Conversations about where people will work in the future are prominent in the news and are front and center in leadership discussions. Too often, the way people think about where people work is influenced by the assumption that the venue is destiny. Lack of purpose, bad leadership, and a culture of fear are far more significant factors.
Ignoring personal, interpersonal, and social factors makes it more challenging to understand the actual effect of the venue. Where we gather is significant, but it isn’t the only essential element in creating the right environment for people to do their best work.
Some leaders have long held that their conversations, creativity, and spontaneous insights will increase if people are in a shared workspace. Others, including one high-tech CEO I spoke with, says, “The hotshots we’re looking to hire aren’t going to come to an office because I say so; they need a good reason that they can verify by personal experience.” While that statement has credibility, it is also true that even those happiest to work remotely, “full-time and forever,” can find value in speaking with colleagues for reasons related to work and establishing a personal connection.
A recent article in The New York Times clarifies that changes in technology, workforce needs, and expectations require leaders to hit the reset button on their assumptions about the value of working close to colleagues.
While leaders debate whether in person or remote is better, they often miss a pivotal factor – connection. Here are three ways to improve connection:
First, ask yourself who you pay attention to and who do you ignore?
Most leaders say they don’t ignore anyone and don’t favor anyone, but we know that isn’t true. Leaders give overt and subtle indicators about who is in their good graces and who isn’t. For over 20 years, women executives told me about their bosses ignoring their comments, suggestions, and recommendations but then praising a man for offering the same idea. People of all descriptions have some version of being “sent to Siberia” when their boss was angry with them, and they don’t mean literally.
Leaders who want to know how others see them, rather than assuming that they know, are often surprised, but far better, off.
Second, check in with people.
Mark, who works in IT at a client company, said, “I’m very happy working alone and being at home. Because I have so much of that now, I look forward to video calls. I get a lot out of them and talk a lot more in meetings than I did before. I’ve grown to truly know and appreciate my colleagues.”
What if Mark’s boss knew this?
Third, ask people what they need to do their best.
When a leader doesn’t have a good connection with people, the answers they get are predictable, generic, and yield little insight other than to confirm the lack of connection.
If that happens, it’s OK to share what the leader thinks and offer a follow-up conversation if requested. Don’t pry or analyze.
Conversely, because weak interpersonal connections are less empathetic than strong ones, the leader may get a barrage of complaints or even accusations. It doesn’t mean the criticisms are invalid, but it does indicate static.
Where the connection is more robust, leaders will often hear some upsides and some criticism. The more mature the person, the more likely they’ll deliver the messages with context, insight, and awareness of their words’ impact.
People need different amounts of contact, but human beings need connection. Regardless of the venue, leaders need to consider this very normal need and understand the consequences of ignoring it. These three ideas can help leaders avoid the trap of thinking that the location or platform has more power than they do.