Poor connection is one of the greatest challenges to wellbeing and performance that we have identified in the hybrid working world. By “connection”, we’re not referring to merely collaborating with colleagues on the latest project, nor are we referring to those sudden moments where our phones can’t load our Instagram or Twitter feeds at lunchtime. The connection that we are referring to is the actual human connection that allows us to build trust, be creative, and achieve great results through collective effort.
Hybrid working – It’s here to stay
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the hand of many organisations and individuals around the world – pushing them into the world of hybrid working in a swift and sudden fashion. There was no strategic planning involved, and no real time to prepare. As a consequence, for many of these organisations, maintaining connection amongst leaders and teams has been a challenge. Some people have loved the freedom and flexibility, whilst others have struggled, but regardless of whether you love it or hate it, hybrid working is here to stay.
Research has found that 71% of employees are likely to look for other opportunities if hybrid working is not available within their organisation. There is no doubt that the working world has changed forever, and in order to retain and attract talented individuals, organisations and leaders must not only adapt, accept, and embrace a hybrid working model but also learn how to maintain connection and wellbeing within it.
Whilst many employers have cited better connectivity and interaction as a reason to demand that their employees “return to the office” on a full-time basis, a recent study by Accenture completely challenges the assumption that working onsite makes people feel more connected. Their study found that 42% of on-site workers felt as though they were “not connected” with their team and their organisation, compared to 36% of hybrid workers, and 22% of fully remote workers. This highlights that although in-person interaction is vital for certain tasks and for certain organisations, it is not physical proximity that leads to people feeling connected in the workplace. Rather, it is the human relationships, flexibility, leadership support, psychological safety, and the sense of purpose within an organisation that leads to better connectivity and well-being.
Employees want inclusion
Organisations are increasingly realising that by building an inclusive culture, they will gain a strategic advantage in attracting and retaining talent. For employees, a handsome salary and an extensive package of benefits are only part of the picture, and there are only so many complimentary cups of tea, coffee, and biscuits in the communal kitchen that can act as satiating distractions – and only for so long.
What employees want above all else, is inclusion:
- Work-life support: Employees want their employers to demonstrate appreciation and understanding towards their non-work demands, responsibilities and interests, so that they can have a fair work-life balance.
- Mutual respect: Employees want to work for employers and leaders who genuinely care for their well-being, and be part of a team that treats one another fairly and respectfully.
- Team-building: Employees want to work within a culture that embraces psychological safety, where teams foster trust, have honest collaboration, and embrace healthy and constructive conflict between team-members.
Connection & Belonging are intrinsically linked
It is impossible to talk about maintaining connection between individuals within an organisation, without also talking about instilling a sense of belonging within those individuals to the wider organisation that they are a part of.
Deloitte’s 2021 Human Capital Trends Report defines a worker’s sense of belonging as how organisations can foster diverse, equitable and inclusive communities, so that the individuals within that organisation feel as though they’re a member of a broader group and a broader world. This impacts how an employee shows up, the extent to which they feel comfortable to be themselves, and how they can contribute to an organisation’s common goals.
Creating a sense of belonging requires three key attributes:
- Comfort: Individuals need to feel comfortable at work, and be within an environment where they feel they’re treated fairly and respected by colleagues and leaders
- Contribution: Individuals need to feel that they can contribute meaningfully to the outcomes of the organisation, and can use their strengths to achieve common goals.
- Connection: Individuals need to feel they have meaningful relationships with co-workers and teams, and that they are connected to the organisation’s goals.
By instilling a sense of belonging, leaders and employees alike are given greater purpose in their work – which in turn is one of the five key dimensions of conscious leadership. Having purpose is central to an individual’s performance at work – when we feel connected to an organisational purpose that is making a positive difference to our clients or to our wider society, then we feel that our work contributes to something bigger than ourselves, and this keeps us engaged, as the work we do feels more meaningful.
How does connection drive performance?
For senior leadership teams in high-powered, successful corporate environments, it can often be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that talking about “emotions” and “connection” and “belonging” is all a bit of a “fluffy bunny” topic.
The truth is, that connection and wellbeing amongst leaders and employees is absolutely essential to the commercial imperatives of a business. Having a strong sense of belonging instilled within the workplace can increase job performance by 56%, reduce turnover risk by 50%, and decrease the number of sick days by 75%. These are numbers that even the most pragmatic of individuals cannot ignore.
There are three factors that influence an organisation’s ability to activate belonging and enhance employees’ experience:
- Organisation culture: The values and beliefs that an organisation deems to be important.
