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PDAC’s Q2 Event: Building Resiliency in Today’s New Workplace

On May 21, 2020, PWC’s Professional Development Advisory Council hosted its second quarterly event on the topics of managing the remote work environment and how to foster personal innovation and resiliency when working from home. D&A Construction Advisors and Welby Brady & Greenblatt generously sponsored the evening event.

The panel discussion was moderated by Sushmita Roy, Esq, Construction Counsel for HAP Construction. Panelists were:
Michael Bonomo, NCIDQ, IIDA, ASID, Director of Global Workplace, CannonDesign
Michael is an innovative design leader who has directly influenced over 15 million sf of interior environments in workplace crossing tech, commercial, retail and experiential spaces, Michael directs CannonDesign’s global workplace practice and co-leads the company’s commercial market.

Bill Duane, Principal, Bill Duane and Associates
Bill is a former Google engineering executive responsible for worldwide production engineering for GSuite and Websearch Infrastructure and later created the position of Superintendent of Well-Being. He is currently the Principal at Bill Duane and Associates, consulting on culture, innovation, and sustainable high performance. He is active in nonprofit work on mindfulness, veterans’ issues, and social impact.

Cynthia Milota, CID, LEED AP, FMP, ASID, Director, Workplace Strategy, Ware Malcomb
Cynthia is a Workplace Strategist for Ware Malcomb, delivering human-centered, experience-based work environments. Responsible for leading the firm’s workplace strategy practice across all regions, she partners with clients to formulate their unique objectives, mindful of wellness, social responsibility, talent strategy, the workforce ecosystem, and measures for success.

A few key questions and themes that were addressed throughout the engaging conversation include the following:

What are advantages/disadvantages of working virtually?
Many members of the workforce have transitioned to working remotely in response to the global health crisis. The abruptness of the change has posed many difficulties, such as managing the separation of personal and professional time throughout the day. The panelists addressed this and also a few benefits of working from home, including personal benefits such as having the opportunity to eat healthier, making your own meals, and spend more time with family. The technology available has also allowed teams to continue to collaborate effectively and team build. All panelists mentioned a notable increase in empathy and prosocial behavior as people are coming together, both personally and professionally, in adversity. A hope is that this increased level of connection will sustain through the pandemic and improve communication when workers return to the office.

How do we promote efficiency and healthy employees in the new virtual environment?
Panelists addressed the resiliency and health of employees by stressing the importance of communication and boundaries. Michael Bonomo stressed the importance of setting aside personal time. We must set boundaries not only for ourselves, but also with our teams and our clients. From her work with “change champions” within companies, Cynthia Milota stressed that, in addition to setting boundaries, a company must be highly intentional about the protocols they are putting in place, and what those protocols are aiming to achieve. Change management will focus on new behaviors, new policies, and new procedures. Regarding communications, she noted that we’re seeing CEOs from their living rooms now, making her wonder if this culture of accessibility will be maintained long-term.

While at Google, Bill Duane investigated resilience in his role as Superintendent of Well-Being. Part of his work was to help employees perform at a high level without burning out. This experience prompted Sushmita to ask him directly, “How does remote work affect wellness and creativity between colleagues?” Bill noted that there is a significant difference between remote work and working remotely during a pandemic. At this time, there is uncertainty about what’s coming next, causing us to project fear into the experience – this drains our resilience. When people are under stress, it’s much more difficult to create. When high performing teams have “psychological safety” they build trust and vulnerability that fosters feelings of safety and, subsequently, creativity. How can we create safe spaces in this new environment? That is a crucial question to navigating these times.

What will be the long-term impact of COVID-19 on office environments? Will more companies go virtual?
From the interior design perspective, Michael is looking to the future: spaces may remain largely the same, but people will have to behave differently, and more precautions will be taken. With the recent news that Square and Twitter will allow working from home indefinitely, he believes that the tech sector will pave the way for many company’s operations. He anticipates that the physical workplace will function as a cultural hub, when it can be done safely. The increase in virtual communications will also giving permission to things that people could not do in the past, for example, live in a geographic location where their company does not have a satellite office.
Bill also anticipates there being more opportunities in the future for assignments that are not simply based on geography, meaning that companies are realizing that they cannot cling to physical space. Cynthia concurred that she envisions the labor pool – the “global remote pool” – opening up and expects a new embrace of technology that will enable this to happen.

In her current role as Workplace Strategist, Cynthia Milota invited twelve Fortune 500 companies to respond to a survey on remote work and human behavior, to get an understanding, from the companies’ perspectives, on how everything is working – not the technical logistics but the people aspect. The survey was a self-determination study, grounded in science and looking at three evaluation factors: 1. Autonomy; 2. Competence; and 3. Relatedness. Cynthia shared that autonomy and competence can be easily accomplished from a home setting, but relatedness is not well-supported from home. People still have a desire to come to an office. Cynthia and her team will check in again on the survey respondents after a few months to collect more data and responses.

The panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session. One audience member asked for guidance on how to handle onboarding of new employees in the new virtual workplace. Michael outlined a couple recommended practices, the two major ones being regular check-ins and consistent outreach. He acknowledged that onboarding is a big conversation in the HR world right now, but another important subject is mentoring because now we must provide mentorship in a different way. Mentorship must be deliberate and it can’t happen by osmosis now, the way we tried to make it work before, but we must find new opportunities and ways to mentor in a virtual setting now.

Written by the members of the Professional Development Advisory Council

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