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How the New Communications Gap Could Be Hurting Your Workplace


People collaborating in the office
Image: Andor Bujdoso - Alamy Stock Photo
At Enterprise Connect 2022, one of the panelists in the Women in Communications session made an excellent point: Unified communications kept the world running in 2020. The combination of communications and collaboration technology and colleague coordination — often beyond the wall of just IT — kept so many different industries running and even boosted workplace productivity.
Unified communications software provided workplaces with one way to stay connected during the pandemic, becoming a vital tool for the sake of employee well-being, and ultimately sustaining success during troubling times. Connectivity — both on the technical and human behavior side — is what ensures that data isn't lost as it moves through a multi-person or multi-departmental workflow. Nobody ever works in total isolation. Connection is vital, and we've learned in the past three years that there are multiple productive ways to be part of a connected workplace.
This is why a disconnect between executive leadership and the people they manage is a concern — and signs point to a persistent disconnect between folks at the top of the organization chart and folks at the bottom when it comes to flexible or remote work. For instance:
  • In March 2022, a survey of 3,500 managers by background check firm GoodHire found that 73% said work-from-home productivity and engagement had either stayed the same or improved compared to in-office work, but 75% of managers thought that didn't matter as much as being in the office in person, and 77% of managers said they’d implement “severe consequences” for workers didn't return to the office.
  • In March 2022, Slack's Future Forum reported that 44% of executives working remotely said that they would prefer to work from the office every day, while just 17% of employees said the same.
  • In a Bloomberg news report last week, billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross predicted that employers could use the looming recession as a way to force folks back to full-time office occupation: “I think as you go into a recession and people fear that they might not have a job, that will bring people back to the office.
So executive leadership could leverage the economic anxiety permeating an inflation-beset global economy to put an end to remote work or reduce flexibility. However, the question they need to answer is this: How is it smart management to send the message "We will capitalize on your economic vulnerability at the expense of your wellness, your improved workplace experiences, and your productivity?"
Workers are already assessing a return to office in the framing of what's taken away from them; explicitly threatening to take away even more doesn't seem like a recipe for keeping an engaged workforce during turbulent times.
Establishing new, intentional habits requires work. Creating a hybrid office culture will require work in everything from defining workflows to examining meeting practices to establishing monitoring and accountability for everyone. But if the alternative is having talent keep walking out the door — a real concern in many fields — then doing the work to pay attention to what's working for your workforce can be seen as the kind of routine maintenance that keeps things running.
A few months ago, Microsoft addressed a core component of establishing a successful hybrid workplace environment: connectivity. As we reported on their research in March 2022:
Employees who have thriving relationships with their immediate team members report better well-being than those with poor relationships (76%), higher productivity (50%), and less inclination to change jobs (61%). And strong networks across teams matter, too: Employees with thriving relationships beyond their immediate team members are more satisfied with their employer (76%), more fulfilled by their work (79%), and better able to roll with workplace stress (40%).
Microsoft reports that it's easier for hybrid employees to maintain team relationships and cross-team relationships than for fully-remote workers, and workers who changed jobs or came on board in the past two years need extra support.
The job of managers, the report concludes, is to foster a team environment where making interpersonal connections is prioritized and valued.
Unified communications make the workplace run. We do a great job focusing on the technology that provides the platform for communicating. Now, workplace leaders have a real opportunity to focus on communication strategies with their team members.