- Leadership behaviours: How leaders show up, and the extent to which they are fair and respectful, and promote emotional and psychological safety in their operating procedures.
- Personal relationships: - Between leaders, managers, and their teams.
And yet, as important as connection and belonging is to an organisation’s success, research by Mckinsey found that only one in six people felt highly connected to their organisation and the people they work for and with, and only one in four report that leaders are responsive to their needs, communicate regularly and feel that team members are treated equally.
That leaves a potentially huge number of people within the workforce who do not feel connected, do not have a sense of belonging, and as such, may not have the drive they need to attain optimal results.
On an organisational level, this could stunt commercial success substantially, as the same study found that when people do feel highly connected to each other, their leaders, their work, and their company, this can ultimately result in a 7.4% boost to review growth per year. As far as “fluffy bunnies” go, that’s a pretty valuable one.
Psychological Safety – The foundation of connectivity
For people to feel connected at work, they need to feel safe, and this is often not built into the DNA of some teams.
“Project Aristotle” was a study run by Google that analysed 180 of their highest performing teams in order to determine what the common threads that allowed these teams to perform so well. The study found that there were two behaviours and traits that all good teams generally shared:
1. “Equality and distribution of conversational turn-taking”:In high-performing teams, members spoke and shared ideas in roughly the same proportion. In some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. By contrast, in teams where only some individuals spoke, or led over and at the expense of others, the “collective intelligence declined” and teams performed poorer.
2. “High average-social-sensitivity”:
All the high-performing teams had higher scores for “average social sensitivity”. These teams were better skilled at intuiting how others felt based on expression and non-verbal cues, and had greater sensitivity towards their colleagues.
Teams who didn’t have these two traits tended to still work like individuals when they came together, and didn’t optimise their performances as a team, and failed to build connections.
These two traits are also two key aspects to “psychological safety” – defined as a sense of confidence within the team that no one will punish or embarrass someone for speaking up, and the presence of a team climate where interpersonal trust and mutual respect ensure that people can be comfortable being themselves.
Whilst Project Aristotle found that other factors also impacted how well a team performed – i.e ensuring that the team has clear goals and a culture of dependability, it was psychological safety that was the most important factor in driving a team’s performance.
So how can conscious leaders build connection?
Connection is about daily micro-behaviours. The sum of all the little acts. It encompasses everything from leaders giving everyone permission to talk about their personal lives at work and have a bit of fun, through to really listening to people about their ideas and changes, and the problems and challenges they’re facing that is impeding them from doing their job as well as they want to.
It’s also important to accept that it won’t always go smoothly. Maintaining and building connection is a very human problem. It requires constant work, intention, and reflection, understanding and forgiveness, and other human traits that we can find difficult to manifest in a high-pressure, high-stress environment. It also requires leaders to be present and available for their team-members when needed, and for leaders to really believe that wellbeing is central to performance, such that is built into the culture, environment, and the very way that a company works.
1. Instil modern ‘conscious’ leadership into organisations:
Leaders need to understand themselves, express themselves, and take better care of themselves, so that they can lead with empathy, awareness and connection. The heart of conscious leadership is giving leaders the time to stop and actually consider what they’re doing on an individual, team and organisational level.
2. Build a culture of togetherness:
Organisations need to be clear about the values and behaviours that are important to them. They need to foster mutual respect, show genuine concern for the wellbeing of all employees, and encourage commitment from all employees to treat one another fairly and respectfully. Above all, organisations need to build an environment of psychological safety, and encourage everyone to be their authentic selves, celebrate their own uniqueness, and share their perspectives without any fear.
3. Build a flexible culture:
Organisations must be in greater touch with their employees’ preferences, needs and expectations, with structured flexibility, and a willingness to experiment with new, agile approaches.
4. Stay connected to the individual contributions being made:
Equally important is the need for organisations to recognise, celebrate, and amplify the contributions that individual employees make. Regular recognition is critical to ensuring that employees feeling consistently motivated, driven, and valued, thereby sustaining optimal performance.
5.Be intentional about connection building on an individual level:
One of the seven key characteristics that is central to conscious leadership is presence and availability. Your team need to know that you not only exist, but are available to see, hear, and support them in the moment. Schedule time, switch on to them and switch off to other distractions, listen and ask questions, and stay involved.
How can we help?
There can no longer be any doubt that connection and wellbeing are central to optimal performance in the modern world of work. And for leaders, the journey to attaining it within their organisations, lies in a modern, conscious approach to modern leadership. That is where we come in.
Schedule a one-to-one call with our team, and learn how you can kickstart your journey to conscious leadership with our unique workshops and psychometric assessment.