Building Connections and Engagement and The Future of Work During This Pandemic
GABY BOLTON, Head of Client Lifecycle Management
There is no doubt that during this pandemic all of us in financial services and far beyond – no doubt in every part of our economy – are grappling with how best to adjust our work and our ways of work to successfully navigate our rapidly changing world.
I’m a relatively new senior manager at JDX having started here only in February of this year, just before this critical and unprecedented shift happened in our global economy. It was a big shift for me personally as well, having joined JDX after 18 years in a variety of Operations and Change Management roles at Deutsche Bank.
As many of you know, JDX is a global financial services consulting company specialising in providing flexible people-driven solutions to an array of customers including change management, remediation, technology, and advisory support. It’s been fascinating to be involved in this very human business at this very challenging time for people everywhere. In a few short months, I’ve had the privilege of learning a lot about how to navigate disruption on this scale, both at work and at home where, quite frankly, as a mother of two young boys, the transition has been just as challenging but has also yielded some unexpected benefits.
I’d like to share a few of my observations and lessons that I’ve gleaned from the last few weeks, particularly as they relate to growing connections and building authentic engagement with staff and clients, and contributing ideas to the future of work.
Connection is more challenging, but it can still be effective
Many people on LinkedIn and elsewhere are talking these days about the challenges of connecting with peers, direct reports, clients, and even friends in this new remote workplace. During the early weeks of the pandemic we all rushed to video technology and collaboration tools to see faces and immerse ourselves in the new normal. For many of us, the continuing need to video communicate has had many ups and downs and limitations. As a new manager in the firm of a large team of consultants, one of the things I have found challenging is finding ways to connect with team members beyond my direct reports, many of whom, given my recent start at JDX, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet with face-to-face.
Where meeting up for a coffee, water cooler chats and the many after work social events were an obvious way to casually check in on people, connect and find common ground, I found myself struggling in the first couple of weeks of lockdown to find ways to build rapport and check in with the more junior members of staff. When everyone’s doing nothing for the weekend, what do we chat about to make sure we are engaging not just as colleagues but as people too? I’ve noticed that my questions have changed. Instead of asking, what are you doing for the weekend, I find myself asking more questions about where they are living right now, what that’s like, how family dynamics and roommate dynamics are going and the like. These conversations are less light and more personal, but I’m seeing benefits for connection already. I’m also noticing senior colleagues opening meetings to all staff with anecdotes from the home front giving us all more insight into them as people – which is creating some healthy benefits, in my view, for our culture. As we are having to make more attempts to connect, we have to work a little harder perhaps, but I am observing that we are connecting more deeply in some ways and perhaps more effectively, getting to know about parts of our colleagues’ lives that were previously obscured.
Engagement, in a virtual world, starts and ends with better questions
Despite the disruption, our customers across banking, capital markets & insurance are leveraging our people, services & expertise. Financial institutions, perhaps more than ever, have the need for flexible human capital that can solve real and emerging business challenges. I’ve had the distinct privilege to support our Global Client Partner team with some pitches for a number of pieces of business in recent weeks and to meet with some of our key client stakeholders virtually. Ordinarily, I would have met clients (especially for the first time) face to face and had the key tools of eye contact, body language and presence to support me. I’m learning that we need to relook at how we engage when building relationships and opportunities, because our usual support mechanisms to build rapport are no longer possible. I’ve found myself trying to figure out how to develop engagement with our clients during this time, and I’ve realized in part it comes down to asking more thoughtful questions and pursuing more inquiry-based approaches – building that more deeply into our client stewardship approaches, proposal processes and beyond. I feel that this is providing me with a complex but enriched environment in which to truly become a better consultant. We all have the imperative, if we are going to succeed and truly consult more, to ask more questions to deepen engagement without face-to-face opportunities.
The Future of Work
I’ve been a working parent for about the last 9 years, since my first son was born. I’ve always been driven to achieve my best both at work and at home and it’s a difficult juggling act. Balancing these two imperatives at times seems improbable and impossible but yet we manage and I have definitely benefited from having been lucky enough to work in roles over the last few years where working from home once or twice a week was supported. However, that has not been the case for all firms or roles to date in financial services. In this industry, I’ve watched for many years as debates have raged about the viability of working from home, particularly for certain sorts of roles. I believe we are learning from this crisis situation that working from home was and is very much possible for just about everyone in our industry. Some of our clients are reporting of gains in productivity. They are seeing fewer sick days for example, long commutes replaced with a couple early morning or later evening e-meetings, and a shift from output focused thinking to outcome focused thinking. We are learning to have a new dialogue about the realities of the teeter-totter of work and home. I think we need to take these benefits with us into the future of work – we need to embrace this understanding that working from home is possible (certainly 1 or 2 days a week), we can still build connections with our clients and staff, be productive and trust people to get the job done, as well as providing people with the mental and physical benefits of a better work/life balance.
All of us have a great deal to learn from this pandemic. If we choose to, we can borrow lessons from today regarding increasing connection, expanding engagement through questions, and running with the benefits of flexible work situations and work life conversations to add value to tomorrow. None of it is easy and I’m in a very privileged position, but I’m excited by what I’m seeing, can learn from and act upon.