We are going to hear how the pandemic has changed everything, over and over again, but it feels like now is the time to reflect, adapt and put strong processes in place to support what’s changed. It’s time to start putting solidifying remote working best practice.
The pandemic made many of us reevaluate what was important, and what was not, especially in the world of work.
The search for meaningful work
As Steve Jobs astutely noted “death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.”
People looked at their lives, then at their jobs and said, we need this to be meaningful, otherwise what is the point? What is the point of leaving our homes, or our children, or working for a wage that can’t keep up with inflation if there is no meaning to it?
The cracks were already beginning to show years before, but no one took any real notice.
Researchers and academics had told us repeatedly that money wasn’t the problem and that “the single most important factor for increasing and sustaining the level of employee engagement was the experience of meaningful work.1”
We knew younger generations were leaving vacuous jobs in the search for a job that “meant something,” or meant they could work from somewhere that would give them more meaning outside of work at least.
We all now accept that we are in the midst of a VUCA (volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous) world and employers face unprecedented challenges to navigate the pressures of empowered employees, liberating technological forces and remote working culture.
The search for meaning and meaningful work presents one of the biggest challenges for employers because it’s not as easy as just spannering-in Slack and a bit of Zoom.
It requires real cultural change or you risk haemorrhaging staff.
In this article, I’ll explore how to develop remote working best practice that will lead to more satisfaction. I’ll discuss how you can give your remote employees meaning that will not only satisfy demand but lead to engaged and motivated employees that will help power your business too.
Why do your employees want meaningful work?
“‘Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad.“Fyodor Dostoevsky
Perhaps not stark raving mad, but they’ll let you know how they feel about absences, disengagement, poor productivity and resignation.
Yes, the pandemic contributed to the search for meaning, but dissatisfaction with work had been going on long before that.
We all want meaningful work, yes because of the pandemic, but also due to other cultural shifts around well-being and the concept of the self.
The motto “do what you love” now saturates social media, film and print media. We are all being told over and over to find meaning, follow our hearts and embrace our hobbies. Even Beyoncé is telling us to quit and “find new drive” and a job you are passionate about.
Most of us now believe that both well-being and meaning are fundamental rights.
“People want purpose and meaning from their work. They want to be known for what they’re good at. This is what drives employee engagement” Gallup, What is Employee Engagement and How Do You Improve It?
Not only do employees want meaningful work they would even take less money and work longer to achieve it!
What is meaningful work?
Meaning is related to self-worth, value, recognition and purpose.
Authors Pratt and Ashforth (20032) believe that meaningfulness needs to be made up of three main elements.
- Meaningfulness at work. This is where you feel connected to the organisation and part of a social group that relates to your own identity.
- Meaningfulness in work. This is the feeling that your work is worthwhile, useful and valuable.
- Transcendence. The feeling that you are contributing to something greater than yourself. This may be contributing to the community or society at large and having a feeling that you are “making a difference.”
How does it benefit you?
The reason why paying attention to meaning is that it fundamentally affects your bottom line.
“Companies that don’t reinvent may well pay the price, losing top talent to businesses that do.” (Joanne Lipman “The Pandemic Revealed How Much We Hate Our Jobs.)
Having engaged employees who are enthusiastic about their work means that they will be committed (less turnover) and will go above and beyond their job role to deliver. Having engaged workers also means less absences.
Loyal & Engaged
You have employees who are tightly bound to your vision and mission statement to help you drive the business forward and weather the VUCA shocks to your systems. Moreover, an engaged team supports its team members, and means the whole group stays more closely connected.
If you have a remote team, you can rely on that commitment to progress even when there is no “manager” to physically observe or listen in. So if your team is committed because they see purpose and meaning, the overall level of trust increases.
How can you make remote work feel meaningful?
Thankfully the Fourth Industrial Revolution has resulted in a boom in remote working tools and cyber-physical systems. It is much easier to create virtual connections, but how do you create meaning?
If you aren’t an NGO or charity or a company or public service that has an embedded ethos to “do good” can you even create meaning for your employees?
