforcing a strong culture. If you don’t live the culture, modeling it enthusiastically for others, how can you expect employees to buy into it? I strive to behave each day in ways that inspire employees to love where they work—by showing humility, trusting others, over-communicating, making time to connect personally with employees, having fun at work, projecting a sense of authenticity, and so on. Whether you run an organization of 500,000 or manage a team of five, you’re the culture’s chief caretaker and proponent.

Duncan: You use the term “Un-Leader.” What kind of behaviors should we expect to see an Un-Leader exhibit?

Ain: Un-leaders are humble. They put employees first. They downplay the status that comes with their titles, preferring to put team members on the same level as they are. They show basic respect. They admit when they don’t know the answer to a question. They solicit feedback. All of this is not to suggest that Un-Leaders are “people pleaser” types who shrink from making tough decisions. Quite the contrary: Un-leaders know how to step up and exert their will when they need to. On a deeper level, though, they understand that real power and influence come not from status and a sense of superiority, but from the affection, admiration, and respect we’re able to engender in our team members. Un-Leaders get results by inspiring others to pull together as a team and put out their best work all the time.

Duncan: What advice do you have for people who seem to define themselves by their professional titles?

Ain: I would respectfully suggest that they take a step back and put their titles in perspective. Is this really how they want to define themselves? Is a title ultimately what you want to be known for? And does a focus on title and status really inspire people to work their hardest for you and your customers? I argue that doing away with some of the psychological distance that titles create will produce even better results for everyone.

As an experiment, try forgetting about your title and behaving with more humility for a day or a week. Listen to employees more. Grab lunch or coffee with employees you don’t know well. Solicit their opinions. Admit you don’t know something. Above all, listen. See how people react. See how you feel as a leader. If you like the results, keep doing it. I’m not suggesting that a more egoless style is the only correct way to lead. There are many paths to success.

Duncan: Kibitzing, you suggest, is an important ingredient in a user-friendly work environment. What does kibitzing look and sound like in day-to-day practice?

Ain: Imagine that you go into your local plumbing supply store, and the proprietor spends 10 minutes chatting with you, asking about your life, your family, your hobbies, just about anything. He’s friendly, funny, and, when you speak, he really listens. That’s kibitzing—and that was my father when I was growing up. I saw him kibitz all the time. Today, as CEO, I think of myself as kibitzer-in-chief, and I look for any opportunity I can to have these casual yet important conversations. When I ride the elevator or stand in line at the cafeteria, I’ll make a point of chatting up employees and listening hard to their answers. Since our company is global, I also take casual conversation to the masses, using our internal collaboration platform, mass emails, and video blogs to generate friendly conversation and project a personal presence. It’s not the same as communicating face-to-face, but it makes a difference nonetheless.

Duncan: Your company uses a “Courage to Lead” model for training its managers. What are the components of that model?

Ain: Courage to Lead includes three behavioral areas.

First, we ask managers to be both bold and humble—that means trusting others, assuming competence, holding honest conversations, and solving problems proactively, even when this means making tough decisions.

Second, we ask managers to simultaneously challenge and support their people. We want them to communicate a strategic vision for their teams, empower people to take risks in support of that vision, create opportunities for people to develop in their careers and as people, and create environments in which everyone feels comfortable participating.

Finally, we ask managers to disrupt and connect during interactions with team members. That is, they are to challenge norms, build relationships across silos, put the company’s interests first, and behave in ways that ensure an exceptional customer experience.

All of this is a tall order, but vitally important. As I like to say, every employee deserves a great manager—they really do! To help managers deliver, we measure their progress in cultivating these behaviors and offer extensive training, coaching, and other support.

Tips on becoming an Un-LeaderMCGRAW-HILL

Duncan: A well-conceived strategy, you note, is critical to an organization’s success. What are some keys to “evangelizing” the strategy so people are genuinely engaged in its implementation?

Ain: Strategy, when clearly communicated across the company, helps employees feel engaged and love where they work. If you know your company’s strategy and understand how you personally contribute to it, your work takes on new meaning and importance in your mind.

Recognizing this reality, we go all-out every year to evangelize our strategy among Kronites. Along with our leadership team, I spend months discussing the strategy at department and team meetings. Managers discuss the strategy with their teams, “cascading” it through every corner of the organization—and then connecting employees’ individual goals back to the corporate strategy. We also brand the strategy to further evangelize it, including collateral that Kronites can post in their workspaces. In addition, we resource the strategy. If one of our key initiatives for the year is not being supported by funding, activity, or people power, I’ll ask, “Are we not serious about this goal?”

Duncan: Kronos has hundreds of “boomerang” employees—people who left the company to work elsewhere, then returned. How do you lure those people back, and how does your company benefit?

Ain: We welcome boomerangs back because we believe in one core philosophy: We don’t own our employees’ careers. If they have a great offer, we support their decision to take it. Sure, we’d love to retain them and do everything in our power to do so, but if they choose to leave and they were a high-performer, we let them know that the door is open if they want to come back home.

It makes great business sense to court boomerangs. Contrary to what many people think, these employees tend to be more loyal than other employees—they have experienced other workplaces and appreciate what our company has to offer. Boomerangs also bring new skills and experiences back into our company. Some, for instance, join startups. Upon their return, we gain the benefit of their entrepreneurial spirit. Others go to work for our customers, enriching our teams with that perspective upon their return.

Welcoming boomerangs also benefits Kronos by garnering us considerable goodwill among employees. They like that we respect employees’ career ambitions enough not to hold a grudge when they leave. In many cases, Kronites leave our company for family reasons, so when we welcome them back, employees sense that we truly care about employees and their happiness. Guess what? They’re right! All of this helps build engagement and a sense among our employees that Kronos truly is a wonderful place to work.

Duncan: Most people can see the value in having an “attitude of gratitude.” In your company’s culture, what are some successful ways of saying “thank you” to people?

Ain: First, it’s vital for leaders to show gratitude, both at formal events and in daily conversations with employees. I thank Kronites in virtually every speech I give—Kronites are probably sick of hearing it! But gratitude shouldn’t just come from the top. It’s important to give employees opportunities to recognize one another, something we do through a formal peer recognition program where Kronites can acknowledge each other for demonstrating behaviors we’re trying to cultivate.

We also encourage teams and departments to maintain their own recognition programs, we put programs in place that allow employees to recognize their managers for doing a great job, and we thank employees as a group by holding large special events, such as our annual employee appreciation picnic or Thanksgiving luncheon. In order for gratitude to become a norm, everyone must have a chance to practice it, and it must flow in all directions.

Duncan: If you had to capture in a 140-character tweet what you’ve learned about helping people love their work, what would that tweet say?

Ain: Businesses thrive when people love where they work. And building an engaged workforce is deeply joyful for leaders. #GoKronos! #WorkInspired!