Cultivating a Sense of Purpose During Remote Work Periods
Given the rapidly changing workplace environment due to the pandemic, work from home has resulted in a lot of challenges over the past couple of years. Many workers are more mentally at ease with the discipline of going to another place to execute their duties.
This need for explicit spatial association has made workers struggle with focus, feel disconnected, and experience difficulty developing a collective sense of purpose in the remote work environment. The distractions are abundant, but beyond that (and more importantly), the sense of belonging, community, and culture have become nothing more than a sweet memory of the past. In a position of financial leadership, you have the power to keep your subordinates engaged in the face of such adversity. Achieving this requires a thorough understanding of how specifically remote work has had an inhibitive effect on the workforce, the abilities of a finance leader to fix such issues, and how different resources and technologies fit into the picture.
Remote Work as an Inhibitor
Consider the Great Resignation, a phenomenon where workers quit their jobs at an unprecedented pace throughout the second half of the past year. With a record 4.4 million Americans leaving their jobs in September alone, it has become clear that something went missing in the two year fiasco requiring remote work.
The critical component lost was a sense of purpose. A recent McKinsey survey found that 70% of the American workforce stated their sense of purpose is largely defined by work. Scuh sentiments were also found in a 2021 Thomson Reuters survey, which stated that more than 90% of tax and legal professionals claimed their work provides them with a significant sense of professional purpose. Many workers in the aforementioned two surveys also claimed that their sense of purpose is derived from the ability to share knowledge with colleagues they are mentoring or from networking with other professionals in the same field. Both are difficult to replicate in a remote work setting.
Finance leaders need to utilize an effective strategy to help employees feel connected and engaged, no matter the setting. Whether they are in an office, on a virtual meeting screen, or toggling between the two, paving the way for purpose is an indispensable part of financial leadership. It’s an onerous task that doesn’t have a quick fix. Instead, leaders should establish a company-wide strategy that can build community while remaining flexible to evolve with changing cross-industry expectations and norms.
Employees are not only receptive to this kind of leadership from employers; they are actively looking for it. According to a survey from 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, 65% of respondents to the survey claimed their employer was a trustworthy source of information, considerably higher than the government or news media. Americans (comparatively) are largely very confident in the institution of their employment. Further, 76% of respondents expected their company CEOs to inform and shape conversations about jobs and the economy.
Leading with An Improved Approach
The findings of the prior surveys present an opportunity for finance leaders to begin communicating with employees about moving forward to engage in candid conversations regarding regular tasks and the bigger picture behind their jobs. Consistent updates, emails on social media, and town hall meetings are a good place to start. Finance leaders and lower level managers in such departments can even do 10 minute chceck ups via Zoom or phone to maintain connection. While it takes time and focus for managers to make these conversations happen, they matter. They tell your employees that they matter, you care how they are doing, and you see the relationship as well as the work you do together. But leaders will also need to put clear, quantifiable actions behind their words to help employees connect and feel a part of something bigger.
Small changes can help build a sense of connection so many of us are clamoring to find. With such incremental steps, employees will begin to be reminded that although the work setting is still in flux, the goals of their work remain the same, and the level of productivity they must reach needs to match or exceed that of pre-pandemic times.
Such transitions and improvements will of course require a lot of time and effort, and finance leaders will have to go through many iterations before nailing down precisely the right methods. But with remote and hybrid work here for the foreseeable future, companies need to keep their finger on the pulse of employee sentiment. Those that make the concentrated effort to meet their employees where they are and lead them to where they want to go will reap the rewards in the form of a more productive, connected, and purposeful workforce.