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Lessons For Leadership: How Employee Experience Is Your Bottom Line

by Scrum Inc's Public Education Team

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Report found that businesses get the most out of their employees when they orient performance around basic needs for psychological engagement. Companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their competition by 147% per share. As we manage the new reality of work, let’s take time to build a working environment that meets the needs of our employees. By doing this, we will be more equipped to empower our employees and propel our missions forward. 

At Scrum, Inc., our recent sprint goal was to learn directly from employees about their employee experience during the pandemic. Our mission was to discover what employees learned during the pandemic and what they need to be successful moving forward. We began by interviewing four people from different industries to learn about their employee experience during the pandemic.

 Create Autonomy to Drive Innovation

As a Senior Tax associate at a large accounting firm, Cory provides tax compliance services to hedge funds and private equity firms. Cory went from a traditional in-person corporate environment to a fully remote home office. During the pandemic, he found that he had a higher level of autonomy in how he got his work done which helped him be more productive. The greatest challenge Cory faced was in onboarding new hires remotely. 
Read Cory's Interview.

Cory: Although I missed the connectivity I had in the office during a pre-covid world, I became quite comfortable with my new at-home workflow. Working from home gave me the ability to focus on work when it truly mattered. By taking more intentional breaks, whether it’s walking the dog, doing some laundry, or going for a midday run, I found my stress levels decreased, allowing for more valuable time while working.  

Most importantly, I felt more productive because I could take breaks without feeling like I was disappointing my managers or others on my team. It was nice not feeling the pressure of someone constantly looking down at your desk and wondering what you are doing. My team didn’t even skip a beat when getting their work done or getting our deliverables out to clients. I hope my company continues to provide needed flexibility for their employees, especially those with young children. 

For me, it became clear that there’s no reason besides connectivity and training to be in the office. However, when it comes to onboarding new employees, I find an in-person setting to be ideal. For example, I could no longer invite new hires to my desk and walk them through the complex spreadsheets spanning three monitors, making the onboarding process longer and leaving the new employees feeling lost. As my company continues to provide a more flexible working environment, opportunities for new hires to onboard in-person, meet the team, and gain exposure to client calls must be prioritized.

Overall, the pandemic taught me that our work should not drive our goals; our goals should drive the way we work. Not all employees will need to work in the same way, and their goals may require different workflows. Give them the autonomy to make these decisions, and they may even surprise you with their ingenuity. 

Improve Sustainability and Collaboration by Making Work Visible

As a government employee, Cynthia went from in-person to a hybrid working environment. Cynthia’s team tried out Scrum for the first time during the pandemic. This helped to address the challenge of leadership not having visibility into the work being done or their employees' productivity.
Read Cynthia's Interview.

Cynthia: For me, one of the biggest challenges was no longer being able to see co-workers on the line in action. It was very common for me to walk the line and see what people are doing and interact with them. This provided a great way to see the work being done, connect with people and problem solve in real-time. 

While moving to a hybrid way of work, leadership asked me to help with their biggest challenge: they found it basically impossible to track what the heck was getting done when people were remote without some sort of structure. With my background in Agile, I got the team to try Scrum. The team would hop on a video conference, and the Scrum Master would share their screen and use it to talk through the Scrum Board and run all of the Events. Working like this proved to be essential in tracking [the work] and seeing, okay we’re still productive, we’re still getting work done.

With some of the team fully back in-person and some distributed, the team found that it’s a lot easier to collaborate with a virtual Scrum Board. The team found that running all events virtually, even when back in the office, was more effective. If we are in the office and need to talk about something, others can just walk over [physically] and have a conversation. 

Ensuring that the teams worked at a sustainable pace was also important. My team and I utilized the Scrum Board’s function of making work visible as a means to enforcing work-life balance. To address the burnout employees voiced during a Retrospective, the team decided we needed to build opportunities for people to take a break while still maintaining productivity. To achieve this, the team implemented the following Kaizen (a process improvement): put a stop and think card [in every Sprint] to encourage every member of the team to take a moment and unplug.

