How can your business bolster productivity in these extraordinary times?
I recently had the unique opportunity to explore this critical question with top C-suite leaders as part of an executive leadership conference hosted by the Environmental Financial Consulting Group (EFCG).
Moderated by EFCG VP Daniel Sosnay, the conference session, entitled Redefining Workforce Productivity in a New Virtual World, included myself as a keynote speaker, along with Gayle Packer, President and CEO at Terracon and Leo Argiris, COO for the Americas Region of Arup.
Here are some of the important answers, creative ideas and practical solutions we discussed:
1. Create Small Teams
Arup has 90 offices across the world. Leo Argiris, COO of the Americas, said the pandemic prompted the company to, “mobilize more distributed teams on more projects than ever before.” In fact, with the benefit of video collaboration technology and a global workforce, Argiris noted Arup “provided funding in the form of hours to create more than 200 small teams, where these smaller groups of people bounced new ideas off each other …which has ultimately led to breakthroughs, innovation and more productivity.” Argiris said the organization is now establishing plans to make these teams a more formalized and sustained business practice to continue gaining incredible value from the initiative.
2. Communicate and Listen with Intention & Empathy
Gayle Packer, President and CEO at Terracon, explained that frequent, intentional and empathic communication is imperative to productivity. “You need to give your employees a place to be heard,” Packer revealed. “Engaging employees at all levels, multiple times and in multiple ways, such as zoom check-ins and weekly team huddles to support them are all useful. You must be intentional about building a better relationship with every conversation you have.”
Packer emphasized more frequent communication with clients has also become particularly important during the pandemic. “Our Geotechnical Engineers are not usually involved at the early stages of a project,” Packer noted. “But during Covid, we started a new approach of hosting client kickoff meetings, which has enabled us to deliver better results, faster and seamlessly, which our clients really appreciate.”
3. Prioritize Mental Health
The disruption in our professional lives from the pandemic is accompanied by massive disruption in our personal lives. In addition to the social isolation of remote work, people are grappling with multiple stressors, such as the overlap school age children being home while you are working and the lines of work life balance being erased. “Mental health is a precursor to anybody being productive,” Packer said. “We, as leaders, have to take the first step and make it acceptable and appropriate for people to ask for help, to ask employees what they need and figure out ways to support that.”
To address these issues and keep employees happy and productive, Packer said Terracon has an internal web site for parents that provides a forum to discuss their issues and share ideas. Argiris noted Arup has been using communication tools such as surveys as an avenue for employees to express their feelings, and for leaders to get an accurate pulse of how well employees are doing.
4. Develop Talent Virtually
Talent development and productivity go hand in hand. Digital training tools is one way companies have been able to ensure their workforce continues to develop new skills, knowledge and competencies. The same applies for new talent. To that end, Arup was able to run a summer internship program entirely virtually. “Even without ever meeting each other or setting foot in an office, we brought on board 90 interns who joined us for two-month summer internships which we think were quite successful,” Argiris related. “We gave them assignments, they worked in our small teams and we were very happy with the program we delivered.”
5. Ensure Your Leaders have STRAGILITY (Strength + Agility)
The leadership talent you need to thrive under unrelenting uncertainty are people with what I call ‘stragility’ – the combination of strength and agility. To elaborate, these are leaders who:
- Constantly think about and deliver innovation
- Leverage video-collaboration and other technology to work better, faster and smarter
- Maximize employee diversity by focusing on cross-cultural strengths
- Leverage high EI (Emotional Intelligence) to foster connections and communication
There are many changes and challenges in the workforce as a result of Covid. But companies across the globe are using this unprecedented time to create new opportunities to be successful. The virtual world has taken the barriers of geography and the walls of hierarchy and knocked them down. More intentional engagement, increased collaboration, remarkable digital innovation that enables greater efficiency, diversity and smoother work processes, have collectively been the building blocks for productivity.
Let’s keep learning from these successes so that when the pandemic is behind us, we continue to move forward. To discuss more productivity tips, feel free to schedule a virtual meeting with me.
For more than 25 years, Chris Swan has worked with professional service and construction companies on complex leadership roles. Over the past five years, he has served as the TRANSEARCH Global Leader for Construction, Design & Real Estate, coordinating the efforts of dozens of search professionals when required to deliver best in class global talent. With a team of recruiters and other market specialists, Chris has built TRANSEARCH International’s Chicago office into a search leader across the United States and Canada. His team is recognized globally as a firm that provides the highest level of executive search service available.