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Over the past three months I have been meeting with the leaders from TSIA member companies to discuss the long term impact of the current environment on technology business models. As of September first, I have conducted 72 of these briefings. 

One long term impact I discuss in these briefings is “very virtual organizations.” This is the possibility that technology companies will operate with a more remote and virtual workforce post-pandemic. Even before the announcements of companies like Google and Facebook, all of our research data was pointing in that direction. Of the 72 companies I have briefed, only one plans to bring all of their in office employees back to the office full time post pandemic.

So tech appears pretty committed to operating with more remote employees. And the industry has good reason to be bullish on the approach. Over 70% of technology companies TSIA polled in May of 2020 reported higher employee productivity when the company was forced to send everyone home. However, there is a knot hole the industry has yet to pass through. 

Yes, employee productivity shot up over this past summer in the first phase of this pandemic. Productivity levels remained relatively stable over the summer. However, starting in August, we entered a new phase of the pandemic. The uncertainty related to schools and second wave shut downs amplified employee anxieties. The figure below documents the response of employees throughout this crisis and the new shock to their systems.

Employee Response

Brainstorming a Response

As of early August, the wellness of remote employees became the number one topic in my leadership briefings. Because of this reality, TSIA organized a “Business Challenge Accelerator Session.” In these interactive sessions, TSIA researchers collaborate with members to brainstorm the organizational capabilities required to address a specific business challenge. In this instance, how can companies improve the overall wellness of their remote employees in these stressful times? 

The brainstorming was broken into four specific topics:

  • Practices: What practices are companies developing and deploying to improve the wellness of remote employees?
  • Skills: What skills would help remote employees better cope with their current situation?
  • Technologies: What technologies are companies deploying to support remote employees?
  • Metrics: What indicators are companies monitoring to better understand the wellness of remote employees?

The result of this brainstorming was the creation of a “capabilities tree.” This tree represents the capabilities a company can pursue to improve employee wellness. The below figure summarizes the capabilities identified by the TSIA researchers and forty participating member companies. TSIA will be publishing a paper that further describes these capabilities.

Capabilities Tree

The Skill of Empathy

Of all the items documented in the capabilities tree, there is one that struck me as paramount:

Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

This was identified in the breakout session on skills. Several participants discussed how important it is to pause and understand what unique difficulties your employees or peers may be grappling with in these unprecedented times. 

Under normal circumstances, we huddle our teams, start our meetings, and get to business. These are not normal times. The person on the other end of that web camera may have just learned their two young children are not going back to school next week. They may have an elderly parent they have not seen in person for weeks because the parent is quarantined in a nursing home. Or perhaps their spouse was just notified their job is being eliminated. No, these are not normal times. 

One member made this observation to me:

The problem with work-life balance right now is not work, it is life! Life is upside down for so many of our employees.

We are all concerned about the wellness of employees. As documented above, there are many organizational capabilities we can develop to better support our remote employees. But perhaps the most important capability at our disposal is the skill of empathy. 

To practice empathy, you have to put yourself in someone else's shoes and see the world from where they're sitting. Also, you have to give the person your full attention and really listen to what personal challenges they are facing. This is not common territory for most managers or leaders. In these times, it needs to be.

Perhaps you can start your next one-on-one by simply asking:

“How is the current situation affecting you?”

And then really listen to the answer...

 
 
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Thomas Lah

About Author Thomas Lah

Thomas Lah is executive director and executive vice president of TSIA. Since 1996, he has used his incisive analysis, strategic thinking, and creative solutions to help some of the world’s largest technology companies improve the efficiency of their daily operations. He has authored several books, including, Bridging the Services Chasm (2009), Consumption Economics (2011), B4B (2013), and Technology-as-a-Service Playbook: How to Grow a Profitable Subscription Business (2016).

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