Remote Living Has Eroded Our Empathy and Executives Must Find a Way To Understand Their Staff

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It is difficult to count what we have lost during the pandemic. We’ve lost jobs, loved ones, incomes and our social lives. Living and working remotely has also meant we are losing our empathy for colleagues. This is especially true of business leaders and executives who need to be able to understand the problems their employees are grappling with as we leave lockdown.

This loss in our ability to empathize with one another is not new. In 2018, 51 per cent of Brits said they thought it was declining, compared with just 12 per cent who thought it was increasing. The pandemic has supercharged this. We are looking at one another through screens and heavily ensconced in our own worlds, so it is difficult to expand our awareness to people with different experiences.

There is a crucial difference between empathy and sympathy. To sympathize with someone means we feel sad for their misfortune. Empathy, on the other hand, means understanding and sharing the feelings of another.

Throughout the pandemic, most of us have been able to sympathize with those who have lost jobs or family members. We have been able to feel compassion for those living in cramped quarters. But by being physically separated from them, we have not been able to truly understand and empathize with those people.

We have become distanced from our employees and, more widely, our customers – the

majority of who increasingly want to deal with companies and brands that demonstrate their care for people and the planet. As offices start to reopen, it is vital we can act with empathy towards our staff and those we serve. This is crucially important for those at the top of businesses, who have kept their jobs and had a different experience of the pandemic.

In order to understand the customers and people they are serving, business leaders need to be able to understand their staff. There is a huge array of experience just waiting to be tapped into to create a more empathetic work environment. Some communities are more tight-knit than others and have had better support systems throughout lockdown. Younger workers may have been more isolated and need more help and encouragement returning to the office.

Often senior executives have more in common with other senior executives than their customers and other target audiences, such as staff. Therefore, learning how to rebuild lost empathy will mean spending more time with the people you’ve never met. To lead with listening and not opining, to immerse yourself first-hand in the real-world experience of your customers’ lives rather than just reading reports about them.

On a practical level, this might look like asking for written feedback from staff on their experience of lockdown. It could also mean trying to spend time in the office coffee shop. Appearing physically accessible to employees will encourage conversations that can never happen over email.

There is also a place for data, but not as we know it. In today’s big data era, digital interaction between companies and customers means businesses have access to more data than ever before. Sourcing the most valuable data isn’t the only challenge. When there is an over-reliance on endless sheets of numbers it can be difficult to define behaviors. There is a risk of losing a richness of understanding. One-on-one interviews with staff or customers can be more useful than “big data”.  It can be costly and time-consuming and, because  of this, it often gets left behind.

However, with so much of the same data out there, it is in the small, slow data that the most striking insights can be found – nuanced findings that can make all the difference between people thinking you and your business are empathetic, or not.

By:   Joint Chief Strategy Officer at BBH London

Source: Remote living has eroded our empathy and executives must find a way to understand their staff – CityAM : CityAM

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Would you consider yourself an empathetic person at work? Are you always willing to lend an ear to your co-worker’s latest band practice drama, or would you prefer to keep conversations at the corporate level?

A recent survey conducted for the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy reported that a whopping 96% of respondents rated empathy as an important quality for companies to demonstrate. Despite this, 92% of employees believe that empathy remains undervalued at their company, which is an increase from results in prior years.

Empathy is described as not just understanding another person’s perspective, but truly putting yourself in their shoes and feeling those emotions alongside that person. It’s a cornerstone of emotional intelligence, and when a workplace demonstrates empathy, there are countless studies that correlate it to increased happiness, productivity, and retention amongst employees.

Remote Work: 5 Things Every Business Needs To Know

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Once upon a time, remote work was something only tech startups considered to be an option for staff members scattered across the globe. Then a pandemic struck, forcing businesses everywhere to reconsider the possibility that allowing employees to work from home might be the only way to keep the company from failing. 

Special Report: Working from home: How to get remote work right (free PDF)

This ebook, based on the latest ZDNet / TechRepublic special feature, helps enterprises and SMBs alike navigate the technical and management challenges of a remote workforce.

Read More

According to a TechRepublic survey, 61% of businesses have gone out of their way to make remote work possible for most employees. That’s not a blip on the radar. Given that an overwhelming majority of respondents (61%) would rather work from home than in an office, it’s safe to say the remote work option is here to stay.

