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When I founded Netskope nine years ago, I decided that no matter how much we grew, I wanted it to be a place where people love to work. My goal has always been to foster a collaborative and transparent work environment, filled with big dreams and the hard work needed to achieve them, and without any tolerance for egos or corporate politics. I instill this in every leader we bring on at Netskope, and further entrust those leaders to hire with this ethos in mind, weighing culture standards when considering a candidates’ hard skills and experience.
As we (hopefully) approach the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic, organizations will be continuously tasked with establishing a workplace environment that not only accounts for employees’ health and safety but also encourages collaboration that propels the company forward. No one knows for certain what the “new normal” will look like beyond hybrid workforces and flexible workstyles, but we do know that it will not be a return to the past. You can also be certain that if you were missing important cultural attributes that fostered an open, transparent and collaborative workplace culture before the pandemic, you’ll have a steep hill to climb to create this kind of culture in the post-pandemic era.
Here are three ways to improve employee collaboration in the evolving workplace.
Embrace empathy as a top company value
Many companies talk about empathy; far fewer practice it as a cultural touchstone. Remote work has blended work and personal life to an unprecedented degree, and it is the chief executive’s responsibility to make sure the company has pivoted accordingly for employees to properly manage their respective challenges.
That said, it is not enough to just create spaces and stencil-paint values on the wall of the HQ kitchen. Now more than ever, empathy should be exhibited through leadership team visibility and accessibility. At Netskope, one of my most important priorities is to host weekly, open-dialogue Zoom calls for employees around the world (at times convenient for their location) to talk to me about anything they want. I have also told all 1,400+ Netskope employees that they can directly reach me by email, text, Slack or WhatsApp at any time. This year, many have done so — even more than you might expect. We’ve talked about everything from the growth of the company to our own histories and careers and families, to what we like to do with our pets or kids, to how the company can help solve some abnormal pharmacy prescription costs they were getting (we did!) and so much more.
Consider how digital transformation is functionally changing team dynamics
While Covid-19 significantly accelerated digital transformation efforts for companies, research reveals that — despite shared goals — “combative” and “dysfunctional” relationships among some teams are affecting digital transformation projects worth an estimated $6.8 trillion through 2023. Tensions among security and networking teams as part of the IT organization are just one example, however.
In today’s environment, companies have an opportunity to drive better collaboration among all teams. Use this opportunity to cut the drama and align on goals by prioritizing a shortlist of business metrics that transcend your employees’ traditional silos. There is a lot to be learned, for example, from agile practices, which help overcome inherent friction and misalignment between teams in large, siloed organizations.
Keep the C-Suite accountable
CEOs can make good moves to build a collaborative corporate culture, but they’ll be ineffective unless the entire leadership and management team follows suit. The chief executive must continuously certify that healthy and productive practices are filtering through the entire organization. Today’s environment demands that leaders go beyond their typical role in setting an organization’s overarching culture, and support employees with unprecedented levels of mindfulness and intention. This is especially important as teams have become more distributed. The CEO needs to regularly check in with team members on their projects and learn on the ground as a partner. They also need to make sure they can receive unfiltered feedback from all levels of the organization.
In the early days of the pandemic, many companies acknowledged the potential impact on employees’ mental health with several work-life balance initiatives. This work must continue as we slowly transition to a degree of normalcy with a hybrid workforce. Creating a culture that prioritizes empathy, accountability and digital transformation should be a cornerstone for any company to foster collaboration.