Your business, your people: how are you engaging, empowering, and empathizing with your people in these disconnected times?

Posted on 14/07/2020 by vmwareemeasmt

by Melinda Lee Ferguson, Vice President of UK & Ireland at VMware.

In my previous post, I dealt with one of the biggest topics of the moment – the unique challenge that COVID-19 presents to businesses on how to adapt and stay relevant. Very quickly, my focus turned to how to best support and empower the people who are a part of our business because they are, now more than ever, the lifeblood. Here, I’d like to dig a little deeper into why it’s so important to lead with the human face of business in this moment. How we engage with people and how we can empower them in these difficult times will be what sets us apart as we get through and beyond the crisis.

From technology to empathy

For many of us, for the foreseeable future our homes are now also our offices, which has been a big adjustment for many of us. I’ve just moved to London from New York, and the COVID-19 restrictions have prevented my household items from being delivered, so I have had to make some unexpected investments. This has shown me how much we rely on technology to be comfortable and able to function, from the best conferencing software and a great chair to help me make it through a day full of video meetings, to a great coffee maker that keeps the caffeine flowing. These are essential parts of my business life and the must-haves that have made lockdown-working work for me.

Which got me thinking about how other people in my company are tackling this change and what have become their workplace must-haves? Shortly after lockdown began, I filmed a short video for my team, providing them with a quick tour of my work-from-home workplace – and how I’ve been adapting. Hopefully, this helped show people that everyone, in one way or another, has been facing similar adjustments.

When I think about empathy, this is what I think about – trying to step into another person’s shoes. Showing you understand at least some of what they are experiencing. And, as Forbes points out, making that empathetic connection can go a long way to solving workplace frustration and negativity – especially in these challenging times. People are contending with personal, family, cultural and other concerns in ways which you may not immediately be aware. in this situation, we cannot apply the same one-size-fits-all workplace must-haves to everyone in the organization. Instead, we must try to understand that each person is dealing with their own top-of-mind issues, even as they continue to adapt to new working principles and practices.  Really, it is about keeping the lines of communication and engagement open about the issues and concerns that are impacting your workforce and resonating across your increasingly virtual and distributed working world.

Changing the rules of engagement

Developing new ways to engage with people, to better support and enable them, has never been more critical than today. As they have adapted to the significant challenge of lockdown life, businesses are obviously having to change the way they interact with people.  Perhaps one small silver lining to what has been a terrible worldwide situation is, according Willis Towers Watson, COVID-19 has pivoted business focus toward employee experience as a critical priority – and I feel this is a really positive move.

The research defines several steps in this process, including how businesses are continuing to adopt an agile learning mindset to better understand the perspectives of all stakeholders, while focusing on employee and company wellbeing that balance both medium- and longer-term business objectives.

This process doesn’t always have to involve actual events, like teaching employees yoga or cocktail mixology. The most popular response to some recent WTW research was maintaining “support and patience as employees try and balance remote work”. It sounds like stating the obvious, but this is bringing a bit more humanity into business processes. And this can only be a positive thing – and one that I hope remains in place once the pandemic is over.

The power of community

In my last blog, I mentioned the importance of businesses to adapt and build mutually supportive communities that drive support for people. Technology of course plays a part in this, helping to make reliable real-time connection happen. This is about making it easy to stay in touch with co-workers, with customers, and with stakeholders – and being able to ask that question about how we can help.

What sort of services can we offer as a business to build stronger communities? I’d suggest that sharing a little insight can go a long way. Businesses can do this almost person to person – sharing the best tips and tricks to get through this next phase of disruption and uncertainty. By showing we can make a difference and evolve together, it reinforces the humanity of business. Who knows, by building up this community mentality, bringing people together in difficult times, we can build more trusted relationships that will endure.

We are all in a situation of uncertainty that continues to evolve. We don’t quite know exactly how our “new normal” will continue to change, but we will get through this, with grit and determination. I think it’s important to recognize our individual roles in continuing to take on this challenge collectively, recognizing the difficult situation of others, and striving to make things easier for everyone so we can emerge safely on the other side. If we do this effectively, we can continue on to the next challenge with closer relationships with employees, customers, and the community at the same time.


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