For employees, it’s a change in routine and locale, but for businesses, it’s much more than that — every company has far more to consider. Let’s dive into five considerations that your company must understand for a smooth and productive work-from-home experience.

SEE: Speed up your home office: How to optimize your network for remote work and learning (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Remote office tools

No matter where your employees work, they need the right tools. When those employees are working in the office, you provide them with everything necessary to get the job done: Computers, printers, mobile devices, desks, chairs, network devices, software, white boards, and more. If you believe employees working from home should be on their own for equipment, you’re doing remote work wrong.

If you’re not willing to directly pay for the tools your employees need, you should at least consider allowing them to expense those costs. But all purchases must be approved — otherwise, you’ll wind up with employees buying extravagant chairs and laptops.

According to our survey, 56% of respondents said that their company had done a poor job of supplying the necessary hardware (computers, printers, and so on) and 52% of respondents said their company had done a poor job supplying them with the necessary office equipment (desks, chairs, etc.) to work remotely. Unless this improves, staff will either be incapable of doing their jobs with any level of productivity (at best) or they’ll burn out and quit (at worst).

At a bare minimum, your company should supply remote workers with:

  • A computer or laptop for work only
  • A printer (if needed)
  • All software necessary to do their jobs
  • A VPN (if security is a concern)

Managing burnout

Burnout is a serious issue with employees who are not accustomed to working from home. Why does this happen? The biggest reason is the inability to separate work from home. When this happens, the lines blur so much that employees can begin to feel as though they’re working 24/7/365. On top of that, people no longer get a much-needed break from family life. That one-two punch makes burnout happen faster and on a more profound level.

How do you manage this? The most important thing you can do is keep the lines of communication open. You’ll need to have someone (or multiple people) on hand to talk to staff in order to help them through these periods.

You’ll need to educate your staff to:

  • Create a routine such as scheduled work times that clearly define ‘work time’ and ‘home time’.
  • Set boundaries like, “When the office door is closed, I’m at work.”
  • Communicate with family — make sure your employees are doing a good job of communicating with their loved ones.
  • Practice self-care. Your employees will need, on some level, to learn how to take care of themselves to avoid stress.
  • Understand priorities so your staff always know what work takes priority and what work can be put off.

According to our survey, 78% of respondents indicated they were working from home five days a week. If those staff members don’t work smart, they’ll suffer burnout fast. Feeling like you’re ‘in the office’ day in and day out can be exhausting. To that end, you’ll need to consider allowing staff to work a flexible schedule.

Managing a flexible schedule

This one is a challenge for most businesses because nearly every company works on the assumption that business hours are universal. There’s a reason why Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” resonates so well with a majority of the population around the world.

However, with remote workers, the idea of a set work schedule needs to be thrown out the door. You must remember that people are working at home, which can throw a major wrench in the works. What am I talking about?

  • Tending to children who aren’t in school
  • The possibility of burnout
  • Family responsibilities
  • Less reliable networks
  • Equipment failure

The single most important thing to consider is that your employees do prefer to work from home, and can be even more productive working in that comfortable environment. But that improved productivity might come with a price for your company in the form of allowing for flexible schedules.

Remember: As long as work is getting done in a timely fashion, it shouldn’t matter when it’s getting done.

Security is key

One thing your business must consider is security, and how to help your remote workers do their jobs without compromising company data. This might mean you’ll need to purchase enterprise-class VPN services for those who must transmit sensitive data from their home networks. Those employees who deal with very sensitive data might also need to be trained on how to use encryption.

Another issue that must be addressed is passwords. You probably have password policies in place for office-based staff, but you can’t enforce those policies on their home networks, which means you’ll need to train your remote workers to change all network passwords (such as those for wireless routers) to be strong and unique. Even if you also have to get those employees up to speed on using a password manager (which they should anyway), this cannot be stressed enough.

SEE: How to manage passwords: Best practices and security tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

KPIs to monitor

You need to know which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to monitor, and I suggest these KPIs as a good starting point.

  • Self-discipline: An employee’s ability to work independently.
  • Effective communication: An employee’s ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with teams and clients.
  • Learning skills: An employee’s ability to not just follow a known instruction set, but also to learn new things efficiently.
  • Remote vs. local tasks: Are there tasks that can or cannot be performed remotely? You must know the difference.
  • Accountability: Employees must learn to hold themselves accountable to get their tasks done with less supervision.
  • Self-discipline: Employees must be capable of staying on-task with less supervision.
  • Collaboration: Employees must be capable of working with other teammates efficiently via video/audio chat and email.
  • Availability: Managers must be available to discuss work-related matters during business hours. Although employees might work a flexible schedule, they must also be available during business hours.

