Flex Summit Q&A with Sophie Wade: Empathy @ Work
On June 5, 2019 in Boston, Flex Summit will bring together industry leaders to discuss ways to help today’s companies prepare their workforce for the future of work. The event is shaping up to be a great opportunity for those in IT and HR to further advance their thinking about the flexible work.
The future of work brings in new complexities (and opportunities) in managing blended teams across multiple offices, remote locations, and coworking spaces. According to a new study from CultureIQ, 57% of people work with colleagues in other locations regularly. It is becoming the norm for a team not to be located in the same four walls.
So, how does this impact how we manage and work together? We recently caught up with Sophie Wade, a workplace innovation specialist, about the content she is planning to share at Flex. Read on to learn more.
Why is understanding and mastering empathy so important for distributed teams?
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel what they are experiencing. Taking an empathetic approach to leadership and teamwork means deliberately tuning into what other people are going through so you can adjust your responses and work more effectively together. For example, if you can sense someone is withdrawn in a meeting, you can ask thoughtful questions to find out whether the person is confused about a project task or distracted by a personal situation. You can then adapt how you respond—especially what kind of support they need so the project can be completed effectively and on time.
Such adjustments improve interactions for everyone in today’s faster-paced and less predictable business environment. When team members are working remotely, meetings will necessarily be bridging different locations, environments, and possibly time zones as well. These distributed scenarios add a layer of complexity which easily hinder productivity and performance. For instance, if people feel disconnected by the distance, it can undermine trust and their feeling comfortable to talk openly. Distributed teams are better-equipped to mitigate these challenges and adapt appropriately if they can recognize and tap into each others’ emotional states by noticing visual cues over video or clues in voice patterns during a call. Thoughtful adjustments in responses will improve team interactions and their ability to communicate and collaborate well.
What do you mean by a skills stock or inventory? How can business leaders embrace this? How often should skills stocks take place?
A skills’ stock or inventory is identifying and logging the skills of all an organization’s talent at a particular moment. Historically, we haven’t focused much on employees’ skills apart from when a person was hired. Did they have the capabilities to do the job they were being recruited for? They were then defined by their job title which mostly identified the field they applied their skills in.
Now, technology-driven marketplace developments are impacting business operations and our roles are evolving. These advances are changing how we get our jobs done and the different skills we need to do them. Most companies have yet to recognize their talents’ skills and mapped these to the skills’ needs anticipated in the near- to medium-term. It is clearly critical to understand where there may be skills gaps and who needs what training. Going forward, tracking skills’ needs and current inventory also monitors how roles are morphing and what other adjustments might be needed as a result.
Business leaders are acknowledging that the marketplace is changing which is impacting all aspects of operations. As they tackle talent elements, a skills’ inventory is a useful starting point for assessing the company’s competitive strengths as well as the talent’s current and ongoing training needs. As technology continues to drive change, ongoing learning is a reality for all talent. Tracking skills regularly is now essential for employees to stay competitive as well as the businesses they work for.
How can IT leaders help influence or prepare an organization to be more mindful about empathy?
Historically, empathy has not been highlighted in most workplaces in any department. Work has been more transactional and results have not been optimized. IT leaders can change this dynamic by making time as well as creating specific events for team managers and members to build and nurture relationships. Leadership can encourage coworkers to make connections—before and after meetings, during and after work, as well as online and in person. When people find common ground and share experiences, trust builds and they can be more comfortable working together. Whether brainstorming or advancing tasks, sessions will be more productive for simple interactions as well as complex collaboration projects.
How does your session help prepare/influence/inspire our attendees for the future of flexible work?
Technology is enabling unprecedented new options in our working lives especially in terms of work location and schedule timing. We are now each able to explore our own optimal working style to be more productive individually, which is also highlighting the differences in people’s working preferences and needs as coworkers select different choices. However, we also still need to work well together in pairs and groups.
Applying empathy, we recognize our colleagues’ experiences and apply that understanding—with the teams we lead or are members of—to make compromises and adjustments so we can each do our best work as well as produce the best results together. I believe it is a major win all round to be more thoughtful about others—personally and professionally—and work much more effectively together. That’s the huge impact of working with empathy as flexible work becomes not only desirable but necessary.