At a time when many organizations are still undecided on whether to open offices or not, a new research report by SpiralMethod indicates a clear disconnect in communication, trust and transparency amongst employees and business leaders. Leslie Jones, Founder of SpiralMethod and Master Executive Coach, points to leadership “blind spots” as the key reason for the disconnect.
The SpiralMethod survey shows a huge gap in employee and leader sentiment in regards to three key pillars of workplace efficacy and success: productivity, communication and transparency. As Jones observes, “While communication and collaboration continued to be part of both employers’ and employees’ remote work schedule, Jones observes that communication and transparency show stark disconnects.”
“With dramatic changes in day-to-day communication due to the rapid move to remote work, also came a stark difference in sentiment around established feedback loops and transparency in the organization,” she says.
Nearly all (93%) of the leaders surveyed indicated they have maintained a transparent feedback loop between themselves and their direct reports. Whereas nearly half (44%) of employee respondents indicated that their company does not have a feedback loop established.
This glaring contradiction between leaders and employees is exemplified when employees were asked about the return to office.
While the majority of employee respondents (60%) indicated that they have observed leaders/managers within their organization asking employees for direct feedback on new workplace policies and schedules, the majority of employee respondents (63%) indicated that they would prefer to remain working remotely, yet, over half (56%) stated their organization is planning to return to the office – further indicating a disconnect in communication and the absence of an established feedback loop.
Curiously, 67% of leaders answered that they connected more with their direct reports in a remote environment than they would if they were in an office, a fairly astounding finding given many organizations’ emphasis on in-person interactions, sustained through a traditional office space.
While feedback loops and communication clearly need work, both groups – 75% of employees and 72% of leaders – at least agree that more transparency within the organization would boost overall morale and success for the company. Plus, the majority of employee respondents (63%) noted that their employer gives them the freedom to speak openly about current societal and political issues.
However, in direct contradiction to this, 63% of employees indicated that they would not be happier at the workplace if given the freedom to speak openly about topics that are typically taboo in the workplace.
Pointing to specific leadership “blind spots”, Jones said, “Employees see leadership ask directly about returning to the office, but their opinions are not being taken into consideration.”
According to her, “In many cases, management is hearing what they want to hear. If you’re not listening to the growing voice of your employees, you’re missing an enormous opportunity to cement your company culture in trust —and they will know it. There’s so much you can learn from your teams if you really listen with an authentic concern to hearing them.”
The study cites productivity, output and onboarding as reasons to return to a physical office by organizations large and small across the globe. In fact, leaders and employees felt that productivity was either positively impacted or not impacted at all by working remotely, indicating that efficiency, learning and productivity is not limited to the confines of a traditional office space.
However, communication seems to have been impacted. While streamlined communication appears to be a positive byproduct of remote work, as employees and leaders alike have adapted their day-to-day communication styles to better suit a remote environment. On the other end of the spectrum, communication in the form of feedback has appeared to deteriorate. Lastly, the findings indicate that while transparency and trust are incredibly desirable to both leaders and employees, the means to actually achieve this is more complex.
“Setting up a structure for feedback, doesn’t mean there is honest feedback,” Jones says.
“Leaders often know little about in-depth realities of their company’s culture. If a leader is not aware of their own blind spots they can’t be effective in creating innovations, especially around psychological safety. Trust takes time to build in our workplaces. That’s an important part of our work…to help companies develop and deepen trust over time — one step at a time,” she says.
The research claims that companies must invest in establishing flexible work policies and programs, and ultimately improve employee engagement, which in turn can improve productivity, customer experience and increase revenues in the long run.