After more than a year of mandatory remote working, reopening offices is now an option for many organizations. The good news is that four out of five companies plan to offer employees some degree of flexibility around how frequently they have to be on site. While this is a great decision in terms of employee experience, the downside is that the transition to hybrid workplaces may be even messier than the whirlwind switch to home offices. New legal concerns seem to crop up each day, different teams want different policies, and many of the traditional pillars of culture and engagement are now off the table. Luckily, there’s one approach that any company can take to overcome these obstacles and thrive in the era of hybrid work. By learning how to empower employees, organizations can tackle challenges not just from the top down, but from the bottom up as well, drastically increasing their likelihood of success.
Figuring out how to empower employees may sound daunting, but it can actually be achieved in a handful of very straightforward ways. What’s more, now is the perfect time to transition to a more employee-driven culture, given that you’ll have to establish new cultural norms anyway as team members return to the office in various configurations. A number of your employees may be meeting for the first time, and many will have to re-meet each other after being apart for more than a year. Plus, your entire employee population is changed since the beginning of 2020. We’ve all been through a lot, some more than others, and you cannot expect people to just show up in the office and pick back up as if nothing happened. In other words, resuming ‘business as usual’ isn’t an option no matter how you cut it, so you might as well seize this opportunity to figure out how to empower employees for maximum benefit.
What does it mean to empower employees
The traditional workplace model is not designed to empower employees. In fact, many aspects are designed to actively disempower employees. Consider factories where workers are assigned to do a small task over and over, or are charged with churning out a certain number of products in a certain timeframe in order to retain their jobs. These workplaces are structured to keep employees anxious and isolated so that they won’t protest their treatment or substandard conditions. In part, this is what contributed to the rise of the Labor Movement in the U.S.
While the days of factories full of violations may seem long gone, we have seen similar dynamics exposed in office work as part of the transition to remote working. Recent studies show that at least 20% of companies are using software to monitor employees as they work from home. Even today, many organizations operate in an extremely top-down manner, where employees are not trusted or given autonomy to do their best work. These issues can occur at any level of the organization, from the C-suite on down to line managers, and they create an environment where employees are actively disempowered.
Employee empowerment means equipping every team member with the tools and resources they need to succeed, and having the confidence that they will get their work done in a timely manner and to a high standard. The results speak for themselves. Empowered employees are 67% more likely to put in extra effort on the job. What’s more, 70% of employees rank empowerment as being important to their ability to remain engaged and productive. In fact, highly empowered employees show engagement levels in the 79th percentile, while disempowered employees fall into the 24th percentile. Empowerment means setting your employees up to learn, grow, and make a difference at your company. Wouldn’t you rather get the most out of your talent, rather than limiting them while also wasting time and money on making sure they don’t break out of their cubes?
How to empower employees as we navigate the new world of hybrid work
Now that you know why it’s in your company’s best interest to empower your team members rather than micromanage them, it’s time to talk about how to empower employees. What are the actual steps you can take as you look towards reopening offices? Below we’ve listed some of the top strategies for empowering employees and transforming your culture from the inside out:
- Solicit input early and often. Employees who feel that their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work. If your boss never asked for your input and dismissed any feedback you tried to provide, would you feel like you were able to make a difference in your organization? Soliciting feedback from employees as frequently as possible, and actually taking their suggestions into account is crucial to empowering your workforce. Returning to the workplace presents a key opportunity to ask for employees’ input on what they’re comfortable with, what they would prefer, and how the company can help. Once you’ve made a decision, be sure to also explain why, including how employee feedback may have factored into the process.
- Offer ample opportunities for growth. If you’re not providing ways for employees to grow and learn, they won’t feel they’re able to reach their full potential with your organization. With the transition to a hybrid workplace, this includes offering trainings on how to stay at your best while your team is distributed and other relevant topics. As you settle in, ensure that your learning opportunities are accessible to all team members, no matter where they work. This way, every employee will feel valued and empowered to utilize and expand upon the full extent of their skills.
- Empower managers and teach them how to empower others. Managing people is hard. Managing people through a pandemic, then into a whole new world of work is even harder. Make sure your managers have the tools to succeed. This means teaching them how to ensure that things are equitable across their team, especially if some employees are on-site while others remain at home. Have them discuss how team members prefer to receive feedback, both positive and negative, and train them in the best ways of having these crucial conversations. Emphasize that they should be empowering their employees, and mirroring strategies used in their own trainings to spread this dynamic throughout the organization.
- Create dedicated spaces for serendipitous connections. Employees can’t live up to their full potential if they’re stuck alone in their home offices with no way to interact with colleagues outside of meetings and beyond their own teams. Now that you can no longer rely on passing interactions in the hallway and/or the ability to drop by someone’s desk, you need to make a concerted effort to develop company culture in a space that’s accessible to all employees. This inevitably means going digital, but it has to be in a separate space than where your team members are getting hit with infinite stressors. Create a digital water cooler, and consider orienting it around employee communities so your people can drive key outcomes for you on issues like social impact, innovation, diversity, equity, and inclusion and more at the same time that they’re building key relationships. Empowering your employees to drive culture and engagement from the ground up will pay off in spades across loyalty, productivity, employer branding, and more.
- Back off. Let your employees do their jobs. Don’t try to set up elaborate monitoring and oversight schemes to make sure they’re doing their work. Establish strong relationships between managers and team members where there’s a clear and regular reporting structure, and ensure lines of communication are open at all times. Then, trust your employees to get the job done. Nothing facilitates disempowerment faster than showing employees you either don’t think they can do their job, or don’t believe that they will without hand-holding. Adopt an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality where you assume employees will deliver until they demonstrate otherwise, and you’ll find that the majority will meet and even exceed your expectations. Those who don’t might not be players you want on your team anyway, so it’s better to find out the easy way than to try to force a fit where none exists.
Most workplaces were intentionally designed to disempower employees, but we’ve got a golden opportunity right now to change the game. Learning how to empower employees and designing your post-pandemic workplace around that ideal can do wonders for your team members, your company culture, and your bottom line. If you’re looking for tools to assist you in this effort, look no further than Workrowd, a dedicated employee empowerment platform. Enable your team members to connect seamlessly across business units, and spin up new events and programs that drive business outcomes. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to learn more.