Why employers need to get to know their people
Updated: Jul 6
In our day to day lives, many of us seek value in creating long-lasting memories. We’ve shifted to a time where millennials value experience over owning things. Experiences are sought after because they can change the way we feel, leaving lasting impressions and memories. Conversely, a bad experience can also leave an impression, one that we’re careful not to repeat. But what about our experiences in business? Many of us don’t give much thought to our day to day experiences. For many, it’s probably limited to whether we had a good or bad day, but we rarely break it down any further. And following a bad experience at work, do we make the necessary changes to avoid it happening again? It’s likely that many of us accept these bad experiences as part of the daily grind and move on.
Not all working from home was created equal
We can’t talk about experiences without acknowledging the impact of the coronavirus which, at the time of writing (July 2020), is far from over. Covid-19 has forced many businesses to make a sudden and radical shift towards home working; between 9 April to 20 April 2020, the OPN found that “45% of adults in employment said they had worked from home at some point in the last week”.
We know that home working can vary significantly between industries though. Knowledge workers are far more able to make the transition, whereas for many manual workers it’s not possible or practical. Doctors, nurses, chefs, shopkeepers are just a few which fall into this category, and for some lockdown has meant furlough schemes or loss of income entirely.
Mullenweg’s “Distributed Work’s Five Levels of Autonomy
So whilst these manual industries have been left with little room to manoeuvre, many knowledge-based businesses were already at different stages of autonomous working before lockdown in March 2020. We found Matt Mullenweg’s take on this particularly interesting and a great way of categorising the different stages of autonomous working. The “Distributed Work’s Five Levels of Autonomy” model assigns a level zero to a job where an employee needs to be physically at their place of work. At the other end of the scale is level five; a utopian “nirvana” which Mullenweg admits isn't necessarily fully attainable.
Ordinarily, and pre-Covid-19, Mullenweg places most businesses at level one, which is where a company makes no concerted effort to make working out of the office easy or practical. Since lockdown, Mullenburg ranks most businesses at a level two, where employees are working from home but attempt to keep to the same 9-5 schedules. Their days are still full of interruptions and regular meetings. Mullenburg encourages businesses to try and reach level four where work is evaluated on what is produced, not how or when the work is carried out. There is an emphasis on trust, and meetings are respected but must have a purpose and usually require pre and post-work.
So what’s all this to do with experience? Well, where we work and how we work feeds into a person’s day to day experience. If most businesses are at Mullenburg’s “level one or level two” then we can assume that recently these experiences have been frustrating and clunky. Navigating a busy day when the technology is not able to support day to day tasks, alongside endless back to back Zoom meetings will most likely equate to a negative experience.
What do we need to create a good experience?
At some point though, we are going to come through the other side of the coronavirus. But what does that mean for the employee experience in a new post-pandemic world?
We think the key to creating a positive experience comes down to data.
Think about buying an experience day for a close friend. The information or “data” you have collected about your friend means that you know that the “be a pilot for a day” experience will do nothing for their fear of flying. You know that they love good food though, so a dining experience would be more appropriate.
It’s the same for businesses. The sudden move to working at home has in many ways highlighted how little employers really know about the people that work for them. Many simply don’t have the information on their people’s individual needs or preferences to create a satisfactory experience.
A good experience can therefore only be created by knowledge, and that insight can only come from having the right data. So you could say that experience yields data, and data yields a better experience.
What kind of data do employers need?
So what kind of data should employers be looking to obtain about the people that work for them? Note that this is more than the ‘normal’ HR data which is often more focused on how a business wants to categorise someone, not who they actually are or how they live their life.
Consider some or all of the following, all of which can determine whether a person will have a positive or negative experience as they work:
Type of role
Some roles require more face to face time with clients and customers than others. This will determine how often people need to be “on-site”. Businesses should be able to ascertain which roles require this and ensure that these workers have access to meeting rooms and facilities, whether that be in the main office or shared office spaces.
Alternatively, it might be that someone requires specific knowledge or information to make a sale or support a customer, especially if they can’t be face to face to change the nature of the interaction. Providing knowledge or having learning opportunities at their fingertips could be critical.
If businesses have people working from home, then do they know where they are located? Depending on location, some employees may have a 20 minute commute, others a five hour round trip, so popping in for that one hour meeting might have a huge impact on time spent travelling.
Having young children can dictate when people are available to work. Work commitments would ideally fit around the school run or childcare. Similarly, acting as a carer for other members of the family can mean more health appointments, or more flexible time is required.
Chronic health conditions require certain adjustments and periods of time off work. If managers are aware, then these conversations can become easier and necessary changes can be made.
Of course it goes without saying that in asking for more data, it would be paramount for businesses to act responsibly in regards to both privacy and security. But the rewards can far outweigh the effort and can also offer a competitive advantage. It’s always worth bearing in mind though that not everyone will want to share this data, and that will need to be respected.
How to get ahead: get to know your people
In a post-pandemic world, things are going to look very different for businesses. Everything has been seriously disrupted. Leaders need to be ready to shape the uncontrolled experience that has Covid-19 created. We believe this would be the ideal time for businesses to take a proper look at their employees, and look at how they can get to know their people in order to optimise their working experience.