Ashish Kachru is Co-Founder and CEO of Altruista Health, developer of the industry’s leading care management and population health platform.
There’s a lot of buzz about what the workplace will look like once the pandemic is over. I believe we are in a great sifting process in the economy in which weak companies will fail and good companies have a chance to become great. It may surprise you that, even as the CEO of a technology company, I don’t think technology will drive the successes.
A recent McKinsey & Company study says we are headed for a future that mixes remote work arrangements with office-based work. However, the more I read and talk with employees at my company, the more convinced I am that employers are about to overlook one huge threat that comes with a heavily emerging work-from-home environment. Relying too much on technology in a work-from-home world could erode culture, morale and productivity.
Tech Companies At Special Risk
The knee-jerk response to a distributed workforce is to simply replicate processes previously conducted in person in electronic formats and assume the outcomes will be the same. For example, there are more and more articles on how to onboard new employees in a work-from-home environment using technology. This can be a great way to lose the most precious aspect of your workplace — your culture.
As your company absorbs more and more new employees, your ranks will be filled with people who never truly came “on board” because they did not get the new-hire experience they deserved. They could be permanently siloed because they were not proactively engaged with people who could give them context for their work. Tech companies are at special risk for this because most of them often grow quickly and try to solve every problem they encounter with more technology.
Instead of pushing new employees through a virtual pipeline of videos, tutorials and documentation, you should engage them in human conversations about what you do and why you do it. For example, I have instructed my executive leadership to talk regularly with new employees under their areas of responsibility and to listen deeply, and the response has been positive. If this sounds time-consuming, it is — but so is turnover and a lack of engagement.
I believe that if people do not engage with the bigger picture shaping their work, it will have no meaning to them. They will engage superficially because you were too busy to talk to the people you expect to carry out your mission. Having these conversations with new employees can speak volumes about the strength and richness of your culture.
Address Basic Needs
There are other ways in which the work-from-home environment will sort out which companies thrive and which ones fail, in part because of how they use technology. While nervous micro-managers are trying to create metrics and checklists to ensure everything is under control, real leaders are inspiring their companies with a sense of shared purpose.
Gallup has used research about past crises to learn what citizens most want from leadership in tough times. It took lessons from the Great Depression, the Kennedy assassination, 9/11 and other upheavals to suggest the four factors employees need most right now — to know that leadership has a plan, to feel that they as employees are well-prepared to work, to feel that they are informed and to feel that they are cared for by their employers. To me, not only do people need these things, they crave them. Technology can support these, but it cannot provide them. No emoji takes the place of human empathy.
Frame A Bigger Picture
The McKinsey study suggests that in a distributed workplace, management should strive for inspiration over hierarchy. For example, I have tried to keep our strong global culture intact by reminding people that they are part of something larger — technology for a healthcare system that supports people struck by various illnesses. Our leadership uses online technology to communicate regularly with employees worldwide in town hall meetings. We’ve received the feedback that even with 500-plus employees, our meetings have the feel of a conversation in someone’s living room. We asked staff members to double down on every self-imposed and customer-driven target while working at home, and they have done so. To our employees, I give all the credit (and plenty of flexibility with their schedules and time for rest, I should add). Technology enables this culture, but it doesn’t rally people around the mission.
There are dozens of technology tools that make workforce collaboration possible, but they must be used with discipline. Otherwise, they can actually hinder efficiency. In my experience, workplace technology can strengthen accountability. Our leadership encourages their teams to use best practices in email and requires them to use their video cameras for all meetings since so much of communication resides in gestures and facial expressions. We discourage the “reply to all” mentality because it blurs accountability and leads to groupthink.
Be Part Of The Solution
We can only guess at what the workplace will look like after the pandemic is over. Technology organizations have often been the biggest innovators in new workplace models, so we can be part of the economic recovery if we keep things in balance. No one wants to end up as a business case study for failing in a time of crisis. Let’s make sure that as we innovate technology, we evolve in how we lead people.
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