Troy McAlpin, tech industry pioneer, is the CEO and co-founder of xMatters, focused on keeping the world’s digital services available.
When the pandemic hit, our society went digital for the fulfillment of our needs so that we could shelter safely in place. Digital services became ubiquitous with shopping, eating out, gathering and so on. The technology foundation laid over the last 20 years enabled the fastest revolution in the consumption of goods and services in history.
This rapid adoption of digital services, driven by pandemic-imposed stay-at-home orders, created a unique set of challenges for technology workers — those on the “digital front line” — with 88% of technology workers reporting that they’ve experienced an impact to their work-life balance. This reliance on digital services will continue even as businesses slowly transition back to reopening because over 80% of Americans also reported that they will continue their more frequent use of online services after the stay-at-home period.
Studies repeatedly demonstrate that leaders with a high level of emotional intelligence foster a more positive and productive workplace. Research of “more than 2,000 managers from 12 large organizations found 81% of the competencies that distinguished outstanding managers were related to emotional intelligence.” Now, more than ever, technology teams need leaders with high emotional intelligence — that is, the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you.
Here are some tips for technology leaders on how to effectively stay attuned with their workforce, ease stress for those on their front lines, and foster more connected and motivated teams:
1. Prioritize Mental And Physical Health
Software development feature velocity is at an all-time high as consumers demand more from their online offerings. Developers are stuck at home writing code all day long. This pace is not sustainable and will lead to resilience issues in your service and your people (i.e., burnout). Your teams are not just under pressure to perform, but fear of losing their jobs and real-life concerns for their family’s health and welfare are new realities. Natural and expected effects from this are a decline in attention to detail, mental health and overall job satisfaction.
Investing in ways to promote and foster mental and physical well-being will go a long way in establishing long-term human sustainability across the business. Think through the effects of long-term stress on the body, mind and spirit, and help your teams address those. Leaders should also show empathy, be optimistic, and stay flexible in terms of thought and availability during times of crisis. By actively exhibiting these traits on a daily basis, they will better inspire new ideas and solutions and keep their teams productive.
2. Embrace Flexible Working
Flexible working is not working from home. Flexible working is a cat on the keyboard, your five-year-old screaming in the background, teaching math for two hours, doing the laundry and writing code at 2 a.m.
Many of us suddenly thrust into a distributed chaotic work environment thought it was going to be simply working from home for a few weeks. One thing is now clear: Flexible working — a policy that allows employees to choose when and where they work, whether it’s at home, in the office or a blend of the two — is here to stay.
This approach has been shown to improve productivity, employee engagement, trust and overall business performance. A Future of Work survey from last year found that “78% of managers listed ‘flexible schedules and telecommuting’ as their most effective nonmonetary ways to increase employee retention.” Another 2019 study found that 85% of businesses state that implementing flexible work locations have made their company more productive.
We’ve seen an evolution of work from an agrarian society (work to live) to the cobbler (original entrepreneurs) to the factory and assembly line (birth of the mega-corporation) to the office space and back to the home. Now is the time to continue to evolve by embracing our already blended work-life balance and provide employees with more control over their time and where they work. Where trust is given, trust is returned.
3. Avoid ‘Zoom Gloom’
Virtual collaboration and videoconferencing tools can help with connection, communication and feeling like a team again. But they can be exhausting, too. Our brains try to analyze the nonverbal feedback of multiple people on the screen with delays between visual and audio. It’s not how we normally receive nonverbal cues.
A good way to utilize Zoom or any other online collaboration platform that won’t create burnout is to set up drop-in sessions each day where you open the channel up, let it run in the background and listen to your team while everyone works. Using this time to share your own personal concerns can also provide an opportunity to genuinely communicate and use emotional intelligence to show that you are in this with your team.
Using communication tools for employee recognition is also helpful in maintaining a balance and avoiding burnout. According to Slack, “Daily greetings and regular check-ins over shared communication channels are effective ways to acknowledge remote employees, but the biggest impact comes from celebrating contributions and achievements with specific, purposeful feedback and recognition.”
4. Investing In Automation = Investing In Your People
Technology has made it possible for many businesses to survive during the pandemic by enabling the rapid shift to digital platforms. While recognizing current CAPEX and OPEX pressures, this isn’t a time to shortcut building a solid technology framework that can help you avoid unnecessary work that could easily be automated. Look to automate mundane tasks to help ease the stress on technology teams.
However, leaders should be mindful and take a human-first approach when considering the introduction of new automation tools. Choose technologies that provide continuous automation for code development, deployment and integration, error detection, data analysis, digital transaction testing, and more. By investing in your tools, you’re investing in your best people.
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