Picture: BLOOMBERG/ANINDITO MUKHERJEE
Picture: BLOOMBERG/ANINDITO MUKHERJEE

Covid-19 has changed the social contract between employer and employee, and as companies start returning to the office, leaders face new challenges in redesigning the way their organisations work.

This is according to Ogilvy’s head of employee experience, Emma Nicol, who adds that the pandemic and lockdown have not only forced us to adapt but also given us insight into how we relate in the workplace.

"It has become clear that to reimagine and reshape our work processes for the new era, businesses need a human-centred approach that shows empathy and empowers co-creation."

Employee wellbeing and company wellbeing are more closely aligned than ever. Covid-19 has shown that resilient individuals make resilient organisations, says Nicol.

And resilience is not just a type of toughness. "In fact, we make our people and our organisations more resilient when we show compassion and understanding.

"We can use technology and processes to accommodate every one of our people, customising their work experience around their needs. In turn, we empower our people to deliver the best work they can for the organisation."

Nicol believes a people-centric approach can also set a business apart from its competition. "The current challenges are actually a rich opportunity for competitive differentiation."

Empathy in the workplace is a rising trend and has been identified as a necessary leadership trait. Mimi Nicklin, author of Softening the Edge, Empathy: How Humanity’s Oldest Leadership Trait is Changing our World, believes there’s a link between empathy deficit and burnout.

The book was completed in lockdown and focuses on humanism and capitalism, with the goal of creating a wider understanding that the world of leadership and business is critically responsible for playing a role in protecting and improving our social future.

Nicklin references former US president Barack Obama’s 2006 speech on empathy deficit as a widening global issue that affects our daily lives and businesses in a profound way.

"Obama’s speech is 15 years old and yet the practice and conversation within corporate leadership teams, to place human values before shareholder value, is still in its infancy," says Nicklin.

She believes empathy can be used to build deep client relationships. "There is a lot written about listening skills and the need for leaders to listen, however, far too often we forget what the true role of listening is, which is to increase our capacity for understanding."

In organisations everywhere, people are asking questions to gain information instead of to gain understanding, and this is a fundamental miss in our corporate culture and training methodologies, she says.

"After all, you can’t expect people to be more connected and cohesive as a team or within their clients if they haven’t worked out the basics of listening," says Nicklin.

The pandemic has brought to light missing human connections and behaviour in the workplace. Similarly, Dell is looking to create human-centred technology experiences to boost productivity.

The company says we are facing video conferencing fatigue, dropped connections, and the missed human contact that people individually and collectively need.

Dell conducted a "brain on tech" study in 2020 to capture the relationship between technology, productivity at work and how people feel.

Cile Montgomery, customer experience manager at Dell Technologies Unified Workspace, says its first-ever neuroscientific research experiment used brain sensing headsets to monitor the brainwaves of participants.

"By monitoring activity and responses to specific situations, we could measure how technology affects our ability to work and its impact on our overall wellbeing.

"Insights from the study show where companies can take immediate action to help employees be more effective — that’s what I call happy and productive — and reduce employee burnout," says Montgomery.

The results also revealed that having challenging technology was more than twice as stressful as using good tech to achieve an equivalent task. The increased stress level was even higher than that of an unwilling person being asked to sing an unfamiliar song in public.

But the study also discovered significant decreases in stress once participants received and used better functioning technology.

Dell believes that keeping employees productive and happy is the top priority for companies as they try to combat burnout, and businesses have the power to address this with great technology experiences.

"In the ‘work from anywhere’ world, people, productivity, health and wellbeing matter. The best investment any business can make to reduce stress and improve productivity is to provide reliable, seamless technology experiences to reduce friction and help employees achieve their work goals."

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