By Robyn Short, President & CEO, Workplace Peace Institute
Reimagining organizations by devising an innovative model that encourages productive, fulfilled, and engaged employees.
Where we work matters. Our external environment impacts our emotions, our cognition (creativity and critical thinking skills), our ability to collaborate, our ability to experience motivation, and our ability to remain connected to our work and our co-workers.
Prior to the pandemic, the one-size-fits-all solution of working in-office adopted by most companies had been the norm for so long it went largely unquestioned. It did not meet the emotional, social, and cognitive needs of all employees. Post-pandemic, companies are struggling to strike the right balance between in-office and virtual work life. Many people are now working in organizations that have adopted a hybrid work life only to find that when they come to work their teammates are working virtually. So, they sit at their desk and spend their in-office time on virtual meetings. Only now they must deal with the discomfort of environmental feedback in the virtual meetings and being extra quiet in the office so as not to disrupt others who are participating in different virtual meetings, along with a host of other in-office discomforts that vary from person to person.
It turns out, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to hybrid work life either.
Research conducted by Workplace Peace Institute found that to contribute at their highest level, employees need a work environment that allows them to connect with coworkers in a meaningful way while also having the freedom to work independently and autonomously. This means, the work environment needs to provide dedicated space where employees can work uninterrupted in quiet solitude and space for workplace collaboration and fellowship.
So, what does this mean for organizations seeking to provide a solution for hybrid work life? We need to put those closest to this problem (employees) closest to the solution.
Put Those Closest to a Problem Closest to the Solution
One-size-fits all solutions are often the result of traditional leadership approaches that take a top-down, hierarchical approach to problem-solving. This usually involves a gathering of individuals who hold institutional decision-making power who come together and devise solutions for problems in which they may have no real lived experience. However, by shifting our understanding of leadership from “those who have the power to make decisions” to “those who have the responsibility to gather wisdom and act on that wisdom” a different process for problem-solving can unfold.
The pandemic created a once-in-a-lifetime learning lab that gave millions of people the opportunity to be co-creators in designing, or at least ideating, their ideal workspace. When the U.S. first went into lockdown, many of us “went to work” the next day from our kitchen tables. But as the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years, each of us began to create — to the degree possible — the work environment that works best for us. At this point, each of us is an expert in workspace design from the perspective that we know precisely what is needed from our work environment to support us in our emotional regulation, our cognitive regulation, our ability to collaborate, our ability to experience motivation, and our ability remain connected to our work and our co-workers. The pandemic gave many of us decision-making authority and this authority should follow us as we come back to the office.
Gather All the Wisdom
To create a hybrid work life that meets the unique needs of your organization, consider engaging a third-party researcher to support you in surveying your workforce. While an online survey is helpful, more meaningful feedback will come through individual interviews or focus group meetings.
Questions that will yield insightful feedback are grounded in basic human needs and dignity theory.
Example questions include: Describe the workplace conditions necessary for you to …
Engage in critical thinking
Experience positive connections with your coworkers
Having a third-party researcher conduct the interviews and analyze the data will support efforts to eliminate bias from the design process and will create opportunities for radically reimagining the workplace so that all people can thrive in this post-pandemic work environment. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there is a solution that fits perfectly for each organization. We simply need to co-create it.
Dr. Robyn Short is the president and CEO of Workplace Peace Institute – an organizational systems design and research firm that is singularly focused on creating workplace cultures where people thrive. Workplace Peace Institute supports small to mid-sized businesses in optimizing employee engagement, maximizing organizational productivity, and improving profitability by infusing human security and dignity as foundational attributes of their business model.