Absolutely. Being a “human-centred” company is a choice. It’s just about providing that feeling of meaningfulness at work, in work and transcendence.
Visionary leadership and having a human-centric philosophy at your core help, but I want to give you some practical applications you can do now.
Here are eleven top tips to help you promote meaningful work:
- Understand how your remote team works
- Understand your meeting types and rhythm
- Spend time on people development and reflection
- Build-in “islands of flow”
- Actively support the well-being of employees
- Provide opportunities for remote learning
- Host face-to-face workshops
- Provide autonomy
- Support social impact and life longings
- Onboard, embed and engage new remote employees
- Create rituals
1. Understand how your team works
Really understanding how your teams work together can help you find ways to make work more meaningful.
Help your teams understand what each member’s role is, what their superpowers are, their needs and how they tick.
If they have a better understanding and empathy for each person and their role this will help them feel part of a social group and support network.
Even the basics of knowing what days and hours people work helps to remove confusion and build connectedness remotely.
Full transparency will help provide support and better connection to others. This is all part of feeling valued and feeling part of a group that relates to your own identity.
If you want to short-circuit this process, try in-person workshops run by facilitators trained in building teams.
2. Understand your meeting types & rhythm
Meetings are not the answer to pulling remote teams together.
Try defining why you’re meeting, what’s the purpose, who’s leading/owning the meeting, who attends. Will they be recurring or not? Will decisions be made off the back of it or not?
Don’t waste time by recapping. Take minutes, share minutes, or use Miro boards.
Use meetings to provide informal praise too to help motivate and make people feel connected to their work.
3. Spend time on people development & reflection
Feedback is even more important for remote teams. Gretchin Rubin in her year-long study into happiness discovered that “to be happier, we need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”
In your feedback or review sessions with employees, get them to think about what makes them feel good, bad, right (values), and how you can help them grow.
Things that feel bad, might be meaningless admin-type activities that could be removed or delegated. Get personal. Find out how their children are, and how their hobbies are getting on. You don’t want to be blind-sighted by a resignation due to something going on that you were unaware of.
Use your sessions to get your team to reflect on where they’ve been, acknowledge and feel pride in their accomplishments and review where they are now.
Spend time understanding what they love doing and see if that can be incorporated into their job plan. Get to really know what’s happening in your team.
Find out how you can help them grow. Check that their work is helping them progress towards higher career goals. Show that you offer support and progression within YOUR company. Are there learning opportunities for them or more responsibilities they could take on.
Don’t be afraid about job redesign, especially if there are elements that would better match that person’s goals.
Rather than leave reflection and feedback to the annual 360, try to have regular check-ins with people to assess their workload, desires and goals. Micro feedback can be as simple as leaving a note via Slack after an important meeting that focuses on what went well, why, and any suggestions for improvement – while focusing on strengths and actionable next steps.
4. Build in islands of flows
Remote work can be fragmented as people interpret your flow of deep work. You aren’t visible to people so they can’t see that you’re busy.
Encourage your employees to build “islands of flow” where they can concentrate on projects. Get team leaders to model that behaviour by setting periods when they are away, when they answer emails and when they take a break.
Don’t be afraid to put in some governance around asynchronous communication. For example, being explicit when a comment isn’t urgent or using do not disturb settings.
You could even leave video recording updates rather than present them in a meeting.
When considering remote working best practice, consider how to build in time for “islands of flow.”
5. Actively support well-being for remote workers
Try not to encourage an “always-on” culture and be mindful of the well-being of your staff.
I totally believe what this Vox article said about how “the amount of time people spend actively working in or communicating on Slack jumped 30 per cent to 110 minutes a day, according to the company. That means more time with Slack in the background and the foreground of our lives.3”
A good remote working best practice is to check-in with people who are online out-of-hours.
6. Provide opportunities for remote learning
Happiness for humans is often found in the process of learning new things.
Are you providing opportunities for remote learning and career development for your team?
Can you offer job swaps, remote work shadowing, or better access to courses?
Think how you can build remote learning into remote working best practice.
