It will likely come as no surprise that our evolving workspaces, enabled by technology, outfitted with the most coveted amenities and served by hospitality experts, are designed to make employees feel valued, signaling to them that the work they do is important and impactful. But what about when the workspace provided by an employer is removed (even temporarily) and placemaking becomes a virtual endeavor?
The guidance on maintaining business continuity in a suddenly remote environment is ever-growing and increasingly salient1—an equally essential toolkit should be followed for the other half of the equation: supporting the emotional wellbeing of employees through traumatic disruption.
Often dismissed as too “touchy-feely” or unprofessional, the real business benefits of compassionate management, or what some call “heart-centered leadership,”2 are grounded in evidence. Compassionate leaders drive engagement and retention: 96 percent of employees believe that a culture of empathy,3 a key component to heart-focused leadership, is essential to reduce turnover and increase engagement; engaged employees are also over 20 percent more profitable than their peers.4 In turbulent times, this approach allows for leaders to assess a broad spectrum of individual needs, to respond to evolving situations in resilient5 and agile ways and to solve for challenges that their employees may not know exist.
At CBRE | Host, a core value is “Anticipate Unspoken Needs.” The emphasis of this work is that our service professionals “empower individuals to do their best work by making every day seamless: identify and address needs quietly and with great care, before they surface.” As we maintain business continuity for the clients we serve, we must also prioritize providing great, whole-person care for our own employees. Essentially, we must connect our Hosts to the mission of our work by embodying the mission ourselves. Research shows that this sort of connection and compassion in the workplace has physical and health benefits, like decreasing stress and improving overall health,6 which has never been more important than during this time of pandemic and market volatility. The steps below demonstrate the ways we can meet employees where they are through compassionate leadership that transcends space and social distancing. Leadership does not know title or rank, and while compassion starts at the top, these research-driven strategies are relevant for all teams.
Begin with empathy
Though policies may be broad and sweeping, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution when caring for individuals in a team. To deploy a “one-size-fits-one” approach for supporting the emotional wellbeing of employees, it’s helpful to check your biases about mental health at the door. While you might intellectually understand that different emotional responses to situations and circumstances are not “weaknesses” or “threats,” you may still carry some unconscious biases. These hidden beliefs may adversely affect the way you relate to or support those on your team who respond to trauma—like a global pandemic—in ways that differ from your own. Try taking a bias test (or two) like this one from Harvard,7 and use it as an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of mental health.
Prepare with a holistic health toolkit
Now that you have taken a look in the mirror and unpacked your personal perspectives, it’s time to look to the expertise of others. Do your research to understand how real or perceived trauma may affect employees, as well as how exemplary leaders are guiding their teams through crisis.8 Create a toolkit with available resources and develop an intimate understanding of how to access those resources. Take time to personally participate in your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) if it exists so that you can outline and speak to the benefits and shortcomings. Talk to friends, family, mentors and trusted colleagues about their experiences, share resources and discuss the kinds of questions you should be able to anticipate. Validate perspectives with research from trusted sources. This will further strengthen your empathy muscle and build out your arsenal of expertise.
Become a safe, trusted, wellbeing resource
Research shows that trust is a foundational element of the most successful and long-lasting team cultures,9 directly contributes to business successes and “can be broken down into three components: competence, honesty, and benevolence.”10 Though some leaders tend to overemphasize their competence, all three components must be present to build the communication safe space required to lead with compassion through emotionally turbulent times. Deploy empathy to be a benevolent leader, demonstrate competence by being prepared with your wellness toolkit and ground your conversations in honest vulnerability. Be prepared to share personal experiences that are appropriate within a professional context to humanize your interactions and demonstrate your willingness to be seen in new and different ways. Communicate honestly about what you do and don’t know and take responsibility when you’ve made a mistake.