Conclusion

Your company’s transition from a standard work environment to a full remote or hybrid (remote and in-house) environment doesn’t have to be a challenge. Given that nearly every business across the globe has been practically forced into this new world order, the hard part is already taken care of. With just a bit of extra planning and work, you can make this new reality not only seamless but even more productive.

Jack Wallen

 

By

Source: Remote work: 5 things every business needs to know | ZDNet

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Also see

 

How to Reduce Tech-Related Stress for Customers and Employees

How to Reduce Tech-Related Stress for Customers and Employees

Your ability to become a successful company of the future depends on developing a cultural mindset that is focused on creating value for the people inside and outside the organization. The myth that technology drives digital transformation has been an ongoing fairy tale because while technology is an important factor, there is another element to the equation that creates a strong dependency on the first — the people.

Technology in most ways has a positive effect on business operations, especially in the automation of admin processes that come with communication with customers. While artificial intelligence is getting to know your customers by analyzing their wants and needs, it also means collecting huge amounts of customer insights. Some other digital tools such as chatbots are being used to interact with customers instead of a customer service agent and in some exceptional cases, this works just fine.

The belief that these digital tools can improve customer engagement like a miracle is just an illusion however, despite offering an effective and efficient way to speak to large audiences. The reality is that these technologies are greatly designed to replicate some sort of friendliness but are simply not able to offer the much-needed level of human connection customers need.

Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for businesses and has aggressively fast forwarded digital adoptions in working practices that most companies were not ready to take on. They were forced to send employees home who had to deal with the implementation and usage of new digital tools, something that should have progressively happened years ago.

According to research carried out by Mckinsey, it would have taken businesses more than a year to implement the level of remote working that was enforced as a result of the crisis. Despite the advantages of the nature of these digital technologies, the sudden change led to huge gaps of acceptance among the workforce and this is because employees have different needs, challenges and technical proficiency.

Employees and customers are often slow to adapt to new ways of doing things so now it’s time to ask yourself: What can I do to reduce the tech stress of my customers and employees and make their lives easier? I suggest two main things to consider:

1. Focus on the people.

Digitalization has many different positive aspects, but the more digital your business becomes the less human touch it can provide. Customers today expect more human interactions and less automated interactions. The role of new tech should make the life of your employees easier and ultimately highly complement their tasks so that they can focus on the emotional side of customer relationships.

The rush for easily monetizable consumer automated interactions makes it clear for customers that a brand is not authentically engaging with them. A Harvard Business Review study shows that companies are becoming increasingly impersonal by automating as many customer touchpoints as possible. In a highly digitalised world the human factor in customer experience gives your business a distinct competitive edge. The latest technology gets prioritised too often over authentic customer engagement.

First and foremost you should create an authentic and trusted customer relationship and then with the consent of your customers, use the technology available (predictive analytics and machine learning) to personalise the interactions with them. Not the other way around.

2. Reassess your digital initiatives.

As you’ve been experimenting with a huge number of virtual operations and interactions since before the pandemic started, you now have the opportunity to assess which technologies are extremely needed and which are not. The world of business is changing, some things will go back to previous ways, while others will remain changed forever.

You might think that using many different business tools to automate and improve processes will skyrocket productivity. However, switching between too many apps has some side effects such as lower productivity, higher costs and lack of collaboration in teams, to name a few. Developing a digital state of mind requires you to engage, educate and provide continuous support to your employees.

Low employee stress levels and making sure their experience remains positive throughout are as important as deciding which new technology to adopt. Digital transformation should have your people at the core because your people will be those who will make a successful transformation happen.

As I’m writing my book on customer-centricity, I find it imperative that companies find the right balance between the use of technology and human interactions. The challenge of the future is not whether artificial intelligence will replace people’s jobs but rather how to create a business culture in which technology and employees are able to walk hand-in-hand to provide human-driven customer experiences.

Ilenia Vidili

 

By: Ilenia Vidili / Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

 

Source: How to Reduce Tech-Related Stress for Customers and Employees

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