In March 2019 and again late Fall last year, our world came to a full stop. Covid-19. Everything changed and from then on, we were forced to work from home. Where many companies have tried to implement “working at home” in the past - but perhaps failed because of a lack of willpower or conviction - we couldn't avoid it now. It was an order. We had to. A must. Europe is staying in. Europe works from home.
Guest author Rian Bouwmans has a long career in the Dutch food retail sector. After many years at the successful JUMBO company where she came up through the ranks to become Manager Store Design and Brand strategy, she joined the Van Hutten company as Brand and Product manager Foodservice and Retail. Rian has an eager mind for learning and developing. Her creativity and business acumen are some of her strongest points.
Van Hutten Catering and Food Service contributes to a better, nicer, healthier, tastier and more sustainable life with outstanding hospitality and traditionally prepared food and drinks. We do this for our clients, their guests and employees and for the society. At Hutten, we call our employees ‘samenwerkers’, which loosely translates as collaborators. Because together we can achieve anything. Our employees share a sense of happiness as a common thread, because we believe that happy employees carry out their work with passion. That way they can pass on this happiness to other people and give them a unique moment or a meaningful experience. This enables us to distinguish ourselves and to be of value every day. Caring more, that’s how we make a difference.
From that moment on, I read a lot of concerns about employee motivation. Does involvement, commitment and loyalty decrease when employees no longer, or much less, come to the office? I believe this to be personal and individual. Because we all have different needs. Some like to work on their own and others have a much greater need for collegial contact and coordination. For some of us, the central coffee corner is a source of inefficiency for others it represents the organisation's social paper clip. But even if we take these differences into account, then motivation, commitment and loyality do not necessarily need to suffer even in the case of long-term working from home. After all, if the individual needs are met properly, there will (continue to) be a link between employees and the organisation.
Vibrant Thinking perceives organisations as living organisms. Where things take a natural course and sometimes take unexpected turns. Where things don’t always work in a systematic and structured way. Corona is a good example of this. Nobody had included in their trend presentations or budgets that Corona would strike. Because this is nature. It goes as it goes and it went as it went.
In this article I ask myself the question: Does working from home from a vibrant thinking perspective have a positive or negative effect on the bond between employees and their organisations? Between employees and their employer? Their colleagues?
To answer this question, I will make use of a model by Douglas Mc Gregor (1960): Theory X and Y. Just because I have a strong preference for working with models. Nevertheless, I will not answer the question scientifically. Instead, I will fully rely on my own knowledge, experience and insights.
Bonding is a matter of X or Y
First of all, let me say that the Mc Gregor theory goes back to 1960. A time when the world looked a little different. When men were still obliged to go into military service. Employees worked for the same employer pretty much all their lives and grew up from the shop floor to a management position. Today we see 'jobhoppers', heavy training requirements and management trainees. The way we work and relate to work has changed dramatically. Fortunately, we are increasingly recognizing that the success of an organization strongly depends on the people who work there. A lot has changed since 1960.
But when we are thrown back to the basics of 'Being', and the past Corona months have done that, maybe it helps to make use of the basics. Douglas Mc Gregor's provides such a basis. Theory X and Y is about two different images of a human being. Theory X assumes that employees are lazy and unmotivated and only work for their income. This fits seamlessly with the starting points of Taylorism. Theory X employees prefer a manager who controls and gives clear and specific tasks. With clear rules and processes and knowing when they will be rewarded. Theory Y employees don't primarily work for the money. They are naturally intrinsically motivated and have a tendency to take responsibility. They want to develop themselves, and are able to organise their own work. They are stimulated when given the space to use their expertise. Theory Y employees need a coaching leader. Who stimulates them and gives them the space to operate. A much more dynamic perspective on people and motivation.
The best formula: 3 x Y
What impact does “working from home” have on the motivation of X and Y employees? If you score a Y three times you’re in the sweet spot: you are a Y employee, you have a Y manager and you work for a Y organisation. The employee is intrinsically motivated and is coached by the manager. The manager does not have the need to control the employee, because there is trust in expertise. The employee knows no insecurity about recognition and appreciation, because the employee feels from his or her responsibility that he or she is making a good contribution to the organisation. With three Y's, I dare say that working from home is unlikely to have a negative impact on the bond between employees and organisations.
But if the formula is different: you are an X employee, you have an X manager and you work in an X organisation, then things are a bit more complicated. As far as I am concerned, this starts with the manager. An X–manager has a tendency and a need to check and control. This need for control, according to Taylor born out of distrust, is due to the attitude of the X-manager himself and past experiences with that style. Through control and controlling, you tend to take responsibility and freedom away from the employee. This might negatively impact motivation. Consequently, the manager will be confirmed in his or her thoughts. A vicious circle that knows no ending.
Personally, I score three Y's on this 'self-test'. Working independently is my cup of tea. “If you don't have anything to do, you can come and iron’, my mother shouted at the bottom of the stairs when I was still in my bed at 8:00 in the morning. Born in a working-class family, growing up between brothers, I am the daughter of a hardworking father and a mother who took care of the household full-time. This formed me into a hardworking, involved, loyal employee, who needs her freedom and responsibility, always positive and open to change. My Maslow pyramid is upside down. Self-realisation, recognition and appreciation as a basis. Security and salary carry less weight.
