· 2 min read · Insights

The human workplace is the new work paradigm

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Crisis consumes a leader’s attention, and so it has been with the pandemic. There’s been little time to think of anything except the steps companies took to keep people safe and keep the lights on. Leaders and employees showed incredible agility in 2020, leading to a rapid acceleration of digital transformation. This is for sure: COVID-19 did not originate the move to a new kind of workplace – it accelerated forces that have been gathering for more than a decade.

I’m talking about more than telecommuting. The greater change is where companies are going culturally, and digital technology shouldn’t be a substitute for human connection. This is the key to understanding a larger evolution to a new kind of workplace – the human workplace.

Work is changing across multiple dimensions simultaneously. Business processes are being dismantled, disrupted, torn apart, and rearchitected in response to profound changes in technology and society. Ideas like agile transformation were once the specialised proposals of visionaries. Now, entire multinational corporations are modelling their brands on such principles.

As artificial intelligence takes on cognitive tasks, and robots replace human muscle, these transformations put a premium on our most human qualities. Problem solving, collaboration, learning and creating all depend on strong relationships and excellent communication. When people trust each other, they take risks together. When employees build bonds of appreciation, caring and mutual respect they are free to break the psychic boundaries of bureaucracy.

Companies are built on relationships

A crisis can also clarify essential truths that leaders might have lost in the fast-paced routine of business-as-usual. Foremost among these is the fact that every employee has some basic human needs which, when they are suddenly taken away, reveal their importance. Companies are built on relationship infrastructure. When that weakens, their culture starts to decay.

Today, the key moments of relationship-building – hiring, onboarding, teamwork, mentoring – have by necessity become remote. The hundred little gestures of relationship we took for granted are gone, from serendipitous meetings at the coffee station to reading the body language of a team member.

For now, and after we return in some way to our workplaces, we need to restore those relationships. The best way management can do this is to empower employees to teach and learn and motivate each other. That means using technology to spread positive emotions – recognition, celebration and sharing – throughout the organisation.

Recognition is the currency of human connection. When people feel valued, appreciated, recognised and empowered, they respond with greater energy and engagement at work. At Workhuman, we’ve analysed 50 million recognition data points and confirmed a natural cause-and-effect: When you create a culture of appreciation, people invest more of themselves in their jobs.

Recognition is the heart of a human workplace because it shows people the significance of their actions. People crave authenticity and acceptance. They want to feel safe, energised, and valued by the community that is the workplace.

Recognition creates community

The human workplace acknowledges that our “weak ties” to others are essential for our social wellbeing. Professor William Rawlins of Ohio University put it beautifully: “Living well isn’t some cloistered retreat with just a few folks…The way worlds are created is by people sharing with and recognizing each other.”

Workhuman research shows that 42% of employees are feeling lonely, stressed and isolated during the pandemic. More than half (51%) say that receiving or giving a “thank you” has helped ease their anxiety and almost two-thirds (64%) say that these moments of recognition have motivated them to work harder.

Yet, our data also show that 49.4% of employees never received so much as a “thank you” from a colleague or manager during the pandemic. It’s astonishing that something as fundamental as appreciation can be so neglected, especially because it’s one of the fastest and least expensive ways to build community.

The human workplace is more than a slogan. It is a paradigm in which advanced technology serves the human need for positive and authentic connection, while simultaneously advancing business goals. When the pandemic crisis passes, we will not go back to the way things were. Having learned the importance of connection, and its power to inspire performance, let’s put it at the center of our company cultures.

Eric Mosley is CEO at Workhuman.