7. Host face-to-face workshops
Meetings “in real life” can and should still happen. They are vital to helping your team and company feel connected. Otherwise, there is a tendency to self-silo into Slack channels and lose sight of the bigger picture.
Make sure you plan dedicated in-person meet-ups with a clear purpose and have a list of what you want to achieve. Explain and communicate why you want to meet up.
Just getting people together doesn’t guarantee connection building or instant “meaning.” Lead your meetings with a strong plan in place. Consider workshop activities that reinforce your vision and re-engage employees.
Try a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® session that focuses on identifying and celebrating individual qualities. Or go for a team session that looks at building better interconnectivity and empathy between teams.
Having regular away days or team workshops helps create shared rituals and events that build meaning and another key remote working best practice.
8. Provide autonomy
Being able to structure your own time and tasks is also important to making work feel meaningful.
In an article for the Institute of Employment Studies, “What’s the point? The Importance of meaningful work,” research has shown that “meaning can be experienced by employees in different areas of work, even those areas that are perceived as relatively low-skilled. Stonemasons and academics had considerable control over the way in which they ordered their time and tasks, but even the refuse collectors had some autonomy at certain points in the day to organise their time in whatever way they wished, and appreciated ‘being left alone to get on and do your job.”
Are there ways you can give people more autonomy or flexibility in their work?
Do you give people opportunities to challenge the status quo and empower them to confidently provide new solutions and ideas?
Think about how autonomy can be included as a remote working best practice.
9. Support social impact and life longings
Employers need to work harder to find out what motivates people and if it’s nothing that can be offered in work, perhaps it can be offered as a perk or part of work.
A compressed work week or offering sabbaticals could show that you are committed to them as a whole person, not just an employee.
Or what about engaging as a company in community work? Or give employees the opportunity to explore their personal passions with your support. One company in the UK allowed employees to read to school children before work for example. Another offers 1 charity day a year where employees can support a charity of their choice utilising their work skills or company resources.
Even if you don’t do any direct “social good,” you can still offer employees a way to give back to something that is close to their heart.
10. Onboard, embed and engage remote employees
Another good remote working best practice is to strengthen your onboarding process for freelancers.
You can no longer rely on people just picking things up when they are remote.
But you could institute a mentor programme to partner up new employees with someone who can “tell them how things work.” Or why not use Notion to create user manuals on how you work with me!
It’s in your benefit to get people up to speed as quickly as possible, but that means in the culture as well as the processes too.
Have an embedding plan where the team supports new joiners in fully understanding the cultural nuances of the business. This is probably best achieved with team away days, but in the short term consider having line manager micro feedback sessions planned from the very start.
11. Create rituals
Having social rituals tied to your company is a way of building community and adding layers of meaning.
Are there any specific ways of holding engaging rituals with your team?
Do you have a #culture Slack channel where every Friday you share your favourite recipes, childhood favourite lunch boxes, celebrate team birthdays or pet photos – to make everyone smile and connect – while keeping it separate from other dedicated work channels?
Your online rituals will all help add to a sense of connection and meaningfulness at work.
We’re through the worst, your company adapted and quickly, but now is the time to evaluate how you create meaning in this new hybrid workplace and adopt new remote working best practices.
To create meaning, we need to provide the opportunity for “Maslow’s “self-actualisation” – and help employees feel professionally fulfilled, empowered, valued and included.
Review how you plan and run meetings, check your onboarding and embedding processes and put in governance around your communication.
Also look at how you support your employee’s “whole self,” giving them recognition, and opportunities for growth.
Consider how you can help them feel like they are contributing to something, even if it is as small as making it easier for a customer to log on to a site.
Why not book your next team workshop now, and have me as your workshop facilitator?
I’m also a Lego® Serious Play® facilitator and can help you with remote working best practice, team building, strategy development and building guiding principles that bring your team together.
1Enhanging Employee Engagement: An Evidence-Based Approach http://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783319547312#otherversion=9783319547329
2Pratt M G, Ashforth B E (2003), ‘Fostering meaningfulness in working and at work’, in Cameron K S, Dutton J E, Quinn R E (eds), Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline, Berrett-Koehler Publishers