Actively and regularly communicate
Communication occurs across many channels. To be effective, those channels must be active and multi-directional. Through trusted relationships with your employees, establish an open line of regular communication—ask questions, practice active listening,11 allow for silence in discussions and be open to having new (and potentially uncomfortable) conversations. Establish norms of how to communicate regularly (do you prefer emails, phone calls, or even Slack messages?) and set boundaries and expectations around appropriate communication times so your team knows when and how they can expect a response. Be clear about the ways you can help and how you will support their next steps if conversations go beyond your knowledge or comfort zone.
Help enable the positives
Even as you make space for challenging and disheartening conversations, do your best to use empathy to move the dial from negative to positive. Beyond lifting spirits and improving health, positivity has real ROI. For example, research "found that optimistic salespeople outsold their pessimistic counterparts by 37 percent."12 To the best of your ability, focus on how you can partner with your team to find perspectives and solutions that may previously have gone unnoticed. Though physical distance might preclude in-person team building, virtual team building (including cross-country toasts and happy hours) can encourage new, meaningful connections that have not yet been nurtured. Finally, find specific opportunities to communicate how the work your employees do drives the organization’s mission, even during difficult times. In one study, 32 percent of employees stated that they stay in their job because they find their work meaningful, while a separate study shows that “49 percent of employees would give up part of their compensation to stay in their position with an added sense of purpose.”13 Enable purpose as a grounding positive and celebrate both big and small wins to drive meaningful outcomes.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Finally, heart-forward leadership in times of turmoil relies on your ability to be compassionate with yourself. This can mean many things, including turning to your support network and casting a broad net for assistance. Pay attention to your own wellbeing and prioritize getting the support you need for yourself and others. Activate your emotional intelligence to know when you need advice and follow through with that purpose. Helping others is contagious14—let your empathy, compassion and communication spark a similar fire in others.
Host is dedicated to enhancing the employee experience. Our overarching goal is to foster the right environment for people to do their best work and navigate their workday with confidence, no matter the circumstances. As we seek to make any location the ideal place to work, one space that traditionally hasn’t received as much attention is the home office. When working from home becomes a necessity, it is still possible to consider the personal experiences of employees and assist organizations as they give workers what they need to flourish and thrive.
Only 22 percent of executives reported that their companies excel at providing a great employee experience, although nearly 80 percent of executives rate it as very important or important.15 Host understands the significance of an employee’s daily ritual, which is why we promote a workplace culture that puts people over tasks, no matter your office location. In the same way we activate spaces with meaningful hospitality experiences, Host is dedicated to ensuring that employees feel engaged and supported, even in a solo setting.
According to Dell EMC, over 40 percent of millennials in the United States say they would likely quit a job if the provided technology did not meet their standards—81 percent say workplace technology influences their decision to take on a new position.16 Statistics like this showcase why digital innovation is a crucial component of how Host supplies high levels of service to our customers. We encourage everyone to make the most of the available technology to maintain communication with colleagues and facilitate both personal connections and day-to-day productivity.
Delivering delight is a key component of how Host supports workplace communities and we achieve that through unexpected acts of consideration and kindness. Caring for other people is central to our mission and prioritizing the needs of people gives us an opportunity to empathize with those we serve, putting authenticity and support at the forefront. Whether your office is in a high-rise or a spare bedroom, Host is here to provide excellent service and create great outcomes for all workers.
No matter where you work, there are several ways to make the most of your time and develop the necessary routines to help you feel confident and secure in your ability to achieve great things. Host produced the following articles to offer some advice to help you create a personalized work environment that lets you be at your best, regardless of your surroundings.
Ashley Lippitt is Head of Host Labs, our cross-functional innovation hub. In this role, Ashley tests and refines current state and cultivates wonderful ideas to drive holistic and future-looking strategies that enable CBRE to create amazing workplace experiences. Before Host, Ashley was a Director in CBRE’s Workplace practice, with specialized expertise in experience strategy consulting. Prior to joining CBRE, she led organizational transformation, policy, program development and research efforts across the educational landscape from pre-K through post-secondary. Ashley, her husband and their three young children live in Seattle. That said, Ashley is an avid and lifelong fan of her hometown Philadelphia sports teams (and she is unlikely to let you forget it).