June 28, 2022
June 27, 2022

The "Big 5" People Challenges: Workplace Optimisation

Plant in foreground of comupter screen with zoom call

Workplace optimization has many facets. It is about getting the best out of people. It involves improving communication and collaboration and helping people make better decisions. It means creating a growth mindset which makes people feel they can continually develop and grow. The result is improved productivity and better performance.

Two macro themes are currently re-shaping the way we think about these challenges; the shift towards hybrid and flexible working patterns and the need to really move the needle on making diversity and inclusion count.

Hybrid Work

Separation shrinks but deepens our networks. This means we connect at a deeper level, but with a smaller number of people when we are outside the workplace. This can create silos, encourage groupthink and isolate individuals who previously found it hard to connect.

Like it or not, hybrid work is here to stay. Employees want it; over the course of the Covid pandemic, remote working has shifted from being seen as a perk to a fundamental right. Some managers are less convinced, but even the sceptics can surely see there are benefits. Workers spared a grueling 2-hour commute are likely to be less tired, reducing the risk of burnout-induced absence and the associated £19 billion per year this costs the UK economy. Office space can be rethought and footprints reduced, resulting in significant cost savings.

But, hybrid work comes with challenges. Not the standard tropes around productivity and collaboration; there is no robust evidence to suggest that hybrid work either enhances or reduces productivity. Some tasks are best done in peace and quiet, away from distractions, others require interaction. It depends on the job.

The major challenges associated with hybrid work are the integration of new employees into an organisation, the development and training of staff, and promoting inclusion. Our research shows that employees who feel excluded at work are more likely to choose to work remotely, which can hamper inclusion initiatives or even exacerbate exclusion problems.

Studies have shown how separation shrinks but deepens our networks (Kovacs et al., 2020). This means we connect at a deeper level but with a smaller number of people when we are outside the workplace. This can create silos, encourage groupthink and isolate individuals who previously found it difficult to connect.

To mitigate these risks and get the best out of hybrid work, it is vital to understand exactly how an organisation functions: Who is driven towards personal success and who is motivated towards achieving collective goals? Who is not motivated at all? What are the effective communication channels and who are the individuals who facilitate the transfer of information and knowledge? Where are the hidden pockets of expertise which are not being leveraged? Who is being undervalued or underused?

MindAlpha’s unique combination of motivation diagnostics, psychometric profiling and organisational network analysis can answer all these questions precisely and rapidly, pinpointing specific behavioural changes which can make hybrid work for your organisation.

Diversity & Inclusion

Increasing representation in one demographic group is unlikely to yield significant gains if the organisation is hiring from a narrow socio-economic or educational background.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) is in the middle of everyone's radar screen, and with good reason: It’s not just about ethics, it is also about performance. A cognitively diverse team is more creative and innovative, better at problem solving and more resistant to biases like groupthink than a homogeneous group. It is also clear that teams only get the best from diversity when everyone in the team is fully included.

There is a considerable amount of evidence that demographic and experiential diversity are correlated with cognitive diversity. This is fortunate, since these are easier to measure than cognitive diversity. Nonetheless, there are still challenges to be overcome.

First, diversity needs to be achieved across multiple demographic and experiential categories. Increasing representation in one demographic group is unlikely to yield significant gains if the organisation is hiring from a single socio-economic or educational background. In fact, this can even strengthen in-groups and encourage groupthink.

Then there is the question of measurement. Measuring representative diversity is relatively straightforward. Measuring equitable treatment is also becoming easier; we can track and report demographic pay gaps, performance ratings, promotions etc. Some organisations are less forthcoming than others on the measurement and reporting of fair treatment, but the direction of travel is in the right direction.

The bigger challenge is measuring inclusion. Inclusion is not about representation, it is about people feeling safe to speak up about things which make them feel uncomfortable, feeling empowered to suggest new ideas or challenge the existing way of thinking. Inclusion means believing one’s views are taken seriously and one’s skills are valued. It is about being supported by the team and the organisation in one’s pursuit of being the best possible version of oneself and being recognised for it when we achieve it.

But can we measure inclusion? The answer is yes, but it isn’t easy. It involves more than just asking people to report their subjective experience. Our previous research has shown how non work-related factors can influence people’s perception of an organisation. Moreover, people who feel they are outsiders may falsely report on generic inclusivity questions for fear of being punished. It is therefore important to operationalise specific behaviours which characterise inclusion.

Our diagnostic process does just this. It tracks specific behaviours across several demographics which allows an organisation to see which groups of people are or are not benefitting from the support a truly inclusive culture affords. Even then, however, more quantitative metrics are needed. We do this with organisational network maps. These allow us to track specific indicators of connectivity such as communication, meeting participation or the extent to which someone is seen as a valuable source of knowledge, information and skills.

This allows an organisation to accurately pinpoint gaps in connectivity which are the hallmark of a disjointed culture and which can prevent an organisation realising its full potential.