My Y-drive is very much appreciated by my current employer. Because my manager is exactly the same. We are both Y's and that is why we match well. And we share the same values: being meaningful, putting happiness first, doing business, working together. Work hard, play hard. A lot of Y's work at my employer. And all Y's do very well with working from home. From a business point of view, we as company caterers, would prefer that we could all go back to the office. This would greatly benefit our business. But in all honesty even if we miss the dynamics of the office here and there, the rush of entrepreneurship we are probably more effective working from home. The informal information radiating from the “social heating pipes” comes on just a little later than in the office, and of course it's a little less cosy. But overall, the motivation and bond with the organisation remains very high.
Nevertheless, you can't make a living working with just Y's. All kinds of tests by Mc Gregor and Maslow teach us that an organisation built around Y employees only is not ideal. Next to autonomy and self-motivation, organisations need structure, consistency and regularity. That's where the X perspective shows its organizational value. So, allow me to give a number of tips below to keep the bond between employees and organisation optimal while working from home. I think they work for X and Y.
Be “open” so that a bond can develop
Employees don't just go and work for a company. They immerse themselves in the values, vision and mission of organisations. Companies will therefore have to open up. Bring their inner purpose to the fore very clearly, so that (potential) employees feel attracted to the organisation.
If we draw a parallel to quantum physics, an organisation is made up of particles. These particles (the people) together make the organisation. So, an organisation is not a building or a company, but an organisation is a whole of people. And everything you do has an effect on the whole. The organisation depends on the people who work there and the people depend on the organisation. Mutual dependency, mutual responsibility. If you accept that this is the case, then it doesn't matter where you are working. Because if you are connected, then you stay connected. That is the basis.
Encourage teamwork and team culture
The connection between all particles takes place through energy. Just like in humans. When I have spoken to my friends, the connection is rekindled. Our relationship is alive again. This is also the case within organisations. People have a need for social contact and this manifests itself in four forms of connection: the need to belong, the need to be in tune with each other, the need to give, the need for honest sharing (Mc Taggart). In order to be able to live, we need connectedness. For the loose particles themselves are not a whole. Instead of only looking at individual achievements, it is important to focus on the ups and downs of the team. Because if you put the group at the centre, then the group feeling will ensure that the individual members are loyal. Just like with sports. If you have to go alone, you are more likely to skip an evening. The group pressure creates more discipline and commitment towards the individual.
Build coaching leadership
I believe in situational leadership: you adapt your leadership style to the current situation. In a homework period this is even more important. Because working from a distance makes it even more important for the manager to be able to assess what is needed. And ask about the needs of the employees. In order to get the most out of the team, a coaching style of leadership is important. In this way you can promote the independence of employees and stimulate or encourage them to take responsibility. Managers who are too directive are not going to achieve this. If there is a physical distance, the mental distance can only increase when they are constantly prescribed what to do and how to do something.
Go in if you feel the need
I described earlier that the need for physical contact is very personal. A single who sits alone in an attic room working something out for days will have different needs than a staff member with 3 children and will have video calls all day. It is therefore important to agree when it is necessary for someone to be in the office. This is not the same for everyone.
I personally need to see my colleagues when my main motivation is not being fulfilled: progress. The moment I miss progress, I get restless. Those are also the moments when I would like to face my colleagues physically. Because then you have the feeling that you have a better grip on things. This grip has nothing to do with my connection with the organisation, but with the connection with my own motives and needs.
Social contact is an important basic need for every human being. So, it could certainly mean that you are very lonely when you work at home. The lack of physical interaction with colleagues can make you start to enjoy your work less. But appreciation and recognition also take place more easily physically. Because being able to touch each other, a pat on the back, a high five, a toast during the FridayHappyHours are very good examples of the energy needed to remain a whole. So, seeing each other - according to the rules - can also be a necessity.
Turn your office into an energy hotspot
An important aspect that employers should take into account is the interaction between colleagues. How do we manage the energy between colleagues, as a team, during meetings. For example, by organising the team meetings, the spontaneous drinking of coffee and the drinks, all digitally. But also giving us the space to organise meetings without an agenda. So that energy can flow where it needs to go. So that colleagues can be heard and provide input.
On days when you have an office day, the office should serve as a source of energy. Nowadays, office buildings are often still business buildings where people come together. An energy fire is a place where you can recharge, where you come home, where you feel safe, where you are inspired. You can greet the building, starting at the barrier, an app with the text 'how nice to see you again', music in the car park, the doorman greeting you with your name. Then you can see your colleagues (from a distance). You chat for a moment in an inspiring space with nice chairs, you go to your workplace which has been cleaned after the use of your colleague the day before. In the afternoon, you enjoy a tasty, healthy lunch with your colleagues and catch up on current projects. Just recharge your batteries at the office, so that you can enjoy a few days at home again.
We'll continue together for a while. Take the tips to heart and then the connection between all the particles that make up a whole really remains!