Insights on workplace culture from WorkSpaces 2022

Insights on workplace culture from WorkSpaces 2022

By Doug Shapiro, host of the Imagine a Place podcast

Doug Shapiro WorkSpaces EventIn November of 2022, I was honored to attend WorkSpaces event in Palm Springs, which brought together esteemed workplace culture thought leaders. The event provided a valuable platform for in-depth discussions and offered a glimpse into the future of work. 

Imagine a Place was invited to conduct live podcasting, capturing insights from various discussions and seminars. Discover key takeaways from the event through our three podcast episodes (Episode 108, 109, 110), as well as in the article below:

1. To build a better hybrid workplace culture, the implicit needs to become explicit.

Workplace culture is a subject I’ve been seeking to unriddle for some time, and every so often there’s a new take that broadens my understanding.  At WorkSpaces Event in Palm Springs, California, Darren Murph from GitLab had one of these takes. 

The implicit needs to become explicit.
- Darren Murph, GitLab

Things like values, camaraderie, and even how we go about our work exist in a world of unwritten understanding.  Observation and conversation are the typical building blocks of absorbing a culture.

If your workforce went hybrid or remote, Darren’s advice is to be much more intentional and direct when it comes to culture. This can be done by encouraging open communication through regular check-ins, facilitating virtual team-building exercises, clearly documenting expectations for visibility, and incorporating the company’s mission + vision into elements of workplace culture.

2. Training on empathy and connection could save the emotional well-being of our workspaces post-pandemic. 

Rex Miller, author and podcast host, took the stage at WorkSpaces and led with insights around how isolation and the trauma from the pandemic have affected (quite literally) the chemistry of our minds. 

From 1979 to 2009 a University of Michigan study measured empathy in college students. Since then, there has been a 40% drop. This only increased during the pandemic because of compassion fatigue. Empathy is a mirror neuron that allows you to experience what someone else is experiencing. It’s the number one capability of getting along with others. Suspending your judgment, listening, everything.
- Rex Miller, GeniusSpark

Empathy is an essential element in cultivating a positive and productive workplace culture. Unfortunately, research shows that our ability to empathize with our colleagues has been declining over time. To combat this trend, companies should prioritize empathy training and team-building activities. 

These initiatives can be particularly effective when they include opportunities for in-person interaction and collaboration, as this allows employees to gain a deeper understanding of one another's perspectives. Empathy training programs can include techniques such as active listening, self-reflection, and unconditional positive regard to regularly reinforce the importance of empathy in the workplace. 

By making empathy a central focus, organizations can foster a culture of understanding and mutual respect, leading to a more cohesive and harmonious work environment.

WorkSpaces event in Palm Springs

3. Autonomy and purpose are the foundation of positive workplace culture

As children, we accept our need for dependence. Our parents protect us, provide structure, and guide us to success. When we become adults, however, we discover and take pride in our autonomy.

In fact, autonomy is one of the most undervalued elements of workplace culture today. This quote got me thinking about the value that an office brings:

"If we treat adults like kids, we can't expect them to act like adults." 

The most significant values we can offer our employees are autonomy, trust, community, and purpose. When we focus on micromanaging employees rather than providing vision, it’s no wonder that employees don’t want to come back to work!

Terri Johnson from Roche reiterated this point during a panel saying,

Workplace culture today is all about choice, the ability to be trusted. We shouldn’t be babysitting our employees and counting hours, but instead measuring productivity that will lead to true success.
- Terri Johnson, Roche

4. Schedule deep work every day.

In a Workspaces session with Rex Miller, he shared how Deep Work is suffering right now.  Attention spans are dropping and we aren’t engaging in thoughtful deep planning and discussion.  He shared that CEOs have on average only 15 minutes in a workday to clear their mind and think. 

I believe that we’ve been getting worse at deep work since the smartphone arrived, but it’s been compounded by our bad remote work habits. 

Brett Hautop, CEO of Workshape, shared how remote work and Zoom calls have created an incredible amount of efficiency, but: 

We’ve focused so much on efficiency that we’ve become too efficient.  We never have to step back and think deeply.
- Brett Hautop, Workshape

Video meetings tend to be straightforward, to the point.  Dialogue is brief and uninterrupted… and these meetings tend to be back-to-back for much of the day. Intentionally scheduling deep work allows us to refocus on prioritization, vision, and deep creative work to ensure that we are best using our skills.

Managers, protect your employees’ time! Scheduling a day of no meetings, setting an example of regular blocked deep work time, and encouraging time with no distractions will help set your teams up for more long-term success.

Brett Hautop Workshape at WorkSpaces

5. Middle Managers are the key to workplace success

At WorkSpaces 2022, multiple workplace culture experts talked about the shift in the role of middle managers—and the importance of training and investing in these key players to ensure the success of our teams. Sheela Subramanian, Vice President at Slack and speaker at WorkSpaces, highlighted the state of middle managers today, saying:

43% of middle managers report that they’re burnt out. Each day, they have to shift from being a gatekeeper to an empathetic coach as the pandemic has changed the daily job functions of many managers. It is on organizations to re-skill these managers to foster overall organizational success.
- Sheela Subramanian, Slack

Rex Miller, author and podcast host, also emphasized the importance of training and investing in our managers, saying:

"Middle Managers today are required to be life coaches in the middle of business demands. But, according to research, only 18% of managers truly have the capacity to be coaches. 

If I were going to work on one area of companies, I would pour all my energy into managers. I would train them in social and emotional literacy to help them and others regulate stress so they can focus on solving the problems at hand."

It is clear from multiple workplace culture leaders that analyzing the roles of our middle managers and investing in training to support changing demands within these roles could transform team culture and individual satisfaction.

Listen to the full podcast discussion