“I’m probably working harder than Elon Musk.” That’s my roommate Kevin who’s a robotics engineer at a tech startup in India. While Kevin might be exaggerating here, I think he’s not too far off.
Working 80+ hours a week, sleepless nights and unhealthy eating habits are the norms at his place of work and everyone is expected to adjust to this. Naturally, Kevin and a number of his colleagues have complained about their health and considered leaving this job. It has reached a stage where he calls in sick at his office and frequently invents new reasons to not work. “My roommate is in the hospital,” is when I decided to intervene. Working at inFeedo, I know Kevin's workplace culture at his startup is obviously toxic for both mental and physical health. That’s why I introduced him to Ajay, Chief People Scientist at inFeedo, and he had a few simple recommendations on how to be employee-first, which I thought were reminders we all need to hear, for Kevin to start dialogue with his leaders.
These recommendations read even more valid to me as we cope with Covid-19 and try and stay calm at the workplace. One thing is clear though, how leaders act at this stage will define the organization as either "here to stay" or "lost in the storm".
Here are 5 reminders from People Science on ensuring a positive workplace culture.
#1 "Work-life balance is critical, now more than ever!"
Kevin was obviously taking it too far by working 80+ hours a week. Elon Musk works 120 hours a week but even he agrees that beyond 80 hours the pain significantly increases. Now with most of us working remotely, it is critical to set up a schedule for employees to ensure they can focus on work and separate the same from their personal life. Our founder is of the belief that if we work smartly and enjoy what we do, it will be but a natural way to be able to move in and out of the workplace without affecting our mental health. Unfortunately, not all leaders think this way and we end up putting in more than we should, and growing resentful towards the organization. A study conducted on 1000 working professionals by Harvard shows that 94% of them clocked in 50+ hours at work. But only spends 14.8 hours on productive tasks.1
Our People Scientist along with our HR/People Success team recommends and helps us follow an internal mechanism of “checking in” with key focus areas to complete through the day (which we also discuss every morning in our routinely standup) and checking out on Slack as a way of signalling that we have logged out. By setting such clear boundaries between work and home, it motivates people to focus on specific tasks smartly at work and tune out when the day draws an end. It really is that simple. :)
#2 "Reward high performance, not long hours."
Most organizations today encourage employees to hustle left, right and center and let's face it, this is great for growth. The problem arises when hustling is confused with putting in longer working hours — and when the latter is considered a prerequisite for growth. As People Science recommends, leaders need to focus on creating a culture of high performance. Now that your workforce is scattered remotely, they will feel uncertain about their career growth which may also impact productivity and lead to possible turnover. It's critical to re-enforce a culture of rewarding and encouraging high performers, which can further inspire others in the workforce to take note of and follow suit.
The streaming giant Netflix is a good example of a company that prioritizes high performance over long working hours, according to a culture deck2. They focus on creating a culture where great work is achieved and it becomes irrelevant how many hours you’ve clocked in. Netflix actually made it a priority to reward anyone with sustained A-level performance (using minimal effort) with great pay and more responsibility. Harvard research suggests that simple identifying and publicly recognizing who the high performers are in a team can boost the effectiveness of the other team members by upto 15%.
#3 "Encourage employees to be themselves."
EY's Belonging Barometer reveals, 40% of employees reported feeling isolated at the workplace. Considering the fact that we will now be socially distancing from our physical workplace, your employees will feel a heightened sense of isolation at work. While there are several tools to connect with the workforce, do not just use these for work. You can set up activities where employees can remotely channel their creativity and sense of innovation, bringing in a sense of connectedness while we cope in isolation.
The record label company Island Nation values self-expression and as a result, there have been a few constant conflicts to deal with. In the end, however, their culture speak for itself. The record label has worked with artists like Bob Marley, U2, Mumford & Sons, Demi Lavato, Hozier and more, over time. These guys started working out of a sprawling open office and most of these artists were considered risky to work with. Some leaders in the record company backed talent over preconceived notions of how one should be at work. The result? Some great hits that generations have crossed listening to.
#4 "Don't forget to appreciate your people."
In any organization, appreciating people can have a significant impact on the employee’s experience. Both People Science and Glassdoor4 confirms with the latter stating 53% employees would stay longer if they received more appreciation from their manager.
You already have a comprehensive employee recognition program in place; now that we are at home, you need to set up a communications team to ensure your talent is recognized organization-wide with incentives that can help them work better at home and appreciate the support provided by you. Rather than performance pay which makes these results conditional, ensure the appreciation is holistic and genuine with rewards that add more value to your employees' everyday operations. Here are some simple employee appreciation strategies you can execute right now.
#5 "Establish democracy in your remote workplace."
All 4 tips from our People Science team can be implemented only when there is democracy in the workplace comes. 55% of employees feel their opinions doesn’t matter to their managers6. Apply democratic principles such as voting on important issues, and taking into account everyone’s opinion. Use remote tools to connect regularly with key owners or agents of change who have been scaled up to look into everyday operations. When an employee have a say in the business, they tend to have a higher emotional stake in the organization’s success.
Most organizations traditionally have had a command-and-control approach. With Covid-19, it's time to upend these practices and take simple steps such as connecting meaningfully everyday, being transparent, giving individuals autonomy to execute, and encouraging dialogue exchange during decision-making. As Vineet Nayar, Former CEO and Vice Chairman of HCL Technologies aptly puts it, “Democratic organizations have a better way of approaching growth and problems because they are innately more collaborative.”
And now is the true test for us all to be the organization we want to be if we are to successfully move to The Future of Work.