In a single Tweet, a US worker captured one of the major challenges thrown up by the new Covid-19 working world. “I think we need to stop calling this working from home and start calling it living at work,” she declared.

Her exasperation prompted hundreds of thousands of ‘re-tweets’, ‘likes’ and comments from employees feeling similarly worn-down by the blurring of their home/work boundaries and their feeling of being ‘always-on’.

Before the pandemic, the pace of technological change and an array of social and political factors formed a significant challenge for leaders across the built environment sector.

Today, in the Covid-19 ‘new normal’, the challenges are even greater. The wellbeing of workers and the need to keep teams involved, engaged and high-performing when they are not physically together in an office has risen to the top of the c-suite agenda.

The feelings of disconnect that the sudden shift to permanent home working has triggered were underlined in a recent Gallup survey. Only 38 per cent of those surveyed described themselves as ‘engaged’ and less than 47 per cent described their wellbeing level as ‘thriving.’

So how do leaders in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sector, ensure that, with the changes resulting from Covid-19, they keep their teams cohesive, engaged and high-performing?

High-performance in home-working times

Elizabeth Kavanagh, our Senior People and Change Consultant and Dr Julie Bullen, our behavioural adviser, have both advised organisations and leadership teams in the built environment sector for the past 20+ years on how to navigate cultural challenges and to build cohesive teams focused on a single end purpose.

At this time, they advise, leadership is more important than ever to people feeling included and in ensuring that people have the right measure of control to deliver quality results.

Key questions for leadership teams to consider, says Julie, could include:

  • Will working from home for longer periods of time impact on people’s engagement with the organisation?
  • Will there be a reduction in ownership for the outcomes people need to deliver?
  • How can we ensure continuing loyalty to the organisation when people are working remotely?

The responses to these questions centre on three areas:

1) Inclusion: “Inclusion is key. Engagement is about feeling part of something. How can leaders ensure we all still feel ‘part of something’ when working alone, remotely?

“They could be asking people how they are feeling – asking for suggestions/ideas they might have in relation to the company and their live projects. This could be both in one-to-one meetings and on team communications on Zoom/etc – and with whole departments or in company communications.”

Elizabeth highlights the daily update calls, on MS Teams, that PCSG has instigated. “These are a simple but effective way to make sure we all connect. We have different hosts and a variety of topics ranging from overviews of the projects being worked on across the business to individual team members’ personal passions. Recent topics have included volunteering and orienteering.

“The purpose of these is to start our day off connecting with each other, and to make sure we see smiling friendly faces to welcome us as you would arriving into an office environment.”

2) Clarity around expectations on outcomes and deliverables also becomes even more important. Says Elizabeth: “We know from Gallup research and also from feedback that knowing whether you are doing a good job is even more important in uncertain times and the need for feedback increases.

“We aim to have feedback 1:1 twice weekly and ideally using video calls so you can pick up social cues more effectively”.

3) Engendering loyalty is also critical, advises Julie. “How do leaders engender loyalty? Through showing care in relation to people’s well-being, their need to balance work and family and their career prospects. It’s about knowing your workers as people.”

The behaviour of leaders is what creates the right culture where this concern and care pervades all aspects of the organisation.

“That culture needs to be one of inclusion, control and openness – one which says, ‘your opinions matter to me, you make a valuable contribution, your aspirations and wellbeing matter to me.'”

The PCSG leadership model

 

Leadership is at the centre of our PCSG High Performing Team approach which we use when working with teams across the built-environment sector. Pictured right, it is based on comprehensive research on the highest-performing teams in a range of organisations. The research found that ‘continuous leadership’ is at the heart of achieving high performance. (The Wisdom of Teams: Katzenbach and Smith; Beyond Performance Keller and Price)

Both the visibility and the quality of this leadership were found to be key.

Perhaps the single defining focus though of those organisations seeking to successfully manage these uncertain times is this – openness.

Elizabeth explains: “It has never been more important to being able to navigate how we feel in these difficult times. By creating an open company culture, we can trust each other, feel comfortable to make the rapid changes that are required, to venture ideas and to say if we are not OK.”

Elizabeth adds: “People need to know it’s ok they won’t be criticised or humiliated but listened to and valued in order to give them reassurance that they can share their best, sometimes off the wall ideas with us.

“Creating this psychological safety is something we are working on with our clients at present”

Many of the individuals and organisations Elizabeth has worked with, find the embedding of a psychologically safe culture to be transformative. “It makes it ‘safe’ to be honest, to talk about how we feel and to consider our best approaches in leadership. It works and the best compliment our clients pay us is ‘I don’t want to work any other way’.”

To learn more about PCSG’s work supporting organisations to deliver transformation programmes through alternative approaches which frequently involve changes in mindsets, cultures and behaviours, please contact Elizabeth.Kavanagh@pcsg.co.uk