Q&A: How to Connect with Employees and Navigate Remote Work

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Businesses have completely transformed how they work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. From the start, remote work seemed inevitable. Now, employees are insisting that some form of remote work remain well into the future. Still, figuring out how to make all-remote or hybrid workforces function efficiently is a challenge. 

Recently, Morgana Waters, general manager of Organisational Development and Employee Experience at QBE Insurance, shared her thoughts with HR Exchange Network about how to create connections and maintain unity when working remotely. Morgana is presenting the session “Fireside Chat: QBE’s Journey on a New Approach to Creating a Purposeful Employee Connection” at the HR Exchange Live: Employee Engagement and Experience APAC online event.   

Q&A with Relationship Building Expert

HREN: What is the biggest challenge of hybrid working? Why is it so challenging?

Hybrid working is such an interesting (and challenging) space to be working in at the moment as all of us are redefining our expectations of our employers and ourselves about where and how we work. Since the COVID-19 pandemic sent us all home, the need to rapidly shift the way we work has provided an opportunity for us to re-think many of the assumptions we had previously made about what it takes to be an inspiring and inclusive leader, how we manage productivity, what a development opportunity looks like for emerging talent (with less experience in the work ‘place’) and much more.

What is so interesting about this challenge is we are all figuring it out together in ‘real time.’ This means there is no perfect method that we can implement, and as we get better at shaping an employee experience, which reflects the evolving needs of our workforce, how we refine success will need to consistently evolve. This need to keep listening, testing and adapting is different to how we have approached previous notions of working flexibly. Ensuring hybrid working is effective is important for all of us if organisations can get the balance right between people, customer, and performance outcomes. It could be a game changer for our generation and our relationship to work.

Get Ready to Adapt

HREN: What are solutions that you have either tested or have found work to address that challenge?

What worked for us in 2020 is different to what we are doing now at the end of 2021, and I am confident, I’ll say the same thing again in 2022 and beyond. What will remain are the three key elements that need to come together for a team to be successful – an understanding of the nature of the work, who we need to collaborate with to get it done, and how to perform, learn, and grow at our best.

At QBE we are using hybrid working as an opportunity to build our ‘test and learn’ muscle, which is an exciting opportunity for the evolution of our culture. Rather than trying to be ‘experts’ or perfect from the get-go, we have worked with our people to co-create ‘MVP style’ guides to help create inclusive meetings when people are in different locations, team connection guides where any team member can lead a facilitated discussion on how the team would like to connect and collaborate, and encouraging our people to have their cameras on as often as possible through various fun initiatives. We have also recently introduced a daily 2 hour internal meeting-free period, to give us time away from all those back-to-back meetings and focus on what matters most.

Employee Engagement in the Remote Workforce

HREN: What advice do you have for keeping employees engaged and informed when they are in a hybrid workspace?

Conscious connection is key – take positive steps to proactively stay connected and help others stay informed. Successful hybrid working is where we all take accountability for the way we feel about the way we work and ensuring we deliver quality customer-focused outcomes.

The office will always be a critical place for innovation, collaboration, learning from others, and more, but if and when you do return, be it three days a week or once a month, always remember we have learnt so much and come so far. For example, our introverts and extraverts have all experienced having the same size screen working at home, so when you are in the office, try and ensure they have the same size voice. Remember to be conscious of colleagues in other locations, be that interstate offices or working from home – we’ve made great strides in becoming more inclusive. Now it’s up to all of us to maintain the momentum. Continue to reflect and consider, “Have we heard from all voices?”

HREN: What is the general sentiment about transitioning to a hybrid workspace? What is your reaction to this new reality?

MW: It’s a super exciting time for all of us to take the learnings from the last couple of years and collectively reflect on what we want to keep and what we might need to evolve. At QBE we have a phrase: “Work is a thing we do, not a place we go.” This didn’t happen overnight.

More broadly, internal and external data shows that in recent years, we have never worked harder or delivered more. It’s also shown us that we can do that while virtually meeting each other’s partners, pets, children, and more. Ironically, by the physical separation of remote working we have become more closely connected and care more about each other as whole people. We also know that humans need humans, that we learn by watching those with more experience ‘on the job,’ and that coaching and feedback is often delivered and experienced between two people when they are sitting together.

Making hybrid working work is about acknowledging we are in a phase where we can all co-create the future with our people by listening to them and our customers, and in doing so, build our ability to adapt and grow and ultimately build even stronger, more sustainable and resilient organisations.

Register to attend the 2021 HR Exchange Live: Employee Engagement and Experience APAC event to attend Waters’ session and others!

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