With transitioning back into the office, the team is continuing the stop and think card. My biggest piece of advice to those going back in-person is to roll out [the transition] slowly, don’t go all-in at once. You will burn people out.

Prioritize People and Interactions to Build Trust and Respect

Clive experienced going from in-person to a hybrid environment as a coach and teacher at a K-12 school. Working in a hybrid environment during the pandemic put pressure on the employees to keep up an unsustainable pace, leading to poor quality of work. This created a feeling that employers lacked trust that their employees were getting work done. For Clive, his employer was not taking their approach to the return of in-person work seriously enough.

Read Clive's Interview.

Clive: Before the pandemic, I thought I had no work-life balance. I didn’t realize it could get worse until it did. The expectation is that you just keep moving. I’d have enough time to get a few hours of sleep, get up, take a shower, and, you know, get on that computer again. I hope to see my employer set more reasonable expectations for employees to follow to achieve work-life balance.

I was hopeful that I would have the option to work remotely when students weren’t in the building. This would have provided more flexibility and better working conditions. However, the process implemented by my employer for gaining approval to work remotely was cumbersome. I had to ask for permission to work from home. I would have to go through a monthly process of requesting to work from home, and every time I would get really stressed out whether or not it would get approved.

The red tape signaled to me and my colleagues that the school didn’t trust that work could happen effectively when people weren’t in the same room. My employer felt it was a high risk experiment to allow remote work. While, us, employees saw it as a lack of consideration to those unvaccinated or immunocompromised.

I’d recommend to my employer to consider employees as we transition to in-person work. Show us empathy and treat us with humanity. This would empower us to understand things better. Taking it step by step. Not treating everything like the building is on fire. 

Leverage Opportunities from Remote Work to Improve Connection

As an Account Executive at a CAD product company, Nicole sells digital products to companies that use the software to build things. Before the pandemic, Nicole’s company did not have a work from home policy, and all work took place in-person. Even though, Nicole's work was considered essential so working from the office was technically an option, she and her team worked remotely. In this new remote setting, her team experienced a new level of global connectivity across the company and a higher level of predictability regarding qualified leads. 
Read Nicole's Interview.

Nicole: The key to my success before the pandemic was the ability to sit right next to my colleagues. Our group had its own floor, so [we] all worked pretty close together, and it was a very collaborative environment. For example, when we’re on a call [that was] not going so well, you could tell by facial expressions and then ask to collaborate on what to do next. Our office space remained available, however, management was hesitant to make this visible. This led to me and my colleagues not taking full advantage of our hybrid work environment until months later. 

Before the pandemic, sales calls took place only over the phone, and if they took place over video conferencing, the norm was no one would turn their cameras on. One of the unforeseen advantages of working remotely was that I felt more connected to my customers because they turned their cameras on. It became more of a norm and is not treated like another phone call. This allowed me to understand which deals to qualify and prioritize because I could now pick up on non-verbal queues and clients could no longer hide behind a phone. 

Not only did I feel more connected to clients, but I also felt more connected to the company globally. During the pandemic, we set up intentional webcasts to connect parts of the organization that never connected before -- you got to see different people from different offices speak about initiatives you might not be privy to.

Recently, my company shared a full hybrid work policy. As the company moves to this model full-time, I would like to see these company-wide meetings continued. 

What's next?

We can't forget that our employees are also our customers, and the most important product for them is their employee experience. Engaged people do better work. People who feel empowered and safe stay with organizations and grow there. Creating an employee experience that enables employees to be productive and avoid burnout will make a positive impact on every company's bottom-line. In fact, Gallup found that employee burnout cost companies $322B due to loss of productivity and turnover.

We hope the four lessons shared through the interviews will help you and your organization navigate some of the complexities of returning to a new “normal”, AND we hope you to don’t stop here. Start a conversation inside your organization to understand what your teams’ unique needs are.

When it comes to the new reality of work and determining what’s next for your company, we need to consider the people who made it possible for us to survive this pandemic: our employees. They stuck it out with us. We stuck it out together.

*Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.



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